... Weights and Measures
When confronted with an American recipe, a British cook will usually see unfamiliar ingredients, given in cups, teaspoons and tablespoons. Occasionally there may be references to pounds, ounces, pints or fluid ounces, but they're not that common. So, what's a British cook to do?
Unfamiliar ingredients are covered on their own page, and the Weights and Measures page (and its associated table) provide a more comprehensive (and historical) explanation of the differences between American and British weights and measures.
The first point to remember in cooking is that pints and fluid ounces are different, and so American measures will need to be converted to British pints and fluid ounces. Fortunately, the British fluid ounce is only very slightly adrift and, except for the most critical cooking, they can be considered the same. However, the American pint is quite a bit smaller. So:
Of course, some US recipes do give the measurements in metric ml, in which case no conversion is needed.
Cups and Spoons
This table gives the equivalents (with an accuracy slightly greater than is practical for measuring).
Although these measurements work just fine for liquids, dry ingredients are also measured in cups and spoons and this creates a further problem: British cooks are used to flour, sugar and so on being measured by weight.
It is certainly possible to convert US cups and spoons to a weight, but it is not always a sensible thing to do as the equivalent weight will depend on the type of ingredient used. For instance, a cup of brown sugar may weigh 8oz (about 225gm), but a cup of plain flour may weigh only 4oz (about 115gm). A rough guide to some key ingredients is given in the table below, but it's better to use the given measurements and use a measuring jug or a "cup" measure.
It's also important to realise that when an American recipe calls for "1 cup of flour", there is an assumption in how this is measured. Scooping out of a bag will compress the flour, and a cup can easily end up containing an extra quarter or even half an ounce, and this could make a big difference to the results. Instead, the "official" measuring technique is to stir the flour with a spoon to "aerate" it, then pour it into the measuring cup and level it off with a straight edge. Don't pat it down, or tap the cup on the workbench to level it off.
However, this only applies to very powdery dry ingredients, like flour. Other ingredients, like rice, brown sugar or fats, should be packed firmly in the measuring cup to avoid air gaps.
Exactly the same principle applies when using spoons.
But, if you'd really rather not go through this, the following table gives some approximate weights (in gm) for the most common dry ingredients. The equivalent weights should be taken as approximations only, but they should be within about 5gm. I should add that these figures are based on official figures issued by the US Department of Agriculture in 1996 and assume that ingredients like flour are "stirred" first, but that sugars etc are "packed".
For more information, check out the USDA's Food & Nutrition Information Center Web site which provides a database (which can be downloaded) giving the weights of a cup or spoonful of many different food items.
Butter and margarine