Cups, tablespoons, teaspoons…these are kitchen measurements we’re all used to; but so many recipes are measured only by weight, forcing you to either try and figure out the volume equivalents, or buy a digital kitchen scale. Professional recipes are nearly always measured by weight, as are many of the recipes that we use in our test kitchen. But why? What’s the benefit?
At ThermoWorks we’re passionate about accuracy. What good is a thermometer if you can’t trust its readings to be anything less than completely accurate? Your instrument’s reliable accuracy is crucial to its performance. When it comes to recipe calibration, there isn’t any more accurate way to measure ingredients than by weight.
When measuring a cup of flour, the actual amount of flour in that cup depends upon a number of factors:
– Was it spooned in?
– Was the measuring cup dipped into the flour?
– Was it leveled off by packing it down?
– Or by scraping the top off with a straight edge?
Minor differences in technique can result in different amounts of flour being added to your recipe from the same measuring cup. These differences in flour weight can subsequently make substantial differences in the final outcome of your recipe.
Many experts have written about the virtues of weight over volume measurements, such as: Harold McGee, Kenji Lopez-Alt, the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen, Rose Levy Beranbaum…and the list goes on and on. In bold letters on page one of the book Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastian Rouxel we read, “Throw Out Your Measuring Cups.”
Does that seem a bit extreme? Well, then, just keep reading:
“Weight is a direct measure of an ingredient itself. By contrast, the volume taken up in a measuring spoon or cup includes variable amounts of empty space. A teaspoon of granular salt can contain twice
as much salt as a teaspoon of flake salt.”
—Harold McGee, Keys to Good Cooking
“You will obtain better accuracy when measuring by weight…Also, it is easier to precisely measure weight than volume. Because much of cooking is about controlling chemical reactions based on the ratio of ingredients (say, flour and water), changes in the ratio will alter your results, especially in baking.”
—Jeff Potter, Cooking for Geeks
1. It Saves Time: You don’t have to worry about messing with leveling off measuring cups. Place your mixing bowl directly onto the scale, set to zero, weigh the first ingredient. Set to zero, add the second ingredient. Set to zero, etc. It’s quick and easy!
2. Accuracy: When measuring ingredients by volume, what you’re actually measuring could be dramatically different each time you use the recipe, and could be pretty far off the mark of where the recipe was calibrated. For example, the cup of cocoa powder measured out for a chocolate cake could have been overshot by 3 tablespoons simply because it was packed into the measuring cup, or tapped on the counter to make the top level. If a batter or dough comes out too dry or too runny, it could be a simple measurement error—not necessarily a “bad” recipe.
3. Consistency with Recipes and Portion Size: When you’re measuring with precision, your recipes will turn out the same every single time. When it comes to portion sizes, if you need to divide a batch of cookie or bread dough into a specific number of portions, simply weigh the full batch of dough and divide by the number of portions needed. This method is perfect when making a braided loaf of bread, or when dividing a batch of cake batter among a specific number of pans. Always measuring by weight is every professional bakery’s secret to perfect uniformity from their first eclair to their thousandth.
4. Increasing or Decreasing Recipe Size is Easy: Multiplying a recipe by 1.5 is complicated when you’re dealing with fractions like 1/3 and 7/8. Most digital kitchen scales can toggle between pounds, ounces, and grams. Multiplying by those whole numbers is easy. Say nothing of the fact that if your measurement is off by a tablespoon or more because of an inaccurate volume measurement, that inconsistency will grow exponentially when increasing the recipe. Trying to increase or decrease a recipe by volume can be a slippery slope.
5. Easier Cleanup: Measuring ingredients like peanut butter, shortening, corn syrup, and honey isn’t very fun, and always leaves messy measuring cups to clean up (think peanut butter cookies). When measuring by weight, you will decrease the amount of dishes you need to wash dramatically. Who doesn’t want fewer dishes to wash?
In The Food Lab by Kenji Lopez-Alt, in his section about essential small electric tools for the kitchen (pg. 61), his #1 gadget recommendation that he says will “revolutionize your cooking” is an instant-read thermometer, specifically a Thermapen®. The #2 recommended gadget is a digital kitchen scale. He points out (on pg. 73) that in the weight versus volume debate, weight wins because of its accuracy, easy cleanup, and ease of use, “Using weights instead of volume should be a no-brainer for anyone. Trust me. Buy yourself a good kitchen scale.”
A good kitchen scale is worth the investment. Not only will your cooking and baking improve, but you’ll reduce your stress in the kitchen—a win-win!