I have written before about weighing ingredients rather than measuring them in terms of cups, tablespoons, etc. This is much more important for baking rather than savory cooking and even more so if you live at high altitude where baking has so many challenges. I have written a prior Cooking Tip on measuring/weighing ingredients but in this one, I would like to expand on it.
If you really want to improve your baking in 2021, I hope to convince you to invest in a good kitchen scale and start weighing your ingredients rather than baking. Here is a link to a great video from The Institute of Culinary Education that demonstrates weighing vs volume measuring better than I can explain it. Not only does the instructor show you visible differences in amounts of ingredients depending on how they are measured but he also shows how it can change the end result of the baked good. Here is a written article about the same thing from the King Arthur Blog.
In the video, he also discusses what I call the “comma” effect. If you have ever taken one of my classes, I teach that when reading a recipe, you need to take notice of commas in the ingredient list. For example, “1 cup pecans, chopped” is different than “1 cup chopped pecans”. In the first listing, you measure the cup and then chop the pecans. In the latter, you chop the pecans and then measure to get your cup. Because more chopped pecans can fit into a cup than whole, those will be different measurements. How finely you chop them will also add to the variation. However, if the recipe stated “3½ ounces” of pecans, it doesn’t matter if you chop them before or afterwards as 3½ ounces of whole pecans will be the same as 3½ ounces of chopped pecans. To get even more accuracy, measure in grams rather than ounces. Almost all good kitchen scales will measure in both grams and ounces.
If you are not already weighing your ingredients and you want to start to do so, there a couple of hurdles to overcome. First is that you need a good kitchen scale.
Cooks Illustrated tested different scales in 2016 and updated their testing in early 2020. They recommend the Oxo Good Grips scale. It retails for about $50. If you do not want to spend that much, they also recommended an Amazon Basics model that costs just over $10. Serious Eats also recommends the Oxo but their less expensive choice was by Escali.
The more difficult hurdle is that most recipes from American sources do not list ingredients in weights. One alternative is to choose sources that do use weights. Some examples are:
- Bake from Scratch – they generally list measurements both in volume and weight.
- Cooks Illustrated – they sometimes include weight measurements but are not consistent with this. They are also a paid subscriber site.
- Great British Chefs – as this is a European source, they do use weights. There is also a sister site – Great Italian Chefs.
- King Arthur Baking – you will find both volume measurements as well as weights.
- If you have a favorite site or cookbook that uses weights, let me know.
What if you see a recipe that you want to try but it is only in volume measurements? Can you convert it to weights? Yes and No. If your recipe calls for 1 cup flour, how many ounces/grams is that? Depending on what source you consult, it can vary from 120 grams (4.2 ounces) to 145 grams (5.1 ounces). That is almost an ounce difference. You may not think that is very much, but in can make a real difference in the outcome. You may find similar variations with weights of other ingredients.
You can try by using the average but it may or may not work. If it doesn’t, you may need to make some changes and try again.
If it is a recipe you have made before and you are pretty sure it will come out correctly, measure with your cups as you would normally do. However before adding the ingredients to the bowl, weigh them and write this down on your recipe. If, indeed, your recipe turns out well, you have made a successful conversion and every time in the future you make that recipe, use the weight measurements to ensure continued success.
You could also use those conversions to try new recipes. Using your notes on your successful recipe, convert the volume measurements to weight in your new recipe. If the result is what you want, great. If not, make small changes by weight until you get it right keeping notes as you go.
Do you measure by volume or weight? I hope this year that more and more of you will do the latter. There are just so many advantages to doing so and very few disadvantages.
Here’s to a great baking year!