What do these measurements mean?

Learning to cook Brazilian foods has been challenging on many different levels, but it has also been amazingly rewarding. Today, I am going to tell you about the challenges of deciphering Brazilian recipes. Yes I did say deciphering and I do not mean deciphering because I cannot read portuguese, no it is a different type of deciphering.

Reading Brazilian recipes is a whole challenge in and of itself. Although they are written very simply, understanding the measurements and directions is a whole guessing game. When I picked up my first Brazilian recipe book and flipped through to find a recipe for carrot cake I had to read through the recipe twice to make sure I was understanding everything. When I still couldn’t understand the measurements for all of the ingredients I turned to my husband and said “what the hell does 1 prato (1 plate) mean?” He was as dumbfounded as me and basically just said that it was a form of measurement that was used in the old times.

Wonderful, so I had stumbled across my first challenge with Brazilian recipes and quickly avoided any recipes that had the measurement of 1 prato. Yes, one plate of flour does sound very romantic, but it is not helpful when you are trying to make a cake recipe.

Sorry for the watermarks, but this was perfect! (www.jantoo.com)

Sorry for the watermarks, but this was perfect! (www.jantoo.com)

Although my dilemma of the plate measurement was somewhat easy to by-pass, other measurement problems were not and are still not. Recipes in Brazil, for some reason, almost always specify measurements in cups and spoons (I prefer weight measurements…but I can’t be too picky right?). Anyway, a wonderful problem that always comes up is when the recipe says “2 copos de farinha” (2 cups of flour). Now, to an American this is straightforward, you just reach for your measuring cup and measure out two cups of flour. In Brazil its not so simple. What the hell is one cup here? Some people mean one standard glass, others mean one american sized glass, and others use a measurement for cup from a cream cheese glass. So, one cup does not mean one nice simple standard measuring cup. Honestly, it can mean anything, whatever size cup you have in your house that’s what you should be using, but knowing that it’s the same measurement as that from the person who wrote the recipe is anyone’s guess.

After realizing that there wasn’t tons I could do about the cup issue I now use a standard american measuring cup and keep my fingers crossed hoping for the best.

Next dilemma with measurements in recipes is spoons. Holy crap do I get confused when it comes to using spoon measurements. Every recipe seems to have there own sized spoons, ways of writing, and ways of keeping things confusing. So the basic definition of spoons is this:

Colher de sopa = soup spoon
Colher de cha = teaspoon
Colher de sobremesa = dessert spoon
Colher de cafe = coffee spoon

When I first read this I quickly figured out that colher de sopa was going to be a tablespoon, phew got that figured out. But, the other three…what is the difference between them? Ok, they are all slightly different sizes but how do I translate this into some consistent measurements. Essentially this is what the size differences between the spoons are supposed to mean, but still, this doesn’t translate into anything that really helps with getting accurate measurements for my recipes.


Well, instead of fussing about things I somewhat guess on spoon measurements and once again hope for the best. If the recipe turns out great then wonderful, if not, well I have to go back and begin deciphering these measurements once more.

Another measurement that is commonly found in Brazilian recipes is the famous lata or can. Yup, the can which the sweetened condensed milk is in is used to measure the rest of the ingredients in the recipe. This measuring is wonderful and I am always excited to make a recipe that just requires me to use the condensed milk can to measure everything else out!

Ok, once I have gone through the ingredient list and somewhat managed to understand the measurements of everything it is on to the directions. Generally, this part goes a little bit smoother. Most recipes just tell you to toss everything into the blender, blend together, and then either put in the refrigerator or bake. Ah, here we go to the next area of confusion: oven temperature!

Oh man, this has me confused every time, and so far I haven’t managed to really figure things out and usually end up playing a guessing game. See, instead of giving nice round oven temperatures, most recipes like to just say a low, medium, or high oven. Really? What does a low oven really mean in degrees? Its all a guessing game from here as cooking times are never specified either! Luckily, I have a wonderful husband who knows the temperature for most things and I can just use him as my reference guide. But otherwise, too hell with knowing exactly what the exact oven temperature needs to be.

So yes, understanding Brazilian recipes has been a challenge and continues to be a challenge. From finding a recipe to understanding all of the measurements it can take some time, but after I have successfully managed to make what I was hoping to, I cannot complain about the difficult of reading and understanding the recipes. So far I have been able to find wonderful recipes, often combining four or five different recipes as there are so many different recipes for one dish! Yes, the measurements and oven temperatures are a challenge but they haven’t stopped me yet!

Happy cooking!



13 thoughts on “What do these measurements mean?

  1. Look at the bright side: at least you don’t have to deal with pounds, ounces, fluid ounces, degrees in Farenheit and other crazy non-metric units they use in American recipes. 😛

    Seriously now, “copo” typically means a “copo de requeijao” because a lot of people keep the glass to use as a drinking glass after eating all the requeijao. The size is pretty standard around 220-250ml.


    • Once I figured out a little bit more about the ‘copo’ measurements everything got much easier. But, I did get extremely confused for awhile as almost every recipe was giving me different ‘copo’ measurements from 150ml to 250ml.


  2. Your experience is quite funny! It’s easy for me (of course, I’m brazilian), but I also get puzzled when I hear people saying “X” inches, “X” feet and all those units of measurement…I just don’t seem to realize the extesion of what they’re talking about. It sucks sometimes…


    • Yes inches and feet are complicated and don’t make much sense!!!! Hopefully you don’t need to use those measurements too much 😉


  3. Love it! My husband always says that baking is a chemistry experiment, so it makes crazy how imprecise directions are for brazilian recipes. And yet their cakes usually turn out…we like the oven being at media (medium). 🙂


    • Yes baking is quite a chemistry experiment. The lack of directions for baking times always drives me crazy as I end up just sitting in front of my oven waiting to see if the cake is baked. But I agree, despite the clear directions Brazilian cakes always seem to turn out wonderful:)


  4. Loved this post! In fact, I’ve always found interesting that in general Brazilian recipes have very lax instructions, not only for measurements but also for temperature, time of baking, etc etc. It is a challenge sometimes, but a fun challenge anyway 😉


  5. I’ve seen some recipes with copo (americano) specified in it. phew, that’s what I was using. As for the spoons, well, I’ve never found that measurement very precise anyway! 😉


  6. Hi, my name is Laura and I lived in Brasil for 4 years. I loved it!!!! The lady that helped me clean the house bought me the different sizes of xicaras, like xicara de cha, xicara de café, as well as the colheres. Also as somebody said they use as copo the copo de requejaio they also have the copo Americano. You can buy the measuring cups and spoons in a “Avon” catalogue too.


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