Confusing terms – caramelo, tarta, bizcocho

I’ve finally finished grinding through 34 webpages for about 450 desserts at this very interesting Spanish receta website.  That study has certainly revealed a large number of terms related to desserts (dulces y postres) and I’ve isolated several that have multiple meanings and thus are difficult (without the picture and recipe) to recognize.

Let’s start with caramelo. Oxford translates this as ‘candy’ (for US,  or ‘sweet’ for UK) or ‘caramel’ (in the context azúcar fundida (molten sugar)). Checking the reverse translation for ‘candy’ yields golosinas (in confectionary context) and caramelo (in the individual piece context). golosinas appears nowhere in the 34 pages of dulces y postres and caramelo appears 7 times, sometimes as a candy, other times as caramel. has the same translations as Oxford except they say ‘caramel’ (in culinary sense, instead of molten sugar sense; IOW, they’re more general). If I were writing a receta (or menu item) I’d know which I mean but if I’m reading I’d have to guess.

The issue of tarta and bizcocho arise in a specific item I’ll discuss but tarta appears 60 times and bizcocho appears 49 times. Google Translate converts tarta to ‘cake’ (most of the time) but also to ‘pie’ and ‘tart’. There is quite a bit of difference between these and if I were ordering I’d like to know which the menu item is.  Google Translate converts bizcocho to ‘sponge cake’ (most of the time) or just ‘cake’ and a few times to ‘biscuits’ (meaning the UK name for cookies). Unlike tarta, bizcocho seems to have a fairly specific meaning (this English Wikipedia article covers it quite well including all the meanings based on geography and this Spanish Wikipedia article has multiple pages about it), especially in Spain, but the alternate translations it can have outside Spain is probably what confuses Google Translate.

The specific receta that triggered all this is:

Bizcocho genovés para tartas y brazos de gitano Genovese cake for cakes and gypsy arms

This allows us to explore several interesting topics.

First note the word-by-word correspondence where Google Translate has converted both bizcocho and tarta to ‘cake’ (we’ll get to brazos de gitano later).  But it’s actually the genovés (Genovese) that really tells us what this receta is.  And that is, otherwise known by its original name, genoise,

A genoise, Genoese cake or Genovese cake; rarely spelled “génoise” in English) is an Italian sponge cake named after the city of Genoa and associated with Italian and French cuisine.

So this is a basic sponge cake to use in making various other desserts under general notion of tarta. Now the recipe has this information in its preface:

hoy venimos con un básico, el bizcocho genovés, que no es más que la típica plancha de bizcocho que se usa principalmente para hacer tartas con relleno, brazos de gitano, y algún que otro postre que también os enseñaremos a hacer muy pronto. today we come with a basic, Genovese biscuit, which is nothing more than the typical plate of cake that is used mainly to make pies with stuffing, arms of gypsy, and the odd dessert that we will also teach you to do very soon.

Note that here Google Translate converts first instance of bizcocho as ‘biscuit’ (UK term for cookie) and the second as cake – how’s that for silly “context sensitivity”? Oxford translates bizcocho as ‘sponge’ or ‘sponge cake’ (as a pastel) and ‘sponge finger’ (as a galleta) which only slightly clears this up. Sometimes this would lead to viewing bizcocho as a ‘ladyfinger’, a cookie which is used in various desserts. Also it decided tarta refers to pies which we’ll see later is rarely the case.

Note also the use of plancha which has the corresponding word ‘plate’ in the Google Translation.  This is interesting since we normally encounter plancha (on menus) as a la plancha which more-or-less translates to cooked on “grill” (really an iron flattop in most restaurants).  plancha has the direct translation (from Oxford) as ‘iron’ or ‘griddle’, but also ‘plate’ or ‘sheet’.  Now ‘sheet’ is used in the context of metal or wood, but in this receta this is clearly a reference to ‘sheet cake’  (rather than ‘plate’) even though that’s not included in dictionaries.

So before moving on to tarta let’s address  brazos de gitano, which is literally ‘gypsy arm’.  This is discussed in the Wikipedia article on “Swiss roll” which says brazos de gitano is the equivalent term as used in Spain. In short this is just a rolled up sheet of sponge cake with some filling. The Spanish Wikipedia has a longer description.

So tarta translates to ‘cake’, ‘pie’ and ‘tart’ in the recetas at this site. Is this just an artifact of Google Translate or are these different items. Yes and No. Looking at the photos and instructions (for a sample, not all 60) tarta can be a pie or cake or tart (the distinction between pie and tart is less than with cake, if you happen to be a baker).

Oxford translates tarta only as ‘cake’ but has these two definitions:

1 Pastel redondo, dulce o salado, hecho con una masa en un molde de paredes bajas, que se cuece al horno y se rellena o cubre con diversos ingredientes que suelen mezclarse con huevos, leche o crema. Round cake, sweet or salty, made with a dough in a low-walled mold, baked and stuffed or covered with various ingredients that are often mixed with eggs, milk or cream.
2 Pastel dulce, generalmente grande, redondo y adornado, hecho con masa de bizcocho y relleno o cubierto de crema, nata, chocolate u otros ingredientes; en ocasiones se sirve helado o acompañado de otros del mismo tipo en varios pisos. Sweet cake, usually large, round and garnished, made with cake dough and filling or covered with cream, cream, chocolate or other ingredients; Sometimes ice cream is served or accompanied by others of the same type in several floors.

There are all kinds of interesting translation issues here (esp. pisos as ‘floors’, really ‘layer’ in context of a tarta), but I’ll leave these to you, Dear Reader, to study.

Meanwhile in contrast translates tarta as ‘cake’, ‘tart’ and ‘pie chart’ (in graphics context). But let’s look at the reverse.

In Oxford, cake is pastel (generally) and tarta (Spain); pie is pastel (generally) and empanada (savory); tart is tarta (we’ll ignore the slang fulana, you can check that). In cake is pastel (generally) and tarta (Spain) and bizcocho (in Puerto Rico, just to confuse things even more); pie is tarta, pastel and empanada; tart is tarta and pastel.

IOW, these translation dictionaries weren’t any help is disambiguating tarta as it might occur on the menu.  However, chances are, whether it’s cake, pie or tart it will probably be tasty enough to risk ordering.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s