My scale, measuring 7 grams or 1/4 ounce of yeast, photo by Donna

My scale, measuring 7 grams or 1/4 ounce of yeast, photo by Donna

Over the weekend I made a recipe I tore from the recent issue of Saveur.  I don’t use many recipes but I’ve been looking for a flavorful, soft, comforting roll to make and this one enticed.

Maddeningly though, it called for 5 cups of flour.  Normally when I make bread, I set the mixing bowl on the scale and pour in whatever weight I want.  But here I found myself scooping out cups, scraping off the top, flour drifting over the counter and cutting board. But more than the mess, was the variable amount: given that flour can weigh 4 ounces a cup or as much as 6 ounces, I didn’t know if I had 20 ounces of flour or 30 ounces—a 50% difference.  According to the standard bread ratio, if it were the former, I’d have needed 1-1/2 cups of water, if the latter, 2-1/4 cups of water.  This particular dough turned out to be unusually stiff, and because the recipe didn’t give me the flour by weight, I had no idea if this were what the author had intended.

It’s a predicament caused by the fact that most home kitchens don’t have scales so almost all recipes involving flour give volume measurements.  To aid me in my quest to get a scale into more American kitchens, my friends at Opensky Project are offering three scales for $1.99Go to the Opensky scale promotion page to enter; Opensky will choose the winners at random.  I own several scales and this EatSmart scale, pictured above, is what I use most because its size is so convenient, it has a tare button, and measures in grams and ounces.  Everyone who enters the drawing for the $1.99 scale will get a 10% off coupon, so even if you aren’t chosen you can still buy it for a great price, one of the most important and useful kitchen tools you can own.

Tonight, I’m roasting a leg of lamb and I’m going to remake those rolls using my scale. Will post later in the week—it’s a promising recipe! Will be even better when it comes with weights!

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58 Wonderful responses to “Your Kitchen Needs a Scale!
Special Opensky Offer $1.99”

  • Russell

    I have the exact same problem with ‘Artisan Breadmaking In 5 Minutes A Day’. An otherwise fine book, but the ‘basic recipe’ calls for 6 1/2 cups of flour using the oh-so-accurate “Scoop and Slice” method. Seriously, it would take one sentence to tell those of us with scales how much flour to weigh out.

  • elizabeth

    I gifted my husband with a My Weigh KD 7000 (it’s in your Amazon store) for Christmas, and it is pretty phenomenal and well-priced. I’ve used it to make well-balanced smoothies (with equal portions of fruit), and when we made pasta alla gricia a few weeks ago, we used it in order to determine the proper amount of pasta to use based on the amount of guanciale we had.

    I will definitely use it for the next time I make dough–I want to compare the consistency from a measured cup version to one done by weight for myself.

  • Marc

    We definitely need more recipes written for the scale. I’d include sticky & oily things as a type of ingredient whose quantity should always be given by weight. A weight listing allows one to pour the molasses, honey, or oil into a mixing bowl with other wet ingredients instead of messing up a measuring cup.

    Even food journalists can have trouble with weights. A recent newspaper article gave 4 recipes for a type of baked good. Three were by volume, one by weight (in ounces, with volume equivalents included for the non-scale population). However, in the “weight recipe,” the author listed “18 ounces honey” and “12 ounces oil”, without specifying whether they were fluid ounces or weights! Based on the rest of the recipe, I inferred that they were fluid ounces, but it’s still a major recipe writing error. (of course, using the metric system would avoid the ounce/fluid ounce problem, as that system is wise enough to not give weight units the same name as volume units)

    I’ve been experimenting with Ratio and have had great success with crepes and pasta so far.

  • LindsayC

    I got this digital scale for Christmas (tinyurl.com/yca6put) after years of using a cheap Salter one (which I still use occasionally) and I am so happy with it. It has a range of measures — ounces, grams, pounds — and it allows me to tare, or zero it out, based on the container I’m using. AND it’s tiny and super thin. I love it.

    I have to wonder how often I have make a baking recipe and had it turn out wonky, only because I didn’t use the right ratios. Team Kitchen Scale!

  • Jeremy Hulley

    I did not make bread before I got the scale. I use it all the time now…

  • Carrie

    After I read Ratio I went out and bought a scale. It’s really so much easier to use!! Just as you described it’s nearly impossible to measure out flour into cups without getting it all over creation. With the scale I just dump it straight out of the bag into the bowl, tare it out, dump in the water, tare it out, etc. Really so much neater and more accurate.

    The problem is that I’m a recipe user and most of the recipes are not by weight, so my sad little scale sits unused in the cabinet most of the time. We need a scale revolution!

  • Ernie

    I live in Germany and came to the US for an exchange program – packed with a lot of recipes to show my American family what bread and cake is like in Germany – well, I had a pretty hard time figuring everything out without that damn scale…
    I still find it hard to measure for example 1/2 cup of cold butter when I try to cook from American foodblog recipes: How shall I get that stuff in there?
    To keep a long story short: I very much appreciate your mission and think it is one further step towards transatlantic accomodation.

  • ScottR

    I think it’s funny that you’re a writer and your blog has a grammar error in the title. Ah, for the good old days of yore.

  • claudia @ ceF

    scott, it’s called being human… it’s not like all ruhlman does is sit around all day and write his blog posts. you might want to concentrate more on the content more than the typo.

  • dan

    people, I need an enlightening moment here, so someone please flick the switch for me: if you have a recipe in volumes, and you measure the main ingredient by volume, weigh it and then apply the ratios from the recipe to weight measures for the other ingredients, why would that not work (except for flour or other ingredients whose density varies with humidity)?

  • Carrie

    I bet it would work dan, if you weren’t mathmatically challenged and somewhat lazy like myself. :)

  • luis

    Dan Unless you have a bakery or other intense application…were you are making large quantities of stuff…it really is what you finally learn to make.

    For the folks that are lamenting the volumetric recipes out there I have a simple solution. Go to calculated industries and buy a RECIPE CALCULATOR. It’s called “Kitchen Calc” It is useful to convert everything from volume to weights oz. or grams. Also it will scale any recipe up or down and this I find incredibly useful.

    I have been using the KD 7000 more and more but I rely on an analog Taylor that sits on the counter most of the time. Love them both.

    Ratio is the way to go but even then making great crusty bread at home is not easy. I have a new oven now and it is convection, radiant and infrared.
    I have a feeling my bread making is about to improve.

    Michael I look forward to a great roll recipe as I will be baking over the week end and into next week. Terrific idea!

  • Brian

    Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, pg. 18 gives weight equivalents for cups of flour. I’ve used them with great success.

    Or print out the weight chart linked to above and stick it on your fridge.

  • Bob

    My first attempts at breadmaking were with a volume-based recipe, and the bread turned out surprisingly dense and crumbly.

    When I tried the basic bread ratio, I got a nice, airy loaf with a pleasant texture. And then I jumped right off the end of the pier and began experimenting with making a cinnamon bread (with a bit of advice from Michael) … it turned out so good that I had coworkers asking what bakery it was from.

    To me, the scale has opened up far more possibilities. It’s easier scaling a weight-based ratio than a volume-based recipe, and you don’t necessarily have to be doubling things. With the 5:3 bread ratio, I upped it from 20 oz. of flour to 25 oz. of flour for a slightly larger loaf. (Whereas, if it had been a volume-based recipe that wasn’t a full-cup quantity, the same tweak would be far less precise and introduce unnecessary variation in the end product.)

  • Michelle

    Been wanting to buy a scale for a long time, but with two kids in college, all my cash is going on books and tuition, and flour to bake bread. Hope I get one of those $1.99 coupons. Can’t wait to try some of those ratio recipes for real.

  • Vivian

    I got a brand new digital scale for Christmas and for years before that used an analog one. I love my scale, it has become such an integral part of my kitchen that it now has permanent residence on my counter. Good luck to those who enter because mine was far from $1.99 but I am very happy with it and that is what counts.

  • rico567

    No purchase is required to convert volume measurements to weight. Just make up a table, which I did many years ago, and incorporated it into my cookbook, which is in a huge ring binder. A cup of flour = 4.4 oz. Work it out from there for yourselves.

  • Elliott Papineau

    You could also not use any type of conversion and just use the weight of the ingredient. What is so difficult about this? The reason one would use mass vs. volume is precision vs. convenience. If you would like to be less scientific and more of an amateur, use your measuring cups. If would like to control what you are doing to a greater extent, use a scale. This should end the discussion of conversion.

  • ruhlman

    god, i can’t believe i had that boner in the headline! then I ran off to a meeting. oy.

    thanks everyone for the encouraging stories about using scales! The more voices and stories like these the more people will use scales and the more cookbook writers will be able to put weight measurements in their books, and bloggers in their posts!

  • Jose Canseco

    Performed consistently, the scoop and scrape method is fairly accurate, typically yielding 5 to 5.5 oz all purpose flour per cup (for me anyways). For pasta and bread, a scale is not really necessary as experience will teach you to judge a dough by look, feel and sound.

    A digital scale is much faster. To make sure your scale is accurate, I use the old saying “a pint’s a pound the world round” (or someting like that). That is, 2 cups of water should weigh 16 ounces. Unfortunately, cheap digital scales are factory calibrated (once and done), and if the load cells start drifting you’re fucked. A mechanical balance is far superior (and longer lasting).

    I have an old Ohaus Harvard Trip balance with NIST standard weights when weight is really critical. Otherwise, I use a cheap digital scale ($40) that I got from the interweb. Most of the time, I just rely on experience.

  • SallyBR

    I don’t mean to sound like a bread snob, but I simply do not take seriously ANY recipe that calls for cups and tablespoons when bread is concerned.

    just sticking an “artisan” in front of the word “bread” is not enough to raise it to that level

    (sorry, but it is a pet peeve of mine… ;-)

  • Natalie Sztern

    I’m available for editing…:) find me a writer without an editor and i will find you a grammar error.

    why don’t scales use ml as well as grams and ounces?

  • Lyn Reid

    Great article Michael. Just wanted to say that I’ve been using a scale since my son was dx with type one diabetes which was 6yrs ago. It makes a huge difference when he’s counting his carbs. Baked good are so much better when you weight the ingredients.

  • Jeniffer Paxton

    We use scales in Australia and I have converted my favourite American cup recipes to metric weights, though I’d like see the day when all cookbooks are in weight measurements for easier & better baking.

  • rockandroller

    gah, I can’t get the link to work, even when I type it in myself – it redirects to “unsupported.” Anyone else having this problem?

  • SallyBR

    @ Natalie –> you can use your scale to measure mL when dealing with water, as water has a density of 1
    1 kg water = 1,000 mL
    100 g water = 100 mL etc etc

    if you want to use it for other liquid ingredients, just find out their density and adjust the values accordingly – (it’s much easier to get a precise volumetric measuring device like we use in the lab, though :-)

  • Bob

    @Michelle:

    If I get one of the coupons, I’ll give it to you.

    (Because I’d be doing this anyway to evangelize the by-weight philosophy of Ratio.)

  • luis

    Paul great link… sweet! They have a nice Kaiser roll recipe with illustrations. Thank you.

  • Bronwyn

    @ Natalie, To expand on what SallyBR said, mililitres (ml) aren’t a weight, they are a volume, so to measure them you use a measuring cup. They are for liquids, which always weigh the same for a given volume, although different liquids weigh different amounts. A litre of water will always weigh 1 kilogram. A litre of sugar syrup will weigh a lot more than that, but it will always weigh the same amount. This is because there is no air mixed in with liquids the way there is with solids.

    There are some scales out there which actually do “weigh” in ml though – ridiculous things that cost extra money for a button just to tell you that your 300 grams of water is 300 ml! And as SallyBR said, this is only accurate for water anyway, although milk and other aqueous liquids are pretty close.

  • erik

    I’ve been using a scale since I got Ratio. I sure wish I had a free supply of 9V batteries though.

  • SallyBR

    Erik, I hear you…

    Finally I bought a scale a year ago that has the option of a regular electrical cord – I got tired of running out of batteries (the scale, not me ;-) right in the middle of making bread dough.

    It is true that the cord is a bit of a pain to deal with, but I rather have that problem than having to buy batteries all the time

  • Carol

    I love my Oxo Good Grips Food Scale with Pull-Out Display. When using a big bowl for bread dough, etc., it’s so nice to be able to pull the display out from under the bowl so you can read it. It has a zero button so you can tare as you measure, goes up to 11 lbs. in 1/8 oz. or 1 gram increments (nice for sausage), and has a memory so if you get held up while measuring (trying to open that second bag of flour) you won’t lose what you’ve measured so far. My old Salter scale had such a short time before it shut off, I’ve been caught with half my flour measured – had to empty the bowl and start over.

  • Susan

    I finally bought a scale about 8 months ago. I have the Bloggers of the world to thank for the shove. There were just too many recipes that were tedious to convert from metric to cup/spoon measurements. I’ve loved having the scale and now am using it to convert the collection of my old recipes as I use them. Who knows, maybe I’ll start blogging! There’s a scary (or is it a tedious) thought!

  • Jami Moss Wise

    I feel silly to ask this–but is it really possible to use the EXACT same amount of flour every time at home and have the bread turn out the same every time? It seems I always have to adjust for the humidity, or for the brand of flour if I’ve switched, or something else. I start with the basic recipe but from there it kind of depends on how the bread feels in my hands–I know I have enough flour by how it looks in the bowl, how it springs back against my hand when I’m kneading it, and so on. Probably a good thing I’m not baking professionally . . . .

  • luis

    Jami you are right. It is NOT just weighing things when it comes to making good bread. You need great yeast and decent flour and water at just the right temperature and an oven that bakes moist and even. On and On….. basically you bake the bread you learn to bake along the way. Put your hands into it.. let the mixer do your heavy lifting… it all affects the bread you ultimatelly bake. I lost my process for incredibly crispy and airy pizza dough and have been backtracking for months to get back to great dough. When I do get there I will write it in stone and do it over and over and over again so Its stable and reproducible. Weighing is important,, very very important but so its everything else. the 5:3 ratio is right on and I tend to reserve one large tbsp of water to make sure I don’t over wett it.

  • luis

    In fact I am becoming possesed about finding the holy grail of pizza dough for me. I don’t even make pizzas anymore.. just pizza dough..I figure I get that right and the rest just falls into place.

  • SallyBR

    @ Jamie: no two breads are ever going to be exactly the same, I guess. The thing about weighing the ingredients is that it gives you better control over SOME of the variables. If you don’t weigh, not only you’ll have to adjust for small variations in humidity, behavior of different batches of flour, but also for the (not too trivial) variations in your measurement of “cups”, “spoons” etc.

    things are even more complicated if you use wild yeast – in this case, the phase of the fermentation of the starter will have a huge impact on your bread – even if you measure the weigh perfectly to the milligram.

    (can you tell I LOVE all things bread? :-)

  • Oliver

    Unfortunately, Thomas Keller in his new and highly lauded book Ad Hoc gives almost all measurements in volume, not weight. Given that the book is clearly geared towards the serious home cook, I expected that to be in there. Why aren’t they?

  • luis

    Welll…. it’s the oven stup..id…. My new oven is really making a big diffference… again who’d thunk itt? I am soooo happy now….

  • SallyBR

    @ Oliver – I went to check Ad Hoc and first I thought that his “non-baking” recipes would be the ones with measurements in volume. For those, I don’t think there is anything wrong – who cares if you use 1 cup of diced carrots or 1 + 1/4 cup? :-)

    but then I checked his “baking” section – some do specify weight, but quite a few do not (choc chip cookies, for instance), so I agree with you, it’s a bit surprising.

  • Chris

    I, too, would like to hear if there was a discussion about listing weights in Ad Hoc. If more cookbook writers started including weights it would help. And more weights in grams, too, please. The Breadbakers Apprentice, for example, has all weights in ounces. Which is fine until it lists measurements such as 1/16 of an ounce of yeast, when most scales will only measure to the nearest 1/10th. Why not just say 2 grams?

  • Natalie Sztern

    I know this is off topic and I am late in the up-take but just watched Chef Pardus’s daughter and Bourdain and this girl deserves a post all about her:

    Chef Pardus is one lucky man to have such an obviously brilliant daughter with an obviously very bright future…

    She is unbelieveably special in so many ways and as a parent these are the ways I wished my kids would have turned out at her age. So in addition to teaching cooking does he give Parenting classes as well or is it just genetics?

  • marla {Family Fresh Cooking}

    Thankfully I am all ready the proud owner of a kitchen scale. I will leave myself out of this give away so others have the chance to own this necessity at a great price! Agreed, without it measurements are far from precise.

  • Jami Moss Wise

    Luis and SallyBR–Thanks for telling me I am not crazy–your advice is good. I should probably invest in a scale. By the way, Sally, I checked out your blog and your bread is GORGEOUS.

  • SallyBR

    Jami, thank you!

    I’ve had my share of hockey pucks, and could definitely do some harm with a particular loaf of 100% sourdough rye that was a COMPLETE disaster!

    but, in the end, it’s all flour, water, yeast – the only way to improve is to keep trying and learn from the (many) mistakes :-)