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scales and baking

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
The big reason is consistency and, important for cookbooks, transferability. A kilogram of flour is a kilogram of flour. Doesn't matter if I scoop it out of a container, pour it directly from the bag, sift it and then spoon it out. [In some recipes, that matters, but not in most.] I don't have to find the section in the book where you explain how you measure flour, I just weigh it out. When you're first starting to bake bread, or working on a new recipe, there are any number of things that you can do wrong, that will change how the bread ends up (fortunately, it's hard to ruin bread completely). If you're working from a recipe that you know should work, using a scale eliminates measurement as a variable. You can then focus on the the dough handling, rising, oven temperature, etc., more or less one at a time. If you're workign with eggs, you can eliminate variance in what one yolk is.

In some formulas, even a pretty small change makes a huge difference in how things behave. For instance, here's the formula I use for making hand-tossed pizza:

100% high protein flour (I use Bay State's Bouncer these days; it's 13% or so)
72% H20 (100 F)
1.5% salt
0.1% Instant dry yeast (yes, 1/10th of one percent: one gram per kilo of flour, not a typo. 24 to 168 hours in the fridge makes up for it.)

stir together dry ingredients. Add about half the water, stiring (or using a stand mixer) until the water is absorbed, add the rest in a couple of additions. Takes about 90 seconds using my kitchen-aid and a kilo of flour. Stop mixing, allow to rest a few minutes. Scale into dough balls. put into containers (I use ziplocks, but anything with a good seal is fine.) Put in fridge. wait 24 hours to a week. I do 48 hours to 72 hours, if I can. (I've made excellent pies from a bit that got lost in the fridge for several weeks.)

Dead simple. Except if I use 70% water ( changing the water content from 41.8% of the dough to 41.1%), I get a very, very different dough. It's substantially more elastic, doesn't have the extensibility that's need to make a good pie. If I do that, I still get an excellent tasting crust, but it'll be thicker, a pie with a given amount of dough will be smaller, and I don't like the pie as much. Using a four cup pyrex measuring cup, I can't reliably tell the difference between 700 and 720 ml. Having made the dough a bunch of times, I can do it reasonably well by look and feel, but not as well as cheap scale can. (If I change flours, it's how I do it the first time)

And digital scales are cheap. You can get a perfectly adequate one for $20
Amazon.com: Escali Primo Digital Multifunctional Scale, Chrome: Kitchen & Dining
for example. (What I use, it happens.) And a wonderful top of the line one for $50 or so. If you're working in a bakery, you need something else.

Using a scale has other advantages, too. It's faster. There's less to clean up (particularly nice, if you're using something sticky like honey or molasses). I make a bunch of high-hydration breads that I can get nothing besides a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon or spatula dirty. (well, and the floor. But that's *me*...)

It's much easier to scale a recipe up or down. (That's also an arguement for baker's percentages, as well, but that's a different arguement).

There are probably others, too, but they're escaping me.
post #2 of 14

let the scales fall from your eyes!

Sorry to harp on this, but we do get fixated on certain things, so I'll say it again.

For the home cook scales are not important, especially in bread!

Bread is not like cakes, that may possibly benefit from more precision.
But bread, when baked in batches that you would bake at home, usually not more than 4 loaves, there is so much room for error. (Maybe this is also true of large bakery batches, i don;t know, but i imagine measuring large quantities can make for large errors. You can;'t apply the professional baker's conditions to the home bakery because they're different).

As one who has baked bread at least weekly for the last 25 years, I can say it's not necessary to measure precisely with bread.

I measure very roughly with my cups when making bread. They are sometimes heaping and sometimes scarse, the bread ALWAYS comes out well, if i pay attention to the procedure and if i use my eye. (What does the dough feel like? do i need more flour? more liquid?). Many times i (dare I say it) just approximate. If i'm making a sweet bread, i can add more or less sugar, and it comes out, sweeter or less sweet. If it uses butter, i use more (cold, kneaded in after, not melted and added at the beginning, or it won;t work) or less. More makes it higher and softer. If i'm making bread that uses milk, and i don;t have enough I use half water. I may substitute with yoghurt or buttermilk. I add ingredients and subtract. It comes out well anyway.

Moreover, the amount of flour i need seems to vary depending on the flour - sometimes following precisely does not work. Sometimes the flour requires more liquid to be the right consistency and sometimes it requires less. You have to use your eye, and figure out if it looks right.

So while i prefer cups because I am not a numbers person, and halves and quarters and thirds are visual references that my number-inhibited brain can deal easily with, I can see the value in baking cakes. Cakes do rely on precision in quantities (though I can tell you that I often have had to compensate for the difference in Italian butter and flour and have decreased one and increased the other to make cakes not come out flat and i do it by eye and my cakes come out very well indeed) but bread is different.

If your bread is not coming out right, the first thing I'd ask is how did it look when you mixed it? how did it look when you kneaded it? was it shiny, smooth, did you sense it resisting under your hand? was it under- or over- kneaded? Did you let it rise by the clock or by the appearance? did you poke it and did it make a slowly-filling hole? did it collapse around the poke? did it spring back?
Did you punch it down, breaking gluten strands, or did you collapse it gently? Did you keep the surface on top all the time? Did you over- or under-rise in the last rising?
These are the things that make bread come out well or not.

Bread is a question of procedure. Most of it is in the eye and hand. Trust your eye and hand.
My opinion of course. I know not everyone agrees. But if you only ever measured precisely you really can't tell if measuring approximately works or not, can you? The difference of a gram is not going to mean anything in a loaf of bread. (Of course an error of a cup will make a difference, but then your eye and hand will tell you it needs more liquid! And if you put too little yeast, it will just take longer to rise.)
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
post #3 of 14
Seems to me that this is just an argument on how precise and consistent you want to be. At the end of the day if you want to fully understand the mistakes you're making in baking (including the ultra-forgiving loaf) then you need to create consistent results.

If however you don't care about learning from your mistakes and controlling your baking or changing your good to excellent, then you could measure everything with your plant pot if you like.
post #4 of 14
Props to Dave and Siduri for an excellent job of expressing your respective viewpoints. Another of hers, one on which we can all agree, and for which she is justly famous, goes:
Preface, Speaking of viewpoints:

dscheidt (aka Dave) started this thread (at my suggestion) mostly as a way of expressing his own viewpoint regarding the superiority of measuring by weight in bread baking, and partly as a way of dragging out mine. Although Siduri was eloquent in expressing an opinion I share for the most part, it wouldn't be fair if I didn't participate.

Let's stipulate that Chris' and Dave's methods are exactly right for many people; however, I disagree strongly with Chris in that I feel his approach to improvement is overly fussy and precise for most home bakers, and for reasons which will become apparent later in this post.

As it happens, I have multiple viewpoints on the subject reflecting (2) How I bake; (3) How I write; (4) How I think beginners should learn to bake, and how advanced beginners and intermediates can improve their baking; (5) Which methods I think are best for home bakers generally; and (1) How I think other people should bake.

[This merits inclusion in the darn blog. So, I’ll edit it just a bit after posting to make sense in that context, and put it there too; speaking of which, if you haven't been to the blog recently take a look and leave your thoughts. They help a lot.]

1. Other People's Bread Baking:

Let me tackle the last first with the liberal, inclusive, and uninteresting thought that whatever works for you is fine by me. I'm not about to tell you to change.

2. My Own Bread Baking:

"+ 1" with Siduri, in spades.

Not only no scale, sometimes I don't even use official measuring cups and go strictly by eye ("by eye" isn't the same as not measuring). Even though that's sufficiently accurate for good results down the line, in order to get flour out of the flour jar neatly, and without catastrophically huge flour dumps, a scoop is required. Since I know the volume of nearly every glass and cup in my kitchen, using one isn't much different from using a measuring scoop. Anything dry and small gets measured in the palm. When it comes to liquid measurements – same Mark II GI Eyeball, same glasses and cups, and yes I do have glass measuring cups of all sizes.

Unsurprisingly, that mishmash of measuring is how I cook almost everything. And that sort of ad hoc measurement is pretty common with cooks who've [shudder] done it for [sob] money.

If you care about how I cook while not actually standing in my home with a cold beverage in one hand, an hors d’oeuvre in the other, and hunger in your belly – you shouldn't.

3. Writing Bread Recipes:

There are a lot of audiences and a lot of ways to go about writing a bread recipe. One quality they should all share is that of being “perfected” before being made generally available.

“Perfecting a recipe” is actually a term of art for a professional cook. It doesn’t mean tweaking a recipe to make it as good as it can possibly be. What it does mean is making a recipe which can be followed by the intended reader, and from which the reader can produce a good result – similar to that intended by the writer.

No matter how the writer first made the bread (or dish, or whatever), she (or he as in my case) must communicate ingredient amounts, necessary equipment, techniques, sequences, temperatures, etc., in an understandable way. With amounts, that means measurements which are reproducible to a degree of accuracy satisfying the “the reader can produce a good result – similar to that intended by the writer” component.

As a practical matter, perfecting a recipe from the “pinch of this,” a “little more of that” process of creation, involves a significant amount of rounding off. A recipe writer understands that this is not only a function of the amount of leeway allowed by the ingredients in relation to the ultimate loaf, but of what measuring tools the reader is likely to have and is comfortable using.

The result component also takes us back to the “lot of ways” thing. If writing a regular cookbook about bread baking, in order to appeal to the widest possible audience, it would be a VGT (very good thing) to to include all three major forms of measurement – volume, weight and normative metric. Not to mention, good manners. However, when writing a methods and techniques driven cooking course, perhaps it might best serve the writer and his or her readers to select those which are most conducive for the task.

Nice segue, what? (Where’s Nigel Bruce when you need him?) What?

4. Teaching How and How Better Through Better Writing aka“Rubber meet road; road meet rubber”:

NB. Yes, it’s serial repetition, but will nonetheless be repeated serially: I’m not trying to teach how to cook by following a recipe. I’m trying to teach a level of method and technique allowing the reader to follow and/or improvise upon recipes she finds of interest; and to develop her own recipes without undue trial and error.

Let me start this with the thought that I’m increasingly open to including scale driven, weight measurements along with volume measurements in CFG if only for the sake of good manners.

That said, I think using a scale detracts from the most important parts of teaching and learning home bread baking, and of teaching and learning to bake bread better at home. Each and every one of those important things is sensorial, not metric.

At this time, I feel scale-driven recipe quantities, within the context of my intentions, are more harmful than helpful for several reasons. Most of these devolve from the sense that the author’s measurements are so perfected they are fixed and immutable. This is wrong on so many levels. For instance, weight does not accurately reflect humidity. 1,000 gm of humid flour and 1,000 gm of dry flour weigh the same. Yet they will ultimately reflect different levels of hydration. In a larger sense, this goes to the fact that baking is very sensitive to environmental conditions. Almost always, the best way to find the correct flour/liquid ratio is through observation and successive iteration at the mixing and kneading stages, involving sight, touch, and plenty of bench flour.

One aspect of technique driven cooking is learning what is and what is not important. The history of baking is much longer than the use of standardized weights and measures in cooking. People – including home cooks and professional bakers – used idiosyncratic (in the sense of being individualistic) measures, yet still managed to turn out good bread. Did baking get better with the introduction of Pyrex graduated measuring cups? No, at least not that I’m aware of. What about with electronic home scales? Same answer; although to be fair as measuring became increasingly standardized and accurate, recipe driven results have probably become more consistent.

If this sounds critical of scale-driven recipe writing or scale-driven baking, it isn’t meant that way. It’s all about CFG and that’s a very narrow scope indeed.

5. How YOU SHOULD bake:

Refer to “1,” at the beginning of this screed, while holding the following thought: “Like I’m going to tell you.”

The best advice I can give is to pay attention to your eyes, hands, and the dough itself, once everything’s been measured.

post #5 of 14
Chris, this could easily be taken as offensive. Fortunately I am pretty impervious to being offended :)

You imply that I don;t try to change my Good to Excellent. I'll say, though, that I've improved my bread baking over the past 35 or 40 years so that from getting one loaf in three that would be useful more as a doorstop than for eating, (and the other two edible), to pretty much every loaf that comes out pretty darn good (and I'm being modest), and certainly better than other home made breads and store made breads i've eaten. (I haven;t eaten yours, so maybe yours are better - I don;t know)

I can make a very light sandwich or sweet bread with 100% whole wheat flour, not a bit of white, or gluten flour or anything else and it's high, light, and airy. Not an easy thing, in fact most cookbooks say it;s impossible. I think there is no doubt that i do aim for improvement. .

The thing is that I think a bread is not necessarily improved if you measure more precisely, i think it's improved if you get the technique down, and let your eyes and hands do the thinking.

I work in an office where most of my colleagues are medical doctors and in the kitchen we use to make coffee was the surgeon's textbook. I leafed through it and was surprised to see that most of the most complex surgical operations shown in the illustrations used mainly the hands to find the organs, assess their state and ultimately do something to them. I imagined they would use mostly sophisticated instruments, but it was mostly the hands. He confirmed this. He said "A surgeon';s hands are his most important tool, and if you can;t think with your hands you're no surgeon."

And to BDL, well, thanks!
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
post #6 of 14

You hit the nail on the head ! I could not agree more...thank you for the illustration of "sugeon's hands", very fitting.

Réalisé avec un soupçon d'amour.

Served Up
(165 photos)
Wine and Cheese
(62 photos)

Réalisé avec un soupçon d'amour.

Served Up
(165 photos)
Wine and Cheese
(62 photos)
post #7 of 14
Maybe it's being from the UK, but I grew up using scales - and still find it the most satisfying way to ensure that my recipes turn out right! All the foreign recipes with 'cups' etc....? Naaaah, they are just not as reliable!
post #8 of 14
Apologies Siduri my comments were not aimed towards anyone personally.

I've been working in Kitchens off and on for around 10 years now (not too long a time, i know) and i understand exactly what you're saying. Its an almost sixth sense developed through trial and error, where cooking becomes an art, and great chefs are admired for the ability to "just know" things. And until recently it was certainly a strategy i myself implemented.
One thing i came to realise is that one can eliminate all the mistakes, all the trial and error and all the problems with just knowing what i'm doing before i start cooking, including knowing the accurate proportions and by checking them. What i also discovered was that it became much easier to do controlled experiments, and by simply putting my ego aside and pulling out some scales similar to what my granny used to use (much to the amusement of my collegues) just about everything i was creating didn't need its "development period", it was just good. And got better.

Another problem with the trial and error process is change; change the circumstances and all that trial and error goes heywire, lets consider what can change with bread:

Hardness of water/acidity of water -acidity makes a weaker bread, minerals make a stronger bread

Protein content of flour- Protein makes bread stronger also absorbs more water

Salt - makes bread stronger, change salt content from 2% to make it stronger or weaker and see what happens to your bread.

Yeast- Starters, retarding, fresh yeast, instant yeast, dry active yeast, proofing times... all give different results.

Shortening- Weakens dough, how much depends on the time introduced into the bread

Egg yolks- Reduces retrogredation, but can make the crumb cakey.

These are just a few factors, try changing something and see how long it takes with the trial and error period to develop a working recipe from it. Then see how long it takes to make it good, then how long to make it excellent.

If you understand the factors and you're accurate with them, then you can change anything you like and make very few mistakes. Furthermore you can extend your repetoir to anything you like- it makes cooking more free, more experimental, you can focus your thoughts not on producing accurate results but on flavours and textures, and take that journey wherever you like.

Egos are such delicate things to bruise, but at some point one's ego will always get in the way of producing consistently good stuff (from the first time).
post #9 of 14
Possibly right there. I'm a perfectionist. Hence my argument is simple; if you want perfection, be accurate.
post #10 of 14
American flours differ from Irish flours differ from Canadian flours differ from European flours. And flours, like wine from the same vinyard, can differ from year to year. In a bakery environment where large quantity is concerned, then using a scale to measure by weight IS the way to go. I mean, can you see using volume measurements for making 20 loaves of bread?!?!?

And measuring flour whether by volume (i.e. cups) or by weight, the exact name of the flour must me specified otherwise weight and volume don't mean jack to the experienced home baker let alone professional. And I know that you all know that fact.

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.



Brot und Wein
(1 photos)

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.



Brot und Wein
(1 photos)
post #11 of 14
I have no idea why, but when I bake bread I weigh and when I bake cookies/cakes I measure. It seems to me that accuracy is a relative thing when it comes to baking. I know what a well mixed bread dough should feel like. What I need to add, in terms of flour and water to get to that dough differs from day to day, depending on the changes to the environment in my kitchen. So whether I weigh or measure, pre adjustments, to start my search for the well mixed dough really seems a matter of personal preference.

Chacun a son gout :)
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
post #12 of 14
If i may offer an none-dogmatic opinion on that, that's probably because of other factors apart from the weight:
Perhaps some of the points I made above (water/flour/yeast/salt/baking temps) differed slightly from the recipe, all could change the result of the bread or cookies (or any batter or dough). Which means that in order to attain consistency, there are more factors to consider, and make room for.

Weights are a part of consistency (arguably the most important part), not consistency itself.
post #13 of 14
A former baker in the U.S. Navy who baked for an entire aircraft carrier (4000+ personnel) on which he was stationed, humidity was a factor that was ALWAYS taken into consideration. And placed within the bakery was a hygrometer, an instrument for measuring relative humidity as the latter affected the outcome of the bakery products tremendously.

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.



Brot und Wein
(1 photos)

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.



Brot und Wein
(1 photos)
post #14 of 14
Thanks guys you helped me write my paper and get a leg up on breads for this week so excited love making bread
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