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By using empirical rules related to the state of the ingredients (look, physical properties, etc). French especially has developed a very rich technical vocabulary for this. For example, the continuum from sugar to caramel has very precise phases (and words to name them) that you can recognize by color, consistence, and so on even if you can't measure the temperature of the sugar.

I'm glad this is the top comment, because I was really confused by the question and it explains why. Indeed, I'm French, and the only thing that I have heard people (including among people who have a cook diploma) use a thermometer for is fine pastries (e.g., meringue, don't know how they are called in English).

Sous vide cooking is a trendy cooking technique (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sous-vide ) which depends on good temperature control.

The French chef and molecular gastronomist Hervé This, for example, developed "6X degree C" eggs, that the, long-term cooking of egg at exactly, say, 65 degrees C.

You can order them at, for example, Blue Valentine in Paris, says his review at http://www.yelp.com/biz/blue-valentine-paris .

Well, I suppose even in France you set the oven to 200 degrees.

Not exactly. You would probably set it to 7 instead.

Really? In Denmark all ovens have temperature settings, except for older gas ovens, which are quite rare (though gas stoves are fairly popular still)

So I'm guessing you are mostly using gas ovens in France?

There are still a lot of those yes, but not only, we also have oven with exact temperature control. The thing with ovens is that whether you do or do not have this control, you just keep an eye on what you are cooking and get it out when it is cooked like you want it (judging with eyes, smell, and sometimes a knife for instance to get a feel of the internal texture of what you cook). So it really is okay to only know if your oven is somewhat hot, hot, or really hot.

Oh that makes a ton of sense, do you know of any pre thermometer texts about this, thank you for bringing sense to my bar discussion

Not a pre-thermomenter text, but a good summary: https://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/candy/sugar-stages.htm...

To bring this full circle, my wife's sugar thermometer has the stages ("soft ball" etc) marked on it alongside the temperatures.

To insert a side rant on the subject: this is why IoT cooking gizmos like smart pand get a terrible reception. Because there's already a full set of tranditional techniques for cooking, most of which are fairly easy to learn with time.

Sous vide is revelation for delicate proteins and transforms low and slow for tough ones.

For everything else there is pressure cooker (which by the virtue of its design is extremely high tech/precise instrument).

I think any cookbook that predates the electrical oven, or at least its popularity, will do. Also, many old cookbooks tend to be generally vague on such details (I am thinking of Escoffier, for example). From what I have seen, algorithmic-like precision in recipes is more common in recent cookbooks than in old ones.

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