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Apr 4, 2010 10:50 AM

Weighing v measuring in baking

I just heard Nick Malgieri say yesterday that there's no magic to weighing ingredients. He actually said it was a great fallacy that it's more accurate. He said that properly measured flour (spoon-into-measuring-cup-and-level) can be simpler, more convenient and completely reliable. He finished with the reason that commercial bakers weigh is because they work in huge quantities and aren't going to sit there and level off 100 cups of flour.

What do you think?

I have a scale and do both. It can be so convenient to keep taring out and adding to a bowl (I use a liquid beaker with universal measurements for the same reason). When it comes to things like peanut butter and honey a scale eliminates the messiness and HOORAY for that! But -- I'll tell you the truth here -- my great aunt from whom I learned to bake dipped into her flour bin and I do that too. I'm not the least adverse to close-enough-and-then-adjust-the-texture in any of my baking. And what Malgieri said about that is that in cooking school someone would cross the room to slap my hand! ;>

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  1. Well, I'm sorry, but he's wrong. I'll take that stand. Measuring with cups can vary widely. Perhaps he's just trying to reassure measuring bakers comfort? I use a scale, which yeah, will vary but not by near as much as with measuring. The difference can make or break the basic chemistry that results in good texture.

    5 Replies
    1. re: amyzan

      He is full of ca ca. You can get by ok in the home kitchen as long as you measure exact. As far as large scale bakery items and bread "If you don't weigh, you will pay"! Amyzan, your last sentence is right on the money! Weighing is always the best and dought free way to go.

      1. re: amyzan

        If flour is packed down, or has been stirred up so that it's full of air, it *will* affect the weight. But I think that most home cooks have bags of flour from a grocery, sacks that have been handled in much the same way all over the country they're in, and are somewhere in between packed and aerated. The cooks who weigh--they could measure too and report here. I can't help but think that measuring is OK or they would not continue to publish thousands of cookbooks to join the thousands of books already out there that use that method.

        1. re: amyzan

          I think a commercial baker who didn't weigh would be taking the consistency of their product and their whole reputation and putting it at risk. But I just don't feel that way about home baking.

          There's no doubt that the proportions are a lot more critical than in cooking but I'm all in favor of taking the preciousness out of baking. Of course I learned from my aunt who may not even have used standard measuring cups. That was the 50s. She was already in her 50s. She probably learned to bake around the turn of the century and used teacups, her eyeballs and her hands. What came out of her kitchen was sometimes a little on the heavy side but it was NEVER less than delicious and memorable.

          Perhaps keeping that memory freed me a looooong time ago from the idea that I can't do whatever works. That's the approach I'm in favor of and I think more people would bake with real eggs, butter and sugar (even bakeries aren't producing the authentic stuff anymore!) if they were freed of all the *rules* and demands for precision in baking.

          1. re: rainey

            Rainey, I've got to say that I do agree with you "in spirit" about removing the intimidation factor in home baking. BUT, because using a scale is so easy, and actually much less work and clean up, I don't really equate weighing with "preciousness." Yeah, it's more exact, but it's not exactly a PITA, either. Now, if the budget is a factor, yes, measuring cups are much less expensive than a good scale, as one worth the investment is usually at least $30, often $50-60 if you bake in larger quantity. I'm also all for using eye and experience because I don't account for all variables. All of this doesn't make up for the simple truth that weighing is much more successful a method, and just plain worth the expense of a scale if one can be afforded.

            1. re: amyzan

              Rest assured I also agree with you. As I've said elsewhere I also have and use a scale. But I use measuring cups and my third eye just about as often.

        2. Well, up until today, I had never heard of Nick Malgieri. If that's what he teaches I don't care if I learn any more about him. If you're baking a cake and sifting the flour, weighing it isn't critical because you typically sift the flour into the measuring cup, level it off and use that sifted amount as an ingredient. But if you're making bread with 500 grams of flour (something close to four cups) and don't have a lot of experience in "reading" the dough you may end up with a crumb that you didn't want. A tablespoon of water can have a meaningful influence on the overall hydration level of bread dough (as can the humidity in teh kitchen) and measuring water in a measuring cup instead of weighing it can easily result in a 1 tablespoon error per cup.
          Like your aunt, my grandmother dipped into her flour bin. She could read bread dough from the fermentation stages through final proofing like she read the bible. If I'm working with a slack dough I can do that fairly well myself. But if it's a firmer crumb results I'm looking for I weight the ingredients. So should Mr. Malgieri.

          1. I'm usually, actually I'm never a stickler for exact measurements be it by weight or volume. I'm more of a pinch of that, a dash of this and a quick taste to see if enough stuff has been added.

            That said, when it comes to baking I'm the exact opposite ... and become almost unbearably anal when it comes to measuring and weighing.

            So, yeah, I would say the guy is wrong.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ipsedixit

              Couldn't agree more.............
              My first job after college was as the purchasing agent for a large commercial bakery.

              I was taught everything gets weighed, both dry and wet.

              The European master bakers explained:
              Cooking is an art, Baking is a SCIENCE. The bakers allowed the decorators to put the artistic finish on the sweet goods.

              My wife didn't believe me, but when one of her cheesecakes was not up to snuff, I was able to show her that 8oz weight and 8 oz liquid measure (that fill the same measuring cup) are NOT always equal.

              As it says on the side of the cookie box-->Sold by weight, not by volume.

            2. Here in the UK, baking recipes are always by weight. I've always assumed that the cup measurement is a purely north American practice. Is there a history to why Americans measure and not weigh?

              4 Replies
              1. re: Harters

                I'm not aware of the history of the American practice of bulk measure, perhaps it had something to do with breaking away from the British rule. But in abandoning the metric system and the practice of weighing ingredients in preparing foods we lost something that we should have held on to. I always found math difficult in school. In college I found science and electronics, where the metric system was tightly locked in, and I suddenly discovered that it wasn't mathematics itself that was difficult but the inane system of measurement that our American forefathers elected to adopt.
                Three cheers for metrics ....

                1. re: todao

                  Must admit it's taken me quite a while to start to think in metric. I'm OK with weights and what I guess I'd call home-based lengths (recipes & shop quantities are metric) but road distances and speed limits are still in miles and that's how I still think of them.

                  The silly thing is that most people will still ask in, say, a butchers, for a pound of sausages. But the butcher's scales are in metric so he has to know how to convert back (what most do is weigh 500gr and ask the customer if they mind it being a "bit over".

                  1. re: todao

                    To be fair, North Americans didn't "abandon" the metric system in adopting volume measures for recipes, as at the time that recipes became more systemized (around the turn of the 20th century), metric wasn't standard in Britain either - they also used ounces and pounds until after mid-century. The US is simply an exception in not adopting metric for everyday life (vs. scientific application).

                  2. re: Harters

                    I think part of it is attributed to the colonial roots of America. While there were some ideas for measurements of weights, there wasn't much in the way of fine precision scales when a colony is just starting. Since I'm sure food making and baking still went on, colonial cooks just reached for whatever was available, usually volume measurements like tea cups or what not. Just a theory.

                    The metric system was first adopted by the French in 1791 if you believe Wikipedia.

                  3. Nonsense. A pound of flour is a pound of flour, period. A cup of flour is anywhere between four and six ounces, depending on fineness of grind, moisture content, handling, and measuring technique. You can get fairly accurate quantities with the sift/sift/scrape method (sift once, then sift again into a measuring cup, then scrape off the excess with a straight edge), but it's easier and more accurate just to weigh the stuff.