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digital kitchen scales

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
I am an avid baker, and after reading about how recipes can be perfected by weighing ingredients instead of measuring them, I purchased a digital scale. But then, I saw how different the conversion charts are. For instance, the conversion of all purpose flour in some charts is 110 gms. and in others it is 120 gms!!! How accurate will the recipe be if there is such a discrepancy? Which chart do I follow?
post #2 of 13
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post #3 of 13
Let's start with, "Which chart to I follow?" This is the source I use for weight/volume conversions: FareShare Recipe Exchange: Volume to Weight Conversion It's got a lot of different ingredients of enough types that you can extrapolate anything they don't have.

Now let's talk about accurate measuring: I can't overemphasize how overemphasized accurate measuring is. People get the idea that baking is a sort of molecular chemistry where measurements to the nearest nanogram are important. That following a recipe exactly is a guarantee of success, and deviation a sure path to failure. Thank goodness those things are wrong.

Recipes in normal household sizes are very rounded off, and are almost always forgiving of minor deviations. For instance, if you use 4 medium eggs instead of 3 XLarge, or if you use 1 tbs of baking powder to a scant cup of flour instead of a slightly rounded cup -- those sorts of things don't matter at all.

Why? Well, for one thing food chemistry isnt' all that sensitive. For another, the recipes themselves are written in convenient amounts more than exact ones. That's because even measured quantities vary with environmental conditions. For instance 110gm of AP flour on a day with 30% humidity is not the same as 110gm of AP flour on a day with 80% humidity. The variance is not weight but the ratio of flour to water -- what bakers call the percentage of hydration. It's an important thing -- but not enough to change your recipe much.

Get your measuring cup, some flour, and tare off a bowl. Start measuring four cups of flour into the bowl, one at a time and note each measurement. Was the weight of each cup exactly the same? No. Was the total range of deviation within 10gms (about 1/3 oz)? Probably not. Do you think a couple ounces of flour out of a pound is going to make a difference in a cake? Doesn't matter what you think, it won't.

What was the actual measurement they're converting? Did the first baker tamp her cup of flour down, wipe it with a knife, do anything else to make it "accurate?" Important questions if exactness is important, because all those things that make volume consistent for any given baker, make volume inconsistent from one baker to the next -- because each is doing something different.

Measuring by weight is sometimes more convenient. But because of environmental factors, especially humidity, It gives more of an illusion of an reproducible accuracy than reproducible accuracy itself. To some extent, its popularity in home kitchens comes from its near universality in professional bakeries. However, the situation in a professional bakery is very different. In a bakery you use flour by the (weighed) bag weight -- not by the scoop (at least not at first). Doughs are made in amounts to large to handle by hand -- so the baker has no opportunity to use her sense of feel. Bowls are too deep to look into, so even sight conveys limited information.

You already know this (if you think about it). You check cakes for doneness with a toothpick and breads with a thump -- not with a clock. Even when you know your oven. It's the nature of food. Look at it this way. Food costs money, and attention is the least expensive ingredient to pay.

Here are some common sense rules (Fair warning, most important comes last):

Close counts in horseshoes, hand-grenades, and baking

If it tastes good, you can be off by more.

If there's a big variance between one conversion and another, or one recipe and another -- be like Buddha (WWBD?) and take the middle path. So 120gm, 110gm? Use 115, you'll be fine.

If it's a little amount in a big recipe -- measure that one carefully.

Watch out for recipes that call for things you KNOW are wrong: For instance if a recipe calls for more than 1-1/4 tbs baking soda per cup (115gm) of flour; or 2 tbs of oil instead of 3/4 cup of shortening to make biscuits. Doesn't mean it isn't right or won't work -- just make sure your glasses are clean and you read it correctly.

If it's a big amount you can be off by a little, no problem. How much is a little? 10% or less is a little. How much is time to worry? 20% is too much deviation. What about in between? WWBD?

If you feel like you're measurements are off, do what you can to adjust on the fly. Which leads to the biggie:

Use your senses to keep track of your recipe. Does it feel right? Does it look right? Does it smell right? Feel is the most important thing in baking, and seldom discussed.

Case in point: My daughter, a good cook and still improving, came to visit us. She and her boyfriend made dinner, and for dessert, made a cake. Our stand mixer was being repaired, she didn't want to use an electric hand beater so decided to use a whisk. I heard her whisking from the other room -- I know the sound of good whisking -- and hers sounded good. But, then came the kvetching (complaining). The eggs weren't cooperating. She brought in some thin, pathetic eggs and the whisk -- so I could "fix it Daddy." Aha! The whisk she brought was the wrong one -- a heavy wire type -- no wonder she was having trouble. I switched to a thin wire whisk with more balloon and she watched the eggs take in air, change color to lemony, and thicken to almost a saboyan -- like magic (Daddy's still got the wrist -- even if no props from his daughter). Then we whisked in the dry ingredients with the heavy wire whisk. The wets and dries came together quickly, the batter soon running off the whisk in a wide, satiny ribbon. We went and bought both types of whisks for her the next day.

So, where's the measuring? Exactly! Where's the measuring? Which do you think was more important to the cake? The texture achieved by technique? Or, whether there was 2 tbs of extra flour in the batter? Lightbulb should be on.

Moral of the story: Don't sweat the conversion charts, they're not that important.

Hope this helps,
post #4 of 13
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post #5 of 13
No need to be nasty. With what, specifically, do you disagree?

post #6 of 13
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post #7 of 13
Oh, dear me. This is one of the most important ???'s get.
1) EVERY serious, professional recipe is ALWAYS specified in weights
2) having a scale gets the home pastry chef 90% of the way to being a pro.
3) ignore those idiotic and unreliable 'conversion' tables you will find in every baking book. Take the original recipe amount/weights, and ALWAYS do your own tests as to what ingredient amounts in your recipe equals ingredient amounts in the retail packaging available to you. There is quite a lot controversy among B&P people as to differing qualities and protein % of various flours. Almost all of these arguements would be solved if the participants would ALL please use weights rather than volume to specify flour amounts.
4) if we assume that your cookbook properly specifies flour amounts in WEIGHTS, and assuming that you have an electronic scale, then QED.
post #8 of 13
If you hadn't meant to be nasty you wouldn't have brought up the book.

I don't know what this means, whether in the context of my post or at all. Not the term, "display resolution," I know what that means. But rather the whole scooping and scraping thing. My best hypothesis is that you're saying, that if I had a five pound bag of flour and a scale whose resolution was 10 pounds, I wouldn't get much useful information, but that doesn't mean weight itself is meaningless. If so, true but not illuminating.

True. But so what? Even smallish artisanal bakeries measure flour by the bag, rather than the volume. Some are small enough to weigh a volume out onto a scale, but usually not. However, my point in raising the issue is that the practice of working from weights rather than volumes came from the practice of working by the bag.

Yes, a 50 pound mistake would be a big one with two loaves of bread. However, a 10% difference probably wouldn't be. In fact, it's difficult to come within 10% of how much flour a particular 2 loaf bread recipe will take before reaching its ideal texture.

By this I meant if they provide a weight volume for a type of nut, and you have a similar nut for which they didn't, you can extrapolate that the weight volume conversion for your nuts will be the same. For instance, they provide the conversion for pine nuts but not for pumpkin seeds. I apologize for my lack of clarity. Broken English is my first language.

Saying a cup of flour weighs 110 grams gives the sense that every cup of flour will weigh 110 grams. In fact, they won't -- partly because conditions change and partly because volume measurements are inconsistent. Clear?

Reality. I'm not sure what you mean by "hyperbole" in this context, but that's a small point -- just forget it.

The degree to which accuracy is necessary is limited by the degree of inaccuracy imposed by conditions and by the tolerance of recipes to accept variation and still perform.

Sort of. Couple, by definition is "two." Do we have an accuracy problem?
News to me. Here I thought it was 6.667% I'm sensing a theme.

Clever, and true. Oh, wait a minute, that's mine.

Tautological. True by unit, but not by percent.

So if a recipe calls for 115 grams of unspecified AP flour -- 110 grams of one flour, 115 grams of another, and 120 grams of a third might perform the same way? But wouldn't that mean the 115 grams called for by the recipe was inexact, or at least situational?

Yes. I'm by no means a pastry chef, and don't confuse myself with one. But not because I can't bake. I may not bake the same way you do, but I bake well. As it happens, I've got three original bread recipes on the baking thread, plus an instructional on biscuits (which was just a post that got hijacked) in Chef Talk. Of course, posting doesn't mean anything by itself, but the recipes are there for you to look at and try. Whether you like the recipes or not, your comments are welcome. I posted them so that I could learn, as much as so that I could teach.

(Added on edit) That was the straight answer. But your question, "do you bake?" begged another question and another answer. Why do you feel you have challenge me in such a personal fashion? It belies your non-apology aplogy at the beginning of your post (as a husband, I know a lot about non-apology apologies). We have lots to disagree and agree about. We obviously have a lot in common in our mutual love of cooking and the feeling we have something to share. We're both also fairly opinionated -- disagreement is inevitable. I suggest we keep to the subject and refrain from the personal.

(Edited on edit) Last but not least: What level of accuracy do you believe is important? Does it vary according to recipe size or type? Surely there's some level of accuracy going beyond which you think is silly. Back in the day, when physics undergrads still used slide rules for computation we used the three significant digit rule. What would you say the baking equivalent is?

Hope this helps,
post #9 of 13
Just to go ahead and establish myself as an authority I can claim both production level baking and home baking props. I’m sure that there are those here with more experience and classical training on the production level side than I have. However, I can speak with a relative amount of expertise.

I’m going to have to side with BDL on this one. My take on his advice is that knowing what to look for by sight and feel are far more important that highly accurate consistent measurements especially in the home baking arena, and he is right.

When you are talking about production baking, because volume measurements can vary weight is, admittedly, more accurate therefore consistent. We don’t need a discussion on the scientific reasons, I think we all know why and can agree on the premise. But please remember that weight of dry ingredients isn’t the only factor in baking. I used to have one “professional” book that advocated weighing the liquid portion of bread recipes. It never said why, it just did. How many professionals do that?

Let’s not forget that it is also more ergonomic to use a scale than measuring out with cups, hence cost effective and one of the reasons that professionals go that route. There are many, many reasons and variables involved in the differences between home and production baking and there is more than one way to skin a cat.

If it were the case that one must have meticulously calibrated measurements used under controlled circumstances to pull off consistent baked good products, then consistent products would not have seen the light of day before the advent of universal literacy, standardized weights and measures along with the advent of oven thermometers. Which , by the way, means no earlier than the late 19th century and quite possibly the mid-20th and only in non-third world countries.

Which is why my Big Mama with her 8th grade education, two hands (no rolling pin or measuring devices) a baking sheet and a wood burning oven could make the same biscuits every morning for decades regardless if she was cooking for her family of 11 during the pouring rain or in her later years for just herself with an electric stove on a day with zero humidity (okay zero humidity doesn’t happen that often in Alabama).

It is also why Simon the Baker in medieval England with his non digital scales (if he was even prosperous enough to have scales) and whatever non-standard measuring devices he had (think gourds) could produce edible dough reliably and portion out each loaf consistently. Although to be fair, poor Simon would have been killed by villagers toting torches and pitchforks if they thought he was cheating them, so he had some serious incentive.

Each generation must remember that we didn’t invent the wheel, cooking, baking, or the reproductive process or the enjoyment of those things in their myriad forms.

I believe that jerry’s response is, essentially, the same as BDL’s. That is to say that following a recipe like a chemist would in a lab setting isn’t the way to go. Take the equipment at your disposal and work out what works for your environment, personal technique and taste; measurements are the starting point not something set in stone with the Pastry Police coming by to make sure you are adhering to the party line.
The major difference between the two is that BDL took a lot of time to explain that quality baking isn’t about being a slave to someone else’s recipe and a rigid set of standards brought down the mountain on clay tablets, but a process that can be learned and experimented with by even the lowly home baker.

And mentioning the book that way was a cheap shot. I would, respectfully, suggest that before you make an ad hominem attack that you be familiar with the man first.
post #10 of 13
1) I own a digital scale for home use
2) I have been baking professionally in diverse settings for about 10 years
3) I weigh the liquid portion of my bread recipes at work (just for you izbnso ;))

Honestly, my work scale is not reliably accurate within 8 oz, and I work in a smaller-sized bakery that puts out about 1200 lbs of bread-things a week. It all comes out fine.
Alot of the time, even with carefully measured ingredients, I'll end up adding a little more flour to make the dough what I want it to be.

And for home baking, (which I do to relax after a hard day in the bakeshop) I've yet to see a digital scale that can accurately give me the equivolent of 1/4 tsp of baking powder.... and I've always considered accuracy in leavening much more important than accuracy in flour


"Health nuts are going to feel stupid one day, lying in the hospital dying of nothing"
-Redd Foxx

"Health nuts are going to feel stupid one day, lying in the hospital dying of nothing"
-Redd Foxx
post #11 of 13
I knew there'd be somebody who did. More than a few weighs to skin a cat. :lol:
post #12 of 13
I'm a novice bread baker. I've been using an electronic scale for a couple of months now. I transitioned to using a scale so I would have less stuff to clean up when I'm making my dough. I can't get the scale to register a 1/4 tspn, but all other measurements, including liquids are easy enough.

When I first got the scale I did some testing of my flour and meauring cup by scoup and level method. I tried a few different times on different days just because I was curious and just like being in school sometimes my results were consistant on other days each cup varied nearly an ounce. The air temp was about the same as for the humidity, I didn't check it. I really didin't feel like hunting down some cheap bulb thermometers to make a sling psychrometer.... end result I picked a set value of 5oz per cup for flour and so far I haven't had any poor results using either ap or bread flours of various brands. I do try and rely on how the dough looks and feels if I need to add water. In my experience it's close enough.

I used to work in a factory. William Shakespeare never worked with an engineer.
post #13 of 13

I admire your thoroughness in keeping track of environmental conditions. Shows an organized mind.

Speaking of which I'm afraid I'm guilty of being unclear by being [gasp] incomplete and too brief. I don't expect you're going to get much weight/volume variation from humidity -- but hypothesize you will get a different percentage of hydration. In other words the same weights of "flour" will represent different ratios of solids and water. And, as you know, the hydration ratio is critical to bread making. Unfortunately "accurate" measurement is not all that accurate unless you're measuring what you intend and purport to measure.

You are wise beyond your years, young padwan.

Not sure about that. Don't you remember the joke from Hamlet?


Horatio, a physicist, a mathematician and an engineer go to a party. When the physicist is in the same room the engineer talks mathematics. When the mathematician is in the same room, the engineer talks physics. When all three are in the same room, the engineer talks politics.

Horatio: Verily, your engineer follows your mathematician and physicist so close these days, he galls their kibes.

Hamlet: Soft. Soft aside. Here he comes. BDL
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