Tuesday January 31, 2012
So hobbies work a little something like this: you find something you enjoy doing. You do it all the time, even though you don’t get paid. In fact, you pay for the privilege of doing this fun thing because you probably can’t do it without lessons or special equipment. Get better. Have even more fun.
People who dabble in photography buy lenses for their camera. Birdwatchers invest in binoculars, golfers purchase new clubs, Trekkers get Tricorder apps for their iPhone (don’t judge). Geeking out with gear opens up dimensions of our hobby we could otherwise never reach.
Bakers relish in these upgrades more than most. Ice cream makers, bread machines, stand mixers, food processors, adorable bundt pans, waffle irons, rolling pins, cake-pop makers (seriously?), brownie corner pans, lollipop molds, copper pots and a hundred other highly specialized and often expensive tools.
Yet the overwhelming majority of people who consider baking their main hobby won’t purchase the most basic of kitchen tools: a scale.
I asked around on twitter and faceies, to find out why a group of people notorious for gadget-loving consistently shun something so useful. I heard a lot of answers and to sum up the general vibe: people find using a scale pretentious, overly technical, unnecessary, or something that will take the fun out of baking. Whatever they actually said, I always heard, “I just don’t need one.”
I’d love to mount an impassioned defense of the scale. Implore people to rethink it. Urge everyone to go out and pick one up. But I won’t. Almost universally, cook book authors write their recipes in volume. Grandma’s batter stained recipe cards don’t go by weight. The recipes written everywhere from blogs to bags of chocolate chips call for cups.
So I can’t tell you why you should use a scale, only why I do.
It cuts my prep time and clean up in half. It takes about 4 seconds to dump fourteen ounces of flour into a bowl. How many seconds does it take to scoop 3 cups of flour? Multiply that by every ingredient in a recipe, then by the thirty recipes. That’s how much time I’d spend every day measuring, not baking. Not even considering the time needed to wash and dry the measuring cups between recipes.
It gives me extremely consistent results. Using weight gives me the confidence to know my recipes will turn out the exact same way, without fail, every time. Measuring in volume, by its very nature, allows for considerable variation. My friend Kenji conducted an experiment asking ten people to measure one cup of flour. He then weighed these ten “cups” of flour and found they clocked in over a wide range of weights, from four to six ounces. As he said, “That’s a significant difference: one cook might be making a cake with one and a half times as much flour as another.”
Baking by weight makes dividing or multiplying a recipe elegant. If a recipe calls for 9 ounces of mango puree and I want to make a half batch, I scale out 4.5 ounces, end of story. 9 ounces of mango puree equals about 3/4 of a cup. Go ahead, try measuring out 0.375 cups. You can get pretty close, but ingredients measured out “pretty close” result in soufflé that came “pretty close” to rising, macarons “pretty close” to having feet, and ice cream “pretty close” to creamy. Not good enough.
Using a scale makes me Neo in the kitchen. Looking at a recipe written in volume means looking at code, but look at that same recipe translated into weight and you can see the Matrix. For example, if a recipe has a cup of flour and a cup of honey, it seems the recipe calls for equal parts flour and honey. A 1:1 ratio stares you in the face. That same recipe written in weight shows the disparity between the two: 4 1/2 ounces of flour and 12 ounces of honey. Understanding the true relationship between flour and the other ingredients in a recipe is one of the most important concepts in baking, one you can’t understand with volume based measurements.
If you wanna see the stars, you don’t need a telescope. They shine brightly enough on their own. But if you had one, you could explore the craters of the moon, see the rings of Saturn, and make out the individual points of light in an otherwise blurry nebula. Necessary? Not at all. A lot of fun? Heck yeah. Likewise, you can do a lot without a kitchen scale, but you can do even more with one.
Ultimately, a scale is just a key. It won’t open every door, but others won’t budge without it. Deciding whether or not you want the key to those doors depends on you.
How many times have you seen a recipe written in weight and skipped over it? How many times have you busted out a calculator to convert a recipe to cups? How many times have you flipped through a cookbook at the bookstore only to put it back on the shelf because weight measurements made it seem too “advanced”?
If you answer “more than once,” twenty five bucks seems a small price to pay for a key, no?
Recipe: Neapolitan Fauxreos
I use an OXO 10 pound scale at work (about $50) and an OXO 5 pound scale at home ($29). Both models can switch between ounces and grams and run on AA batteries; extremely convenient and much longer lasting than scales that run on watch batteries or 9 volt batteries. If you use heavy, ceramic bowls at home, you might think about going with the 10 pound model (3 pound bowl + 1 pound butter + 1 pound sugar = maxed out 5 pound scale). If you use lightweight stainless steel bowls, you’ll be fine with the 5 pound model.
To be perfectly clear, I am not affiliated with OXO in any way.
99 comments and counting
Jan 31, 2012 · 11:52 PM
Hear, hear! Weighting things out on the scale has become so second nature to me that sometimes I totally forget HOW to scoop a cup of flour! I look at it and think, “Now was it ‘scoop and sweep’ or was it ‘sprinkle and sweep’ or…? #$%*@! oh eff it, where is my scale?!”
Same with baking cookbooks — if it doesn’t list weights, I’m usually not interested. (And quite honestly, I have over 100 books, I HAVE to be choosy nowadays!)
Oooh, also! Ever since I started my current job, I have really been into metric weights too! I dig the preciseness of 28.35 grams over 1 ounce.
Feb 01, 2012 · 3:17 AM
I have a scale and I love it! I started using it more and more after reading your blog, and I’m very happy I did because you are so right: results are consistent when one uses it!
About cookbooks, though, recipes in the Spanish-speaking world come in grams. However, very few people have a scale because there’s this special type of cup that has standard gram measurements and that’s what everyone has…but it doesn’t really work, it’s not precise enough.
Oh, and after your suggestion I also got myself an oven thermometer. My next purchase will be a candy thermometer
· Marcela · thecelebrationgirl.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 7:55 AM
From a British perspective I find this slightly boggling ^^; I didn’t have my first set of cups until about a year ago and then it was only because so many recipes online are based in the US and thus use cup measurements.
A scale seems the absolute most basic baking tool to me – it was the first thing I bought when I got my own kitchen! I totally agree that it’s a lot faster, too, having now tried both. Measuring out cups is finicky and much harder for me than just dumping the weight into a bowl, resetting the scale to 0 (digital scales) and then dumping the next ingredient on top. Handily, my scale does both oz/lbs and g/kgs so when I come across an imperial recipe I can still use it.
The recipes from my granny come in lbs and oz, never cups! =) It’s nice to have both, but I’d urge anyone who’s never tried a scale to grab one and give it a go.
· Nate · afk.slashhug.net
Feb 01, 2012 · 9:50 AM
I 100% agree with Nate, using cups baffles me. In the UK recipes are always in weight, almost never cups. When baking the first thing I ever look for is a set of scales and if where I am doesn’t have one then I either go and buy one or I don’t bake! I also live with 2 Americans so have 2 sets of cups now. They’re different sizes!
Feb 01, 2012 · 9:52 AM
I’ve been using my scale for awhile and now it’s irritating when I have a recipe written in volume. Do you have a good go-to source for accurate conversions? I once bought European butter, which did not come in sticks and did not have tablespoons marked on the wrapper (how is that for imprecise?). I Googled to get the weight equivalent and found several different answers. Is there a source you prefer or you are just super woman and know how much 14 tablespoons of butter weighs?
Feb 01, 2012 · 10:08 AM
I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve gotten frustrated with volume and I’m about to start replacing baking books because of it. I printed the KAF conversion chart to have around and stuck it to the fridge with a magnet.
Also, if anyone’s looking for scales now, I’d avoid the ones that use watch batteries. Get one that takes AA or AAA if you can – the first scale I bought ate watch batteries like candy.
Feb 01, 2012 · 10:30 AM
My dad got a kitchen scale because of Alton Brown. I’m the one who uses it now. Mostly to weigh out a pound of pasta for my baked mac and cheese since most places that sell cavatappi do it only in 12 oz boxes. Unless I go to NH. They’re smarter about measuring boxed pasta there for some reason…but I am one of those people who pass by recipes done in weight. I should probably stop doing that like right now! Thanks for opening my eyes!
Feb 01, 2012 · 10:55 AM
I bought the oxo scale you had recommended on Serious Eats a while back. Best thing I’ve bought in a long time! It made baking soo much easier (and fun) that I started developing my own recipes. Doing that by cups, I’m sure, would have been very discouraging with all the uncertainty if one batch would come out just like the latter. I will never embark on a baking adventure without my trusty scale!
Feb 01, 2012 · 12:12 PM
I used to shun the scale too … until I found your macaron recipe. It really was the most foolproof baking recipe, and that scale was the greatest investment.
The Momofuku Milk Bar recipe book actually lists both weight and volume measurements, which is really helpful.
· Shar · myboutiquecloset.blogspot.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 12:37 PM
@kazb0t, I agree that grams are crazy precise! It’s unfortunate that most scales on the market today aren’t sensitive enough; the one I use at work struggles to weigh anything under 5 grams. I develop recipes in ounces, because it’s trustworthy down to a 1/4 ounce. Weigh to go (haha, sorry).
@Keerthi, that warms my heart!!
@Cassie, I use an OXO 10 pound scale at work, which goes for about $40. But OXO also makes a 5 pound scale for $29. It takes up almost no kitchen space. Bed, Bath & Beyond carries both, I believe. If you’ve got one of those 20% off coupons that they’re always mailing out, you could save some cash! But they’re on Amazon too (here's a link to the 5 pound one). I highly recommend ‘em! Both of those scales measure in ounces and grams, so very convenient!
@Marcela, really, no comment could make me happier. That’s so wonderful!! I love that you’re getting into the weight groove and checking out your oven too. High five!
@Kate, oh wow! My scale is pretty conservative, I use it all day long every day and only have to change the batteries once a year. That must be so annoying!
@Nate, your granny rocks!! America is such an outlier like that, in the UK and Japan scales are just taken for granted as a basic kitchen component. Americans are still on the fence when it comes to scales, but I think that has a lot to do with the way cookbooks are written too. Why buy a scale when all cookbooks are written in cups? It’s frustrating from my perspective.
@Emily, oh my gosh. How typical!! Haha, that’s America for ya!
@Cindy, agreed! I wonder if that’s what kind of battery Kate’s scales use. I use AA in mine and they last forever.
@Nissa, good ol’ Alton Brown. I use my scale for pasta too, cos 2 ounces of pasta (a serving) isn’t actually very much and I will always cook too much pasta if I don’t use a scale. I mean, you can never have too much pasta, but you can certainly eat too much, haha.
@ThatGirlYoshi, oh holy crap, that’s wonderful! I like to joke that every time someone buys a scale, a baker gets her wings. I’m so glad you like it, it’s such a great scale. The pull out display is a lifesaver when you’re using a big bowl.
@Shar, that’s so awesome. I really am glad to see this new wave of cookbooks providing both measurements, maybe eventually America will make the switch.
Feb 01, 2012 · 12:58 PM
another uk home baker chipping in, I am with you all the weigh! great post!
· Zeb · Zebbakes.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 1:03 PM
Yes yes and yes! I wish ALL of my cookbooks used weight rather than that other thing that shall not be named. Thank you for the precision of your recipes! I was a convert from the very first macaron!
· Michal · thehumidity.blogspot.com/
Feb 01, 2012 · 1:19 PM
Scales make life so much easier. Discovered how useful they were when I moved to Italy- which was even more useful since I was converting to the metric system!
· LML // Justine · www.littlemisslocal.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 1:34 PM
Such a great post, I completely agree that American bakers need to start using scales more. I just got mine this Christmas and, dare I say it, I enjoy baking more with them. They make the process of measuring a bit less tedious. Not to mention make me feel totally legit. I now love cookbooks that provide weight measurements and find myself turning to those more and more!
· Emilia · emilialiveslife.wordpress.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 3:44 PM
These look gorgeous!!
· amy@currylime · www.currylime.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 4:05 PM
I agree with Nate. I’m British, live in France, and volume-based baking recipes make me froth at the mouth. The first thing I do after wiping away the froth is convert them to grams (I use Dianasdesserts.com for that).
@bobbieb: European butter comes in 250 g blocks. Often it has 25g portions marked on the packet (but with experience you can easily eyeball 25g). I have never yet figured out how to measure tablespoons or, worse, cups of fridge-cold butter.
· Veronica · www.larecettedujour.org/
Feb 01, 2012 · 4:26 PM
Non-liquid measuring cups were banned in my old kitchen and they’re banned in the new one as well. I have a conversion app but most ingredients are burned into my brain at this point.
· anna · verysmallanna.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 4:38 PM
I love my kitchen scale. I should probably start posting more recipes that require using it. You’re right, it is quicker and FAR more accurate! These fauxoreos, holy moly, amazing!
· Julia · www.fatgirltrappedinaskinnybody.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 5:25 PM
Are you sure we’re not related?! It’s liked you picked my brain on every kitchen scale related reason to use one! I just got started a few months back with mine and have been having a ball converting my recipes. It’s been trial and error at times, but a fun learning experience too. Cheers!
· Penny · www.countingsprinkles.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 6:29 PM
I’ve always baked with scales, and like others above, I had to buy cups to start making american recipes (even though most times I just convert everything to grams). All my recipes at home are in grams, and I judge those who bake in cups (even if lovely Dorie Greenspan does).
Thanks for coming out for scales everywhere and please stop making such beautiful things, my belly can’t take any more of this!
Nah just kidding, please don’t stop. x
· isabel · http://rollingpinsandneedles.wordpress.com/
Feb 01, 2012 · 8:09 PM
I can’t agree more. I’m a scale convert going on 6 years now and it is exceedingly irritating to find a volume only recipe that I want to make.
By the way, your blog is awesome. As are your articles on SE for that matter. I’m not usually interested in recreating the desserts of my youth but your articles are always so much fun to read.
Feb 01, 2012 · 8:12 PM
My mouth is literally hanging open! This is a case of the photos distracting from the lesson! Some of the most beautiful photos I have seen in a LONG time, and I cannot wait to try these, Stella!!! I am amazed!
· Sweetsugarbelle · sweetsugarbelle.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 8:18 PM
I love my kitchen scale, and I love your fauxreos(Such a cute name)!
· Sue · www.munchkinmunchies.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 8:37 PM
very well said!
· Jaclyn · jaclynscookies.com
Feb 01, 2012 · 11:04 PM
@bobbieb, so sorry I missed your question! No, I have no idea how to eyeball 14 tablespoons of butter; I don’t bake from books so I’m never faced with the dilemma. But a tablespoon of butter is a half ounce. Hope that helps!
@Zeb, thanks for the vote of confidence!! Cheers.
@Michal, seriously, we should all band together to make cups a thing of the past.
@Justine, what an incredible experience that must have been! I love how pro-weight Europe is…
@Emilia, that’s so awesome. Congrats on your new scale! I sincerely hope cook book authors and publishers will take a hint, we’re all ready to rock ‘n roll!
@amy, thanks girlie!
@Veronica, thanks for fielding that question for me!
@anna, you are so stinking hot. That is all.
@Julia, make the switch! I’m so happy I’ve never had to spend my time converting recipes for the blog….
@erica, thanks so much for posting that. I’ve been totally sick of all the holier than thou posts about scales. People use cups because that’s how recipes are written, but I really wanted to give people some food for thought when it comes to deciding if they want to venture into weight measurements or not. I’m glad it struck a chord with you. xoxo
@Penny, yes!!! Separated at birth? Maybe!
@Isabel, haha, thanks darling. I wish more authors could put their foot down, but I’m sure publishers are breathing down their necks….
@Ben, thanks so much, that means the world to me. I know a lot of the recipes I tackle are a little…aspirational. So I always hope that I can at least say something accessible to all. Thanks for stopping by.
@Sweetsugarbelle, that is ALL thanks to Sarah Jane. She is such a bad mamajama. You should see all the photos I didn’t get a chance to use. They’re just outstanding, I could only use so many, though…
@Sue, thanks so much! I’m happy to see another scale-lover chiming in!
@alexa, I have to admit, the strawberry ones are kind of insanely delicious, especially in cookies n’ cream ice cream…
@Jaclyn, thanks lady!
@marci, I absolutely love the scales OXO makes. They make a 10 pound and a 5 pound capacity scale, and both are great. The 10 pound model is good if you use heavy, ceramic bowls at home which are often heavy enough to max out a little scale once you throw in a pound of butter and a pound of sugar. But if you use stainless steel bowls, the 5 pound model will never fail you. Check it out on Amazon here, or if you have a Bed, Bath & Beyond in your town, they sell them also.
Feb 02, 2012 · 3:55 AM
Stella, thanks so much for continuing to campaign for the scale! I hope the campaign spreads. I have been in the UK for years and I now hate cups. You said, though, that your work scale struggles with anything under 5 grams but is trustworthy down to a quarter of an ounce… but a quarter of an ounce is 7 grams!
Love the post, thanks again. x
Feb 02, 2012 · 12:37 PM
Honestly, I like both. I’m another Brit, so I’m used to recipes by weight, and have a very nice Salter digital scale and it’s all lovely.
However, I also have problems with numbers, and keeping them straight in my head. So if I’m given a choice between using “225g” of sugar or 8oz of sugar, I’ll take the “8oz” just because it’s less digits for my poor dumb brain to keep track of. Likewise, if I’m going to be faced with weighing out “8oz” or scooping up “1 Cup” of sugar I’ll go for the simpler Cup.
However, that’s a personal thing because I find numbers eeky. Both ways serve a purpose, and I’m happy to use both
Feb 02, 2012 · 12:56 PM
To be precise, it is less that that they are aspirational and more that I am interested in new (to me) ideas/techniques/takes on desserts. For instance I really want to make the apple butter stack cake that you posted recently. Making vanilla wafers (even if they are awesome) is not as interesting to me as the aforementioned stack cake. That being said, if you were to figure out how to make nutty bars even I might be tempted to try.
Feb 02, 2012 · 1:36 PM
@Christina, I don’t see the discrepancy in my statement; 5 grams is totally less than 7. The scale is fine measuring 7 grams of something, but starts reading unreliably in smaller amounts. To say it more precisely, it seems to measure grams in units of 1/4 ounce or 7 grams. I can weigh out 7 or 14 grams of something, but not 3 or 11. It doesn’t show any nuance.
@Nivaya, totally agree! I have a few recipes from my grandmothers that I’m happy to make with cups, it’s part of that recipes heritage and the fluctuations from batch to batch are part of the charm. I’m just sad when I see people having trouble with recipes that they’ve converted from weight to cups; the problem isn’t the recipe, but the conversion.
@Ben, ah! I understand. On the heels of my latest Serious Eats post (Butterfingers) I was thinking of some of the more challenging recipes. But agreed, who needs a walk down memory lane when the new and alluring beckon? Lemme know if you ever make the stack cake!
Feb 02, 2012 · 1:44 PM
I just started using a scale within the last year and was amazed at how much my baked goods improved. I really wish more cookbook authors (and publishers) would champion the cause.
· Cher · crazyworldofcher.blogspot.com/
Feb 03, 2012 · 10:15 AM
Haha, absolutely agreed! We only use weight measurements in Germany, so I was completely floored when I saw the oddness of volume measurements upon moving here.
Also, I want your oreos. All of them. Unhand them now!
· Kiri W. · www.healthyfoodietravels.net
Feb 03, 2012 · 10:38 AM
@Cher, I agree with you whole heartedly! I know it must be scary for publishers to think of breaking out of a recipe-writing custom that’s been around for so long. I’m sure many cookbook authors champion weight in the beginning, but have to bow at some point to the demands of higher-ups. Alas!! I’m ready for a revolution!
@Tash, it’s so exhausting to think about, isn’t it? I think using volume measurements is behind every case of: “but I’ve made this cake a thousand times! Why didn’t it turn out this time?” Scales forever!!
@Kiri, talk about culture shock! Oh, and the Oreos are all yours. Take ‘em!
Feb 03, 2012 · 11:24 AM
Stella—I stumbled upon your blog via FoodBuzz and, am so grateful that I did. WHAT a post. I feel like I am exactly that person you describe (the one who is so accustomed to the American way of cup-and-spoon baking), that I have just been too intimidated by scales. But this well-argued and well-written post has finally convinced me to cave in and give it a try! (Are you a lawyer, by the way? You make a very good argument!). And, thanks too for the recommendation on which scales; that’s another thing for us amateur bakers, the intimidation of so many choices of “fancy” equipment like scales ends up making it even more difficult to just go ahead and purchase one. Anyway, really, thank you for taking the time write this. And, this recipe and the photographs? Probably THE best FoodBuzz post I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot). Hats off to you, you’ve found a new, devoted follower!
Feb 03, 2012 · 11:39 AM
Hello again Stella!
Absolutely love your post as always. And lovely pictures, I haven’t jumped on the fauxero bandwagon as of yet but these are cute enough that I may finally have to!
And as for scales. I’m so glad that you posted this! I actually acquired my scale in an odd way. My Father is British and thus has loads of very old British cookbooks sitting around. Once I finally got really into baking and cooking, I decided to have a look at them and found recipes I desperately wanted to try… Only to discover that I couldn’t use them (insert angry mumble). So when I made my first trip back to England in ages last July one of the first things I did was find a kitchen shop in my Father’s little home town and buy a scale. (That’s what everyone does on vacation first thing, right?)
When I got home, I immediately used it to make your macarons first and then some of his old British recipes and I loved it! I also discovered something odd. After three times of making your macaron recipe I had it totally memorized. Like, entirely. This had never happened to me before and I’ve made hershey’s chocolate cake god knows how many times. Has anyone else found that recipes with weight measurements are easier to remember than, say, two-and-a-half-cups-plus-two-tablespoons?
Thank you again for the wonderful recipe(s)!
· Eve · sweeteves.wordpress.com
Feb 03, 2012 · 12:09 PM
@hiseema, my heart is so warmed to hear your kind words! Hmmm, I am the daughter of a lawyer, I guess it’s in the blood. But truly, I hope you get a scale and have a ton of fun baking with it. I got my first scale when was 14 and still remember how liberating it felt to know I could tackle any recipe that came my way, having already seen quite a few in professional pastry books at the library.
@Eve, I know exactly what you mean! With that macaron recipe in particular, the numbers work themselves out in such a memorable way. I know it by heart too. I love the story to your first scale, how wonderful! Any favorites from those British books?
Feb 03, 2012 · 2:02 PM
YUM! I’ve never thought of making oreos at home hehe congrats for being Top 9!
· Daisy@Nevertoosweet · nevertoosweetforme.com
Feb 03, 2012 · 2:23 PM
These are gorgeous! Nicely done and congrats on the Top 9!!
· RavieNomNoms · ravienomnoms.wordpress.com/
Feb 03, 2012 · 5:00 PM
I bought a scale a couple of years ago, and I couldn’t agree more with everything you say. I get annoyed when recipes do not include weight measurements (preferably in grams). But something happened fairly recently that made me realize two important things, especially for those of us who are used to volume measurements and slowly getting used to the scale.
1) You must use a recipe you trust.
2) You must learn to trust yourself.
I recently found a recipe for muffins (I don’t remember where, it was on-line) that gave both a volume measure and weight for flour. I weighed it out, and then I looked at it, and I thought, that looks like too much flour. But I trusted the recipe rather than my eye. Long story short, those muffins were inedible. I then checked the recipe’s equivalencies on a chart (which I should have done right away, of course), and lo and behold they were off. (It was probably a typo.) In any case, I agree wholeheartedly that using a scale is the way to go. But if you’re used to volume measurements, you must trust your eye as well.
Feb 03, 2012 · 5:43 PM
I think measuring with a scale is waaaay more fun than using cups.
· Rebecca · www.adustingofsugar.com
Feb 03, 2012 · 6:37 PM
@Daisy, they’re really fun to make because people are always so impressed.
@RavieNomNoms, thank you so much!
@justme, definitely! It takes a lot of experience to learn how to trust like that, and I think you learn a bit faster when you’re working in weight. Trust your gut!
@Rebecca, I never realized how much fun it was, until I made a recipe using cups at a friends house; I was so flustered just scaling out the ingredients.
Feb 03, 2012 · 7:46 PM
I just saw your new post on SE, hehe I love it – and I’m still working on finding some way to visit Japan. My father goes there often on business so I might have to find a way to convince him to drag his full grown daughter who lives 50 miles away with him… To help him sell products? (and explore on the side)
And my all time favorite is a realllly old version of this book:
My dad got it ages ago at a boot sale (yard sale) in his hometown of Gloucester and it’s still used avidly to this day. Especially for yummy sweet-tart homemade black currant jam. But I think it’s just an overall well rounded and wonderful British cookbook. Nothing I’ve tried from it thus far has failed. Plus this new one appears to have a recipe for “American Style Hamburgers” in it.
· Eve · sweeteves.wordpress.com
Feb 03, 2012 · 8:57 PM
I completely agree with this. I have recently started doing pastry in professional environment (no experience, just dumb luck) and realized on my first night that I needed a scale. I couldn’t do anything without it! I needed to multiply recipes x30+, and stuff written in cups and spoons, when extrapolated didn’t yield the same results. I have become more discerning now, and only use recipes written by weight. In fact, a bunch of your recipes have saved my butt! Like your pastry cream, and caramel, and meringue. My scale has become as important as my knife! I couldn't work without it! Keep up the good work lady!
· cookbambi · ledoyenne.wordpress.com/
Feb 04, 2012 · 11:48 AM
@Eve, yes you definitely have to find a way to get yourself to Japan! Offer to be his personal assistant? It’s obscene you haven’t gone, make it happen!! And thanks for the link, I’ve bookmarked it! I love old timey cookbooks, especially from the UK, the style is so subtly different from what I’m used to.
@cookbambi, oh! I’m so glad you’ve been able to come here in a pinch for some recipes! I don’t believe there is any one right way into the world of pastries, either you’re there or you’re not. And you’re there! Sounds like a blast. Thanks for the kind words.
Feb 04, 2012 · 12:08 PM
Hey, I always see this posts about why to use a scale. I live in germany and there is no question about it.you just use a scale. you can´t even buy cups in a store. Grandmas recipes are also in gramms. (we don´t have ounces). I skip recipes that are written in cups. I don´t like to get the calculator to bake up some cake…silly.
Feb 04, 2012 · 3:40 PM
For me, fastest is no measuring at all. But this only works on things I know pretty well. I’ve been doing bread for fifty years without measuring – always works. For anything new, good measuring is essential, and, like you, I always use a scale. My cheap 10lb. (5kg) scale has a resolution of about 2g. Useless for a ‘teaspoon’ of salt. A couple years ago I got myself a scale with a max of only 200g, but a resolution of 0.1g. Works great for salt, spices, flavourings. I got it at my local ‘hemp’ shop (drug dealers’ supplies) for about $30. It even comes with a light for measuring in the dark!
Feb 05, 2012 · 12:27 AM
I just got a scale a few weeks ago, and I went to bake a recipe and it called for 2 oz. chocolate, I thought dang how am I going to figure that out…then the light bulb went off “oh yah you have that new scale now” been using it ever since and I love it! I love knowing that my recipe is going to turn out just like it’s supposed to. Great post and well written. Not to mention the beautiful cookies that I am so making Cheers
· Suzanne · www.you-made-that.com
Feb 05, 2012 · 8:02 AM
Hehe I’ve got my fingers crossed.
And I know, I love British baking books! And don’t even get me started on their cooking magazines. Even the paper quality is better! I know I shouldn’t but every time British cooking magazines come into stock and my local B&N I snatch all of them up immediately. And then look at the receipt. And decide I’ll just have to do without something for the next month.
And I’m actually going back to England next month and I am soooo going to scour old bookstores half the time for old cookbooks. If I lived near Portland I would totally lug some back for you.
And one more thing. I know this is a litttle bit unrelated but could you possibly recommend a good baking cocoa for cakes and such? I’ve been looking around online but almost all of the “big brands” (varlhona,guittard ect) have loads of people touting how awesome they are and now I’m ridiculously confused.
· Eve · sweeteves.wordpress.com
Feb 05, 2012 · 12:03 PM
@Carla, Germany puts the gramms in gramma?
@Jim, haha, what a good tip on where to get a scale on the cheap. It definitely takes a lot of experience in the kitchen to get such a feel for ingredients; I’m still a million miles from there!
@Suzanne, I hope you do make the cookies now that you’ve gotten used to your scale!
@Eve, when it comes to the “big” brands of cocoa like you mentioned, they’re all really top notch so it’s hard to go wrong. For something a little more affordable for everyday baking, Penzeys spices sells really great cocoa online, both Dutch and natural. I recommend buying a few cocoas that sound good to you, then having a marathon brownie making session in the kitchen. That way you can compare their end result and find out for yourself which you like best. Not to mention it is so much fun.
Feb 05, 2012 · 5:57 PM
Stella! How’s my favorite SPS doing?
I’m so glad you brought up this subject. I haven’t done any baking with weights, and I’ve been guilty of being one of those people who went, “uh, no…” and put the book I was looking at back on the shelf. I totally see the advantages of using weights, but one possibly stupid question: do you weigh your liquids too? Or is 4 ounces of honey, milk or whatever 4 ounces in my liquid measuring cup? I can see how something like flour could and probably does get packed, resulting in more than what the author of a recipe intended, but I don’t know how I could goof up measuring a liquid in ounces. I know an ounce in a dry measure is different than an ounce in a liquid measure, and an ounce is obviously different in weight than volume. A little clarification please?
Once I get this weight stuff down, I’d totally love to try some of your gluten-free recipes. Alas, I remember the soft chewy inside and perfectly browned outside of freshly baked bread, a perfect cookie, pie crust or pizza all too well, but it isn’t worth the resulting “oh, I guess that wasn’t GF after all” feeling. Any tips on how to convert my favorite recipes to GF? I’m sure it’s not a standard pick a flour and go one-to-one with it conversion.
Also, do you have a favorite website which can help with converting my evil cup recipes to weight measurements, or a standard you go by when doing so?
Hugs ‘n’ kisses to you. Every anniversary (February 3rd last Friday!) I think of you and how you managed to arrange your affairs so you could come to my wedding. Doesn’t seem like 11 years have gone by, does it?
Feb 05, 2012 · 6:42 PM
SQUEE! Hey Sis!
I weigh everything! Once you get used to using a scale, it actually works out easier. You just pour whatever onto the scale, you don’t have to squat down at eye level to make sure it’s flush with the line or try to transport a brimming cupful of something from place to place.
But beyond that, different liquids have different densities which causes them to have different weights as well. You know that old phrase, “a pint’s a pound the world around”? It only works out for things with a similar density to water. For things like apple juice or milk, a cup does work out to 8 ounces. But other things like honey, maple syrup, pulpy juices, etc work out heavier. If a recipe calls for “8 ounces of honey” and you decide, “Ah! that’s a cup!” then you’ll wind up putting 12 ounces of honey into said recipe (aka, a bad thing).
I haven’t mastered the bread like GF items, but I’ve got cookies, cakes, and brownies down pat! So grab your scale and get to baking, there’s a ton of that stuff here. I haven’t figured out any universal substitute that I totally love, but I almost always wind up using a blend of white rice flour, mochiko (confusingly called “glutenous” rice flour, but it’s not gluten tainted at all), kinako (roasted soy flour) and buckwheat flour. For cut-out cookies, rice flour works really well and lends a crisp texture; for recipes with a nutty flavor the kinako adds a boost of flavor, and things that benefit from chewiness do well with mochiko.
This site is great for conversions from volume to weight, but it works out very dangerously the other way around. Use your powers for good!
I think about you often too, whenever I bundle up in the lovely quilt you sent down for my wedding (almost seven years ago). Holy crap, does this mean we’re old?!
Feb 05, 2012 · 9:33 PM
Very good idea, lovely recipes.
· Andreja Stancer · www.stancerfamily.blogspot.com
Feb 05, 2012 · 10:50 PM
These are truly beautiful photos – seriously, frame-worthy!
· Leah · www.unionstreeteats.com
Feb 06, 2012 · 12:38 AM
Eeeee! You saw my post!
Hahaha, yeah we’re just a couple of old ladies, aren’t we? Tittering on about cookies and other scrumptious desserts the way we do. Any time!
Thanks for the clarification. Weighing sounds soooo much easier, and far less messy. I’ll have to get the scale that was meant for Weight Watchers out and bake more stuff, haha.
I’ve found a good source for superfine rice flour, so now I’ll just have to hunt down the other flours, unless you can direct me where to get them.
Part of my problem is I find the flour/food item I am looking for, only to discover that it has been processed on shared equipment (nuts are a prime offender; I must read the statements on each and every bag I buy very carefully. It can even vary depending on the size of the piece of the same nut bagged by the same company!). And you labeled this “made with gluten-free ingredients”? LIARS! I can tell while I’m eating it if I made an oops.
Speaking of nuts, I was looking at your GF hazelnut brownie (drool…) recipe. Can you recommend a good food processor? I don’t own one because every one I’ve bought (blenders, too) has been junk. I’m willing to spend a little more on a product that actually works. BTW, I read the part about the brownies cutting better if they’re cooled in the fridge first and audibly laughed. You’re so cute.
Feb 06, 2012 · 10:18 AM
@Andreja, thank you!
@Leah, I’ll be sure to let Sarah know! We’re actually hoping to set up a “shop” to sell a few prints, just haven’t got around to it yet…
@Krista, I swear by my CuisinArt food processor. They’re definitely pricey, but they last a lifetime. Super durable and also multipurpose: they have a shredding attachment, so you can shred big blocks of cheese or carrots/potatoes/whatever at lightning speed. How long have you been GF, btw? How’d you find out?
Feb 07, 2012 · 12:07 AM
I found the scales sold in kitchen stores not to be precise enough when it came down to measuring less than 5 grams, so I ordered an AWS scale (AMW-100) online which has 0.1 grams gradation and a capacity of 1000 grams. It has been great for times when I don’t want to bake five loaves of bread and need to cut down on the recipe.
How can you go wrong with a scale in the kitchen? I even have a ‘backup’ that I use if my batteries run out and I don’t have any fresh ones, albeit not nearly as precise.
Feb 07, 2012 · 9:41 AM
@rcbeck77, aw, yay! Thanks so much.
@Henc, if I did more bread baking, I’d definitely need a more finely tuned scale than the one I use now. But you’re right, most don’t do so well under 5 grams. I’ll have to check out the AWS-100, thanks for the tip. I love that you’re so dedicated you even have a back up scale!
Feb 07, 2012 · 8:26 PM
Stella, thanks for the tip. Cuisinart… I have a Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off coupon. Maybe I’ll take a trip over there and see what they’ve got. I’m not sure what capacity to get. I don’t want to get one that’s not super-duper enough and wish I’d gotten something better, but I don’t want to overbuy either.
As for going GF, I was having terrible stomach and digestive issues and did a little research myself, “you don’t have an ulcer” and “take this heartburn medicine” not being good enough. I suspected gluten might be the culpret and asked my doctor for a blood test. That was in September of 2008. I guess he forgot about it, because I called his office in February 2009 and asked for the results. The head nurse there told me my tests showed gluten intolerance, and that I should come in and see my doctor.
That being said, I was taking a continuing ed class at my local community college (Japanese, wouldn’t ya know? But only a few basics, I’m by no means fluent!) and I’d stop by Starbucks on the way to get myself a chai latte (I’m with Mr. BraveTart, I detest coffee) and one of their apple fritters, warmed (OMG I love those! Stellers, if you can make me a GF version, I’ll love ya forever!). So I did that on the night of my appointment, knowing what I’d hear. STUPID… The doctor told me if I ever felt like cheating, remember how I feel right now. No problem there, since I was sitting in the chair in the urrggggh, I feel sick, please kill me now, half doubled over position. I have NO idea how I’d react now to a gluten OD, and NO desire to find out. Do I want that piece of crusty bread or that delectable cake? Heck yeah. Am I gonna touch it? Not with a 10-foot pole. I hastily wash my hands after touching bread; even that bothers me (I was feeling nasty continuously for a while, until I discovered that my hand lotion had wheat protein in it. Another time it was my shampoo!). Multiple health issues were resolved or greatly lessened by removing gluten from my diet.
Sooo… I’m looking SO forward to gathering everything together and cranking out a few GF recipes on this site. I’ve gotta sing you praises for thinking of those of us who love to bake but have food intolerances. Yours must be even worse, you poor darling, not being able to have pork of all things. That, wheat, and soy are in everything. Thanks for everything!
Feb 08, 2012 · 10:43 PM
I bought a scale last month because I’d been wanting to make macarons forever, after several failed attempts I’ve concluded the oven in my apartment isn’t up to it, but WOW I sure love that scale! I use it all the time, totally the best kitchen investment. Next I’m buying a thermometer for inside my oven and trying those macarons again
· Esme · www.infinitefeast.com
Feb 09, 2012 · 10:43 AM
I am so used to using scales that when my batteries ran out during the holidays I took down the 1900s cast iron and brass mechanical scale I inherited from my great grandmother and have in my kitchen as a decoration. It was obviously more fiddly to use than the digital one but the 1, 5 and 10 gram weights (bit newer – my grandmother’s) are beautiful to handle and it drove home the point that in central Europe a scale was a must even in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire days. I could see that it would be a pain in the ass to use on a wagon train half way through South Dakota but once you have an actual kitchen there is no reason not to go back to it.
Feb 09, 2012 · 11:25 PM
@Bill, thanks so much! I can’t wait to meet you and get my paws on that waffle iron for Eggo time!
@Krista, I’m telling you, the Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off coupon has lead to the rise of many a baking empire… but oh, holy crap, you poor thing! I’m so glad you figured out what was causing you trouble, but what a way to go. Have you been to the Gluten Free Girl? A staple among the food-blog go-ers, but maybe new to you. Shauna is great, and a huge resource for GF questions.
@Kat, wow. That’s beautiful. I love it. I’ve used those old cast iron scales before, at a bakery where I used to work. I loved the feel of the weights, sliding the tare down the scale. Watching the balance tip. It’s a real experience, a lost art.
Feb 11, 2012 · 1:18 AM
Totally agree (and The Matrix metaphor is AWESOME)! The cost put me off a little at first but my partner found them for $6 or something on Ebay and secretly bought me one. So there is an option even for the stingier amongst us
· Zo @ Two Spoons · twospoons.wordpress.com/
Feb 11, 2012 · 10:50 AM
@Zo, good call! There are a lot of “abandoned” scales out there that need a good home, you are right! Thanks for mentioning it.
Feb 14, 2012 · 4:18 AM
Most kitchen scales aren’t that accurate I agree, and that’s where knowing your brand com s in handy. I bought an oxo scale as well. 20 at marshalls (steal!) But I only got this particular brand because they make the science equipment in my lab. Good enough for lab work, good enough for the kitchen! My quirk to buying kitchen gadgets……. And since I work in a lab, the 0.1 g to 0.00001 g makes a huge difference. But to get that type of accuracy, you literally start to add an additional zero to each zero it is capable of measuring to the price tag of the scale. I would not be surprised if the 0.1 g / ounce accuracy someone suggested earlier cost 100 plus rather than 29 dollars. Our super sensitive scale cost around twenty to forty thousand. We can measure evaporation!
This may be just me, but I find that the 5gram difference is forgiving in most recipes, and with a digital scale, it is accurate enough. I’m not weighing out chemicals and baking and cooking is generally forgiving enough that the inaccuracy doesn’t result in something too bad. However, since oxo does make science equipment, it is sensitive enough to weigh out the 1g if necessary. I don’t have a problem with my five lb oxo scale. If you are worried about it however, buy a 1 pound or 1kg scale along with the five or ten, and that smaller scale size should give you better accuracy. Our 0.00001 g scale at work, can only weigh a max of 300 g, and the accuracy goes down to 0.001. So smaller volume = more accurate scale.
Feb 14, 2012 · 9:59 AM
@LH, wow, what an incredible perspective;I didn’t know OXO made lab equipment! I agree with you; for most baking, a fudge-factor of 5 grams is so miniscule relative to the overall quantities called for that the margin of error is negligible. I would love to come to your lab and watch water evaporate a milligram at a time!
Feb 27, 2012 · 10:28 PM
i completely agree. hooray for the scale! i convert all my recipes to grams. it makes life so much easier! love the blog! oh, and congrats on making “Best Pastry Chef”!
· Tara Z · pinterest.com/raysofsoul/
Feb 28, 2012 · 5:26 PM
@Tara Z, thank you so much!! I love my scale and am always so happy to find more bakers who do too. Glad you stopped by.
Apr 06, 2012 · 1:51 PM
I agree that baking by weight is so much easier. I wish all cookbooks were written with weight measurements. Usually, before I dive into a new recipe from one of my cookbooks I’ll convert the measurements where possible and jot them into the book. Then, when I go to make that recipe again, it’s so much easier!
May 01, 2012 · 12:34 AM
What about eggs? I notice your recipes say “6 eggs” rather than “6 60g eggs” or even “6 large eggs”. Do you have a standard egg size you use? I know I’ve had huge issues when using 40-50g eggs in certain recipes where the recipe expected 60-70g eggs. Am I just being too pedantic?
May 01, 2012 · 9:49 AM
@Complicated Cat, no, you’re definitely on to something! The key word is “certain recipes.” When a recipe is sensitive to egg content, I will call for a weight measurement of eggs rather than a count. I’ve only had to do this for a few recipes, especially custards and macarons and other recipes whose success hinges on eggs. Other recipes tolerate the natural variation of egg weights fairly well. I’ve always considered the fluctuation between eggs manageable, but maybe it’s time for me to step up my game!
May 25, 2012 · 8:46 AM
The AWS-100 scale, the one that’s precise to 0.1g? Stella, you MUST get one now. Why? Cos LH’s guess is way off… I just got one a few weeks ago and it was nowhere near $100. In fact—ready for this?—it costs 13 bucks! (at Amazon)
Anyone who bakes bread should have one—not being able to weigh yeast (for lack of a precise enough scale) is like having one foot outside the matrix. It makes baking to ratio or bakers’ percentage fully doable, and not just a kinda-sorta thing.
Can you tell I love mine? I dooooo!
May 25, 2012 · 4:24 PM
I have a “In the Defense of a Scale” page on my blog too! I love your intro “calling” people out on how they purchase all kinds of gadgets but then resist a scale! Viewers of my videos get bent out of shape a lot from my recipes being in weights but there really is just no other way to bake! The students who take my classes all buy a scale and can’t figure out how they lived without it for so long (in addition to a digital thermometer probe). I love that your favorite scale is my favorite scale! I’m not affiliated with OXO either but they do make a pretty nice scale! (and that blue backlight feature comes in handy)
· Jason S · www.TheAubergineChef.com
May 26, 2012 · 4:13 PM
@Annabel, oh wow! That’s great news, thanks for sharing. What a steal!
@Jason, I seriously love that backlight, I just wish it would stay on until I turned it off. It’s pretty dark in the pastry dungeon.
Jun 23, 2012 · 3:02 PM
I loathe cooking with a scale. Assuming the batteries are not dead, I really have no idea how “big” 250 grammes of anything is. I cannot visualise it. Tell me something in cups, teaspoons, etc. and I have no problem. Cooking is not hard science; recipes are not so sensitive that you have to have it down to the milligramme. “About a cup” is fine. However, obviously others have other views, and that is fine, but leave me with my cups.
Jun 23, 2012 · 4:03 PM
@Dai, I hear you that it’s hard to visualize 250 grams. I definitely can’t do that! I don’t think anyone should switch to a scale when all of their tried and true recipes are written in volume. If it calls for cups, go with cups! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using cups and teaspoons.
My concern is just with the inherent problems converting recipes from weight to volume. Many people might think 6 ounces of corn syrup would “look like” 3/4 of a cup, but it doesn’t. And the difference in that case is definitely big enough to make or break a recipe.
Nov 19, 2012 · 8:47 PM
Hi Tawns! Sorry for the delayed response. The cookies in the picture are my Fauxreos, and you can find the strawberry variation at the bottom of the recipe. For the double chocolate, just beat a little cocoa powder into the filling, a tablespoon at a time, until you’ve got a taste that suits you. Happy baking!
Dec 23, 2012 · 6:26 PM
Thanks for this article! I’ve been baking for awhile, not pro, but a lot of homemade goodies for friends and family. Recently, I ventured out into sprouted grain breads. While there’s a lot of wiggle room there, I thought it was odd that sometimes I’d have extra flour left and other times I wouldn’t have enough even though I measure my cups and spoonfuls exactly each time. It gets frustrating, because I start with pre-soaked, pre-sprouted and dehydrated grains in my power blender (which grinds grains to flour) and then I blend wet sprouted grains with yeast, water & honey. Since I only have one blender, if I run out of flour, I have to stop what I’m doing, wash and dry my blender to make more flour. Did I mention I don’t have a dishwasher? So what I end up doing usually is making sure I always grind extra flour, which defeats the health purposes of baking with freshly ground flour only. Because of your article, I’m going to try to convert my sprouted grain bread recipe into weight measurements.
Oh in case you’re wondering why a “health nut” like myself is doing on a sweets blog, I’m a foodie at heart and I love reading food journalism. My kids were born with all sorts of food allergies (and have since been cured of them), so I’ve had to change the way I cook. They’re school-age now, so I have to make cupcakes and the such for parties. I’m definitely going to use your homemade sprinkles recipe – thank you for it!
Dec 23, 2012 · 9:19 PM
Hi Cramera! I hope that the weight conversion will help you get more consistent results with your sprouted grains. With an ingredient like that, you may also be experiencing some variation in moisture content from batch to batch, which might also effect just how much you need (sort of like the EXACT amount of water needed to make a pie dough varies from batch to batch). But at the very least, it may give you a more consistent starting point and help you minimize the amount of extra flour you prepare. I hope you enjoy the sprinkles too!
Jan 19, 2013 · 10:05 AM
Hi Rikke! Wow, what a steal!! Haha, I don’t think I’ve seen anything for sale at Ikea for $7, I think we’ve got some major markups over here. A scale like that would be awesome to have, I’ll have to keep an eye out during my next Ikea adventure…
Feb 20, 2013 · 9:40 PM
So in love with your recipes because they’re so precise! I love my scale! I’ve grown up baking with cups and then started straying into recipes with ounces and grams and spent all this time converting, always wondering if they would turn out. I never trusted those conversion charts that come in the back of some cook books, for exactly the same reason you talked about, density. I love baking and cooking using my scale, I feel so badass gettin’ stuff done in my kitchen with it!
· Amber · bakingbetterwithbutter.blogspot.com
Feb 22, 2013 · 5:10 AM
After reading this and then seeing the endlessly varied Google results for the basic questions, “How many ounces in a cup of flour/sugar?” I feel I must ask you for a final answer. My baking text says 5 and 7oz, respectively, but I’m skeptical. Thanks so much for your trouble.
Feb 22, 2013 · 9:43 AM
@Amber, I first made the transition when I was 14, after reading The Cake Bible. That early experience really shaped my very idea of baking, long before I went to culinary school.
@Julia, omg, 7 ounces is crazy talk!! You are rightly skeptical of that one! No matter how many times I measure and remeasure, my “cup” of flour always weighs 4.5 ounces (spooned in, then leveled). Many sources cite 5 ounces, because most people won’t spoon the flour, they’ll “dip and sweep” which compacts the flour and gives a heavier cup. It’s differences like that make cups so maddening! Ahhhhhh!
Mar 02, 2013 · 11:55 PM
Scale for life!!! I agree 100% with your deep appreciation for this mighty kitchen tool. I write 95% of my recipes in weight exactly for all the reasons you mentioned. And by the wayyyyyy, those cookies….yeah, they look delicious!
· sweetlab · sweet-lab.com
Mar 03, 2013 · 1:54 AM
Oh, sweetlab, we would so get along in real life. Weight forevah!!
Apr 01, 2013 · 2:22 PM
As an English baker I’ve been brought up on using scales. In fact I generally avoid recipes that call for cup amounts whether its an English or American recipe. By the way your blog is amazing and thanks to you this weekend I’m attempting my first ever batch of macaroons! Thank you x x x