26 September 2016

« Un verre » dans les recettes françaises

Often French recipes call for « un verre » of some liquid like water, wine, or oil. A verre is a glass, as in drinking glass. After 40 years of of cooking in France, I've never in my life understood what quantity of  liquid that meant. At one time I convinced myself it meant approximately "one cup" or one standard U.S. cup, which is eight fluid ounces. I now think that was wrong.

I've also seen French recipes that call for, say, « une tasse à thé » of rice or of some liquid. It seems to me that a teacup would more closely approximate the American 8-oz. cup. As CHM wrote in a comment my blog post yesterday, the verre in French recipes is probably based on the size of the little glasses that Dijon mustard is sold in at the supermarket. Everybody in France had a collection of them at home. Some recipes actually call for « un verre à moutarde » of a given liquid.

 Different French verres each holding 150 milliliters — a mystery for the ages

Another theory I've read on French internet forums is that the verre is the size of the little water glasses that used to be on the tables in all the school cafeterias in France. That can be called « un verre de cantine ». Walt and I have a set of those glasses, made by the Duralex company, that we bought when we first got to Saint-Aignan years ago.

So this morning I set out to actually measure such glasses. People on the internet forum at the link above started by saying the verre might be 200 milliliters (ml). That would be very close to the 8 oz. U.S. cup. Then more people responded and a consensus developed around the idea that the volume of liquid represented by « un verre » is probably 125 ml, which is about ½ cup, or 4 fl. oz., in American terms.

 Un verre à moutarde, a handy little measuring cup, and un verre de cantine

Somebody pointed out that that's the size of the standard yogurt container in France, and there are many recipes for cakes made with yogurt that use the yogurt "pot" as the measuring implement — 1 pot of yogurt, 2 pots of sugar, 3 pots of flour, etc. Somebody else pointed out that a bottle of wine contains 750 ml and supposedly you can get 6 verres or servings out of it. Do the math: 750 divided by 6 = 125!

When I measured my mustard glass, however, it came to 150 ml, not 125. So I'm now convinced that « un verre » is 150 ml, which is 5 fluid ounces in American terms. By definition, that's 5/8s of a cup. (By the way, do you know that the British fluid ounce and the American fluid ounce are not identical? In British terms, 150 ml = 5¼ fl. oz. Just to complicate things...) Both my « verres à moutarde » and my « verres de cantine » hold exactly that amount.

Un autre verre à eau, the same measuring glass as above, and a standard verre à vin from a French supermarket

So that's my theory and I'm sticking to it. From now on, when I see the measure « un verre » in a French recipe, I'm going to measure out 150 ml, whether in an American measuring cup that's graduated in millilliters or in a mustard glass or school cafteteria glass. My photos here illustrate this.

24 comments:

  1. Thanks to Peter Hertzmann, who years ago brought me the handy little measuring cup from California.

    Judy, in your cookbook from the 1980s, I wouldn't be surprised if the translator or writer translated American "cup" as French « verre ». Il faut se méfier. Do any of the recipes call for « une tasse » of anything?

    In his comment yesterday, CHM described French recipes as being more « au pif » than U.S. recipes. That expression means "more approximate" — you pif is your nose in slang, and that's what you have to follow to get the recipe right. You have to "eyeball" the measurements and ingredients, to say it another way. Do it by feel.

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    1. Thanks for this blog post, Ken :) I, too, was imagining that it might mean about the quantity of un verre à moutarde, but, you know... I also thought, well, what if it wasn't? LOL So, this is all very helpful (especially your quote from Marmiton, below).

      And, regarding my cookbook, yes, it does use une tasse as well, which is why I figured that un verre probably wasn't the same amount. The book is of French recipes, all in French, so I don't think that it's a matter of anyone interpreting the American cup measurement.

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    2. Might the book be québécois?

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  2. I can never work out when these measurements are heaped or rounded of spoons or full to the brim or decent serving of liquid in a wine glass. Now that we have the scales that you can add to a mixing bowl then weight must be the best way.

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    1. I hardly ever follow a recipe to the letter anyway. You never really know what the recipe author had in mind, so you have to adjust things. In any case, weight measures are much more sensible than volume measures.

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  3. I see this on another Marmiton forum thread. It distinguishes a standard "glass" (150 ml) from "a small glass (100 ml) and "a large glass" (200 ml).

    La plupart des verres courant font plus ou moins 15 cl. Si la recette dit 'un petit verre", je compte 10 cl. Pour un grand verre: 20 cl. Mais pour la plupart des recettes où l'on compte en "verres", les quantités utilisées sont approximatives et n'ont pas trop d'influence sur le résultat. Attention tout de même s'il s'agit de pâtisserie; dans ce domaine, il y a intérêt à être précis avec les quantités.

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  4. Now that you've solved the mystery of the verre (sort of), how about Jamie Oliver's "glug" of liquid, like olive oil or wine?

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    1. What I heat Jamie O. say is "lug", not "glug". Am I wrong? Whatever, it's the liquid equivalent of pinch, dash, or handful.

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    2. I've never seen Jamie on TV, so I'm just going by his cookbooks. Maybe it's his accent. And he also uses "handful" all the time (not for liquids:-) ).

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    3. It sounds like he says "lug", but then the shows are over-dubbed in French, so it's hard to hear the English.

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    4. The recipe for the pasta dish from Jamie's cookbook that I'm making tonight uses both "glug" and "handful." And not just those words, but a "good glug" of olive oil and a "large handful" of basil.

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    5. I'll have to listen more carefully the next time I see Jamie on TV and try to determine whether he is saying "glug" or "lug". I thought "lug" sounded funny.

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    6. Even eastenders like Oliver would not say 'lug' it would be 'glug'.
      My husband, an engineer, would use a whole load of words to describe quantity of effort, weight, volume etc. They included (and not maybe in the correct order) smidge, snudge, scrape, nibble, touch, gnats, tap.

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    7. Got it. My hearing is not what it used to be. Initial consonants escape me...

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  5. After 20 years of translating French recipes into English, my conclusion is that a verre without any qualifier is 1 U.S. cup and a tasse without any qualifier is 1/2 U.S. cup.

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    1. Not so sure about that. A tasse is probably at the top in quantity (250 ml) with the demi-tasse being the smallest (125 ml or so). The verre (150 ml)is somewhere in between. Caveat emptor.

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  6. And then, would a demi-tasse be a quarter of a cup ?

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    1. I think the demi-tasse would be a half a cup, with the full tasse being a cup (more or less). The verre is somewhere in between.

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    2. In France coffee cups are pretty standard as I have some that go back from the early days of the 19th century to more recent times, and they seem to be about the same volume. On the other hand I have never heard the expression demi-tasse used in France as some kind of measure, it is just any kind of cup filled about halfway. CNRTL just says a demi-tasse is a cup smaller than a regular cup and that it is obsolete. I guess demi-tasse is mostly used in English speaking countries with a special meaning and volume? Could that be a faux ami?

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    3. Isn't demi-tasse a little like prix fixe — French words borrowed into English but no longer used, or not used with the same meaning, in French? And I didn't mean to imply that the demi-tasse is a unit of measure in French. I don't see tasse as a unit of measure much in France, but I have seen it in recipes in the form une tasse à thé of some ingredient. For example, Monique Maine's recipe for rice pudding (Gâteau de riz à ma façon) calls for une tasse à thé de riz — which I take to mean a U.S. 8 fl. oz. cup of rice.

      Isn't the cup that tea is served in, traditionally, the same size as the traditional cup for coffee? Nowadays, of course, in French restaurants and cafés, you mostly get coffee in the form of espresso, which is served in cups about half the size of traditional coffee cups. The spoons used as part of the coffee are similarly adapted. A teaspoon, in French une cuillère à café, is larger than the little cuillère à moka used to stir espresso coffee in little demi-tasse cups. I remember back in the 1980s sometimes being served a little cup of espresso with a regular-size teaspoon. I noticed that people would turn the big spoon upside-down and stirr their demi-tasse of espresso with the handle of the spoon, because the spoon's "bowl" was too big to fit in the little cup. By the way, the U.S.-style mug for coffee is all the rage in France now, and it's called un mug for the time being.

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    4. I'm late to this conversation, but I think demitasse is used in the US as referring to the little espresso coffee cups.

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  7. What an interesting, helpful post, Ken. Thank you.

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  8. Il aurait faire la démonstration avec du vin rouge cela aurait fait plus français . Bonne journée.

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    1. J'ai pensé à ça mais à six heures du matin...

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