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Dec 10, 2013 08:54 AM

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

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.

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  1. 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

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

    2. 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. 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

          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. 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

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

            1. re: rasputina

              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

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

                1. re: jmckee

                  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. 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

                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

                  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

                    I couldn't think of the word meniscus.

                    1. re: conate

                      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

                        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

                      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

                        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

                          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

                      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.