Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich is going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.
Today: Alice shares how to make sure your scale is in tip top shape for perfect baked goods.
Now you have a scale (right?) and you are wondering if it’s really accurate.
You could just weigh a 4-ounce stick of butter (or a pound or a kilo) to see if the scale is in the ballpark. If it’s close enough, you may be satisfied -- after all you’re a baker, not a rocket scientist, right? On the other hand, if you weigh small quantities, like salt and leavenings, or if you just believe that a tool should do what it’s supposed to do, read on.
You could use calibration weights (purchased online) to check your scale’s accuracy, or you can use ordinary pocket change. I vote for the pocket change (and instant gratification).
Set the scale to zero and weigh a coin or two: A new penny should weigh 2.5 grams (see note below), 2 pennies should weigh 5 grams, and a nickel should also weigh 5 grams. Don’t worry if your coins are not fresh from the mint, but don’t use any that look really old and worn -- when in doubt, try more coins before deciding your scale is off. If a coin or two weighs the correct amount, you can stop there. But those of you who just can’t give it a rest might also like to weigh a whole handful of coins just to make sure accuracy is maintained.
What if your scale is off? If it has a calibration feature (check the manual), follow the instructions to recalibrate. If there is no calibration feature, return a new scale to the store with a disapproving and slightly inconvenienced expression on your face. If your scale is not so new, write to the company and tell them how much you’ve loved their scale but that, alas, it seems to be out of calibration and ask if they could fix it for you. They might ask you to send it in. Do it. They just might send you a new one instead. It has happened...
Note: Only scales meant to be accurate to .5 grams (or less) will register the correct 2.5 grams for a single penny. If your scale is meant to be accurate to only 1 gram (like mine), the weight of a single penny will be rounded up to 3 grams. Stay calm and add a second penny: If the two pennies weigh 5 grams, then all’s right with the world.
More: Not convinced? Here are the many reasons using a scale with change your life.
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 and James Ransom