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#ThatTranslatorCanCook week 52: Strawberry Charlotte

Ça y est ! I’m there! It’s week 52. The final week of this year-long recipe translation, cooking, and blogging challenge.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little relieved to be finished. Don’t get me wrong – it’s been a great experience. I’ve learned loads, from new terms and approaches in culinary translation, to cooking, baking, and drink mixing skills. It’s provided an interesting basis for discussion with colleagues, friends, and family. But when life’s been busy, it’s felt like just one more thing on a long to-do list. But I was far too stubborn to stop. And I’m glad I stuck with it.

Besides, I’ve not yet run out of things to discuss. Just one of the joys of translation is the multiple different translation options or approaches you can choose, and this provides plenty of fodder for discussion. So I may well do pen this sort of post again, just not as regularly. Anyway, let’s get stuck into what this bumper edition.

This week’s dish is a Strawberry Charlotte (thanks Carole for the recommendation!) This delicious summery dessert is made with ladyfinger biscuits, cream, mascarpone, and plenty of strawberries. It looks impressive yet is surprisingly simple to make.


The case for adaptation

My source recipe started off with a wonderful little introduction:

Quand les fraises pointent le bout de leur nez, rien de mieux qu'un beau dessert pour les mettre à l'honneur ! Pour ça, sortez vos biscuits boudoirs, il est temps de réaliser une charlotte !

(Gist translation: When it’s strawberry season, there’s nothing better than preparing a lovely dessert that really makes the most of them. Get out your ladyfinger biscuits, it’s time to make a Charlotte!)

The two main problems with this as a translation revolve around the beautifully named ‘ladyfinger biscuits’ – boudoirs in French.

When I first started translating, I typed out: ‘It’s time to get out your ladyfingers[…]’

Hang on… that certainly sounds odd. To borrow Solène Binet’s analogy, translation is lot like cooking. Like the first pancake, the first draft can be a flop. In fact, I think this is another great aspect of working as a translator. It’s entertaining. Overly literal translations or unusual turns of phrase can be a source of great amusement. And in these times of health, economic, and environmental doom and gloom, we’re probably all in need of laugh.

But there’s another problem here, beyond my original clumsy wording. ‘Getting out your ladyfinger biscuits’ implies they’re just waiting patiently in the cupboard. I don’t think the average British home cook (my fictional target audience) has packets of ladyfinger biscuits lying about taking up valuable kitchen real estate. If they were that common, they’d likely be stocked in the medium-sized supermarket local to me (they’re not).

In the same vein, the gist translation I provided implies the target audience knows what a Charlotte is. I’d argue this also isn’t the case for my target audience.

So I decided to depart from the source text. I came up with the below. Of course, this is just one potential solution. There are plenty of other techniques or ways of wording these sentences you could use here.

‘When strawberries are in season, nothing beats a beautiful dessert that really makes the most of them. A strawberry charlotte is the perfect dish to do just that.’

You’ll see I’ve completely omitted mention of those troublesome ladyfinger biscuits. I’d be interested to hear other people’s techniques or suggestions for this sentence.

The thing about noses

The same section features the following idiomatic expression: pointent le bout de leur nez. Word-for-word, this means (if I’ve got this right), ‘stick up their noses’. It’s used figuratively to mean ‘showing up’ ‘appearing’, or ‘rearing its/their head/s’.

But it got me pondering about all the funny expressions to do with noses. In English, we have the following (definitions courtesy of Collins Dictionary):

  • Sticking your nose in [someone’s business] / being nosy – to be interested in things that don’t concern you

  • Thumb your nose at someone or something – to show contempt or disrespect

  • Nose (in a direction) – to move slowly and carefully (often used for cars)

  • Follow your nose – follow the most obvious route to get somewhere (literally or figuratively), or go straight ahead

  • Keep your nose clean – behave and stay out of trouble

  • Toffee-nosed – someone that has a high opinion of themselves and a low opinion of other people.

This is just a small selection. Turns out there are far more than I realised. But why? What is it about the home of the olfactory organ that gives rise to so many expressions? Who noes…

It seems that French has a bit of a thing for noses too. CNRTL lists rather a lot of formulations with nez. Many relate to a nose’s shape or colour. But there are also several other idiomatic expressions, such as:

  • Avoir le nez dessus, avoir le nez sur quelque chose – Être tout prêt. [To have a nose above, or have the nose on something – to be ready.]

  • Avoir du nez ou avoir le nez creux. Synonyme: avoir du flair, être perspicace [To have some nose, or to have an empty nose. Synonymous with having a sense for something, an intuition.]

  • Faire un pied de nez. Contrefaire, par moquerie, un nez allongé, à l'aide d'un geste de la main. [To ‘make a nose foot’ – to mock someone by creating a ‘long nose’ with your thumb extending from the tip of your nose. You really need a picture for this one – see the Wikipedia page. When I see it, I instantly think of kids playing tag, accompanied with ‘nah nah nah nah, you can’t catch me’. What I didn’t know is that there’s a specific name for this gesture in English too: ‘to cock a snook’]

Anyway, you’ve probably had it up to here with noses by now.

On a creamier note

My recipe called for crème liquide 30% MG (liquid cream with 30% fat). So I researched what British cream type that corresponds to. If you’re interested, BBC GoodFood has some good information. But the French method for referring to cream in terms of its fat content is quite handy. It means all you need to do is check the labels and pick one that’s closest. For me, this turned out to be ‘whipping cream’, at 36% fat. (If you choose one that’s too low in fat, it simply won’t whip and won’t hold together in this recipe).


Well the warm weather has continued, so I was glad this recipe didn’t involve any cooking. It wasn’t complicated to make either. The most difficult part was trying to serve it up without everything falling apart.

Another tricky bit was that I couldn’t find mascarpone at the time, so had to do a bit of googling for substitutes – I used ricotta instead and that seemed to work well.

The end result was delicious. The strawberries really were the star of the show, and it was lovely and light. I think using ricotta in place of mascarpone meant it was a little less sweet, but that suited me just fine.

Strawberry charlotte all pretty and ready to eat

Strawberry charlotte falling apart after it's been sliced
A slice of strawberry charlotte with strawberry iced tea
Strawberry Charlotte with strawberry iced tea

Recipe ideas

Most of the English recipes I’ve found include a Bavarois cream, whereas mine was much simpler. This recipe is the closest I could find, though it does use gelatine. Mine didn’t include gelatine – perhaps because the mascarpone is thick enough to help it (theoretically) set. Then again, it did fall apart once I cut it open – maybe gelatine would help after all.

Up next

Well next week there will be no #ThatTranslatorCanCook post. But shortly I hope to publish a brief recap of the challenge, with some of my highlights. So keep your eyes peeled for that. And I’ll be publishing more posts related to copywriting and translation in the future too.

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