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#ThatTranslatorCanCook week 45: galettes nantaises

This week’s recipe comes courtesy of a guest baker, my friend and neighbour Emeline. Yes, you read that right, it’s galette! But a different type. This time, it’s galettes nantaises, a shortbread biscuit made with ground almonds, and, as it happens, her mum Janine's signature dish. This version is garnished with half an almond and glazed with egg for a lovely golden look.


Handwritten notes and abbreviations

The source recipe is from Ginette Mathiot’s Je sais cuisiner, a classic French cookbook. But like any recipe that’s been in a family for a while, this one’s been tried, tested, and tweaked. After some unsuccessful attempts, Janine added egg yolks to her mixture. So Emeline’s recipe book includes a note in pencil about this.

But this initially threw me. The following note was tagged onto the end of an instruction: ac les deux jaunes d’oeufs ([?] the two egg yolks). I thought maybe I had misread it, because I just couldn’t think what ac could stand for. Turns out Emeline’s was shorthand for avec (with). Now it all makes sense!

Both handwriting and shorthand or abbreviations pose their own translation problems. French handwriting at first looks indecipherable to the average English speaker. As for shorthand or abbreviations, there are some ‘standard’ versions that are commonplace and/or easily identifiable, like th (short for thermostat – a French way of expressing oven temperature). And then there are those that we use when we’re writing just for ourselves. When it doesn’t matter that no one else might understand them. If I’m taking notes during a webinar, I tend to use various abbreviations as I go. To be honest, I can no longer remember where I picked them up from. For instance, when handwriting I use:

  • ‘bc’, for because

  • ‘w/’ or ‘w + macron’ (the line above the ‘a’ here: ā), for with

  • ‘w/o’ for without

  • ‘°’ at the end of words, for ‘tion’, i.e. ‘popula°’

  • ‘org’, for organisation

  • ‘gov’, for government

Does anyone else use the same ones as me? Or have any tips for some other handy ones?

I know that many of us write by hand so infrequently these days, that these shortcuts are less and less relevant. That said, that's not always the case. I know interpreters, for instance, have a whole host of proper shorthand techniques up their sleeve to deal with the challenges of the job.

Also, we see similar abbreviations digitally. In fact, you might argue internet speak is almost a language in its own right. And just like any language, you need to be an active user to stay up-to-date with the latest trends, usage, and inventions. Add another language into the mix, and the potential for miscommunication becomes rife. For instance, not so long ago, I was puzzled by a message from a French friend which included tqt. Turns out it’s t’inquiète, or ‘don’t worry’.

I believe that being a competent and versatile translator requires the ability to understand, interpret (and, to a certain extent, use) – not just the ‘standard’ versions of our source and target language/s presented in tidy word documents – but also the ‘vernacular’ and everyday versions, internet-speak, the handwritten, and the text messages. Do you agree, dear reader?


Guest baker Emeline didn’t run into any problems with the baking. And I can testify to the fact that the biscuits were delicious – delicate and buttery with a beautiful almond flavour.

Recipe suggestions and adaptions

This recipe looks like a good one, and features the infamous egg yolks in the batter (meanwhile this one doesn’t).

Interestingly, the first of the two recipes above asks you to rub in the butter, while my source text didn’t, and neither does the second.

If, like me, you start thinking ‘why do you rub the butter into the flour anyway?’, here’s the answer, thanks to What Sarah Bakes:

"the rubbing-in method coats the flour proteins in a layer of fat. This means that it is harder for water to get through, resulting in less gluten – which means a finer and more tender crumb. I particularly like using the rubbing-method for a flaky pie crust or shortbread base where not much air is needed as a leavener."

Next week

It must be time for another dish cooked by me, I think!

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