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Convert to Pounds and Ounces

I have read in these forums that you should convert measurements to pounds and ounces. What is the problem with cups and tablespoons etc.? If I do convert to lbs and oz, can I scale the recipes without problems? If I want a half recipe of bread, for instance, do I have to convert the yeast to oz and cut in half? OK, maybe that's a bad example because all the recipes I read use two pkgs so I could just cut to one, but you know what I mean.
I should've been a chef. Where else can you eat your work?
Searching for food nirvana!
I should've been a chef. Where else can you eat your work?
Searching for food nirvana!

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first, are we talking dry measure (weight) or liquid (volume)?
Here is an easy chart, although you probably have one?
[url=http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/convert/measurements.html]Equivalents and Measures

Not sure I understand you question???
Nan
Scott, I can make a cup of flour weigh from as little as three ounces to as much as 12 ounces. That is a huge variation in the amount of flour. That variation can mess up a recipe. When I weigh the amounts, I get consistent results. I only use recipes that give weights. I did some conversion myself, but weighed everything as I did the recipe. If I liked how it came out, I kept the weights I used for the next time.
The problem with cups and teaspoons for dry measurement is that some ingredients pack differently. You're certainly familiar with brown sugar where it is generally packed tightly for an accurate measurement.

Well, flour is another ingredient that can have different amounts of flour in the same 1 cup volume. Well sifted flour scooped into a 1 cup measure and leveled can weigh as little as 3 oz. While a cup scooped into flour and overflowing but gently shaken/tapped to level can weigh as much as 5 oz, i.e., 2 more oz of flour in that self same cup.

You MUST know how a 1 cup measure was taken for the recipe to get reliable results. Weight measures bypass that issue.

Flour is the main offender in measuring differently with different filling methods.

BUt for most home cooking, weights aren't a big deal and you can do fine with a scoop and sweep measurement of flour.

Phil
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Phil, thank you for that caveat at the bottom of your post.

I get tired of arguing this issue. But the fact is, for the home cook, volume measurements work just fine. American cooks have been successfully baking bread a long time using volume instead of weight.

I happen to weigh almost everything, but that's only because I use so many European-based recipes and guides. But to push the concept just intimidates many home cooks.

The fact is, dough is ready when it's ready. Even with weighing it, the dough often has to be adjusted; a little more flour or a little more water to make it right. Two ounces of flour in Arizona does not have the same relationship to water as two ounces in Kentucky. So, as long as the baker is following a recipe rather than proportion formulas, it works out pretty much the same.

That's one of the reasons that people like Peter Reinhart provide both sets of measurements.

There's only one reason for the typical home cook to own a kitchen scale. More and more recipes, even in American cookbooks, magazines, and websites, are being presented in terms of weight. Not only in weight, but in metric weight at that. And, given the low price of quality scales, it's easier to give in than to make conversions all the time.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
Thanks for the replies. Sorry, I should have been clearer about what I was measuring. Dry weight. The reason I asked about it is because I took great care in measuring my flour for some Kolaches this weekend. I scooped small amounts of flour into the measuring cup and scraped off the top with a knife. They still failed. So I thought I should probably have weighed the flour and then I could at least eliminate that as my problem. I expect to hear from experts about the results in my post "Failed Again" in the baking forum. I just started thinking that if I had weighed everything I would have gotten better results. Of course, if it turned out the way it did after weighing everything then I don't know what I would have thought. Oh well. Back to the drawing board.
I should've been a chef. Where else can you eat your work?
Searching for food nirvana!
I should've been a chef. Where else can you eat your work?
Searching for food nirvana!
For cooking measurement conversion (very useful when scaling up recipes to restaurant / catering volumes), I really like Online Conversion - Various Cooking Conversions and Calculators.

For flour, you've got a problem. Because flour is so easily compressed (in addition to the problem of varied with the weather and storage water content), you can NEVER be sure how much flour is in the "cup" used by the recipe writer. Did the writer scoop the cup measure into a packed bag of flour? Did the writer scoop sifted flour into the cup? Such methods can vary from 5 1/2 ounces to 4 ounces. That's enough variance to throw off many a recipe.

I MUCH prefer to weigh my flour, for the above reasons. However, most home cooks don't have a scale, or want one. So, most home recipes don't give a weight for flour.
There are several advantages to weighing out ingredients as opposed to using volume measurement.
As mentioned above, accuracy is pretty much guaranteed. But speed is also a bonus: To scale out takes 10 seconds, to stoop, scoop, swoop and level off, and THEN add into the mixing bowl maybe 40 seconds, to measure and then scrape out sticky stuff like honey, corn syrup, or mollases out of a cup into the mixing bowl, I don't know, I won't use a cup, I'll scale it out directly into the mixing bowl. Butter in sticks is an American thing, no one in Canada knows what butter sticks are or how many are in a pound.... The third bonus is less to clean up, you just wipe down the scale and put it away, no plethora of dirty measuring cups or spoons to clean up afterwards.

The N.American thingee with cups has always been a sticking point for me. When I first became aware of how easy and accurate it was to use measuements by weight, I was very upset with all the N.American magazines for ignoring this technique. I remember drooling over a copy of Teubner's "Cakes and pastries" in German, all the recipies were in weights. When I got an English copy of the book, the recipies had been changed to only volume--same beautiful photos and instructions, but I was not a happy camper.

Ultimately it is the user's choice of which system to use, but the user should be made aware of how both systems work. However it is hilarious to read some of the N. American magazine recipies: Flour by weight, sugar by volume, chocolate by weight, butter by sticks or tblsps, and all of this for just one recipie!
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
Most home cooks here in the UK have scales as we are always taught that the ingredients need to be weighed accurately in recipes for cakes, bread etc.
Yeah, this discussion really gets home cooks and pros into a lather. I like both ways and have similar success using either method.

When developing recipes for the American editorial market, the standard method of measuring flour is to stir up the flour with a fork or a whisk, spoon it into a cup and level the top with a knife or some kind of straight edge. This method will be found stipulated in most editorial style sheets.

I've always believed that it helps to understand the origins of this method in the world of American recipe writing and why it's so different from European cooking styles. European lifestyle tends to be rather stable. People did not move from one place to another all that much, and when they did, they didn't move very far. It was practical for the average person to own and use a scale when cooking or doing other tasks. American settlers, on the other hand, lived very differently. Most came to the states with very little and once here, traveled extensively before finding a place to settle and carve out a living from their surroundigs. Scales were expensive, fragile and prone to inaccuracies if bumped around a lot (still are.) Thus, most of our forebears learned to use simple kitchen implements that were readily available and common to most other people when trying to standardize their recipes. Therefore, the measuring cup was born from those readily availabe enameled tin mugs that were peddled to one and all and a tablespoon (what we now know as a soupspoon) was used for smaller measurments. Granted, there were some variances in the size of these tools, but by and large they became a standard.

Everyone agrees that measuring flour is more accruate when using a scale. But if you are careful and measure its volume in a consistent manner, results will be consistent too. I get a little tired of pros asserting the superiority of scale measuring to the home cook, when in most cases, it's not very practical for the home consumer.

Raging against cultural norms is kind of like barking at the moon-feels good, but has little effect, especially when there is room for both perspectives.

www.foodandphoto.com

Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

www.foodandphoto.com

Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

You can get a little carried away with that argument, FoodNFoto.

The fact is, both English and European cookbooks of the time (i.e., North American colonization) did use volume measurements---when they used measurements at all.

See, for instance, Hannah Glasse's 1745 The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. Among the most common measurements are "some" "a little" "til enough," which were typical in those days. But among the frequently found precise measurements were things like "spoonsful" "teacups" "gills." She also sometimes uses quarts and pints for dry measures.

To be sure, weighing was more common than volume measuring. But it was not as universal as some would have us believe.

By the same token, many early American cooking manuscripts use weight as well as volume. We have to look at the manuscripts for comparison because there were no American cookbooks until Amelia Simmons' 1796 American Cookery.

Interestingly, while the manuscripts tend to use both weights and volume measurements, Simmon's uses weight almost exclusively, except for flowable liquids. I stress flowable, because things like butter are given by weight, in the European style.

One thing to keep in mind is that many of the manuscripts were based on English recipes that were copied out. But the fact that they retain the weight measurements, instead of being converted, is indicative of how the dish actually was prepared.

In the early 19th century, measurements were still mixed up, reflecting the author's earlier experiences.

For instance, Mary Randolph's 1828 The Virginia Housewife is a hodgepodge of measurements that range from a little of this and a pinch of that, to precise volume (gills, cups, spoons) and weight measurements. But the book is a compendium of all her previous recipe collecting as a plantation manager and owner/operator of an inn.

All in all, I'd say it wasn't until the mid-19th century that these systems got codified, with the Americans opting for volume and the rest of the world going with weights. Not exactly the first time---nor the last---that we went our separate way.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
Thanks for the history lesson.:D

Mike
You're right KY. What I was really trying to get at, more than what historical recipe writers were doing, was about how past needs and constraints of the average home cook influenced the development of a style of recipe writing and how that becomes a cultural norm.

I have a cherished first edition copy of Mary Randolf's cookbook that I love to look at from time to time. Yeah, the measurements are all over the place. But again, I think that's really a reflection of how people actually cooked than any kind of commitment to consistency.

Do you get the catalogue of rare and antique cookbooks from the Newton's in CT? A few years ago they listed a cookery book first published around 1750. One reason why it's not recognized as the first published American cookbook is that it was written by a slave (can't remember his name) who was the head household servant of a large southern plantation. Every detail of house service was written down in exquisite detail-from how each dish was cooked to the proper placement of chamber pots. Fabulous book-only got to look at it once through a case at the NY Antiquarian Book Fair. I think it sold for over \$15,000. I keep hoping to find reproduced pages somewhere on the net, but no luck.

www.foodandphoto.com

Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

www.foodandphoto.com

Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

>Do you get the catalogue of rare and antique cookbooks from the Newton's in CT?<

Nah. I just get frustrated when I see all the ones I want but can't afford. I'm the say with old gardening books. So that makes it doubly hard.

> I think it sold for over \$15,000. <

A mere bag of shells. Maybe we can talk Nicko into getting it for the ChefTalk library. :rolleyes::D

>Yeah, the measurements are all over the place. But again, I think that's really a reflection of how people actually cooked than any kind of commitment to consistency.<

My very point. Codification didn't take place until about a half century later, with the widespread availability of two things: published cookbooks and literacy.

Something people don't realize is that cookbooks and cookery manuscripts were a product of the well-to-do. The majority of people---particularly the common folk, but an amazingly high number of the gentry too---were functionally illiterate.

This problem isn't confined to cookery, of course. So much of our historical view is tempered by the fact that our artifacts come down to us from a particular segment of society, and may not reflect the cultural norms at all.

F'rinstance: Just how many silk gowns of any style do you reckon that scullery maid owned.

BTW, I think your basic argument re: mobility determining lifestyle has a lot of merit overall. But I think it applies more to labor-saving devices in the kitchen then to how recipes were recorded. You can trace the path from mobile to settled, for instance, by the configuration of the hearth, and the later appearance of "portable" cast iron stoves.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
Y'all might like the following website, digital reproductions of historic American cookbooks available free of charge.

Feeding America

.....
Great site, Free Rider! Thanks for posting it.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
That word "Culture" gets to me...
100 years ago it was our culture to get around with horse and buggy, when the automobile came on the scene, the horse dissapeared very quickly. Culture... Look at a typical supermarket. Bacon, cheese, coffee are all sold by weight, have been since for ever. Produce, butter, dairy like sour cream and cottage cheese are sold by weight. That American Icon, Corn Flakes : "This item is sold by weight, and not by volume, some settling of the contents...." Postage for letters and parcesl? By weight. The concept of purchasing items by weight is nothing new and totaly accepted, i.e "Culture" by N. Americans.

The times are a changing. No one's moving in covered wagons, people think nothing of buying a 3 or 4 hundred dollar mixer, 200 dollar knives, 30,000 dollar home kitchen re-makes, yet they dote on an archaic and unrealible system of measuring ingredients. Why?

The man. The magazines and cookbooks, the media. They refuse to acknowledge the scaling of ingredients. It's hilarious, pathetic. They acknowldedge that scaling of flour is more accurate, yet allow the recipies in a hodge-podge of weights and volume measurements, they allow advertisers to advertise weighing scales in their magazines, yet do acknowledge scales. Scales have been around for thousands of years in one form or another, in every country, in every culture, yet the N. Americans cooking editors refuse to acknowledge the scale. I'd like to know what goes through their minds, the cooking editors. Do they have a set stereotype of what their typical reader should be? Do they feel that scaling ingredients is a huge contreversial subject, on par with say, gay marriages?

What people do in their homes is their business, thier choice, but if "the man" made an effort to inform their readers--just like they do with new cooking techniques, ingredients, or tools,--if they actually made an effort to bring this technique to their readers, then the reader could choose for him/her self. The advantges are there: Accuracy, speed, cleanliness, and ease of multiplying up or down the recipies. Let the user choose, not the editor.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
I choose editors who choose weight. ;)

I bought a scale for about \$10 and it takes up not much room at all. So light that I keep it in a cupboard and take it out when necessary.

King Arthur Flour has a scale that they say can convert volume to weight too. I guess it's got some standard conversions that one can use. Intriguing idea instead of just having the volume => weight standards table.
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