Weeknight Cooking

Why You Should Always Measure Non-Wheat Flours by Weight

September 15, 2014

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

Today: As if there there weren't already enough, Alice reveals why there are now more reasons than ever to measure by weight in baking.



Professional bakers and pastry chefs will tell you that a scale takes considerable ambiguity out of baking because it eliminates the differences in measurement that occur a) because all measuring cups are not equal and b) because people often use measuring cups differently from the person who created the recipe. Simply stated: If you measure flour by dipping the cups into the flour sack and leveling it against the side of the bag and your recipe was developed by someone who spoons flour from a canister loosely into a cup and sweeps it level with a knife, your cake will be heavy and tough; your cookies will be paper weights. Period.

More: Get Alice's 3 tips for how to measure flour the right way for better baked goods.

Now that we're baking more with different kinds of flours (not just wheat flour), we have even more reasons to use a scale: The non-wheat flours -- so-called alternative flours -- differ in fineness from one brand to the next because there don’t seem to be milling standards for them. Take white rice flour: The weight per cup can vary from 160 grams (5.6 ounces) to 115 grams (4 ounces) depending on whether the flour is from Bob’s Red Mill, Authentic Foods, or a popular (and very finely milled) brand from Thailand -- not even taking into consideration the different ways people put flour in the cup! Such a huge variation can make or break a cake.

Nut flour is another good example: Homemade nut flour is usually the best and freshest, but the difference in weight per cup will vary depending on whether you use a food processor with a steel blade or grating disk, or a blender, or a rotary drum grater! (The latter makes beautifully fluffy flour, but its weight per cup is only about 60% of that made with the steel blade in a food processor). Meanwhile, homemade flours usually weigh out differently than purchased nut flours, which already vary from one brand to another. Yikes, right? Okay, okay, some variation in nut flours is not a big deal, but large variations will make a difference in whether a nut cake (for one example) sinks because it has too little flour in it or comes out too dense because it has too much flour.

why to to use a scale in baking with whole grain flours

What can you do to manage this chaos?

It’s simple. Use a scale for measuring. Most good recipes will work with flours that vary in fineness so long as you use weight rather than volume to compensate for any variations. There’s one catch: You have to choose books and recipes by trusted authors who call for ingredients by weight and who also test their recipes by weight. Fortunately, the best people in the business already do this!

P.S. Grams are more elegant than ounces, but I’m not one to quibble...

More: How to make your own nut flour (without making nut butter).

Get excited about Alice's forthcoming book Flavor Flours: nearly 125 recipes -- from Double Oatmeal Cookies to Buckwheat Gingerbread -- made with wheat flour alternatives like rice flour, oat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, and teff (not only because they're gluten-free, but for an extra dimension of flavor, too). 

 

 

Photos by Mark Weinberg

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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13 Comments

Sandie May 11, 2016
I bake gluten-free, and have found that the recipes on King Arthur Flour's website can be made by weight OR volume--each recipe is written this way. I always have great results.
 
knitchick39 September 18, 2014
What to do when so many recipes only call for cup measurements, not grams? Especially now with non-wheat flours... Appreciate your information, thank you.
 
1234cake September 20, 2014
What I do for those, both at home and at work (I'm a professional baker), after I've worked with a new flour a few times and decide I like it, I measure a cup of flour and then weigh it three or four times. I write down the weight for each cup, add them up and take the average. This tends to give me my most consistent results. Make sure to measure each cup of flour with the same method each time as this will effect your accuracy. Hope this helps a bit!
 
Pamela_in_Tokyo September 17, 2014
I'm an American living in Japan. I had to learn how to use a scale here. Then when I started using British cookbooks, I really got into scales. I love using a scale. It is so easy to weigh out butter or flour. Plus, you put the bowl on the scale, add some flour, put the scale back to zero, add sugar on top of the flour and still get an accurate reading. There is nothing easier than using a scale!
 
MJprovence September 17, 2014
As one who has one foot in the USA and one foot in Europe, flour is my nemesis and the only way I can make things work is by weighing. The system in the USA is medieval.
 
sarabclever September 16, 2014
I didn't know this book was coming out--I love baking with unusual flours, I can't wait!
 
Sam1148 September 16, 2014
I think American home cooks don't uses scales for many reasons: <br />Okay, I have a old cookbook from grandma for biscuits. What type of flour did she use...why did not work? Why did my sheet cake from the "women's garden club and Mimosa meeting" not work? <br /><br />Now, these gets into food history and very much Americana...but after the 50's American traveled great distances...thousands of miles and kept on doing that. So Grandmas flour wasn't the flour you got in Georgia for your biscutes when you moved to Seattle. <br /><br />We're talking lots of miles here. Maybe some Austrialian will chime in here. <br /><br />Oh..And I use a scale for most things, and I think Americans will use the scale as it's cheap. But recipes are mind-bogglingly crazy when it's made with some Canandain wheat AP as if EVERY ONE LIVES IN BROOKYLN...and the recipes doesn't even mention that heavy weight..and ...well..RANT..RANT.
 
Jo September 16, 2014
G'day, here's an Aussie chiming in, ha. The thing I find frustrating with using cups to measure is that it takes an extra step/creates extra mess. Just yesterday, I had to measure out 1/4 cup butter - I had to smoosh butter into a measuring cup, then I had to scrape it out into my mixing bowl. Now if I had measurements, I would have just sat my mixing bowl on my digital scales and placed the exact quantity of butter needed, straight into the mixing bowl. I sometimes get around this by converting the cup measurements to weight in grams, but this sometimes isn't accurate...
 
Sam1148 September 15, 2014
I love you for bringing up the different weights of flours of even the same types of flours depending on brand/region. <br /><br />American Flours have different gram weights. Even by region. AP flour is 125g/cup for USDA. But Gold Medal, a brand used in the Southern US, is 130g/cup. While King Arthur claims ALL it's flour is 115g/cup. (?). <br />http://www.recipesource.com/misc/hints/flour-weights01.html<br /><br />To give an example this is important, I failed and failed with no-kneed dough using southern AP flour by cup and weight of the recipe developed with Northeastern AP flour. <br /> When I adjusted to weight with 130g/cup of southern AP flour it worked perfectly. <br />Sigh...even the no kneed dough recipe isn't consistent with 'what flour weights'. Calling for 430g/cup. (for 3 cups) making their 'cup' of flour (bread flour?) 143g/cup...vs 127 and 135 USDA and Gold Medal bread flour. <br />http://www.sullivanstreetbakery.com/recipes<br /><br />
 
Author Comment
Alice M. September 16, 2014
Well I love you too, for giving these good examples. I hope everyone reads what you just wrote.
 
FJT September 15, 2014
Well, as a Brit I've always measured by weight when baking - it just makes more sense as baking requires precision regardless of flour type. I only use recipes that give weight measurements (preferably in grams)! This stood me in good stead when I was diagnosed with celiac disease and had to substitute flours.
 
Author Comment
Alice M. September 16, 2014
American home bakers have long been reluctant to use a scale. It's been an uphill battle to sell the idea and meanwhile, until the last few years, not so many cookbooks included weights, so that was further disincentive. More of our best authors are now including ingredient weights, at least in the baking world. Good news for all! It also means we can sell books to you Brits! And of course we like that!
 
FJT September 17, 2014
That would be good - I pass up on a lot of cookbooks because of this problem!!!