Bake

The Many Reasons Using a Scale Will Change Your Life

March  3, 2014

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

 

62 Comments

Smaug August 17, 2018
While it's probably true that scales are usually more accurate than volumes for measuring ingredients, people overestimate their precision. Digital scales round off results. Analog scales require interpolation of incremental readings, and frequently are subject to parallax distortions. Unless you're using a balance, scales are measuring weights rather than mass, and that varies with local gravitation, which is not the same everywhere all the time. While professional kitchens are apt to have fairly stable storage conditions, home kitchens are often very variable as to humidity, which can have a significant effect on the moisture content of ingredients- most homes will vary enough over the course of a year that wooden furniture will self destruct if not carefully designed to accommodate it. This will also affect the amount of moisture needed in recipes. Another misconception- metric is not intrinsically more accurate than standard measure, the units are simply easier for most people to calculate with because we're used to base ten arithmetic. Tenths and hundredths of inches etc. have become quite usual in engineering and other applications.
 
Nancy H. August 17, 2018
You're kidding. First of all this is a discussion of relative quality, not an answer to a middle-school science class question. I'm not aware of much furniture self-destructing due to humidity change in the course of a year and just now I am sitting in a room with an abundance of spectacular furniture crafted by hand from planks of walnut, live-edged cherry and laminated oak. No sign of self-destruction whatsoever. <br /><br />Undoubtedly micrometers are important to engineers but cooks need to know something different. For instance, if we had a weight for the onion in a recipe it wouldn't much matter if that onion is sliced, chopped, or whole. <br /><br />
 
Smaug August 17, 2018
Perhaps you're no aware of much furniture self destructing because it's a primary factor in any competent furniture design- of course modern plywoods and synthetics behave differently. Cooks seem to be under the impression that they're achieving absolute accuracy by using a scale, and that metric measurements are intrinsically more accurate; I see nothing to be gained by perpetuating these misconceptions.
 
Sieglinde July 8, 2017
Nobody seems to be in favor of cups as measurements. Why for God's sake does anybody still use it? I just don't get it.
 
Betty July 8, 2017
Some things are easier to measure in cups - I have a set of standard measuring cups (1/8, 1/4/, 1/3, 1/2, 1) that I use frequently, for instance for rice. It's quicker than getting out the scale. (Basmati rice - 2 cups water and 1 cup of rice.) I also have a liquid measuring cup that is actually British - it shows measurements in cups and ounces, which is often helpful.
 
Sieglinde July 10, 2017
Thank you. This makes sense. I notice that with rice I do use cups, not in a sophisticated way, just any cup I happen to have handy...
 
Lyn December 21, 2015
How about providing an article about how to convert American measures (stick of butter???) into weights, so us British advanced people who use scales as a matter of course can follow your recipes? When will US cooks realise you don't travel in caravans and you don't have to measure ingredients in cups?
 
Doug D. December 21, 2015
A box of butter is 1 pound. Generally a 1 pound box has 4 sticks of 1/4 pound each. A cup of bread flour weighs about 119 grams/cup, whole wheat flour a little less. The weight is dependent on the humidity in your storage area. If you go to the King Arthur Flour site all of their recipes are listed so that you can look at the ingredients in volume, ounces and grams. You could also measure out a cup of anything and put it on your scale to see what it weighs in the unit of your choosing.
 
Paul M. December 21, 2015
Well said Lyn! Check this site out for conversions. http://www.traditionaloven.com/conversions_of_measures/butter_converter.html
 
Lyn December 21, 2015
Thanks for the suggested website, I will check it. Of course I could measure out a cup, but if you come from a different tradition you then need to look up how to fill the cup (do you sift and measure? do you scoop and level?) since they all produce different weights (and show why cups are such an unreliable measuring method in the first place!).
 
Lyn December 21, 2015
Thanks Paul, I'll give that a go. It's a pain doing the cross referencing, so I think I'll do it once and laminate it!
 
Betty H. December 20, 2015
Although I don't bake a lot any more, I find my digital scale extremely helpful and use it frequently. I have found that some wersites (Allrecipes.com, Food.com for example) have a metric conversion tool which helps a lot. I have a lot of trouble with cup measurements of vegetables and fruits - if the metric converter gives a weight, I am delighted. This also sometimes helps with the problem of the 'large' or small onion. At least the weight gives me an indication as to what is needed. Unfortunately, sometimes the weight has not been calculated, and the metric version still says 'one large butternut squash'. How much is that? Who knows. And my problems are complicated by the fact that I live in Greece, and fruit and vegetable sizes may vary considerably over what is considered normal in the US. Digital scales rock!
 
Nancy H. December 19, 2015
I really, really wish Food52 would just decide that everything had to have weights, perhaps in addition to volume measure. I cannot agree more with the author's views: weight the onion - whether you chop it, slice, cut wedges and so on - it's the same amount. Please, please add weights.<br /><br />By the way, while living in the UK, I bought a number of cookbooks which included weight as well as American volume measures, these are great to have. Does anyone understand why we Americans refuse to use scales?
 
Lyn December 21, 2015
Yes, apparently because the early settlers didn't bring their scales with them. You'd think they'd get over it by now...
 
Paul M. December 19, 2015
Living in England and keenly looking at, adapting and using recipes from this and many other sources in the US, I must admit to tearing my hair out sometimes with the aversion to scales in American kitchens. A plea from this baker from across the pond to American bakers and cooks. Please, please listen to Alice and get used to scales, they really do make life much easier and are more accurate than measuring cups. Dare I at this moment mention the metric system or is that a step too many? Oh and by the way, what is thing about sticks of butter? :)
 
Patrica May 29, 2015
Kitchen scale is very helpful in our daily uses.. thanks for sharing http://foodkitchenscales.com/
 
jeck May 28, 2015
Nowadays, its a very important to use kitchen scale in every home. Thnaks for sharing!! http://google.com
 
Doug D. January 6, 2015
I have the FG pizza's Digital Scale I purchased from www.fgpizza.com. I've been using the scale for about 5 years now with no problems. I didn't get the charger for it, but only have to change the battery about once a year. The scale does grams, kilograms, ounces and pounds and Bakers Percent as well. (FGPizza has a video that explains Bakers Percentage) FGPizza.com is a small family run business that deals in italian cooking/bread baking/pizza making tools, supplies and recipes and is a great place to shop, but I'm sure you can buy this same scale from other vendors.
 
Don M. January 6, 2015
I am in the market for a new scale, any recommendations?
 
josie July 19, 2014
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-Digital-Kitchen-Food-Scale/dp/B00GMMTT5C/ref=aag_m_pw_dp?ie=UTF8&m=A3NY0PTJTNDDMX. It's not that expensive as well and easy to use! If only I knew this before! :)...
 
soupcon March 17, 2014
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.
 
burns W. March 10, 2014
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!
 
LysiaLoves March 10, 2014
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. <br /><br />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!
 
Jan M. March 10, 2014
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.
 
tastysweet March 10, 2014
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. <br />Wow, this kind of rhymes!
 
Elizabeth S. March 10, 2014
Alice, what brand of scale do you recommend? Thanks!!
 
Kate March 10, 2014
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.au/products/my-weigh-kd-8000-bakers-math-scale-silver-8kg-x-1-0g.html
 
Doug D. March 10, 2014
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/page4.html
 
Ann-Marie D. March 9, 2014
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)?
 
LysiaLoves March 10, 2014
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...<br />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. <br /><br />Hope I answered your question!
 
Lyn December 21, 2015
Hi, a cup is a measure of volume. A cup of flour will weigh 120gm, and a cup of water is 240ml and 240gm. You can find other conversions on the internet.<br />