Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Weighing the Options

I'm a recent convert to the religion of baking by weight. For several years, I'd been considering taking the plunge, but I held back because: 

a) I didn't have a kitchen scale, and
b) almost all of my cookbooks give measurements by volume.

Granted, there was a simple solution to point A. There just didn't seem to be sufficient reason to buy a scale given point B. 

But I gradually encountered more recipes written in both volume and weight (or, to be technical, mass). Worse, I'd find recipes I wanted to try but couldn't because they only gave amounts in ounces or grams. I read glowing articles and blog posts on why owning a kitchen scale will revolutionize your world. And finally, I went into a kitchen goods store with a dear friend and casually mentioned that I'd been thinking about getting a scale. This friend knows I am terrible about buying things for myself, so she bought me one as an early Christmas present. Win!

The problem now is that, having fallen in love with my little green scale (it's the same shade of green as my beloved KitchenAid stand mixer, in fact), I find myself getting frustrated with recipes that only give amounts in volume! I worry that the results will be inconsistent, both between batches and between the author's measurements and my own.

This morning, for instance, I started making these mustard soft pretzels from a cookbook I picked up at the library. The recipe called for 3 cups flour and 1 cup water (plus some mustard and salt) to be mixed together and kneaded. 

After a few minutes under the dough hook, my mixture was still frighteningly gloopy. So I threw in a few spoonfuls of flour. And then a few more. And then more. I think I added over a cup more flour before I got the dough to a point where I could pick it up without it gluing itself to my hands.

They turned out alright, though a bit bland.

This is the sort of kitchen dilemma that can be easily averted by specifying amounts in grams or ounces. Most likely, this author's one cup measurement is denser than mine (though the disparity between how much flour I was supposed to use and how much I needed did seem rather high… one of us made a mistake somewhere along the line).

Thankfully, the two newest additions to my cookbook stash are from the scale-using side of the aisle. I'm obsessed with Bouchon Bakery and The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Since both titles (along with a third such cookbook I own, The Cookie Book) give amounts in grams and by volume, my inner scientist took over and insisted I collect some data.

My own trials—scooping up excess flour, giving the cup a tap, then leveling it with a knife—yielded 128g and 133g cups. Compare this to Smitten Kitchen's 125g cup (pretty close), Bouchon's precise 142g measure, and Cookie's 115g lightweight. Here's a visual side-by-side:

A level cup of all-purpose flour compared to cup measurements by weight from several cookbooks
(click for a larger version)

A few spoonfuls might not make much difference if you only need a cup or so of flour for a recipe, but working with higher yields, even doubling a recipe, you're going to run into trouble.

Besides, when you're using a scale, you don't even need measuring cups. You can just pour in the flour, the sugar, the salt, the whatever you need. That's especially handy when you're adding something horribly viscous like honey.

Fewer dishes to wash! Consistent results! Myriad uses! Less worry! Less stress! What's not to love?

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