Pili Rodríguez Deus/ October 18, 2019/ intercultural communication, molten cakes, recipe translation, transcreation

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Hazelnut chocolate molten cakes with fleur de sel


molten cakes

This is a recipe I translated for my dissertation. Recipes allowed me to discuss decisions of foreignization vs domestication concerning technical writing; namely, decisions about format and register, but also technical language such as ingredients, utensils or cooking techniques. Meanwhile, the recipe introductions and titles allowed me to discuss creative writing.


The title

This title poses two problems. Firstly, Spanish is less agglutinative than English. Still, I managed a title only a couple of words longer,  “Volcanes de chocolate con cumbre salada y centro de avellana” [chocolate volcanoes with a salty summit and hazelnut centre]. Secondly, did you spot the mistake? Nobody did, maybe I explained it really well in the commentary! It was only revising this article that I noticed that I was so carried away transmitting the image of a snowy covered volcano, like Volcán Ojos del Salado in Chile, that I made a mistake. Ouch!

But rather than hiding our human errors, let’s learn a lesson. When translating a recipe title, we need to consider the whole recipe rather than the individual words in the title. Carried away by creativity, I forgot the rest of the recipe. Obviously, the salt goes inside. This would be a very easy mistake to make using computer-assisted translation tools, known as CAT tools, where the text is divided into small boxes and the translator moves numbly down the segments. CAT tools are not good for getting an overview of the whole text and, therefore, we should treat recipe titles as we would article or book titles. Here is a revised translation: “volcanes de chocolate con cumbre nevada y centro de avellana” [snow-capped chocolate volcanoes with a hazelnut centre]. Also, there is a lot more dusting sugar in Béatrice Peltre's beautiful photography than on my amateur one!

Cultural referents

If you’re not a specialist or you haven’t done your research, you wouldn’t know that the invention of this heavenly cake is disputed between the French and the Americans. Béatrice Peltre, the author, is French and, even though her audience is American, she did not use the American term lava cake, which rather puts my translation into question. I will admit to having fallen for the imagery of the volcano with its wet crater, hence my ‘volcanes de chocolate’, which allowed me to further recreate the image. But… WHAT IF the author preferred a French term? Furthermore, on this occasion, Peltre recommends serving the cake in the ramekin where it was baked; therefore, you could argue it does not look like a volcano. I will retort that it has a crater, but I probably would translate it differently today.

If we wanted to avoid the volcano, we would be faced with fondant and coulant. According to blog Derechupete, each Spanish restaurant uses a different name for this cake, because the term ‘coulant au chocolat’ was patented by Michel Bras, his French inventor; therefore, you're not supposed to use it for any variation of it. To add fuel to the fire, coulant and fondant are often used as synonyms but technically they are two different cakes (see the two articles referenced at the end).

According to Diccionario de Gastronomía, the original coulant contains a ball of ganache inside which provides the melting centre. In Peltre’s recipe, this is a square of hazelnut-flavoured chocolate, not to be confused with chocolate with hazelnuts. So, what if we are not allowed to use either coulant or lava cake? For me, molten cake works in English, but a literal translation (melted cake) doesn’t. I have seen 'bizcocho fluido' [fluid cake] but, for a recipe name, it's not very appealing, in my opinion.

Onto the chocolate! Being French and all, Peltre loves Valrhona chocolate and Valrhona Gianduja is the variety with hazelnuts she recommends in this recipe. Alas, this would be very hard to find in Spain (and the UK) unless from a specialist online shop. Gianduja is made from a paste of chocolate and hazelnuts, not with brittle (like the chocolates sold in the UK), not with whole hazelnuts (as in Spain).

I was overjoyed when I found Valrhona at Heathrow airport the Christmas after my translation; it really is above the mark. More recently, I found Gianduja in the gourmet shop of Steff’s Kitchen in Beaulieu (New Forest, UK).

Returning to my translation, I wrote that, if using ‘chocolate con avellanas’ [chocolate with hazelnuts], you would find ‘tropezones’ [bumps], a word you could use to describe finding croutons in a soup. Are you a chocolatier? Have you got a good substitute for Gianduja?

Creative language

Different authors will pose different challenges. Peltre is quite creative. There is a whole imagery in this recipe, from the molten and dusted cake to the magic sensation of digging into your individual portion and finding the heavenly puddle of chocolate to the magic of melting happening in the oven. All this is in the recipe introduction, which I will not reproduce because of copyright reasons.


Four 3/4 -cup ramekins or six 2/3-cup ramekins

How easy is it to find ramekins in Spain? I live in the UK, so my port of call was the online page of El Corte Inglés, a high-end department store. There is a branch of El Corte in nearly every city in Spain. Even there, the only ramekin sold isramekin universal, but the measures are in centimetres: 9 or 11,5.

Converting volume to centimetres is a tricky issue. I used the measures from El Corte Inglés and, in the instructions, advised to be experimental, which is what Peltre suggests in her second book’s introduction. At the end of the day, you wouldn’t normally serve guests a dish you’re making for the first time.

Size does matter. When I made the fondants at home, I used two Le Creuset ramekins and one bigger individual pie dish. The Le Creuset cakes turned out perfect;  the one baked in the bigger dish was more like a brownie or a chocolate cake, though still delicious. My advice is to include a list of specialist shops at the beginning or back of the book as many cookbooks do and, as a translator, you would need to localise them.

Chocolate cake






Apart from chocolate, the recipe calls for pure vanilla extract and fleur de sel, two different problems.

Pure vanilla extract is difficult to find and expensive and vanilla sugar is more commonly used in Spain and France than the extract. Either you leave the original and list a shop to obtain it or you have to think that vanilla sugar and essence won’t work in the same way, won’t have the same strength and you will need to use your knowledge or research it to explain the conversion if the author has not done it for you. In this case, Peltre includes a paragraph in the ingredients chapter.

Fleur de sel is one of those ingredients that different brands and translators have translated their own way, and you will need to choose one translation based on some criteria, be it the regional variety of Spanish needed, frequency of use or reliability of the source. ‘Flor de sal’ sounds very literal but pretty; on the other hand, ‘sal en/de escamas’ is the term you find in supermarkets even though it makes you think of fish scales or skin fakes. Your call.

Verbs of command

Some of these are quite tricky. Warning: machine translation and food translation do not pair well. First, there are odd cases where Spanish is more succinct than English. For example:
- coat with flour = enharinar (which DeepL translates as ‘cover with flour’.
- dust the molds = espolvorear (which DeepL translates as ‘desempolve los moldes’ i.e. 'dust the moulds with a duster'.

More often than not, Spanish would be more wordy and you would need to be familiar with specialist vocabulary. For example:
- Tap the excess out.
- Beat until the batter is light and pale in colour.
- Fold in the flour.

In summary, translating a cookbook can be rewarding as it requires a variety of skills and a lot of creativity, but neither cookbook nor recipe translation are to be taken lightly and the task should be left to specialist translators.

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