Rogue Baking Tips with Alice Medrich

The Many Reasons Using a Scale Will Change Your Life

By • March 3, 2014 • 43 Comments

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Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Alice really wants you to bake with a scale. Here are her tips for how to do it like a pro, and her fixes for any scale problem you've ever had.

Why Weigh: The Many Reasons Using a Scale Will Change Your Life on Food52

Too much flour is one of the top reasons for tough, hard, dry cookies and cakes that resemble doorstops. Measuring flour with measuring cups is usually the problem: if you ask 5 home cooks to measure a level cup of flour and then weigh each of their results, you will get a range of weights from about 4 ounces to 7 ounces, each supposedly one cup of flour! Every cook wields a measuring cup differently and even cookbook authors and pastry chefs use them differently from one another. If every recipe included reliable weights, and every one started using a scale, the overall quality of baking and desserts would improve overnight! 

More: When in doubt, 3 tips for measuring flour right for better baked goods.

When a recipe does supply weights, there are myriad advantages to using the scale instead of cups: 

• Weighing is faster, easier, and more fun than using measuring cups and it requires fewer utensils, thus less clean up.

• Weighing means you don’t have to wonder whether to dip the measuring cup into the flour canister or spoon the flour lightly into it, you never again have to sift flour before measuring it, you don’t have to be concerned about how firmly to pack the brown sugar into the cup, or how many whole nuts to chop to equal a cup of chopped nuts...

• You can also use your scale to divide batter equally between two or three cake pans, or figure out the yield of a batch of cookies when you change the size of the cookie, by simply weighing one cookie size portion of dough and dividing that weight into the weight of the entire batch. You will be amazed at how often you use your kitchen scale once you have it on the counter. (It’s good for calculating postage, counting pennies, etc).

Why Weigh: The Many Reasons Using a Scale Will Change Your Life on Food52

New scale users are often unclear about 3 things -- here are the answers.

1. Why and how to use the tare?

Electronic kitchen scales have a feature, called a tare. The tare resets the scale to zero. When you put a container on the scale and press tare, the scale resets to zero so that you can weigh an ingredient in that container -- without including the weight of the container. (The guy at the deli presses the tare before he spoons your coleslaw into the carton -- so you don’t pay for the weight of the carton).

2. When and how to weigh more than 1 ingredient in a container (and how to correct when you've added too much)?

When several dry ingredients will be combined in a recipe anyway, you can weigh them in a single container: Put the bowl or container on the scale and press tare to reset the scale to zero. Add the first ingredient and press tare before adding each consecutive ingredient. Heap ingredients in separate adjacent piles (instead of one on top of the other) so that you can spoon out and correct the amount of any ingredient if you add too much of it. If you are new to using a scale, weigh any gooey or liquid ingredients separately (because these are harder to correct in a bowl with multiple ingredients!)

3. What if the scale turns off while you are weighing?

Like your smart phone, your scale may turn off if it’s untouched for a while. Let’s say you have measured 10 ounces of flour into a container, followed by 6 ounces of sugar, and you run out of cornmeal before adding the total 8 ounces called for. Now lets say that the scale turns off while you are rummaging the pantry for a fresh package of cornmeal.

Here’s what to do:

Add up the total weight of the flour, sugar, and cornmeal called for, so you know you need a total of 24 ounces. Put an empty container on the scale and press tare to rest the scale to zero. Pour the ingredients that you already weighed into the container and then add enough cornmeal to equal the 24 ounces called for. That’s all there is to it.  

Alice's new book Seriously Bitter Sweet is a complete revision of her IACP award-winning Bittersweet, updated for the 54%, 61%, and 72% (and beyond) bars available today. It's packed with tricks, techniques, and answers to every chocolate question, plus 150 seriously delicious recipes -- both savory and sweet. 

 

Photos by James Ransom

 

Jump to Comments (43)

Tags: baking, how-to & diy, scales, baking by weight

Comments (43)

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5 months ago josie

Hello Alice! Great article here! Anyways, like other wives here, I also used food scale whenever I cook. I learned just this recent that when you use food scales, there'll be hassle-free to which these tools are designed for being accurate. In fact, I was amazed to witness it myself from my neighbor so what I did, I bought one called Procizion Digital Kitchen Food Scale from http://www.amazon.com/Procizion.... It's not that expensive as well and easy to use! If only I knew this before! :)...

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10 months ago soupcon

All of my cooking is done by weight and has been for years. It is so much easier to gross up or down a recipe. Some scales even have bakers percentages for breadmakers... sigh.... I bought mine before this was available. I won't even look at a cookbook that has ingredients measured in volume. Why N.A. uses volume measurements for cooking is beyond me when the rest of the world uses metric weights.

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10 months ago Ben DiPietro

Using a food scale can change your cooking style completely. The tip to use more than one ingredient at one time is amazing. Solution to a common problem is explained here beautifully with a nice example. Thank you for that.

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10 months ago burns Wattie

One small refinement on that idea: If you are worried you may pour too much in, set a smaller bowl on top of what you are assembling, tare to zero, add the new ingredient. Once you are satisfied, dump it into your mix. An example would be adding cinnamon to baking soda and flour for making a cake.

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10 months ago burns Wattie

Wow. Such a response to this article! Maybe a C-change will occur in North American cooking. At least among this blog's subscribers. But why the concern with a specific scale? and where to order online? Walk or bike to your local hardware store. A decent electronic scale likely awaits you. And of course the other must have gadget in the same league: an electronic instant read thermometer. Meats, breads, All benefit from the consistency you get from this equally invaluable tool!

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10 months ago LysiaLoves

Baking by weight has been a lifesaver! I bake gluten-free, which means several different flours and starches, which means that many more chances to screw up! :) There are some wonderful GF recipe blogs out there but not enough bake by weight, which is very frustrating. Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef does, which is how I first got into it. I bought a cheap Ozeri scale from Amazon and it works great! A little small and lightweight though. But it can take quite a bit of weight which is nice. So far I haven't run into anything I'm measuring that to heavy for it - but I've only used it for baking.

One thing I've done is if it's taking more time to open a new bag, etc then I touch my hand to the bowl on the scale every little bit to wake the scale up so it won't shut off. And like Antonia, I also keep a list of the weights of the containers/bowls I use. Very helpful!

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10 months ago Jan Mannino

The first thing we learned at San Francisco Baking Institute class was to use a scale. I have never turned back. Now, I don't even look at a baking recipe that does not have weight and also, prefer grams to ounces. Cookbook writers and editors--take notice.

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10 months ago tastysweet

I use the Oxo brand. Excellent scale. And I too would wish that more recipes called for weight. Just like some call for a medium or large onion. Well what is the weight? My medium may be the author's large. If one knows the weight, there is no mistake.
Wow, this kind of rhymes!

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10 months ago Elizabeth Suttle

Alice, what brand of scale do you recommend? Thanks!!

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10 months ago Kate

Hi again - I've just read Doug's post and learnt something new! I'd never heard of Baker's Percentage before and realise that the scales I've bought don't have that amazing feature.... so if you're in Australia, spend the little extra and get these: https://www.medshop.com...

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10 months ago Doug Doescher

I bake lots of bread and pizza in my wood fired oven and have learned the joys of using a scale. It is so much easier once you get the hang of it that you hate pulling out your measuring cups. Here is where I got my scale. http://fgpizza.com/store...

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10 months ago Ann-Marie D. Nguyen-Shavurova

I started a pastry-bread program and we use scales for everything. How do we easily convert all the recipes from cups/teaspoons to weights? Is there a standard "cup" weight between dry (flour, sugar)ingredients to liquid (eggs, water)?

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10 months ago LysiaLoves

Not sure exactly what you're asking, but I'll take a shot! 1st, I use grams as most by-weight recipes are written in grams. In gluten-free baking measuring by weight is extremely helpful because each flour/starch weighs a different amount. Which goes to you question re is there a standard weight between dry ingredients and wet. Unfortunately not! I believe a cup of all-purpose flour (regular wheat) is supposed to be 140 grams. I'm not sure about sugar but you could google it. Though there's probably a difference between white and brown. The internet most likely has answers for each basic ingredient, and then you can do an experiment one day, like I did, and...
Set your measuring cup on your scale, then turn the scale on - it should read 0g. Pour in exactly one cup of whichever ingredient you need the weight of. Make a list of your ingredients and their cup-gram measurements. It'll get easy quickly.

Hope I answered your question!

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10 months ago Kate

I've recently bought scales just like those in the photo, after getting advice through an online forum. In Australia, check this address: https://www.medshop.com.... They even come WITH batteries! They list many other models.

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10 months ago SweetM

Thank you so much for the this wonderful and informative post. As a long time baker, I've been singing this song for years, but get frustrated when cookbooks, websites and food magazines neglect to use weights in their measurements. In most cookbooks, there will be a section that explains how they measure, but magazines and websites don't usually come with these details. How nice it would be if the cooking community could just follow these weighing guidelines.

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10 months ago Elizabeth Mitchell

Weighing ingredients is so much simpler and more accurate, as we in the rest of the world know. When I use a US recipe I really wonder why you make your lives so much more complicated than they need be. Use scales please & welcome to the modern age.

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10 months ago Jeremiah

Stupid question, but I see a lot of comments about how various ingredients, flours for example, weight differently from each other. Couldn't you just refer to the nutrition chart on the bag and do some simple math to make the conversion? For example a recipe calls for a cup and a half of flour, regardless of the kind needed. The nutrition chart shows 1 cup = 30g, so for your recipe you would need 45g. Would this not work? Since virtually ALL products you buy are packaged by weight anyway. I'm no expert cook by any form, but I've been doing this for years and it seems to work fine for me. Am I doing it incorrectly?

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10 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Jeremiah, I do this and find it very helpful. (See my comment below for more details.) You run into problems when the person who authored the recipe uses non-standard equivalents, which would happen if they scoop by volume differently than the manufacturer. For example, in the Small Batch No-Knead Sandwich Bread recipe here http://food52.com/blog... , the author's 3.25 cups of flour = 433 grams, or 133 grams per cup. The most I've ever seen on a bag of flour is 125 grams per cup. Similarly, in Merrill's Blueberry Flaxseed Muffins http://food52.com/recipes... her 2 cups of whole wheat flour weigh 280 grams. I've never seen a wheat flour whose nutrition data comes anywhere close to 140 grams per cup. (The densest King Arthur Flour whole wheat weighs 128 grams per cup; most weigh 120. That's about a 10% difference from what's called for in the recipe.)
I thought we were safe with rolled oats, but apparently there is significantly variability between brands. One manufacturer's 1/2 cup weighs 41 grams (similar to what Merrill got in those muffins), while another's runs 55 grams. Without knowing which type the author was using, you could run into trouble. That hasn't stopped me from doing exactly what you and I both described in our comments, but there is some risk involved, where the actual amounts used by the creator of the recipe deviate so dramatically from the standard measures on the nutrition information panels, as noted above. ;o) P.S. I realize that many of my bread recipes here (most were posted 4 years ago) provide only volume measures. On my to-do list is to retest, several times, with weight measures so I can revise these recipes.

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10 months ago Jeremiah

Thanks for the reply! I do see your point. I hadn't considered that as a possability. I haven't came across a recipe like those yet. :) Learning something new all the time. :D

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10 months ago sari

The scale pictured looks like one on Amazon "Baker's Math KD 8000" for $36.50 and free shipping.

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10 months ago Chocolate Be

I've used that scale pictured above and rejected it after a couple of weeks. It turns itself off randomly in the middle of weighing something. And yes, I tried reprogramming it several times as per instructions and it still misbehaved on a regular basis. Wanted to throw that scale against the wall a few times!

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10 months ago burns Wattie

My scale is out of the drawer most of the day. I use it for everything - dog food, baking of course, anything where a weight ratio is involved. When I come across a new recipe using volume measures I will put my bowl on the scale, pour the volume required, and write down the weight for future reference. I also would like to put in a plug for using grams and kilos. They are so much easier to use, so much more exact, so much easier to work with. As for type of scale - if you have never started, get the cheapest electronic one you can find. Once you start using it you will develop your own disiderata for a scale and then begin looking in more earnest for that right one. One thing to begin with though check the specs - it should be able to handle at least 5kg. If you don't see it listed on the package, press on the display model in the store until it 'weighs out'.

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10 months ago Alice Medrich

I do the same....and agree about grams. So much easier. Just finishing up a new book now, all tested in grams!

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10 months ago lucia

Does anyone know the brand of scale seen in the photograph above? Or can you recommend a brand of scale to purchase? Thank you in advance.

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10 months ago annemax

Having a scale is a necessity and I rarely bake, but I do make my own bacon and other charcuterie and its indispensable for that. I find it useful for all cooking and couldn't live without mine!

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10 months ago Amy Marston Thisdell

Easy enough to convert most recipes! I have a wonderful sheet from cuisinart. Here is one from King Arthur. I jeep it in the front of my baking notebook.
http://www.kingarthurflour...