Weight vs Volume Measurements

hitz333

Man you guys are either going to make me really good at math and very knowledgable about the weights of different baking ingredients (hmm, one cup of American bread flour is approx 136g), or I'm going to put a cheap kitchen scale on my wishlist. I have heard the argument that weighing leads to better accuracy and easier repetition of successful bakes, but my question is this: if so much is done by feel, what does it matter? The same flour could desire less or more water depending on age and other factors. I've been drooling over many of the recipes posted here and have attempted to convert some of them to volume measurements, but haven't had the confidence to go ahead with a bake yet. I just tried Reinhart's Pain a l'Ancienne (the second handmade bread I've ever made, with the first being a sourdough loaf from a cookbook I have) and it's quite wonderful, especially the next day toasted with some butter. But it was only because of his detailed description of how wet the dough should be (should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom) that I was able to figure it out. I used his volume measurements, with the minimum amount of water, and my dough was very dry still. I think in the end I used more than his maximum amount of water, but I just kind of sloshed the extra in without measuring and so I have no idea. If I had done this by weight, would I have needed to add extra water or would it have been close to perfect from the beginning?

 

Should I really really really buy a scale or can't I just learn how to bake by feel? Shiao-Ping's open crumbs make me drool, and with Dom and LeadDog making croissants and all the other recipes on this site, I'm getting pretty anxious to dive deeper into sourdough!

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LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 September 10

 Well I have weighed a cup of bread flour a few times and came up with 150 grams per cup.  When I weighed a cup of fresh milled flour it is about 100 grams per cup.  Get a scale and make some croissants.  

patricia sarr 2010 September 10

You said it beautifully, hitz333.  I have not been a measurer, except when baking cakes, for far too long to measures 7 oz of anything.  Bread especially - add flour until it feels right under my hands, add this week's selection of seeds until it looks about right, etc.  And in NZ, where I live, almost nothing is measured by weight, we do volumes mostly -- and we do it in metrics, like most of the world.  So I look longingly at these recipes, but mostly end up with a shrug, or trying to just estimate with my old experienced bread hands.  THANK YOU for that letter!

rossnroller 2010 September 10

I would definitely buy a digital scale. Vol measures are always only approximate, since one guy might pack the ingredients in, and another might add them in very loosely. Also, cup measures vary according to country: American measures are smaller than Brit and Aussie ones are different again. Some use metric, others imperial - I forget which is which, because as soon as I see a bread recipe using volume measures I give it a miss.

Almost all the bakers here and on the other artisan bread sites I inhabit use weight measures, and if you want to try the recipes of great home bakers like Shiao-Ping, Lead Dog etc, you're best off having a scale instead of converting to volume measures.

You're right about different flours taking up moisture content differently, but there is an easy solution: keep a notebook and tweak your recipes. Initially, you might have to use some intuition to adjust hydration, as you found you needed to do with your pain a l'ancienne, but if you weigh your extra flour or water as you add it and record the measure, you will know exactly what will work next time without having to guess anew.

Using scales doesn't mean intuition is out of the equation of bread baking, though. You still need to adjust your proof times, for example, as the seasons change and the ambient temps in your baking environment alter. The intuition part never stops! Using scales simply gets rid of the inaccuracy of volume measures and frees you up to focus your intuition on the minituae of bread baking...and it's the little things that makes some big differences!

I bought a cheap pair of battery-operated digital scales from Target ($50) when I first started getting serious about SD bread baking, and what an excellent value purchase it was. Still going strong 2 years later, have only changed the batteries once. Indispensible, as far as I'm concerned.

Cheers
Ross

TONYK 2010 September 10

I AGREE 100 % WITH ROSS --- EARLY ON I GOT A SCALE FROM www.breadtopia.com FOR AROUND $25 AND IT DOES EVERY THING THAT IS NECESSARY --- WEIGHS IN POUNDS AND OUNCES, JUST OUNCES AND IN GRAMS AND CAN BE ZEROED AFTER EACH MEASUREMENT(TARE) --- I THINK USING WEIGHTS WILL GET YOU MUCH CLOSER TO THE POINT WHERE FEEL COME IN --- I AM NOT TOO GOOD AT FEEL BUT I AM GETTING BETTER AND I ALSO THINK THAT HOW THE DOUGH LOOKS IS ALSO IMPORTANT --- TOO WET, TOO DRY, ETC. --- BAKING GOOD BREAD IS SO MUCH FUN AND GOOD TO EAT AS WELL -- ENJOY ---

 

TONYK

Postal grunt 2010 September 10

I was in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond today and they had a small digital scale for $20. Doesn't have a great big weight capacity but more than enough for a 2# loaf of bread. There are larger capacity scales available for more money but do keep in mind that BB&B often has coupons available on the internet, just Google. The coupon might be 20% off or for $5.

Use the scale and you will find that you can achieve more sooner. The feeling you get when your friends and family drool over your bread will happen that much sooner. It's a win-win kind of thing.

Muff 2010 September 10

There is no excuse for not baking if you do not own a scale. But using a scale is preferable by all means. It helps provide consistency in every way, which is especially important when measuring salt.

(In the trade we refer to people who try to mix without the scale as "scoop and shovel men", and it's a derogatory term!)

That said, experience will guide you to small adjustments in absorption.

Best,

Muff

hitz333 2010 September 11

Thank you for all the responses. I can see how since I am such a novice that a scale would actually help me develop my "feel" for things. (And I did have my eye on a $30 USD one from Target or Amazon.)

 

LD, I know that the weights are different depending on the flour and who is measuring and all that. I find it interesting that the freshly milled flour weighs less per cup (any idea why?) but it explains the trouble I've been having with my whole wheat as of late. My regular grocery store used to have a set-up in store that ground the whole wheat fresh, and I was able to substitute it for white flour in almost anything with very little difference. They took that out to make more room for new products and now even though I'm buying the same brand and type of flour, it's thirstier than a dry sponge. So it's a learning experience as to how much I need to add to get the same result. I guess a scale would help me with that but I thought it was more of a flour itself rather than a density issue. Good to know!

patricia sarr 2010 September 11

I give in.  You have convinced me.  I remain a child of the 60s, Berkeley no less, and the idea of a metric electronic scale in my kitchen rubs me all the wrong way, but I am convinced -- I don't have to remain an old reprobate in the kitchen!  Trish 

rossnroller 2010 September 11

And believe me, buying a digital scale does not mean you can't any longer be an old reprobate and determined flagbearer for the counterculture outside your kitchen - or inside it, for that matter!

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 September 11

 Freshly milled flour for me is stone ground and the flour particles are different than store flour which are roller milled.  The milling I would think make some of the difference.  I found that my milled flour likes more water than store flour so my doughs are adjusted to include more water.  Once you get hydration dialed in you can make these beards over and over no problem.

I found my scale online for just over $20 US but that was a couple of years ago.

hitz333 2010 September 11

One thing at a time! In my dreams I'd be growing my own wheat (among other things) and then milling it myself. But I'm not even yet to the point of seriously digging to find a decent flour. There's GOT to be wheat growing somewhere not too far from where I live... but for now I'm working with the standard store flours just to get a feel for bread baking in general. You know, the farmer's market in my town, big as it is, doesn't have much in the way of artisan breads. With how popular the pastry vendors are, I bet there'd be a market for what I've been baking... if I could just get a little more experience under my belt. ;)

apsleybakery 2010 September 12
There is a world of difference between understanding the quantities of a recipe and adjusting them by feel. You need a baseline set of measures to start a recipe and the "feel" part is usually a few grams more or less of adjustment. I could give you a recipe with handfuls of this and pinches of that, but who's hand are we talking about?
Dorean 2010 November 2

OK, so I know this thread is a little old, but I thought I'd toss in my two cents worth on the issue of freshly milled flour. I milled all my own flour and made all the bread for my family for years. The freshly milled flour weighs less per cup than store flour because it hasn't had a chance to settle yet. There is still a lot of air between the particles from the milling process. If you put store flour in a food processor and pulse it three or four times, you'll find it weighs much more like freshly milled. It's a good illustration as to why weighing ingredients is important.

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