There is no right or wrong way to bake. Or rather, the “right” way is whatever way has you aching with pleasure when you pull a lovely loaf or perfect pie from the oven and taste that first bite of heaven.
So when I say – rather loudly, sorry – “WEIGH YOUR INGREDIENTS, PEOPLE!” please understand that’s just a suggestion. Okay, a very strong suggestion. Some would even say I’m fanatical about it.
If you don’t believe that my way is the only one that merits consideration, think about this experiment I did with a few friends not long ago, using my favorite problem child, flour:
Everyone measured out one cup of white flour from the same bag, using their usual measuring technique. When we weighed each cupful on my kitchen scale we found they ranged from 127 to 148 grams. That’s a difference of up to 15%.
Don’t think 15% makes much difference? In the world of bread, it’s huge. Using 15% more flour can transform what’s supposed to be ciabatta into something more like French bread, or sandwich bread into something as stiff as a bagel. And vice versa.
Part of the problem is that everyone has a different method of measuring by volume. I was taught to fluff the flour, then spoon it lightly into the cup and level with the back of a knife. Cook’s Illustrated instructs us to dip the cup into the flour, then sweep with a straight edge. Martha Stewart can’t make up her mind: her Baking Handbook advocates dip-and-sweep, but her website admonishes us to spoon, not dip. And even if everyone could agree on a single technique, the lightness of the baker’s touch, as well as how densely the flour is settled into its original container, can make a significant difference.
Adding to the confusion is that the volume of a “cup” is not standardized. In the US, it’s about 237 milliliters. In Australia, it’s 250; in the UK’s Imperial system, 285. (Most of the non-English-speaking world already has it right; they use metric weights.) Now that sharing recipes across oceans is as easy as cracking open a cookbook, this lack of standardization can leave us scratching our heads.
A scale, equal-opportunity instrument that it is, obviates all of that. Put the bowl on the scale, zero it, and add flour until you reach the right weight. Pour, spoon, or throw it into the bowl by large or small fistfuls; it’s all the same to the scale. And a gram is a gram, from Minneapolis to Madrid to the moon.
Other dry ingredients, especially those like brown sugar and grated cheese that can be packed with varying density, are also great candidates for weighing. By zeroing (or taring) after each addition, ingredients can be scaled directly into the mixing bowl one after the other. Saves washing a few dishes, too.
I also scale liquid ingredients, although the chance of overpouring makes it risky to add them directly to other ingredients. And small ingredients, such as yeast and salt, are still best measured by volume, unless your scale can handle fractions of a gram.
Some North American cookbooks and other recipe sources still list ingredients only by volume, but many baking books in my library give weights too, in metric (grams/kilograms) and/or avoirdupois (ounces/pounds) units.
I recommend a digital scale that can handle at least 5 kg and can switch between metric and avoirdupois, with a precision of 1 gram and 0.05 ounce. I prefer one that is lightweight and slim to allow it to slip easily into a kitchen drawer. Here are a few in the $25 – $50 range that fill that bill:
- My Weigh i5000 (this is what I use)
- Escali Primo
- Soehnle Level
Ulrike aka ostwestwind says
Thanks :-)))! And food chemists are able to pour 5 ml from a 10 l bucket to their baking bowl, just teasing! I grew up with scales, my grandma had a beam and scales. I liked to play with the weights, especially with 1 gram.
I use 12 grams for 1 tablespoon of oil…
baking soda says
I adore my Salter scale, it’s flat, square, taring, digital and switches between metric and avoirdupois. (Although some idiot decided that it would be nifty to make the surface a brushed steel thing …)
The fact that a cookbook gives weights is one of the major to buy or not to buy factors.
Gretchen Noelle says
Your fanaticism has inspired me. I am looking for a scale. I was going to do your sourdough starter recipe and realized I would be much better off with a scale. Need to find out that will work for me here. So, know all your shouting is not in vain. 🙂
Ta da and Amen!
I’ve done that same experiment myself with the cup of flour and was so impressed that even the same hand had between 15 & 20 gram difference.
Now, I’ve taken to weighing favorite recipes and writing them into my books or files – when I’m happy with the results – so I can just use the scale.
And I think it’s pretty cool to have fewer dishes to wash!
Those scales are not that expensive anymore! Couldn’t live/bake without it. can’t understand that there are still books coming on the market with just weight by volume. But hey I’m european, so used to metric. And things like flour can even be different on a scale (humidity), but that is not as much difference as in cups. Still people have baked with cups for ages with good results… and sometimes I buy a book with just the cups/spoons-method, it works but I write the weight down (my 1 cup of flour is 140 g) and use the scales… so make your life easier and weight in grams/ounces. And cookbook authors…please at least add the metric weights too!
I couldn’t live without my scale– I even take it on vacation (where I also bake since being on vacation is no excuse to start eating store-bought bread…).
I just found your site and love it! 🙂
I love weighing ingredients–I vastly prefer it. But thanks to so many US cookbooks only providing volume measurements I found I was better off searching for how that cookbook author measured the flour and then emulating that for that recipe. I used to use King Arthur’s measurement (in ounces) for flour but it became apparent they are on the skimpy side for a lot of other recipes.
What do you do when you are baking from a recipe that only gives volume?
I totally agree with your post Susan, except for one little part: I wouldn’t recommend the Escali scale, based upon what I read about the lack of consistent quality (large quantities of no-name scales are purchased cheap and have the Escali label slapped on them, and voila, the Escali scale) of the Escalis in a digital scale online magazine.
Ulrike, my tablespoon holds 14 g of oil. Another example of why we need weights!
Baking Soda, your scale sounds perfect and the brushed steel wouldn’t bother me, I think I’d rather like it.
Gretchen Noelle, my voice is getting hoarse, thank goodness it’s not all for naught!
Tanna, I mark up my books the same way, in pencil as I’m working then in pen once I know it’s right.
Lien, agreed, metric units are so much easier to work with than pounds and ounces. But if the scale can switch to either one it’s not so bad.
Vicci, glad you found me, welcome!
Laura, I do same as you, try to use the same measuring method as the author. Otherwise I estimate at 140 g per cup.
Abbey, thanks. Can you give a link to that info? Let me clarify that I am not necessarily endorsing the above scales (except the i5000, which I have and love). I hope that anyone considering a purchase would research it to his/her satisfaction. My list was simply by way of saying that there are a number of scales out there that meet the criteria that I would minimally look for if I were going to purchase one.
I love your blog, and your photos always inspire me to bake.
I’ve been making all the bread for my family for a year now, and love using the scale. I’m always using a new recipe (so many to try!); consistent weight is not so important to me. I do enjoy the Mad Scientist Feeling I get as I’m upending bags of flour and bottles into a single pot.
Speaking of science, since this article is about accuracy, I feel compelled to mention a significant technical inaccuracy. While ‘the moon’ makes for great alliteration, a gram is not a gram on the moon*. Gravity on the moon is about 1/6 that of earth gravity, so your “gram” of flour on the moon would weigh 6 grams on earth, transforming your bagel into a bowl of dry flour with a lump in the middle.
If you’re still somewhere on earth, weights do change a bit as gravity varies by latitude, geology, altitude, and topography (among other things). No practical difference though, so I’ll stop boring you. Here’s an interesting article on Feeling Lighter on a Mountain: http://www.npl.co.uk/server.php?show=ConWebDoc.2092
The gram is a measure of mass, which *is* the same from Minneapolis to the moon to Mimas. It is commonly used as an expression of weight, and you’re safe as long as you stay home on Earth.
Slothbear, since grams are, as you say, a measure of mass, if I took my gram of flour to the moon and “weighed” it on the moonling’s scale, which would be calibrated for moon gravity, it would still read one gram.
I have to say since I have been baking recipes from your site – that baking my bread by weight gives me a much more consistent product. I was thinking how great my scale is just the other day. So thanks!
I’m 100% with you. I hate cup recipes. 😉
I see the sense in what you say but I am wedded to my cup measurements. However I have recently got electric scales and am starting to weigh more so things might change.
Unfortunately I am proof of the wisdom of scales – yesterday I made hot cross buns which required 4 cups of flour which the recipe said was 600g and then I made bread which required 4 cups of flour which the recipe said was 450g! I did a double take and knew something somewhere was wrong. I think one of my problems is using Australian cup measurements which are slightly different to American ones. Both buns and bread taste good so I am now confused about which one should have been different!
How did you handle multi disciplinary project? ,
No my friend, a gram is not a gram in the moon because there is no gravity. although i doubt that you ca make bread in the moon.
There is certainly gravity on the Moon, or the Astronauts and other equipment that landed there would not even have been able to “land”. They would have floated about the surface if they got close, and then bounced off into space.
Back to school for you.
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John Cornellier says
A pretty good start. Now you just need to switch from Fahrenheit to Celsius.
I’ve got to chime in here and say that I have been baking for about 20 years and measure almost exclusively by volume, and have never once had an issue with the finished product. In fact, one of my favorite holiday cookie recipes calls for measurement by weight, and since I lack a scale of my own, I took the time to convert everything to be measured by volume. I’ve made these cookies several times over the years, and they always come out great.
The one time I did weigh all of the ingredients, I was surprised to end up with EXACTLY the same number of cookies – which pretty much convinced me once and for all that weighing ingredients isn’t necessary. I’ll even go as far as to measure liquid ingredients with dry cup measures, and vice versa.
Shoot me down if you must, but know that I bake grandma-caliber cookies.