Kitchen 101: Weights and Measures

June 10, 2014

Some of you know by now that I’ve been a bit obsessed with cookies lately; all spring and into summer I’ve been baking them. Somehow that sounds nonchalant. It hasn’t been; cookie baking has been incredibly deliberate around here.

I’ve whipped up small batches of cookies for our enjoyment while working away in the deserts of Nevada, slightly larger batches for eager hands in the Skratch Labs mobile kitchen at Sea Otter in Monterrey. On the Tour of California, I was baking huge batches for the riders to enjoy after the stages in the random kitchens of team hotels along the route. I’ve mixed up small batches in hotel rooms, on tail gates, in the corners of basement kitchens in Chicago. This is BAKING like I’ve never done before and all with my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, tweaked for the occasion and to taste (and there have been LOTS of tastes.)

So, this cookie recipe: it’s one I have that I’ve tried and tried and tried, and its never failed me, no matter how many times I’ve threatened to mess it up. I love this recipe. It’s become a close and trusty friend. But it has one flaw; it’s measured in volume, not by weight, like many European recipes. This might not sound like a really big deal, but the reality is that measuring ingredients by weight is much more accurate than measuring by volume. And, had the recipe been in weight, I wouldn’t have had to use a measuring cup to measure out bit batches. (You can imagine that when I go to make a 22x batch of chocolate chip + maple cookies for an entire cycling tour, that’s many cups. A lot of room for error. A lot of counting out “one cup, two cups, three cups….”) 

The good news is that I can fix this flaw in my friendly cookie recipe, by weighing out the ingredients with a simple kitchen scale, which was the first thing I did when I got home last week. Why bother, you ask? Here are a few great reasons to think about weights and measures in your baking:

  • Baking, unlike savory cooking, is a science as much as it is an adventure. If you add too much flour, and not enough leaven, your bread won’t rise. Too much sugar and not enough flour, your cookies will turn into one cookie mass. The specific formula used to make a certain product is really important, and so is accuracy with each ingredient.
  • If you remember science experiments when you were a little kid, you know that a cup of water does not weigh the same amount as a cup of milk, or honey. None of these things weigh the same as a cup of flour either, but the weight of the flour is very important when you want to make it rise in an oven. So, let’s say that you plunge a measuring cup into a bag of flour and pull it out, leveled off and packed in. As an estimate, this probably is about 6 oz of flour. A sifted cup of flour weights roughly 4 oz…..2 oz more flour. I hope you have extra leavener in there!
  • When making big batches of just about anything its far easier to multiply the weight of an ingredient by the number of batches (instead of messing around with the math of “what’s 22 x 1/16th of a cup?”) Simply place a bowl on the scale, zero out the weight, and measure your ingredients in grams and millimeters (or ounces if you like!)
  • When working with an international recipe, or a recipe measured by weight, the only tool you’ll need is a scale, and a bowl to measure into. If measuring in volume, you’ll need a set of dry measuring cups, and a set of wet measuring cups. Eeek! (You knew that a measuring cup wasn’t for both right?! Good…)

I‘m sure I’ve made my case here; weigh out ingredients if you can. It will make your life easier, and your baked goods better, and more consistent. If you can’t, if you’re stubborn, or just don’t want to acquire another piece of kitchen equipment, OR if you’re trying a baking recipe that isn’t weighed (your grandmother’s oatmeal cookie recipe probably isn’t. We still love Granny!) here are a few tips for how to properly measure flour with your measuring cups, those dangerous little beasts:

How To Measure Flour With Measuring Cups

– Use a large spoon or whisk to fluff the flour in its storage container. (Since flour tends to settle as it sits, its a good idea to aerate it a little!)

– With a large spoon, sprinkle flour into your measuring cup.  This might take several spoon dips. Don’t worry – its worth it!

– When the sprinkled flour reaches just above the edge of the measuring cup, use a straight edge to sweep off the excess flour, so that the flour is flush with the top edges of the measuring cup.

– Repeat if necessary.

So, the takeaway here; I’m guessing that there are going to be quite a few more recipes – developed at home – that I call for on the road to bake en masse so I’m going to do my best to convert as many of them as possible to weight measurements…also this will give you a chance to practice! There are lots of times that measuring cups are the best tool; if they get you baking and keep you baking specifically! 

Lastly, if this little piece has provoked you to learn more about conversions, weights, and measures, King Arthur Flour has some great tips on flour conversions and how to consistently measure flour by volume and The Kitchn has some helpful ingredient conversion tips!

Questions? Thoughts? Complaints? Three cheers for converting your favorite recipes? Let’s hear them! – xo L

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply