Maybe it would take an iPhone app to get American home bakers to toss their measuring cups and start using a scale. If you want to skip my lecture on measuring (and why you should get a scale), just scroll down to see some iPhone apps (feel free to send your own photos). Meanwhile, ye faithful, read on…
They used to say American home cooks were intimidated by scales. Or was it that scales were too European? Or was it a slippery slope thing—a scale in the kitchen would lead to the dreaded metric system? Now that we think, cook, and eat globally, now that we are computer savvy from age two, now that every child's grandma has an iPhone… How can a kitchen scale be intimidating?
Let me review why a scale improves baking and makes life in the kitchen easier.
First, when I say scale, I don’t mean a spring-loaded thing with a dial. I do mean a scale with batteries (like your smart phone, your iPod, your camera, and all of your other necessities). The scale should register eighths or tenths of an ounce. Such a scale can be had for less than the cost of ten lattes, btw. And, you can learn to use it in less time than it takes your barista to make those ten lattes.
If you bake (especially if you bake), here’s why you want a scale.
Consider flour. A heavy hand with flour is the prime suspect for bad baked goods. The amount of flour you put into your measuring cup can make the difference between a moist, light, poem of a cake and a doorstop. It can make the difference between buttery melt-in-your-mouth cookies (or fluffy pancakes) and miniature paperweights. What is a cup of flour anyway? If you stir the flour in your canister a little (but not to much) to loosen it, and then spoon it lightly into your measuring cup and sweep it level without packing, tapping, jiggling or shaking the cup, you’ll have 4 ¼ to 4 ½ ounces of flour in your cup. If you dip your cup into that same canister, and level it against the side, or shake it or tap it or jump up and down to level it, who knows how much flour you’ve got in there? And, if you measure right from the flour sack stored in the pantry jammed behind cans of beans or under the potatoes, then all bets are off. I asked a close friend to please measure a cup of flour at her house, as though she were preparing to bake a cake, and dump it into a bowl and bring it to me at my house. I put her cup of flour on my scale. It was 33% heavier than the lightly spooned and leveled cup described at the top of the paragraph. Can you tell me that a cake or cookies made with a 6-ounce cup of flour will come out remotely similar to those made with a 4 ½ -ounce cup?
Maybe you are living gluten free? Maybe you’ve wondered why you get great results from some recipes only some of the time? Gluten free baked goods are hypersensitive to measuring variation, and the non-wheat flours and starches (rice, corn, tapioca, oat, bean, potato, et al) are especially hard to measure consistently using measuring cups. To add insult to injury, if you make your own gluten free flour blend, the weight of 1 cup of your blend will depend on whether you measure it right after blending or weeks later after it has settled in the canister (that is, unless you make a point of really fluffing the mix before you measure each time). Masterful gluten free baking is challenging enough; using a scale eliminates one very significant wild card.
More reasons to use a scale? A scale streamlines your movements in the kitchen. You can measure ingredients right into the mixing bowl, so you’ll use fewer utensils and have less to clean up. A scale means never having to sift or chop before measuring, and never having to wonder how lightly or firmly to pack a cup of brown sugar. Some of the best chocolates don’t come in one once squares, so you need a scale. I could go on…
A scale means that your results for a given recipe will be more consistent from one time to the next, even (or especially!) if you bake that cake only once a year. If you are someone who is always tinkering and tweaking recipes—you probably make notes in the margin. Weighing is a better way to track your tweaks, especially small changes in critical ingredients such as flour.
The rub? Not all recipes give weights (yet). Many cookbook or recipe authors don’t even tell you how they use their measuring cups, especially when measuring flour. That being said, more cookbooks than you think do explain measuring style—usually in the front or back of the book, where cooks in a hurry never venture. Go there and see! Baking books are more apt to give weights and they almost always describe how to measure flour with a cup if you don’t have a scale. You will get better results with a specific recipe if you measure like the cook who created the recipe, and more consistent results if you weigh… I usually assume that a lightly spooned and leveled cup of flour is meant to be 4 ¼ to -4 ½ ounces while a dip-and-sweep cup is meant to be about 5 ounces, unless of course the author tells me otherwise.
Meanwhile, here are some ways to use your iPhone to measure flour:
Don't forget the formula for classic pound cake: equal weights of flour and eggs...
ok, now those photos are hilarious. I agree though - this past year I've converted to using a scale (baking gluten free) and it makes a huge difference. Huge! Thanks for writing about this and wish more recipes came with weights! (btw, it's Lisa Stander Horel aka Lulu and Phoebe, my kitchen buddies)ReplyDelete
HI Lisa! Don't you think its time for all bloggers to start lobbying for the scale? We should have one agreed upon day when every blogger (or at least every baking blogger!) writes about weighing. It's kind of like "honk if you own a kitchen scale.....) !ReplyDelete
I'm not usually a baker, but if you organize that day, I'll play.ReplyDelete
Drew, I'll remember your offer when I start to organize. Seriously!ReplyDelete
...so am I getting a scale for Hannukah or what?ReplyDelete
Gee, I figured you'd want and iPhone! I'm so proud of you....momReplyDelete
Alice, perhaps a dumb question, but using a scale allows you to dump the ingredients right into the bowl, but you should, in advance, know how much the measurements weigh, right? Thank you for posting this - I have been finding FAR better results when I weigh my ingredients, not measure by cups, etc.ReplyDelete
Pretty clever...yes, we are in the future and I say hurray for scaling!ReplyDelete
I would be lost in my kitchen without my scale. I wish all cookbooks had measurements in weights using a kitchen scale.ReplyDelete
great idea. name the day. I'm in.ReplyDelete
Ok Lisa, I want to general a lot of support before we do this though. Any help you want to give will be appreciated.ReplyDelete
Olga, yes that's the challenge right now. If all recipes had weights it would be easier, and I mean to begin agitating towards that end for all future recipes. But in the meantime it's not that hard to learn the weights for the most critical and often used baking ingredients. Flour is critical...I gave you some weights in the post above. If you want a great guide to dozens of ingredients weights, Rose Levy Beranbaum has several pages of weights listed in her "Cake Bible". It's an important book to own in any case.ReplyDelete
hahaha! I think I won't use my iphone as a scale, my husband already complains he takes a pound of sugar off each time he cleans it. But I've converted all the recipes I use for business into grams or ounces and use a scale - it definitely is easier and more consistent!ReplyDelete
I love our scale. I use it for cooking. My husband uses it to record how much we're harvesting from the garden. It's quick, it's easy, it's precise . . . I just don't understand the barrier!ReplyDelete
Oh Alice, m so happy to be and happy for u to be in blogosphere, its exciting and a blessing for us all!!ReplyDelete
CUtey pics u have here n m sure in for anythng u might wanna have:-))
Infact loving it!!
Saw d recipe for Apricot lemon bars and am super excited to try 'em too!!!
Mia send sya sunshine smiles,topped with hugs for a super sunshine weekend!!!
will be here agn...
I laughed at the photos! seriously a scale is a must and I realized that long ago thank god! this is what we used in Lebanon to buy stuff (still do ) and I searched all over Beirut last Xmas for US style cups and could not find them at any supermarket. Nobody uses that.ReplyDelete
Professionally I have two scales that I use - one is for very small measurements. I have found another issue with liquids when they are not measured by weight. I filled a one cup measuring cup with water, then poured the water into another measuring cup, then another. You guessed it - different results with each one. It just proved that without a scale, liquid ingredients can be measured inaccurately as well dry.ReplyDelete
Those photos are hilarious! I love it! Also, as a gluten-free baker, the scale is great. But, gluten-free baking is daunting enough to newbies, and I don't want to scare them off of baking by insisting they buy a scale. I have had great success with measuring by volume as well as by weight! That is why I've started giving both types of measurements in my recipes.ReplyDelete
That said, you are one of my baking goddesses and I hate to disagree with anything you say! So, consider this just my humble opinion!
Thanks for the feedback on GF baking Jeanne. I know the scale is still intimidating....but maybe we can change that over time. I'm curious how you do your volume measures? Scoop and level or spoon lightly and level? Do you fluff the flour in the container first? etc, etc.ReplyDelete
Are you Alice Medrich, the Alice Medrich who has written those beautiful dessert books? Gosh, I love your work, your recipes... evrything! You inspire me... totally!ReplyDelete
Great blog and wonderful recipe ideasReplyDelete
I converted to using a kitchen scale a few years ago and cannot live without it! GREAT post.ReplyDelete
Excellent blog on scales. I've recently moved from the professional kitchen to teaching home cooks and the biggest frustration is having to go back to "English" measurements. I vote for the scale to make a comeback and always tell my students it's a must for bread making at the very least.ReplyDelete
I took some baking classes as part of a pastry arts program, and we weighed everything. Thus I got into the habit of weighing all my ingredients except for the tiny ones like teaspoons or less. I have 3 digital scales at home that I use daily. I also wish that all my baking cookbooks gave weights in addition to/instead of volume (my professional books only give weights). I find that I end up converting all volume recipes to weights anyway. Having an iPhone ( love the pics. btw), I was estatic to discover a really cool app that actually does that. It's called "Kitchen Calculator Pro", and it has a large database of ingredients so you can convert volume to weight (ie. 1 cup flour or sugar to oz). I use it regularly and highly recommend to anyone who wishes to convert volume of ingredients to their equal weight, but doesn't have a reference guide. Of course you do need an iPhone to get the app. :-)ReplyDelete
I love my kitchen scales. My only iwsh is that all recipes would be in weight measurements. I back this movement 100 percent ;)ReplyDelete
I love those photos! I've got a scale, bought for measuring yarn amounts, and I will start using it for baking--those variances really got my attention, and thank you.ReplyDelete
Oh, you are hilarious! I am, after many silly years of stubborn resistance, finally ready for a kitchen scale.ReplyDelete
This is a wonderful post. Well said.ReplyDelete
This is utterly brilliant.ReplyDelete
As a European foodie and occasional blogger I've been forever struggling with US recipes and vice versa, when trying to incorporate US measures on my own blog, it's impossible.
How do I explain 100g of chopped chocolate in cups? If largely chopped it won't be enough, if too small, it's too much.
The right quantities in baking are crucial with no space for guess work.
PLEASE you so lovely people from the United States, make your own baking experience easier, and our own for that matter, as I LOVE your recipes!
I think it would be possible to rig a device that uses a level app for the iPhone (or an Android phone) to be the sensing element in a beam scale. The basic setup would be like the last photo. In one embodiment of the design, you'd need to have a collection of known weights (100 g, 200 g, etc.). You'd put the desired weight on one side of the arm (e.g., 100 grams) and then start adding the ingredient to the bucket on the other side of the arm until the bubble on the iPhone level is in the center. At that point, you have equal weights on each side. Attaching the balance arm to the iPhone wouldn't be trivial, however, and having the right collection of balance weights on hand would be tricky.ReplyDelete
Since very few of the recipes I use have ingredient weights (and those that do often have liquid ingredients in volume), I keep a sheet of paper on the refrigerator that lists the weights of commonly used liquid ingredients and sugars, like oil (1 cup = 200 grams) and honey (1 cup = 335 grams). A scale is especially handy for sticky and messy ingredients such as molasses -- being able to pour from the bottle into the scale-mounted mixing bowl keeps a cup or spoon out of the dishwashing queue.