Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Dec 8, 2012 09:21 AM

Need help fleshing out old, ultra-concise baking recipes


I have some old, handwritten, ultra-concise recipes from Alsace that seem like aides-memoire for the cook. Where they mention an oven temperature at all, they say only "gentle oven" ("four doux" in the original French), and I don’t know what that means. Most lack baking times. Some list only ingredients. By the way, egg whites are "battus en neige", which I take to mean they’re beaten into stiff peaks and not just frothy. Any French-speaking bakers out there, please correct me if I’m wrong.

Sometimes weights of dry ingredients are given in grams, sometimes they're given as 1/2 livre or 1/4 livre. According to a source I found online, one livre is 200 grams, so I've rendered such recipes in grams using that formula.

If you were to turn the following ‘recipes’ into recipes-for-stupid-people, what would you add to the instructions? The translations are mine, as are comments/questions in square brackets.

1) Little hazelnut cakes: 100gr hazelnuts ground with a bit of sugar, 100 gr powdered sugar, 8 egg whites, lemon zest. Beat the egg whites, mix with the hazelnuts and the sugar. Butter the moulds and bake in a gentle oven.

2) Chocolate croissants: 100 gr ground almonds, 100 gr sugar, 50 gr chocolate, 2 egg whites (use a little more if the eggs are small), not beaten, a pinch of cinnamon, one ground clove. When it’s well mixed and the dough is of even consistency, roll it out and form little crescents. Let bake slowly.

3) Chocolate cake (good recipe) [sic]: 6 eggs. Beat the yolks with 100 gr of sugar, 50 gr of ground almonds, 50 gr of grated chocolate, beaten egg whites. Butter the pan with melted butter. Gentle oven.

4) Little tea cakes: 4 egg whites, 300 gr of sugar, 200 gr of flour, some ground almonds and a little fleur d’oranger.

5) Carrot cake: 100gr of crushed sugar [powdered sugar? orig: sucre pilé] , 100 gr of cooked then grated carrots [sic], 6 eggs, 100gr ground almonds, lemon rind. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar, add the carrots, then the almonds and the beaten egg whites. Also add the lemon rind. Butter the pan and put into the oven 3/4 hour. [I'm leaving out the icing instructions]

6) Good Madeleines [sic]: 8 eggs, for flour the weight of 7 eggs and for butter the weight of 6 eggs, for sugar the weight of 8 eggs. Cream the butter, then the eggs and the sugar for half an hour. The egg whites beaten. [what might beating by hand for half an hour translate into for a mixer?]


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. With the frequent use of egg whites and ground nuts, these look like variations on macarons. Maybe contemporary recipes for those would help you.

    You might also inquire at
    Clotilde helped produce
    The Art of French Baking

    2 Replies
    1. re: paulj
      This hazelnut macaron recipe bakes them at 300 for 18min. Basic ingredients are the same, though the proportions are different. The technique looks like other macarons.

      1. re: paulj

        the other option is start high, at 375, then lower to 300-325.

    2. fascinating that these recipes rely on nuts moreso than flour. the nuts also seem to be standing in for a fat, since there is little butter used. even what you are calling "croissants" are not at all that pastry. the beaten egg whites would seem a way to help add air and lightness to what otherwise what might be too dense a baked good. unless otherwise noted, i'd whip the whites to peaks.

      unless instructed otherwise, i'd simply whisk together the dry ingredients and then fold them into the fluffy egg whites. these are not meant to be complicated recipes.

      my b/f's grandmother baked much like this, but also without precise measurements of ingredients. as a young woman she baked with wood and coal-fired ovens where temperature control was not the realm of exactitude we take for granted today. still, i'd use standard baking temps of between 325 and 350.

      5 Replies
      1. re: hotoynoodle

        There plenty of recipes from the same source that use flour and lots o' butter in the baked goods. But they have more detailed instructions.

        There are also a lot of recipes for desserts that call for "pains au lait" soaked in milk. Maybe they're a use for no-longer-fresh breakfast rolls.

        1. re: vjb

          what a cool thing to have and work through. please keep us posted!

        2. re: hotoynoodle

          For the Bonnes Madeleines recipe, at what stage should I incorporate the flour? After combining the eggs-butter-sugar but before folding in the egg whites?

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            "croissant" is just the French word for "crescent" -- so it's used descriptively in this context.

            1. re: sunshine842

              i know that. but since she was translating everything else into english...

              1. re: paulj

                Oh my gosh, that's right! Thank you, Paulj.

                So, for the little hazelnut cakes, it's 250g each of ground nuts and powdered sugar. The chocolate croissants are 250g each of ground nuts and sugar, and 125 of chocolate. Carrot cake: 250gr each of sugar, carrots and almonds. Chocolate cake: 250gr of sugar and 125gr each of ground almonds and grated chocolate. The tea cakes were already in grams.

                I know why I got 200 stuck in my head. One of the measurements that appears in several recipes is a "verre", which someone online said is 200ml (that is if it doesn't specify a verre a moutarde, or something like that). One recipe calls for a teacup of flour and 3/4 of one of sugar. Any guesses at what a "tasse à thé" was to an Alsatian cook around the 1920s? About 180ml maybe?

                These recipes are in a binder of photocopies from, I presume, my grandparents' cook, and maybe even from their parents' kitchens. Not all the recipes are for baked goods. But it occurs to me that the baked goods requiring only the whites of eggs may have been useful in the meals whose main dish used only the yolks (and there are many such recipes in the binder).

                I've had to decipher, first, the European cursive script, then the French (the specific cooking/baking terms were the big challenge), then the abbreviations, and then the measures.

                1. re: vjb

                  a "verre" is a cup -- 250ml. (I know, I know - it's not to-the-letter accurate -- but it's what they mean)

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    I was going by info on a few websites I found:

                    One is rather confusing because it says a verre contains 125ml of liquid but a verre d'eau is 20cl/2dl/200ml. One of those tells how many ml is meant by a mustard glass. The superantoinette site gives volume and weight equivalents to things like "grand bol", a measure that appears in a couple of the recipes in the binder. I notice now that it gives "four doux" as a temperature as low as 90C.!!!

                    1. re: vjb

                      I think you're thinking too hard -- it sounds like these were "grandma-type" recipes -- ones written down by a family member who wanted to know how to make all the great dishes that Grandma makes.

                      As such, the accuracy of that time simply isn't there -- I have a family recipe that calls for "a dipper of water" -- referring to the dipper that hung from the hand-operated hand pump on the back porch. How big was that dipper? I have no idea, so I've had to just fly by the seat of my pants in figuring out how much water that actually means.

                      With pastry in particular, it will vary from day to day, anyway -- particularly if the day is especially dry or especially humid. You always add liquid based on consistency and texture with pastry, anyway -- so accuracy goes out the window. (Yesterday I made a strudel from a German recipe -- it called for 125ml of water...but by the time the dough was actually at a good consistency, I'd used nearly 200ml! Today was rainy and wet -- the dough probably would have been fine at 125-150ml....)

                      I can also tell you that modern French recipes refer to "un verre" when they mean 250ml (which is roughly a cup) -- I live in France, so I read French cooking magazines and cook from back-of-the-package recipes regularly.

                      As you mentioned, if they mean a mustard glass, they'll specify that -- it's about the size of a juice glass; somewhere around 1/4 cup or thereabouts.

                      Supertoinette is a good site -- but I'd also take a look at (my favorite),, and

                      I also find that, in general, French cookbooks are considerably more Spartan than American cookbooks -- they'll just say "first, make a roux" -- where an American cookbook would tell you how on the way by.

                2. re: paulj

                  453 g currently did it change at some point?

                  1. re: julesrules

                    When the French adopted (or created) the metric system.

                    453g is the modern definition of pound. Historically the English have had various types of pounds. Metric pound is an informal term of 1/2 kg, 500g.

                3. re: pookiefatcat

                  I knew it was pound, but I forgot it was much more than 200gr. Thanks. See response to Paulj below.

                4. I haven't heard of a "gentle oven" but this conversion chart for wood and coal stoves might be helpful. The old gauges didn't have degrees but guides such as "slow" . Maybe that is the same as "gentle"

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: dfrostnh

                    Thanks for the link. I would think of doux as gentle or mild when talking of heat.
                    I guess one bakes slowly in a slow oven. I have on occasion come across a recipe for a cake to be baked in a 300-degree-F oven, or even 275. I tried one for a semolina cake, which cake ended up in the "epic fail" bin. Has anyone on these boards ever baked something other than macarons at 275 or 300 and succeeded?

                    1. re: vjb

                      The temperature requirements for a cake or cookie that depends on whipped egg whites could well be different than for one that uses baking powder. The higher initial temperature helps activate the chemicals.

                      1. re: paulj

                        Would 300F be adequate, then, for the ground-almond/hazelnut recipes? And could I use the convection setting if I lower the temp to 275?

                  2. vjb, what a nice binder to have! You say not all the recipes are for baked goods, please let us know if there are other meat/vegetable recipes that look interesting, or especially good.
                    Those little hazelnut cakes would please everyone!

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: blue room

                      Please let me know how they turn out if you try them, blue room! I want to make the chocolate croissants for Xmas day.

                      There are, I would guess, more than 200 recipes in the binder, which was my father's. There are a lot of recipes for sauces, a lot for meat dishes (most often for veal), a few fish dishes, and a small number of vegetable dishes. Lots of recipes for deep-fried-dough things, not all of them sweet.

                      Now, my sisters and I have been wondering whether the range of recipes reflects what his family ate, or whether it reflects Dad's tastes, and, therefore, which recipes he asked for. Dad hated vegetables. He ate corn. He ate romaine lettuce (a salad after the main course at dinner was a must). He ate onions and garlic. I don't recall his stand on celery; he may have cooked with it.

                      Maybe I'll start a new thread and over the coming weeks post some translations of the savoury recipes. I don't know if they're extraordinarily yummy; I haven't tried them yet. But at least they may be interesting. Stock up on eggs and butter. And veal. (What was with all the veal? Was it more economical to slaughter calves than to feed them into adulthood, there in western Europe?) I think I'll start with the recipes for rabbit.

                      1. re: vjb

                        This sounds likes cookbook in the making.

                        1. re: sr44

                          I can provide only the raw ingredients, so to speak. :-) People who are very skilled in cooking and baking can take things several steps further.

                        2. re: vjb

                          If you were raising dairy cows for milk, you would have to do something with the calf. You couldn't let the cow nurse it, because that would interfere with your own supply of milk. So best bet was to slaughter the calf early on. In more modern times, the calf would be fed with a formula to get it to higher weight, but in the past would have been slaughtered young. The whole point of veal, was to leave the cow's milk for the humans.

                          1. re: MelMM

                            That makes so much sense. It sounds like the economics were at the root of this, maybe more than some particular taste for veal.

                            1. re: MelMM

                              You also don't need a 50-50 ratio of male to female cows in a dairy you had a lot of male calves that you had to do something with. You couldn't afford to feed them into adulthood, because they wouldn't give milk (i.e., pay for themselves), and you couldn't keep them, because of the inherent infighting that would result.

                            2. re: vjb

                              vjb -You have a VERY valuable cultural tool in your hands - not to mention a precious family memory!

                              It would be wonderful if you could find a native French speaker from the area where your father's family came from to look at the binder with you and let you know more information on if those are regional recipes, etc.

                              So interesting that your father ate corn, and not much other veggies, as the French don't eat corn - it's for livestock!

                              Can you let us know more about the 'where/when' of this binder - what part of France did your father grow up in, and can any more information be found from other family members about all this?

                              I DO see a cookbook in the future for this. Where are you located? I would love to help!

                              1. re: gingershelley

                                Gingershelly, my Dad's parents were born in towns on either side of the French-Swiss border, so my Bonnemaman was from the southern end of Alsace. But Bonpapa's family were originally from the Bas-Rhin, and Dad's parents lived in a minuscule speck of a hamlet in Haut-Rhin, so both sides, really, were Alsatian. The Alsatian influence can be seen in the recipes with German names or in foods common to the area (no quetsch pie in the binder, though!). There are two recipes in the binder for something called Gouglouffe. Googling gouglouffe turned up nothing, but trying kouglouffe turned up kouglof/kouglhupf/etc. According to one website, gouglouffe is the pronunciation/spelling used by previous generations in Belfort, which is where Bonnemaman grew up. Thus, I figure some of these recipes come from my grandparents' own childhoods.

                                My Dad maintained lots of French-ness (salad after the main course with homemade vinaigrette, escargots bourgignons, stinky cheeses, pâté, baguettes, wine with dinner, a very dry, often archly sarcastic sense of humour, etc.) but also became very North American (watching Canadian football while drinking beer and eating peanuts, barbecuing steaks, seeing to it that all calves grew up to give us beef -- i.e. he owned a cattle ranch).

                                If I can manage to scan all the pages and learn how to find/make a repository on the web for them, I'm happy to see people take the recipes and use them.