Expat Baking in France – A Complete Guide

It’s been 8 years since I went through the growing pains of cooking abroad, that I had almost forgotten about it. It had been brought to my attention my a fellow expat (Hi Emma!) that it was difficult to find some of the ingredients in my recipes. I had gotten so used to calling up my good old friend Google to find equivalents for recipes. If I was looking for equivalents, then you must be too! So here you go! This expat baking guide is for all of you fellow expats out there that may be going through what I did!

When I first moved abroad, cooking was quite a learning curve. Oven’s were different, ingredients were different. Things that I knew how to make with my eyes closed were suddenly instant failures and I didn’t know why. Everything, from my ingredients to my atmosphere, was different!

Flour

Yes, even flour is different! French flours are graded based on the ash level in the ground flour (per 100g). The milling process is also different and flours are mixed different, making it difficult to give you an exact equivalent. Even the protein of the wheat itself is different, resulting in a dough that is a lot less elastic than if made with an American flour. This means that there is no exact replacement for American flours in France or vice versa, but these are the closest equivalents that I have been able to use successfully.

  • Cake/Pastry Flour – Farine T45
  • All-purpose Flour – Farine T55
  • High Gluten Flour – Farine T65
  • Light Whole Wheat Flour – Farine T80
  • Whole Wheat Flour – Farine T110
  • Dark Whole Wheat – Farine T150
expat baking in france

If you’re in the Paris area, you can find self-raising flour at international stores such as Marks & Spencer’s. Alternatively you can make your own!

Self Raising Flour – 1 cup (128g) all purpose flour + 1.5 teaspoon baking powder + 0.5 teaspoon salt.

For those of you who are abroad, you may notice that a lot of my recipes calls for T45 flour. If you don’t have this on hand, you can mix some all-purpose flour with corn starch to have a quick alternative to cake flour at home.

Cake Flour – 1 cup minus 2 tbsp (100g) all purpose flour + 2 tbsp cornstarch.

Most grocery stores carry T45, T55 and T65 flours. If you need anything stronger than that, you may find yourself going to a couple shops before you find what you need.

For those of you who are in the Versailles area, or don’t mind making the trip from Paris, I highly suggest going to Les Moulins de Versailles. Located next to the Versailles Chantier train station, they are a family run mill that have been open since 1905. All of their wheat is procured locally (within 100km) and is milled right in the heart of Versailles. They also have a small selection of other baking ingredients, bread baskets etc for sale in their shop.

Sugar

Sugar is pretty much the same. Here are the translations of the main sugars used in baking:

  • Granulated Sugar – Sucre en poudre /sucre en cristal
  • Powdered Sugar – Sucre glace
  • Raw Sugar – Sucre de canne
  • Brown Sugar – muscovado or vergeoise
expat baking in france

Sugar is pretty straight forward, as long as you know what the names are in French. It is important to note that French brown sugar is not the same as American brown sugar. To make muscovado (french brown sugar),the juice from the cane sugar is heated up and then once the liquid is evaporated, what is left is ground up into a powder. It has a similar flavor to American brown sugar, but is not the same.

You can however, make your own brown sugar at home. If you have a mixer (or food processor), all you need is molasses and granulated sugar.

  • For light brown sugar the ratio of sugar to molasses is 1 cup : 1 tbsp
  • For dark brown sugar, the ratio of sugar to molasses is 1 cup : 2 tbsp (or 3tbsp, depending on how dark you want).

Mix until thoroughly combined and store in an air tight container or zip lock bag.

Molasses

Thankfully now days you can actually order molasses on Amazon.fr. When I first moved abroad, it used to me one of the ingredients that I would lug back in my checked luggage.

You can alternatively find molasses (mélasse in French) at any natural food stores, such as Naturalia. Much like any ingredient you find abroad, it will never be 100% the same as what is available in your home country. Molasses in France is actually sulfured and unrefined. It also has a much stronger flavor than American molasses.

If you find that it is too strong for you, you can cut it with a mild/neutral flavored honey. Of course if you prefer a stronger molasses, use it as normal. However, be aware that it may overwhelm other flavors in the recipe.

Yeast

You can find levure du boulanger in the baking aisle of any supermarket, which is active-dry yeast. If you want instant yeast, look for levure instantanée. Personally I have a harder time finding the latter.

For most of my baking needs, I use fresh cake yeast or levure boulanger fraîche. It is quite easy to come by in France and personally I find that it gives my baked goods a deeper flavor. Plus, I’ve never had a yeast fiasco where my baked goods didn’t rise properly due to not properly activating my yeast. You can buy it at any bakery, or natural food stores (stored in the cold section). They normally come in 42g sized cubes. My local bakery sells them for 35 cents a cube. Since I bake a lot, I generally grab a couple cubes each time I go. As long as they stay sealed, they won’t dry out faster than I can use them.

If you’re unable to get a specific type of yeast, you can of course substitute it with different type of yeast. To convert from fresh yeast to active dry yeast, multiply the fresh quantity by 0.4. Active dry yeast must be hydrated in warm water before being incorporated into a dough.

To convert from fresh yeast to instant dry yeast, multiply the fresh quantity by 0.33. Instant yeast can be incorporated into the dough without first re-hydrating it.

Cream

Cream was a difficult one to get the hang of personally. I was so used to going and picking up a pint of half & half, which doesn’t exist in France. Hopefully this list breaks it down for you.

  • Half & Half – There is no equivalent but you can make it at home. Half and half is a mix of 1/2 whole milk and ½ cream. For a more detailed post on half & half, The Kitchn has you covered, click here.
  • Heavy cream – crème entière / crème fleurette / crème liquide
  • Low fat heavy cream – crème légère
  • Sour cream – crème fraîche
  • Buttermilk – lait ribot or lait fermenté
expat baking in france

I always replace my sour cream with crème fraîche (30% fat), but if you’re looking for a lighter substitution for baking, full fat fromage blanc (20%) works as well.

If you’re like me and never have buttermilk because you can’t use the whole carton before it goes bad, you can make your own. Add 1 tbsp of white vinegar to 1 cup (240ml) of milk and let it sit for about 10 minutes prior to using it. I use this 99.9% of the time and it works the same!

Cream Cheese

In recent years, Philadelphia cream cheese as become more common and you can buy it in almost any grocery store in the chilled cheese section. British stores, such as Marks & Spencers carry their own brand of cream cheese. Many people in France use Kiri for making cheesecake but you can also use St. Moret.

If you’re wanting to make a cream cheese frosting, keep in mind that Philadelphia cream cheese in France actually has a lower fat content, than in the US. Here in France, it only has 21% fat, where as in the US 34%. Why am I mentioning this? Personally, I have been unsuccessful in making a cream cheese frosting here in France. So if you’ve ended up with a soupy mess, the fat content most likely is the reason. I suggest making a Swiss meringue buttercream and then add cream cheese to that. It tastes just as good and holds up enough to pipe or ice a cake.

Corn Syrup

As another ingredient that I bring home on my very rare trips, corn syrup is quite difficult to get your hands on in France. Personally, I don’t use it that much. However it’s a essential ingredient for pecan pie which I make every year for Thanksgiving. American corn syrup can be found in expat stores that are scattered around Paris, however they come at a hefty price.

You can find light corn syrup at some Asian markets such as K-Mart & Tang Frères for a lower price point. Alternatively, it is said that you can replace corn syrup with glucose syrup, however I have personally not tested that yet. Glucose syrup is available in the baking aisle of most supermarkets or you can buy it at professional baking supply shops, such as G. Detou or Mora.

Cornmeal

Cornmeal can be found mostly in North African markets and is called farine de maïs or semoule de maïs depending on how fine or coarse it is. Alternatively, you can make it yourself at home if you have a food processor and corn kernels. Costco, which recently opened south of Paris, carries fine cornflour and big buckets of unseasoned corn kernels, so I generally pick up one of each and then I’m set for about a year.

Chocolate

Getting your hands on baking chocolate is quite a bit easier than in the USA. If you need bittersweet or dark chocolate, you can use any chocolat noir tablets in the supermarket. If you’re looking for a stronger chocolate or chocolate in bulk, G. Detou sells chocolate in bar or drop form. They also sell the heat resistant chunks, if you want to make some chunky chocolate chip cookies. If you’re not in the Paris area, you can order bags chocolate from Alice Délice or La Boutique des Chefs. La Boutique des Chefs has promotions quite frequently. I nabbed a 5kg bag of good quality Barry dark baking chocolate a while back for 25 euros. Their shipping is a bit slower than other sites, so keep that in mind if you need chocolate quickly.

expat baking in france

For cocoa powder, every supermarket has one or two option. As dutch processed cocoa powder is the norm in France, anything you can get will do. I buy 1kg sized bags at G. Detou of bitter cocoa powder from Barry Chocolate for around 10 euros. If you bake quite a bit, buying bulk definitely pays off.

Baking Soda & Baking Powder

You can find baking soda (bicarbonate de soude) and baking powder (levure chimique or poudre à lever) in any supermarket. Alternatively, most expat stores carry American or British brands, however again the prices may be quite high. I buy baking powder in bulk at Costco. For baking soda, I found bulk bags at the garden center of all places!


Well there you have it! This expat baking guide ended up a bit longer than I had initially planned, but I wanted to make sure that I hit all of the main elements. If there is anything else you need equivalents for, let me know in the comments section below!

Would you also appreciate other expat related posts? Where to shop for baking equipment or markets in the Paris area? Let me know! I truly do appreciate hearing from all of my lovely readers!


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