Saturday, October 23, 2010

How to use a scale for baking and cooking

If you're serious about baking bread, a scale is a worthwhile investment. The problem with measuring flour by volume is that it's amazingly inaccurate. A cup of flour can weigh anywhere from 4-6 ounces depending on how you fluff it or pack it, and even the experts disagree on how much a cup of flour is supposed to weigh.

If the recipe you're using gives a weight for the flour and you weigh your flour, there's no way you can go wrong - as long as you weigh correctly. If the recipe gives weights for the rest of the ingredients, you'll end up with fewer dishes to wash, and that's always a good thing.

To use a scale correctly, you need to understand the tare function. My first experience of how to mess up with an electronic scale was years ago when my job was to buy material from manufacturers by weight. One of my suppliers told me that we didn't pay him enough - his weights were different than ours. I asked his material handler to show me how he weighed the material. He got on the fork lift, picked up the box of material, drove onto the scale and wrote down the weight on a ledger. I said, fine, I'll pay your weight, but you've got to give me the forklift, the box, and the employee. The moral of the story: if you use the scale wrong, you can be very very wrong.

In short, the tare weight is the weight of everything you don't want to weigh. In cooking, that's usually the weight of the bowl, but it can also be the weight of all the ingredients you've added before. All without doing any pesky math.

There are two ways to use that tare function to your advantage. For the first, find a bowl that is large enough to hold your ingredients individually, and put that on the scale.

Press the tare button (on my scale the button is labeled "zero"), and the weight will reset to zero.

Then add your ingredients to the bowl until you reach the correct weight. If you go over the correct weight, just remove some until you get back down to the proper weight. Here, we've got a half-cup of flour that weighs 2 1/4 ounces. I got that weight my my usual measuring method where I stir the flour a bit to fluff it, then spooning it into the measuring cup and leveling it off. With this method, a cup of flour would weigh 4 1/2 ounces.

Dump those ingredients into your work bowl, and continue with the rest of the ingredients. It's a good practice to press the tare button each time you put the empty bowl on the scale, particularly if any of your ingredients might be clinging to the bowl.

If you had any doubts about how much flour weights can vary, take a look at the weight below. That's the same flour, using the same half-cup, and it weighs 2 7/8 ounces. I really had to work at compressing the flour into the cup, and as you can see, it held its shape after I dumped it into the bowl. Using this method, a cup of flour would weigh 5 3/4 ounces.

The second method of weighing ingredients with a scale is use your work bowl for all the weighing instead of using a separate bowl and ten transferring ingredients. Just put your work bowl on the scale, press the tare button to zero the scale and add your first ingredient until you reach the proper weight. Then press the tare button again to zero the scale and add the second ingredient.

This method is a little trickier in that it's slightly harder to remove ingredients when you've piled them on top of one another. So the key is to get close to the correct weight, add it slowly, and wait for the scale to settle and display the correct weight before you add more.


My Kitchen in the Rockies said...

I use a scale all the time in my kitchen. Maybe comes with my pharmaceutical profession. The one I purchased measures in Volume, grams, pounds and ounces. No more converting. I would recommend a good scale to anybody.

Allison@KAF said...

I love baking by weight - but so many of the recipes I love aren't written that way. My escali pana volume & weight scale from King Arthur Flour saves the day: it comes preprogrammed so you can put your bowl on the scale and weigh out 1 cup of brown sugar, or whatever - it revolutionized my baking!

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