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Is it Realistic to Expect Weights in U.S. Cookbooks?

Velda Mae Dec 10, 2013 08:54 AM

Increasingly, I read online reviews that ding a baking book as being not credible because the recipes do not include weights. Yes, Americans tend to measure by volume, not weight, but I believe that a lot of time, the decision about whether to include weights is made by the publisher, not the author(s). There are some baking books that include both types of measurements, including Peter Reinhart's books and King Arthur Flour's Baking Companion and Cookie Companion, but they are few and far between. I'm curious - is my understanding correct?

FWIW, I have a digital scale and use weights whenever possible but don't reject a book if it offers only volume measurements.

  1. d
    DGresh Dec 10, 2013 09:17 AM

    I think that the VAST majority of American home cooks use volume. I would guess that relatively few "typical" home cooks own a digital scale. I do, and like using it when weights are provided, but then again I have just about every kitchen gadget known, so I know I am not typical.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DGresh
      Candy Jan 1, 2014 09:42 AM

      Same here. I would like to see cookbooks offer both. I sometimes scribble in the volume measure like in Bouchon Bakery.

    2. juliejulez Dec 10, 2013 11:19 AM

      Considering I've never used weight in my baking, and my things turn out great, I don't see the point. I do own a scale but I just have never felt the need to use it for baking.

      1. v
        Velda Mae Dec 10, 2013 11:27 AM

        To clarify, my question was about whether it's reasonable to expect ingredients to be listed as weights in American cookbooks, not whether it's possible to achieve good results when measuring by volume. So many online give demerits to cookbooks that don't include weights and it seems to me that authors are often unfairly maligned when I suspect these decisions are made at the editorial or publishing level. I'm curious to know whether my hunch is correct.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Velda Mae
          DGresh Dec 10, 2013 11:31 AM

          I don't think it's reasonable to ding a book for not having weights. Thinking out loud about magazines/newspapers out there like Bon Appetit , or the NY Times (or for that matter Ina or Rachael), do ANY of them routinely give weights? I don't think so.

        2. Will Owen Dec 10, 2013 11:29 AM

          It was Fanny Farmer who regularized the volume measurements in recipes. Prior to that, quantities were given in a wide variety of random terms: gill, dram, handful, pinch, a lump the size of an egg etcetera. Note that these are all volumetric: everybody has hands and fingers, but hardly anyone had a scale, at least any that would measure less than an ounce. By basing her recipes on the eight fluid ounce cup she was able to give precise measurements, and home cooks could follow them using quite cheap tools, measuring spoons and cups.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Will Owen
            rasputina Dec 28, 2013 06:35 AM

            So that basically supports the idea that weights should be included. Let the next level of standardization begin.

            1. re: rasputina
              jmckee Dec 31, 2013 10:13 AM

              Um. NO. I don't see why that supports the idea at all.

              Look, I have a scale and I use it for various things. But to insist on weight seems rather silly. We've been cooking using volume measures for quite a long time in this country. And given that several cookbooks in my collection give good instructions for how to measure flour (for example) by volume and get about the right "weight" equivalent, it's not necessary.

              As for the people downthread who refuse to buy a cookbook that doesn't give weight measures: Do you feel better about yourselves because of that? You'd really ignore an outstanding American cookbook that uses volume measures?

              1. re: jmckee
                rasputina Jan 1, 2014 09:11 AM

                If Fanny Farmer and can initiate sweeping changes to recipe measuring so can someone else. That's my point.

                1. re: jmckee
                  LMAshton Jan 6, 2014 05:27 PM

                  Here's the thing. There are LOTS of excellent cookbooks and websites that use weights. LOTS. It's not like I'm missing out by not buying an American cookbook that doesn't.

            2. c
              conate Dec 10, 2013 12:01 PM

              I'm unusual in that:
              1. I'm an American (this is not unusual)
              2. I only cook with weights.
              3. If I have a volume recipe I CONVERT IT to weights before using it.

              I absolutely hate to sift and measure flour and such. I also learned to cook from a European cookbook and used weights from the very beginning.

              Personally if a newly written cookbook doesn't have weight measures, I don't buy it. If it is an old one before weights were used at all in the USA (such as old Fanny Farmer cookbooks, old Betty Crocker cookbooks, etc.), well, you just deal.

              I have found that when baking gluten free (wife has been a celiac for > 25 years so for her 'gluten free' isn't a 'lifestyle choice' but a matter of life and death), the proportion of flours and other ingredients is such that weights are important - INCLUDING for water. (I noted that an 8 ounce cup of water can very between 7.8 and 8.2 depending on whether the water was 'mounded' or not - try it). Obviously other liquids than water will vary in their weight by volume.

              I think Elizabeth David had it right when she said that Americans cook by volume because the colonists and (later) the western pioneers couldn't carry scales and weights. Even old British cookbooks have a bunch of 'a teacup' of this and 'a breakfast cup' of that in it.

              Given the ever rising costs of food and fuel I want to be sure of getting the best, most consistent results from cooking and baking. I find cooking by weight does this. Others may not.

              I would say that a baking book isn't credible if weights don't include weights, but that's just me; I know I'm in the minority.

              9 Replies
              1. re: conate
                Will Owen Dec 10, 2013 12:30 PM

                Baking is the process where measuring by weight can be most important, especially if you're requiring consistency – as in commercial bread-baking – or in cooking (as conate does) for someone with special dietary needs. I'm sure this is why baking books have taken the lead on this. It's also one of the principal reasons that I don't bake much! So much of my everyday cooking can be done the pre-Fanny way, by the pinch or handful, using spoons and measuring cups mostly for such things as a roux-based sauce or gravy, but biscuits and the like need some exactitude.

                1. re: conate
                  foiegras Dec 10, 2013 07:11 PM

                  Umm ... what is mounded water? Are you saying whether the water is just above or below the line?

                  PS For non-baking, I hardly measure anything at all. The salt for adding to a meatloaf mixture I'm not going to taste raw, for example ...

                  1. re: foiegras
                    conate Dec 10, 2013 08:53 PM

                    I couldn't think of the word meniscus.

                    1. re: conate
                      Isolda Dec 11, 2013 01:21 PM

                      Way back in high school chemistry class, we were taught to look at the glass from the side and use the bottom of the meniscus as the correct measure. I've done this all my life when measuring liquids for baking and my stuff usually turns out well.

                      1. re: Isolda
                        conate Dec 11, 2013 01:38 PM

                        I was, too, but this doesn't work so well with volumetric stainless steel fractional cup measures. Your mileage may vary and it's best for each of us to do what works best for us.

                    2. re: foiegras
                      CanadaGirl Dec 26, 2013 06:54 PM

                      Surface tension will make water measured in a measure intended to be for dry ingredients measure incorrectly. If you use a one cup dry measure, you'll end up with more than one cup of liquid

                      1. re: CanadaGirl
                        DGresh Dec 27, 2013 04:30 AM

                        I was curious to see the degree of this effect so I tried it out. I filled a dry measuring cup to the rim (then for good measure tried it another of my dry measuring cups and to my pleasant surprise, they matched exactly; I tend to be a skeptic about quality control on cheap items like this!). Then I poured it into my OXO view-from-above wet measuring cup. Sure enough it was more than 1 cup. I poured off the excess and found it to be about 2 teaspoons. So doing the math, this is approximately a 4% excess. For most cooking, this is completely insignificant. I would bet that even for most baking, it's unlikely to matter. But for precision, it is true, one should use the right tool. I certainly try to do so, but I also think one can get a bit carried away.

                        1. re: DGresh
                          CanadaGirl Dec 28, 2013 07:50 AM

                          You're right, it's probably insignificant most of the time. But, the width of the measuring device has an effect on how much extra there is. A bigger issue would probably be when people try to measure dry ingredients, esp flour, in wet measures, and have to shake it to get it level resulting in too much of the dry ingredient.

                    3. re: conate
                      LMAshton Dec 10, 2013 11:15 PM

                      I also only bake with weights and if I have a volume recipe, I convert it to weight. Metric, of course. I'm Canadian, after all. :P

                      I wouldn't buy a baking cookbook that didn't have weights. I also wouldn't consider it credible. There's too much variation in how a cup of flour, for example, is measured, and I'm not psychic enough to know how the cookbook writer measures their flour if they don't state it very clearly.

                    4. dave_c Dec 10, 2013 12:15 PM

                      Is it realistic to expect weights?
                      No, since most people use volume.

                      I think it's unfair to ding a book for not including weights in the recipes. Most recipes do not need to be that accurate. I wonder if those who ding books just don't have the experience.

                      Having weights is a "nice to have".
                      I use a digital scale as much as I can. Not for the accuracy, but for the speed and ease of measuring ingredients. Also there are fewer items to clean too.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: dave_c
                        DGresh Dec 10, 2013 12:33 PM

                        Yeah, those recipes (not baking, savory) that call for 1/2 cup plus a teaspoon of something or other. Give me a break.

                        1. re: dave_c
                          Njchicaa Dec 10, 2013 07:45 PM

                          I haven't yet graduated to using weights in my baking and my 2 dessert books and 1 bread book emphasize how important it is to use weights. Oh well. TK isn't much better when he calls for 2.5 tablespoons of egg in something...

                        2. fldhkybnva Dec 10, 2013 01:27 PM

                          I would love weights but don't expect it.

                          1. Karl S Dec 10, 2013 03:33 PM

                            Well, all other things being equal, I certainly think more highly of baking books that use weights. I would certainly jawbone authors and editors to evolve to that standard,

                            1. t
                              tastesgoodwhatisit Dec 10, 2013 05:45 PM

                              Providing a weight version of a recipe can take a fair amount of work - it's not necessarily a simple matter of applying conversion factors.

                              For one thing, recipes are almost always given in relatively round numbers. One teaspoon of this, half a cup of that, 200 grams of this. So they need to adjust the recipe to produce round numbers, which will be slightly different than the volume amounts, but still produce a good end product.

                              Speaking from a non-US perspective, though, I would find a US weight based recipe less useful than a volume recipe, because it would use imperial measurements. My kitchen scale doesn't do ounces - it does grams and jin. I can convert cups and tablespoons to ml in my head, and pounds to kilos are okay, but I always have to look up how many ounces to a gram, or liquid ounces to a cup, or which is bigger - a pint or quart - and there's the annoying fact that ounces can be a liquid or weight measure.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                                foiegras Dec 10, 2013 07:14 PM

                                My scale switches between ounces and grams, which is perfect ... I use the ounces for portion control, and grams for European recipes.

                                1. re: foiegras
                                  tastesgoodwhatisit Dec 10, 2013 07:48 PM

                                  Mine switches - it just doesn't have ounces as one of the options. I'm fine for European recipes and Chinese ones, though.

                                2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                                  conate Dec 10, 2013 08:54 PM

                                  Of course an Imperial pint is 20 ounces and an American pint is 16.

                                  1. re: conate
                                    tastesgoodwhatisit Dec 27, 2013 11:18 PM

                                    And a Japanese cup is 200 ml, while one in Canada is 250.

                                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                                      LMAshton Dec 28, 2013 04:55 PM

                                      A Sri Lankan cup can be anywhere from 140ml to 230ml. No jokes. And a bottle is 700ml - yes, bottle is used as an item of measurement, and it took me a few years and finally connecting with Sri Lankans on Twitter to find out that it was 700ml and referred back to a bottle of arrack. A dessert spoon is two teaspoons.

                                  2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                                    Vincent_Van_Goatse Jan 8, 2014 04:39 PM

                                    If your scale does ounces, it does grams. In that case it would be more work but just multiply, say, 8 ounces by 28.35 and you have the amount in grams. Most recipes that use these measurements use grams exclusively, they don't use milliliters for liquid, or anything like that {1 gram = 1 milliliter anyway, I think}. Grams are universal which is why people say it is easier to work that way.

                                    Also I'm pretty sure recipes start out as round numbers in grams or something then get converted to volume, not the other way around. At least with baking stuff like bread, where they are formulas based on the weight of flour used.

                                  3. f
                                    foiegras Dec 10, 2013 07:09 PM

                                    Not realistic ...

                                    In terms of results, I think the biggest problem is not following sifting instructions and believing the 'pre-sifted' printed on bags of flour. If you're going to use volume, you have to do that.

                                    1. g
                                      GH1618 Dec 10, 2013 07:40 PM

                                      I don't accept that a cookbook, even a baking book, is not "credible" without weights. It might be an old classic. Inexpensive accurate scales for kitchen use have only been available for a couple of decades, more or less, yet people managed to bake long before that.

                                      1. j
                                        janniecooks Dec 11, 2013 02:30 AM

                                        Back in 2008 there was an article in WSJ about US cookbooks mostly using volume measures rather than weights, the gist being that publishers think Americans are too stupid to cook using weight measures. Here's a link to a discussion of that article:


                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: janniecooks
                                          foiegras Dec 13, 2013 12:57 PM

                                          It doesn't require much intelligence, does it?

                                          I find Maida Heatter the ultimate in credible, and as I recall, her measurements are all by volume.

                                          1. re: foiegras
                                            DGresh Dec 13, 2013 02:06 PM

                                            It also requires buying a scale, which if you grew up watching your mother and grandmother doing without, and baking great stuff, you may think "why the heck do I want to do that?" It's kind of like the whole metric system thing, and we know how that worked out. Why change if what you're currently doing works? Note that I'm one who likes the scale, but am not going to make it a "cause"

                                            1. re: DGresh
                                              Dave B Dec 28, 2013 06:17 PM

                                              My 76-year-old mother is a great cook, and baker. She can put out a table for a dozen people with ten different dishes and make it appear like it was hardly an effort.

                                              If someone suggested to her she toss her measuring spoons and cups and instead start using a scale, they'd likely get a 'bonk' on the head from her rolling pin.

                                            2. re: foiegras
                                              janniecooks Dec 14, 2013 04:34 AM

                                              Volume measurements or weight measurements both work well, I guess it depends on what one is used to doing. I do find using a scale faster and more reliable, and lately get annoyed when volume measures are used where weight would be better. Adding ingredients to one bowl, taring the scale for each ingredient, is so much quicker than using measuring cups. As much as I love the scale, I don't really object to cookbooks that use volume, though I prefer those that provide both methods of measurement.

                                              1. re: janniecooks
                                                calumin Dec 14, 2013 09:53 AM

                                                Volume measurements for liquid should work well because they are exact.

                                                How do volume measurements for dry ingredients work well? If you and I both measured one cup of flour, would we end up with the same amount?

                                                If a recipe called for 0.5 cup of Kosher salt, and you and I had two different brands with different coarseness, wouldn't we end up with different amounts?

                                                It seems that people who don't mind volume measurements are also saying they don't mind if proportions aren't exact. That seems okay in many cases, but there are some recipes where that could cause a problem.

                                                1. re: calumin
                                                  GH1618 Dec 14, 2013 10:10 AM

                                                  Volume measurements for dry ingredients work well for people who learned to measure dry ingredients properly and who are consistent in their choice of flour and method of measuring, and also because exactness is not required in most cooking. Those experiments which show a large variation in weight across a group of people measuring a cup of flour probably include several people who don't know how to cook.

                                                  As for salt, those who use Diamond know that it is less dense and take that into account. (They probably prefer it for that reason.) Measurements of Morton Kosher Salt by people who know how to measure should be highly consistent because it is not as compressible as flour. Taste is what matters where salt is concerned, anyway. I like Hazan's approach, in which her recipes merely specify "salt." A competent cook must know how to salt food.

                                                  1. re: GH1618
                                                    sr44 Dec 14, 2013 10:25 AM

                                                    I can think of three different ways to measure dry ingredients by volume, and if the appropriate method isn't specified somewhere, I don't have a clue.

                                                    1. re: GH1618
                                                      DGresh Dec 14, 2013 12:04 PM

                                                      well said. I think there's an undercurrent of insult in implying that those who use volume can't possibly know how to cook properly. Sheesh.

                                                      1. re: DGresh
                                                        calumin Dec 14, 2013 01:52 PM

                                                        No insult is implied. I am actually saying the opposite, which is that people who can cook properly don't necessarily measure by volume with precision.

                                                        I have no idea how much less dense Diamond salt is vs. Morton salt -- so I would have no idea how to adjust accordingly. I also do not think that lack of knowledge implies that I don't know how to cook.

                                                        For some recipes, the lack of precision might not matter. But if you're baking, it could be a problem. For some recipes, the ability to specify an amount precisely is important.

                                                    2. re: calumin
                                                      GH1618 Dec 14, 2013 10:28 AM

                                                      I should add that exact weight does not give exact results for flour unless the flour is specified exactly. The difference between French and American flour was noted by Julia Child as a problem she needed to overcome when adapting French recipes for Americans.

                                                      1. re: GH1618
                                                        LMAshton Dec 28, 2013 04:57 PM

                                                        Even with the same brand and type of flour, if you're measuring it in a humid environment versus a dry environment, you'll still get different results. But measuring by weight still gets a person closer to best results as compared to volume.

                                                      2. re: calumin
                                                        jmckee Dec 31, 2013 10:21 AM

                                                        I have been cooking seriously for 30 years (including catering three elegant dinners auctioned off for a charity), and it has never caused a problem. Not once. Nope nope nope. The key is measuring carefully, whether by weight or by volume.

                                                2. r
                                                  rasputina Dec 28, 2013 06:32 AM

                                                  Yes I think it's reasonable to expect it. I think they are missing the mark if they don't.

                                                  1. Antilope Dec 28, 2013 05:02 PM

                                                    When I have to, I use this online volume to weight converter:

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Antilope
                                                      LMAshton Dec 28, 2013 05:12 PM

                                                      That's the same one I use. It's reliable. I have had a problem with a conversion only once - oats, I believe - but they have since corrected it.

                                                    2. a
                                                      amazinc Dec 29, 2013 11:15 AM

                                                      I may have posted this tip on another board, but it's useful here, also. Download from the King Arthur Flour web site their master chart of weights. It will enable you to convert any recipe to weights, if that matters to you. A digital scale can be had for $20-60. I am now happily using weights in all my baked goods, whether or not the recipe includes them. BTW, the download is free. It's about 11 pages, so I keep them in plastic sleeves in their own binder. Nothing could be easier or more accurate.

                                                      1. f
                                                        foodieX2 Dec 31, 2013 10:33 AM

                                                        No it is not "realistic to expect" weights in US cookbooks because your average american doesn't use weights as a form of measurement. While many experts chefs/bakers will tell you that it far superior the bottom line is that average american cook is getting along just fine with their measuring cups.

                                                        My sister, an accomplished baker who was pastry chef for a local restaurant back in the '90's has never used weights. My mother an accomplished bread baker didn't either. Both of them would have laughed if you told them they were doing it wrong, LOL.

                                                        You have to think of it like "if it's not broke why fix it?" To "expect" your average american home cook to go out and buy a scale will greatly limit the cookbooks ability sell and that's what the publishers want, to sell books.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: foodieX2
                                                          calumin Dec 31, 2013 12:59 PM

                                                          What would be the problem with a cookbook that has both measurements?

                                                          1. re: calumin
                                                            foodieX2 Dec 31, 2013 02:12 PM

                                                            nothing but it shouldn't be "expected"

                                                        2. s
                                                          sandylc Dec 31, 2013 02:05 PM

                                                          I don't expect it, but I appreciate it. I like a recipe that has all three: volume, ounces, and grams.

                                                          6 Replies
                                                          1. re: sandylc
                                                            DGresh Dec 31, 2013 02:39 PM

                                                            I'd be more inclined to argue that we forbid forever "1 small onion" or "2 carrots". I'd much prefer 1/4 cup of chopped carrots or 1.5 cups chopped onion. Or grams or ounces. But something other than a numerical quantity of something that varies immensely.

                                                            1. re: DGresh
                                                              sandylc Dec 31, 2013 02:49 PM

                                                              Big agreement.

                                                              1. re: DGresh
                                                                Antilope Jan 1, 2014 09:06 AM

                                                                The idea behind "1 small onion" or "2 carrots" is probably to use them up and not have 1/8 of a carrot or onion left over to deal with.

                                                                1. re: DGresh
                                                                  foodieX2 Jan 1, 2014 09:15 AM

                                                                  I disagree. Unlike baking you have a little more leeway in most dishes. I find that having a little too much or too little doesn't really impact the end result.

                                                                  I find that even when a recipes calls 1/4 cup chopped of this or that using the whole onion, carrot doesn't change the end result. Same with things like garlic-if 2TBS minced garlic ends up being 2.5 cloves I am not going to save or throwaway 1/2 a clove, I'll just add it all.

                                                                  1. re: foodieX2
                                                                    DGresh Jan 1, 2014 09:23 AM

                                                                    I'm just saying that one onion can be anywhere from 1/2 a cup to 1 1/2 cups.

                                                                    1. re: DGresh
                                                                      foodieX2 Jan 1, 2014 09:38 AM

                                                                      3 times difference? Between a small onion and a large onion maybe. I just don't find that much variation when using onions of similar size but then again I have been cooking along time and can pretty much eyeball it.

                                                                      Now to be a PIA, LOL. I could easily take an onion and depending on how I chopped it could dramatically change which measuring cup it could fit in. One person rough chop is another's small chop. The bigger the pieces the less fits into the measuring cup, KWIM? This makes the case why some people feel weights are better.

                                                                      The bottom line however I would still use the whole onion, carrot, clove, sprig, etc regardless if the recipe said one small xyx, 1 cup, 8 oz, etc. I just don't find the variation to be great enough to change the end result.

                                                              2. njmarshall55 Jan 2, 2014 06:39 PM

                                                                When it comes to baking, I prefer weights. When using volume, I've had a great degree of variation in my results (I'm a quality manager by trade) and will always prefer weights. Basic cooking, however, I'll go both ways.

                                                                1. r
                                                                  Roland Parker Jan 2, 2014 11:09 PM

                                                                  I'm American and grew up with using measuring cups but having spent much (most?) of my adult life living overseas, first in the UK then Indonesia and now Dubai I now use weights most of the time.

                                                                  As an accomplished home baker I prefer weights as it is more precise and I do think the finished baked products are just a bit better.

                                                                  But it's not only weights. For quality control reasons I now only use UK cookbooks when cooking overseas as most baking ingredients I buy (flour, sugar, butter etc) are British/European and they are slightly different from American products. When visiting the US I cook only from US cookbooks which are aimed at using US types of flour and butter.

                                                                  1. v
                                                                    Vincent_Van_Goatse Jan 8, 2014 04:21 PM

                                                                    I've been baking enough that I can pretty consistently scoop a cup of flour to be the same weight every time, within 5 or so grams, but I still weigh it because I feel more confident with these measurements. Once I got a scale and started using it, it became second nature.

                                                                    It's also easier, for me, because there will be recipes where it says "Makes 2 loaves" and I don't really eat that much bread, and I can easily scale down grams by 1/2 compared to times where another recipe might call for something like 1 and 1/3 cups or something which is much harder to scale There's a recipe in the Bouchon book that calls for like, 46 grams of pistachios OR 3Tablespoons + 2 and 1/2 tsp or something weird, and metrics measurements seems just as simple or simpler in that case.

                                                                    I also think metric measurements are more "authentic" because the books I read are presumably recipes these people are using based on formulas they use in their restaurants, and they are probably making huge amounts so their formula will call for like 10 pounds of flour, which is easier to convert into grams via kilograms rather than trying to figure out, "Well how many cups are in a pound?"

                                                                    Also the extra step of weighing out ingredients actually helps me focus, Ive realized, and allows me time to organize my workspace, get everything together.

                                                                    TL;DR: I've actually got a lot of thoughts on the subject, so I could sperg out forever, I've never thought about it but it's kind of interesting to me. I don't expect weights in cookbooks, no, and I won't dock a book for not using them, but I do think that any modern, recent, newly published cookbook should at least be willing to include both measurements. Like, I'm not disgusted if a book doesn't have weights, I don't expect them to, but I think that they should include them.

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