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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.
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).
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