I like to bake. All of my American cookbooks and websites have recipes that list ingredients by volume - 3 cups of AP flour, 1/2 a cup of water, 2 tablespoons of salt, etc. When I come across a recipe by an English person, the amounts of ingredients always seem to be listed by weight - 471 grams of flour, 400 grams of water, 10 grams of salt.
I understand that baking is more science than cooking is, but is it necessary to be this accurate? Plus, how in the hell are you supposed to get that accuracy with, say, a starter or something like molasses?
I know all the “by weight” people are really insistent that their method is just so much better, and I understand the method of it, but every time I try to do it, I end up having to weigh each ingredient separately…I can not get the hang of the “zero and add, zero and add” thing…I always dump a bit too much of something in, and then it is impossible to get the extra back out! For me, teaspoons, tablespoons, cups and ounces work just fine.
Just go slower then. It’s not that an exact science but it does make things a lot easier, in my opinion. If you work better with volume measurements, go ahead. After awhile, you figure out how a dough is supposed to feel so you don’t need either (at least for certain things like breads and pastas) but, until then, it seems to me that the “by weight” process is more likely to produce desired results. Usually, when I make a dough, I just need to know what the hydration is (how much water to flour), and the rest can be a little fuzzy without being disastrous.
Those scales are cheap. We’re talking $25-$35 for a digital scale. For the ease of use and peace of mind it affords me, I love it.
I use a digital scale but weigh ingredients individually into those glad plastic containers or little plastic cups. That way there’s no problem if too much is added. Then just combine all the ingredients.
Yeah, that’s a reasonable and completely scientific way of doing it. But if you overshoot by a little bit, it’s not going to make a difference. a 75% hydration dough is not going to act significantly different from a 76% hydration dough. If you’re that anal, you can do the math and readjust the other ingredients to hit the percentages right on the button, but most of the time, you don’t need to. It seems to me there is a lot more room for error with volume measurements. I’ve never had an issue with making doughs that had measurements given by weight. By volume, I’ve often had to adjust by feel. By weight, I can’t recall a time when I’ve needed to.
Do Americans all have measuring cups in their kitchens?
Honestly a set of scales can be had for less than a fiver and anyone who bakes will have one. Liquid measurements are given in liquid measures, tea/tablespoons, fluid ounces, pints, litres and so on. In general I weigh each ingredient as I come to it, not all at once, but if I was weighing them together I’d add the weights, not faff about with zeroing the scale.
How does the cups method cope with things like butter? Do you have squish it down then scrape it all out again? What is the volume of an American cup anyway?
Half the time it’s sold in sticks/blocks that are pre-measured, so you just cut it off at the right line.
When not…I don’t know about other people, but I part-fill a measuring cup with water, dump the butter in until the whole system is ‘volume of water+intended volume of butter’, then drain the water and put the butter in whatever I’m doing.
(Well, it’s always peanut butter I do this with, but same difference.)
scales are definitely much more prevalent in England. It would be like loving to bake in the US and not owning measuring cups. A lot of the reason is just feedback loops. Lots of people had scales so recipes included weights which prompted more people to buy scales which made weights more useful.
But also, weights are significantly easier with the metric system than the imperial. A cup of water is 250gm, a cup of flour is ~110gm etc. Also, scaling up and down is a lot easier. 1/3 of 600gm is 200gm, 1/3 of 1lb 5oz is suddenly really difficult.
My ex’s son (a chef) was seriously shocked to discover we Americans measured by volume instead of weight. I got a lecture as to how wrong that was.
I have a scale. But I can’t stand the time it takes to measure everything by weight. I use the scale when I want to split something in half such as a GF flour mix that is enough for two pizza crusts. Otherwise, I use volume. It’s faster and less messy in my book. Even if the recipe is by weight, I convert to volume and go with that. The oz./volume rules have always been with me. Now, give me the recipe in kilograms, and I’m going to order takeout instead, okay?
I like doing it by weight, but my scale sucks. It auto-shuts off after 30 seconds or so, so if you don’t change the weight by a measurable amount in that time, you effectively have to start your measurement over.
The “By Weight vs By Volume” issue seems to be covered already pretty good. Let me weigh-in (heh!) on the “weird-ass weights” issue. A lot of these recipes were created in the time of pounds and ounces (which wasn’t that long ago in the UK). Nobody seriously expects you to measure “exactly 491g and not 490, neither shall it be 492, 493 is RIGHT OUT!”. Somebody undoubtedly got that out of an online converter, and failed to apply brain before writing down
Put mixing bowl on scales. Zero the scales. Start adding your whatever until the scale measures 473 grams (or, if you’re me, somewhere between 450 and 500). Zero the scale again. Start adding the next thing. Mix as necessary. Easy peasy