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

Reading Time: 6 minutes

#THATTRANSLATORCANCOOK – WEEK 1 - 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, which was not restricted to the preface or chapter introductions.


The title
We stumble upon two issues here. 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? It was only revising this article that I noticed the slip in my translation. Nobody else did either.

But rather than hiding our human errors, let’s learn a lesson together. When translating a recipe title, we need to consider the whole recipe rather than the words in the original 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, aka CAT tools, where the text is divided into small boxes and the translator moves numbly down the boxes or 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 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! Do you have any other suggestions?

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 cookbook’s 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 choice: ‘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 that it does not look like a volcano. I will say, it still has a crater. What’s your opinion?

If we were to avoid the volcano, we would be faced with fondant and coulant. According to 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 of this post).  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/flowing cake] in a text but, for a recipe name, it's not very appealing, don't you think?

Onto the chocolate! Peltre loves the brand Valrhona and Valrhona Gianduja is the variety with hazelnuts she lists. Alas, this would be very hard to find in Spain (and the UK) unless you were to buy it from a specialist online shop. Gianduja is made from a paste of chocolate and hazelnuts, not with brittle (like many chocolates sold in the UK), not with whole hazelnuts (commonly sold in Spain). I was overjoyed when I found Valrhona chocolate at Heathrow airport the Christmas after my translation. It really is above the mark. More recently, I found Gianduja by chance in the gourmet shop of Steff’s Kitchen in Beaulieu (New Forest, UK). If you’re ever in the South of England, you must visit Beaulieu, a postcard-box village which boasts the beautiful Palace House, Beaulieu Abbey and the National Motor Museum, and you must eat at Steff’s Kitchen, located on the high street, which serves beautiful organic food.
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 [though technically it refers to meat pieces]. Are you a chocoholic or a chocolatier? Have you got an alternative substitute for Gianduja?

Creative language
Translating a cookbook will pose different challenges depending on the author. In this case, Peltre is quite creative, I like her style. 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.

Cooking implements
Four 3/4 -cup ramekins or six 2/3-cup ramekins
Is it easy to find ramekins in Spain? I live in the UK, so my port of call was the online page of El Corte Inglés, the equivalent of John Lewis in the UK, 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 serve guests a dish you’re making for the first time, or would you? However, size does matter. When I made these cakes at home, I used two Le Creuset ramekins and one bigger individual pie dish. The Le Creuset cakes turned out perfect [photo above];  the one baked in the bigger dish was more like a brownie or a chocolate cake, though still delicious [photo below]. My advice is to include a list of specialist shops at the beginning or back of the book, as many cookbooks do these days. As a translator, you would need to localise them.

Chocolate cake





Apart from chocolate, this recipe calls for pure vanilla extract and fleur de sel, two different kettles of fish.
Pure vanilla extract is difficult to find, and vanilla sugar is more commonly used in Spain. 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 own knowledge or research it and explain the conversion if the author has not done it for you. Helpfully, in this case Peltre does include a paragraph about it in the ingredients chapter.
Fleur de sel is one of those ingredients that different brands and translators have translated differently. You will need to choose one based on a specific criterium, be it the regional variety of Spanish needed, frequency of use, reliability of the source or your own preference. Whilst ‘flor de sal’ sounds very literal, ‘sal en/de escamas’ is the term you find in supermarkets even if it makes you think of fish. In Spanish ‘escamas’ also refers to fish scales and skin flakes… Hungry?

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.
- 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 cleaning duster'.

More often than not, Spanish would be more wordy, and you would need to be very familiar with specialist vocabulary. Examples:
- Tap the excess out.
- Beat until the batter is light and pale in colour.
You can translate this one literally if you think it will help the reader, but there is a one-word technical term for this in Spanish (as opposed to the ten words in the original), a term which could be added to the list of basic cooking techniques at the beginning of the book – which is what I proposed.
- Fold in the flour. Again, will need a much longer phrase in Spanish, so not a bad idea to save words in the previous instance. You will also need to understand what it means and be able to use the appropriate language.

All in all, translating a cookbook can be rewarding as it requires a variety of skills and creativity, but neither cookbook nor recipe translation are to be taken lightly. Do share your insights, comments and feedback here or on my Twitter and, if you've enjoyed it or found it useful, feel free to share the article.

Further reading:

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