In the recipe I used today to make some cacen siocled (chocolate cake), the word used to describe the result of mixing all the ingredients together is batter, at least in the English translation of the recipe. This is something I would call mixture – for me batter is a mixture of flour, water and a bit of salt that is used to coat fish before deep frying it. It sounds a bit strange to call cake mixture batter, though I have come across this usage from time to time, often in American recipes.

The word batter was first recorded in the late 14th century and comes from the Old French word batteure (a beating), from the Latin battuere (to beat, strike), and via Gaulish from Proto-Indo-European base *bhau- (to strike), which is also the root of buttock, butter, butt in English, via the Frankish *bōtan, the French word bouter (end, tip, butt, nub), and the Spanish botar (to bounce).

What does batter mean to you?

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, French, Language, Proto-Indo-European, Words and phrases.

11 Responses to Batter

  1. JoeInAtlanta says:

    Interesting, I had never been aware of a difference in the usage of the word “batter” between American and British English.

    But yes, at least in my (Southeast) part of the country, “batter” is almost universally used for both of the purposes you mention: cakes (and similar sweets) as well as fish (and similar fried meats). Sometimes you will hear the phrase “cake batter” — but the distinction is not necessary.

  2. Petréa Mitchell says:

    Batter is one of those I-know-it-when-I-see-it things. Deep-fried things are coated with batter (or you just fry the batter itself, like for churros or beignets). Cake and similar baked dessert items are made from batter. So are pancakes. Bread doesn’t come from batter, though; it’s from dough, as are cookies.

    “Mixture” shows up in US recipes sometimes, describing some collection of ingredients which have been combined together before being added into the main bowl. Also, you can buy cake mix or pancake mix, which is usually all the dry ingredients pre-combined.

    Another word from the same root is beadle, originally a travelling musician (one who strikes a drum), and, of course, its British variant beatle.

  3. Christopher Miller says:

    At least from a North American perspective, I think the main distinction between dough and batter is the relative proportion of liquid to the other ingredients. So griddle breads like pikelets and crumpets are made with a yeast batter, and some (usually sweet) breads are made with a dough that verges on the liquid state.

  4. Jayarava says:

    I was thinking of the action noun: batter – the one who is batting. Then I saw your drift and was thought of pakoras – vegetables deep fried in a spicy chickpea flour batter.

    One PIE connection you missed was *bhau having a variant *bhūt, that appears in Latin ‘confūtāre’ and English ‘confute, refute’ etc.

  5. Yenlit says:

    Initially I would’ve said ‘batter’ (pancakes etc.) and cake ‘mixture’ to me (BrE) aren’t interchangeable but as I think about it, mentally sounding out the combination of words ‘cake mixture Vs cake batter’ to be honest they do sound both natural although I’d personally, due to usage stick with my initial assumption. However, as this is a Welsh recipe I should add that batter-mixture is interchangeable as far as I know (I’m not much of a cook!)
    Specifically pancake, crêpe batter is ‘defnydd crempog’ (pancake ‘stuff’) whilst ‘cytew’ can mean any thick, stiff liquid batter or mixture.

  6. Yenlit says:

    Just having a quick look at translations of ‘batter’ some languages qualify and adjoin the word with a sense of ‘frying’ already:
    Spanish – pasta para freír
    French – pâte à frire
    Finnish – friteeraustaikina
    Swedish – frityrsmet
    Breton – toaz-fritãn
    Breton ‘toaz’ instantly reminds me of Welsh ‘toes’ – dough? So maybe this interchangeability of English batter and mixture isn’t as common in other languages?

  7. Andrew says:

    I’m American, I’ve heard the word used with both definitions: flour batter used for fish, and cake batter meaning the resulting dough used in a cake.

    Just one more of those subtle differences between American and British English.


  8. janestheone says:

    Batter is for frying fish and for pancakes and Yorkshire pudding. And for pakoras (which are called “beignets de legumes” in French). Mixture is for cakes and cake-like puddings. (Londoner living in France).

  9. Petréa Mitchell says:

    I started wondering if “button” was related, and sure enough

  10. sisofabc says:

    I’m an American, from the Southeastern part of the country and I have never heard anyone use the phrase “cake mixture” before. Cake mix, yes, but never “mixture”. It strikes me as a BrE usage.

    Cake mix, btw, refers only to the pre-packaged, measured ingredients that one buys at the grocery store. When properly prepared, the cake mix then produces a cake batter, which ones bakes in an oven to get a cake.

    There are also other kinds of batter, some sweet, some not. Distinguishing between kinds of batter is usually done by putting the name of the final product in front of the batter as a modifier: cake batter, pancake batter, brownie batter, hush puppy batter, corn bread batter (which is not like other kinds of bread dough) and the ubiquitous “deep fry” batter, for anything you want to stick in the deep fryer. Whatever it is, before you stick it in the fryer, you stick it in the batter.

  11. D says:

    Batter makes me think of cakes. Unless the context is fried food, then it’s what you refer to. Pancake batter is always pancake batter.

%d bloggers like this: