14 December 2009

How to bake in American when you live in Metric - And vice versa

It was the butter that started it.

Almost all American recipes call for butter measured in sticks, because in the US, butter is sold in sticks, wrapped in a label with marks for 8 single tablespoons (one US stick of butter is 1/2 cup is 8 tablespoons). But in butter is not sold this way in Europe. In Belgium (and the Netherlands, and France, at least), butter is generally sold in 250 gram blocks. No sticks. No tablespoon markings. If I wanted to make a recipe that called for a stick of butter, I had find out how many tablespoons that was (8 in this case), and fill my single tablespoon measure with butter 8 times. Now I don't know about you, but I found that pretty tedious, and fiddly (the measure is a hemisphere shape) and my fingers would get all buttery and slippery.

American butter. © Denzil Green

Because of the metric system, European recipes are given in grams and so instead of a set of measuring cups, you use a scale when you bake things. One gram is the same as one millilitre, so you can use the scale for liquids, too. I got hooked on British cooking, largely via Ready Steady Cook, and Nigel Slater's column in the Observer, and discovered the ease with which one can bake by using a scale to measure the ingredients. And I mean a proper scale, like this:

Not one of these silly flimsy ones:

So, anyway, it started with the butter. The next time I baked an American recipe, I measured out the amount of butter that was required, weighed it, and made a note.

Soon I was doing this with the flour, sugar, and everything else, too.

I realized the other day that after 10+ years, I have a pretty good set of equivalencies that no one else seems to have.

And so to you: I hereby present my cross-cultural-cooking Christmas gift to all of you, whoever you are, who find yourself on the Internet looking at an absolutely gorgeous recipe, and thinking that you cannot make it because the measurements are all in cups and tablespoons -- or all in grams and millilitres. I've been there. Enjoy the fruits of my labo(u)r. Happy baking.

1 tablespoon = 13 grams
1 stick = 4 tablespoons = 1/2 cup = 104 grams
half a stick = 2 tablespoons = 1/4 cup = 52 grams
1 cup = 2 sticks = 208 grams

1 cup = 225 grams

1 1/2 cup grated = 160 grams (not sure how many, might be about 3 medium)

Canola (Colza) Oil
1/2 cup = 90 grams
(note: corn oil is heavier, don't assume it is the same)

Chicken Broth
1 14 1/2 ounce can of chicken broth = about 500 millilitres

1/2 cup = 52 grams

Courgette - see Zucchini

Creme Fraiche - see Sour Cream

Flour - Plain, White
1/4 cup = 33 grams
1/2 cup = 66 grams
3/4 cup = 99 grams
1 cup = 132 grams

Greek Yogurt (Plain)
1/2 cup - 125 grams

Oats (as in, Quaker rolled oats)
1/2 cup = 42 grams

Pecans - see Walnuts

1/2 teaspoon = 3 grams

Sour Cream (the thick kind, not the pourable kind) - Creme Fraiche Epaisse
1/4 cup = 56 grams
1/3 cup = 75 grams

Sugar - Confectioner's, Powdered
1 cup = 130 grams

Sugar - White, Granulated
1/2 cup = 100 grams
1 cup = 200 grams

Vanilla Extract
1 tablespoon = 13 grams

Walnuts or Pecans
- Chopped
1/4 cup = 20 grams
1/4 cup = 20 grams

1 cup = 225 millilitres

1 small-medium, grated = a little more than 1 cup = 195 grams


1. All measurements are based on me weighing actual butter, flour, etc using my standard American spoons and cups. This leads to some discrepancies with the standard equivalency charts... for example the charts like to say that 1/2 cup of butter =4 ounces which, if you use the 28,3 equivalency rate to get grams, gives you 113 grams. But I routinely note that 1/2 cup of butter, measured into a 1/2 cup measure and then weighed, weighs just over 100 grams which works with my base measurement of 1 tablespoon of butter = 13 grams (1/2 cup = 8 tablespoons = 104 grams).

2. Flour: I am using plain flour, farine patisserie, un
less otherwise noted. This is my standard substitute for American all-purpose flour, and it works just fine, except in chocolate chip cookies, which seem to require gold medal flour. I don't know why.


  1. If I temember correctly from school physics lessons, one gram of WATER = 1 ml. Not sure how accurate this would be for other liquids of different density.
    Butter wrappers in the UK are sometimes marked with divisions by weight. Many of us still think in pounds and ounces when we cook!

    Kate (Derby, UK)

  2. I'm just starting on my Christmas cookies, and am very relieved to have the butter equivalences. Thanks!

  3. Having just moved to the States, I recently had the opposite problem, i.e. faffing about with those sticks of butter that get all over your fingers. Cheers for the list of equivalents - duly bookmarked for future bouts of wannabe Jamie Oliver-ness!

  4. You are funny. So nice to get to 'know' you again.