American ingredients in France

You can find most American ingredients at major supermarkets like Carrefour, Auchan and Monoprix. But sometimes there are things you just can't get your hands on. That's when you turn to the good people of My American Market, an on-line American store based in Toulouse. They are a wonderful team and carry just about anything an American expat or americanophile could possibly need.

David Lebovitz, an American pastry chef living in Paris, has a great list for American baking in Paris.

The Land O'Lakes website also has a good list of ingredient substitutes. Or you can refer to the back of the Joy of Cooking. 

Allspice - called piment de jamaique in French, you can find it with the fancy spices in supermarkets or green grocers. You can also find it at stores that sell "exotic" spices such as Caribbean, Asian and African. If you still can't find any, you can use equal parts cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Baking powder – I use Sure Rich brand in a big red can that I buy at my local Asian supermarkets. Or you can use standard levure chimque sold in little packets at the supermarket.

Baking sodabicarbonate de soude is usually available along side the salt at big supermarkets. I buy arm and hammer imported from New Jersey via Hong Kong from my Asian supermarket. Otherwise, you can ask at the pharmacy for “bicarbonate de soude” which is often used for cleaning or stomach issues. Make sure you specify that it is for consumption. They may laugh at you and tell you that it's not edible, but they are wrong. 

Black beans - I once saw a can of black beans at an Auchan supermarket. You can buy them dry from organic stores. Soak them in boiling water for an hour then cook them over medium heat until they are soft (about an hour and a half).

Brown sugar – When I first arrived in France in 1996, brown sugar was non-existent. When I moved in Lille, I discovered “vergoeise”. Brown sugar as we Americans know it is readily available in Northern France where it is traditionally made from beetroots.There is saveur vergoeise sugar commercially available at most supermarkets. But it's actually cane sugar with caramel color and glucose syrup for moisture. It works well in all recipes I’ve tried.
I personally use sucre graeffe which is beetroot sugar. It has a slightly organic smell to it but it works well as a one to one replacement from brown sugar (light or dark) in all recipe’s I’ve tried. However, it is difficult to find as it is very local to Belgium/Northern France.  It exists in both dark and light versions. The dark version is double cooked and is often called sucre candy.  

Butter - French butter tends to be creamier than American butter. This is because the fat content in European butter is higher than in American butter. To balance this out, you either need to cut the butter, add a little extra flour, make sure your batter is very cold before going in the oven. Or all of the above. (Here's an interesting article on US versus French butter)

Buttermilk – although buttermilk can be easily found at North African stores, I generally use whole milk yogurt as a one-to-one replacement for buttermilk simply because I use so little buttermilk at a time that I end up throwing it out. If you are brave, you can drink a glass every morning like my grandmother did. She claimed that is what made her live to the ripe old age of 95.

Cake flour - farine de gâteau is what I'd called self-rising flour. It containts baking powder. If you want what Americans call cake flour (ie smooth and fine), you should look for something like Farine Suprême sans grumeaux. 

Cheddar Cheese - my local Carrefour has a few different kinds of cheddar. Yay! If you can't find cheddar, you can use cantal entre deux, which melts the same as cheddar but doesn't have that tang. A good substitute is half cantal entre deux and half jeune mimolette.

Chili Powder - I have found it from time to time at the specialty spice store. Tex-mex cooking is becoming more common so it's sometime possible to find it at the supermarket. When you find it, stock up because you don't know when you'll see it again.

Chocolate chips- You can buy, small overly priced packs of them at French supermarkets or just buy some 64% baking chocolate and chop it into small pieces.

Corn meal – you can buy farine de maïs at organic stores or Asian/African stores. Don't use maïzena which is corn starch and is a thickener or can be a substitute for SOME flour (not ALL) in cake recipes.  

Corn on the cob - épis de maïs is considered cow fodder in France.You may be able to find fresh ears at the market in September (Wazemmes market in Lille has them). When I find them, I shuck them, wrap them in foil and freeze them. Otherwise, Picard sells ears of corn which aren't too bad. 

Corn syrup- I've never actually found any in France. But sometimes I use golden syrup that I find in the international section of the supermarket. Apparently, corn syrup can be found at some Asian stores but I’ve never found any.

Cottage cheese - get in touch with Danone (called Jockey cottage cheese) if you can't find it at your local Monoprix or Auchan. They will send you a list of where to buy it near you. 

Cranberries -They are  also know as airelles or canneberges or cranberries (said with a French accent). Airelles are the smaller Scandanavian cousins of our native American cranberries. You can find them frozen at Picard. Over the past couple years, I've randomly found fresh cranberries at Monoprix, Auchan and Carrefour from the end of November to the end of December. Dried cranberries have become easy to find over the past couple years thanks to a push from the cranberry grower's association of America! Woohoo!

Cream cheese- When I first got to France, Belgium used to be my source for Philly cream cheese. Thank goodness Kraft finally put it on the French market! For baking, any of the brands seem to work more or less.  If you are looking to make cream cheese frosting though, you need Philly creamcheese because French creamcheese it doesn’t stand up well to being beaten. In my experience, the store brand Carrefour and Monoprix cheeses work best but make lumpy frostings

Cream of tartar - still looking, although vinegar can do that trick. Until then, I hold onto my stock to make angel food cake.

Flour – There are so many different types of farine. I usually use farine type 65 quite simpl because that's the organic flour that my local supermarket sells. Farine de gateaux which literally translates as cake flour  that you find at supermarkets is actually self-rising flour.  Farine patisserie is more equivalent to American cake flour. The most common flour in France is Type 55 or 65 which seems to be a little finer that all-purpose American flour. To make up the difference, I usually add an extra 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour. If you don't have any whole wheat flour on hand, you can just add an extra 1/4 cup of plain flour. The recipes here all include the adaptation.

Gluten free – When I first came to France in 1996, there weren’t even any alternatives to full fat and full sugar products. So looking for foods for special diets in this country is pretty difficult. I have experimented with some of the recipes to adapt to one of my coworkers with a gluten allergy and have included the information in the recipes when possible.  Most French baking powders are NOT gluten free.  The best option for Gluten Free flour is mixing your own. Organic stores sell a variety of GF flours : millet, rice, corn, chestnut, teff, quinoa. You will also find arrowroot, xanthan gum and guar gum at organic stores. If you are looking for ready made GF flour mixes, do not buy it at the supermarket because it’s vile as are most of the GF  prepackaged foods you can buy there. For GF foods, I either buy pre-packaged things at the orgnic store or order it on line. Doves’ Farm in the UK makes a great GF flour mix which makes an almost perfect replacement for gluten flour. If you are gluten intolerant, you can use einkorn (called petit épautre) flour in your recipes. It seems to work well and tastes good. and because it still has some gluten in it, very little compared to wheat, it’s easier to digest and  still holds your cakes together.

Jalapenos - when you see them, buy a ton because they are rare to come by. Check LIDL when they have their special American week. 

Maple Syrup - sirop d'érable is becoming a common ingredient. You can either find it alongside the foreign products at larger supermarkets (with the English products!) or at organic stores. And sometimes, you can find it next to the crème de marron and honey.

Molasses –  called mélasses in French, it can be easily found at organic stores. In my experience, it is imported from the Netherlands. It is very dark.You can also buy treacle which is what our English cousins call molasses.

Oil - Back in the US, I'd go for corn oil when baking but it's not as easy to find here. So I tend to use peanut oil, huile d'arachide, or sunflour oil, huile de tournesol, for baking. Huile d'olive, olive oil, is readily available as is huile de colza, canola oil. I favor peanut oil when baking because I find the other oils change the flavor too much. But that's me...and maybe you like the other oils better. Or you can refer to these tips for replacing butter in recipes. Most of them also work for replacing oil in baked goods.

Peanut butter –  sometimes called pâte d’arachides or beurre de cacaouettes. Unsweetened peanut butter is available at organic stores or in the organic section of the supermaket. You can also find sweetened peanut butter mixed in with the jams - often next to the nutella and speculoos spread - at the supermarket. It’s also available in African and Asian stores.

Pumpkin purée/ pumpkin pie filling - Canned pumpkin doesn't exist in France, but Picard sells frozen pumpkin purée which is probably even better. But pumpkin purée is really easy to make. Mehtod 1)  peel and chop the pumpkin and cook in enough boiling water to just cover it until the flesh is soft and mushy, then mash with a potato ricer (or food processor). Method 2) cut the pumpkin in half and lay it face down on a baking sheet. Add a couple tablespoons of water and bake in a 200°C oven for about 30 minutes until the flesh is soft.

Pumpkin pie spice - In England, you can find it under the name of mixed spice. In Belgium or the Netherlands, you can find it as speculoos spice. Or you can just make your own using 4 Tablespoons ground cinnamon, 4 teaspoons ground ginger, 4 teaspoons ground nutmeg and 3 teaspoons ground allspice (or cloves).

Sour cream –  I replace it with crème fraiche or plain yogurt, depending on what I have on hand. In baking, the crème fraiche tends to make cakes denser than sour crème. If using in a dip, you can use rème fraiche or greek style yogurt. 

sweet potatoes - you can find them in Asian or African produce stores. They are yams, igname in French, and their flesh is white as opposed to the bright orange color we get in the US.

Vanilla Extract- You can buy some a the supermarket, but it's sweeter than the pure extract we usually use in American recipes. You can either use that or sucre vanillé (vanilla sugar) and decrease the sugar accordingly. Or, you can make your own vanilla extract.  

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