The Fat-Pants Experiment

The Fat-Pants Experiment

Living abroad has been a great experience for me.  I love learning about the cultural differences and, more importantly, the similarities of people around the world.  One thing that I learned is that life is really not so different wherever you live.  People all over the world have the same basic concerns: gainful employment, a safe and dry place to raise a family, food on the table, clothes on their backs, a little entertainment from time to time, and so on. Not so much different from life in the US.     

 What can be very different are the details.  Take baking, for instance. Besides the obvious metric distinctions, there is a vast difference in how Americans and Europeans bake.  In America, we bake using volume.  This means we measure using cups and teaspoons.  Virtually every recipe in America is written in volume measures.

 Here in Europe, dry ingredients are almost universally measured by weight. Only liquid is measured in volume. This was somewhat of a culture shock to me since it wasn’t what I was used to.  So on my next foray back to the US, a brand new set of measuring cups and spoons got a one way trip to Holland.  Since most of my favorite recipes are of American decent, I still faithfully use them.  When some unsuspecting person asks me for a recipe, I can literally feel their disappointment when they scan the recipe only to find that it is not only in English, but also in volume to boot.  Can you translate this to Dutch?  How many grams are in a stick of butter?   How much does 1 ¾ Cups of flour weigh?   Now-a-days, as a public service to my fellow Dutchmen (and -women) I spend a decent amount of my time weighing out my recipes.  While I was doing my translations, I came across a few things:

 – A cup of flour does not weigh the same as a cup of sugar, nor does a cup of lead or a cup of feathers for that matter.

– The weight of a cup of flour can differ greatly depending on how you packed it, type of flour, humidity, etc…

I’ll tell you, it took me a while to get the hang of using weight as measures.  But now that I’ve got it down pat, I am totally convinced that using weight gives more consistent results to the finished product.  Another benefit is that recipes scale better.  If I wanted to half a recipe that calls for ¾ cup of flour, I’d have to rely on my 5th grade fractions lesson…and chances are I don’t have a measuring cup for that amount and end up estimating anyway.  Using weight measures, halving a recipe for 75 grams of flour is quite easy using 3rd grade division.  75 divided by 2 = 37.5.   Easy Peasy.

Still not convinced?  Let’s do a few experiments.  Let’s use your favorite pair of jeans as an example.  I don’t know about you, but after the holidays, my jeans were fitting a bit snugly.  The decision on whether to take your fat pants out of the mothballs is a ‘volume’ measure.  In this case, your volume has exceeded the content of your ‘skinny’ jeans.   Now at this point, we suspect the additional volume that is imposed on our jeans is caused by a few extra pounds of weight gain (or we can just use the excuse that they shrunk in the wash ;-)) However, if we want to know exactly how much the damage was, the most accurate measure is by getting on the scale.  Thus concluding, that the most accurate and consistent measure is weight. 

Let’s try another experiment that doesn’t require you to gain 10 pounds.  Take a bag of flour, a measuring cup (1 Cup measure) and a food scale.  Yes, even that old Weight Watchers scale that you got in the 70’s will do. First, scoop the cup into the bag of flour and then level with a knife.  Weigh the cup. Mark the weight and empty the cup.  Do it again.  Do you notice any differences in the weight?  I’ll bet you do.   Next, using a tablespoon, spoon flour into the cup and then level off with a knife. Again, weigh the filled cup, marking the weight.  I’ll bet this method of filling the cup weighs less than the scoop and level method. 

Now, take an empty bowl put it on the scale and turn it on.  The scale should read zero.  Spoon out 100 grams of flour.  Empty the bowl and do it again.  You see, its 100 grams EVERY TIME!  Ok, so maybe you didn’t need to do this last test, it was just for effect anyway. 

As you see, now, I am a total weight convert.

 This recipe is not only a good manner of using your new-found skills. It also has a bit of a story.  Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804 – 1877) was a famous poet from Finland and considered Finland’s National Poet.  In honor of his birthday, on Feb 5th, his wife allegedly created  these muffin-like creations for his special day.  According to legend, Runeberg enjoyed one of these tarts with Swedish punch liquor) on every breakfast. Runeberg’s tarts are typically eaten only in Finland and are generally available from the beginning of January to Runeberg’s birthday on February 5.

I know, I know.  This recipe is a bit all over the place when it comes to weight versus volume measures.  But it’s an authentic recipe.  Be prepared to use quite a few bowls for this one.  But it creates a unique looking item that’s a nice change from muffins or cupcakes.

 Runeberg Tarts

1 egg
25 ml sugar  ( 1/8 C)
50 brown sugar (firmly packed)  (1/4 C)
100 g butter
¼ C  cream
150 grams flour
1 tsp baking powder
50 grams ground almonds
50 ml ground or finely chopped walnuts or hazelnuts or ground dark sugar cookies)
1 tsp
vanilla extract
½ tsp almond essence
(a dash of almond liqueur  — 
eg “Amaretto”)

Sugar syrup:

100 ml sugar
50 ml water
1 – 2 tbsp (or to taste) Swedish
punch, rum or cognac

1/4 C Raspberry jam

Sugar icing:

Icing sugar
dash of almond essence

Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Beat the egg and sugars until fluffy, add almond essence (and liqueur), melted butter and whipped cream.

Mix together the dry ingredients. (If you do not have walnuts, hazelnuts or sugar cookies at hand, you can omit them or replace them with ground or chopped almonds.) Gently fold the dry ingredients into the batter.

Lightly butter six cups from a standard muffin pan and spoon the batter into them, leveling the batter.  It will not rise very much. Bake the cakes at 375°C   (175 °C) for 15 – 20 minutes or when a cake tester/toothpick inserted in the middle of them comes out clean.

Meanwhile, prepare the sugar syrup. Place the sugar, water and the alcohol of your choice into a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to the boil, so that the sugar melts and alcohol evaporates. Remove from heat and set aside.

Take the hot cakes out of the oven, prick them with a toothpick, and drizzle the warm sugar syrup on top of them. Use all of the syrup. Let the cakes absorb the syrup for half an hour or longer. When the cakes seem thoroughly moist, gently remove them from the moulds and flip them over.

If the bottoms of the cakes are uneven, cut them flat carefully, using a serrated knife, so that the cakes will stand straight. This is most easily done while the cakes are still inside the moulds. Cut by moving the knife along the rim of the mould.

Cut a small round hole on the top of cakes using a small teaspoon (see picture below). Fill the holes with raspberry topping and let it set in refrigerator.

Meanwhile, prepare a very thick sugar icing by mixing a dash or water with icing sugar. Flavor the icing with a dash of almond essence. Pipe the icing around the raspberry topping on top of cakes (see picture above). Let the sugar icing set and serve the cakes with coffee or tea.
Makes about 6 cakes.

One Response to “The Fat-Pants Experiment”

  1. Millie Says:

    Lisa, that was very interesting. Would take some getting used to, but I think it makes more sense to use weight instead of volume….. thanks for another good lesson.