The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

On Measuring and Weighing Flour

Clemicus's picture
Clemicus

On Measuring and Weighing Flour

I do not have a food scale as yet and when following a recipe I scoop up the required flour using a measuring cup. Recently, I stumbled upon a youtube video showing a dramatic difference in weights between flour which had been stirred with a whisk prior to scooping and flour which was just scooped up out of the flour bag. 

What are your thoughts on this matter.

Thanks.

albacore's picture
albacore

I think it was trying to tell you to buy a scale!

Lance

Clemicus's picture
Clemicus

Thanks for the response Lance. I truly appreciate it. Indeed, I see now how important it is to use a scale. It would be the same as a pound of feathers compared to a pound of steel. A pound is a pound is a pound. 

albacore's picture
albacore

When you are baking bread, even a 3% change in dough hydration can make a noticeable difference to your dough handling and final loaf.

That's only a difference of 30 grams of flour or 30 mls of water in a kilo of flour (or an oz in 2lbs). You've get no chance of measuring that accurately with cups - as you have seen.

Get yourself a half decent set of scales and get used to measuring in grams - including your water.

Clemicus's picture
Clemicus

Thank you for the feedback. It makes total sense to use a scale and I will do so from this point on.

Be well.

suave's picture
suave

There isn't a range of opinions on the topic.  You weigh your ingredients, period.   It's not limited to baking either.

Clemicus's picture
Clemicus

Thanks for the reply. Much appreciated. I agree that when it comes to measuring there ought not to be "a range of opinions" thus the importance of a food scale. And you're also right in that this is not limited to only baking. Be well.

suminandi's picture
suminandi

it has a very famous density ;-)

gerhard's picture
gerhard

I agree water I tend to measure by volume, I reserve some of the water and then add it if needed.  

albacore's picture
albacore

700ml measured in a jug - how accurate is that? +/- 20ml maybe - unless you are using a measuring cylinder.

Just weigh it! As you imply, 1ml = 1g.

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

I certainly agree that weighing flour is more accurate than measuring volume, especially with an accurate scale and measuring in grams. That said, you will often find American recipes that use volume measurements and they take a bit of trial and error to convert to grams (and get the result you want). This is why a lot of American bread recipes give a variable amount of flour (e.g. "3 1/2 to 4 cups"); you start with the lower amount and add if you need to. Easier than trying to take flour out of a dough that is too dry!

Some recipe sites say you should scoop flour from the bag, then level with a straight edge. Others recommend spooning flour (either sifted or not) into the cup, then leveling. These three techniques will result in quite different amounts of flour. And it gets even trickier when you try substituting a different flour for that in the recipe (like adding a bit of whole grain flour, for example).

So, what I'm saying is that if you intend to do some serious bread baking you should get a scale and measure in grams, but you will need to learn to convert recipes that are in volume if you want to use them. :)

BobBoule's picture
BobBoule

review: During the early colonization of America by the British, scales were left behind because they were to bully and too heavy to be transported affordably to the new world. There recipes were converted to be used by measurement with teacups, which they refused to leave behind. Each family then had to adjust their recipes for the specific cup that their household's primary cook liked to use. Since teacups were not standardized, each recipe would appear different, even if for the same exact product. That is why if you do some deep research into American baking recipes you'll eventually (toner or later) get to the original source which will refer to measuring so many cups using grandma's chipped rose pattern tea cup as the standard measure for a cup in that recipe.

The recipes often added a requirement for sifted flour. Since flour naturally compacts as it ages, a one cup measure will hold more and more flour over time. Sifting loosens the flour, significantly reducing but not eliminating the effect of compaction over time.

The only accurate measurement for household baking is to weigh each ingredient precisely with a reliable scale, every time. This will give you reliably repeatable results and when you want to adjust a recipe you can fine tune it with the utmost precision (i.e. you cannot accurately measure a quarter, and eighth nor a sixteenth of a cup, using the "teacup" method).

For these reasons I think that you'll find that the bakers here will strongly advise you to obtain a scale and convert your recipes to weight measurement. I have converted all of mine to weights and occasionally amuse myself by weighing out some flour and then throwing it into a measuring cup to see how much volume it takes. To my amusement, the volumetric measurement is always incorrect. Typically it is off by 50% and sometimes its been off by double, which explains why my original baking experiments were such disasters.

Personally I use two scales, one is used often, for everything except for tiny amounts. Its accurate up to ten pounds, within two grams. Its not the best scale in the world but its accurate enough for me to bake a consistently reliable product. My second scale can only go up to a few ounces but is accurate to a fraction of a gram, I used to use this for salt and yeast measurements but since they don't compact anywhere nearly as much as flour does then I cheat and use my nice stainless steel measuring spoons. If I change the brand of yeast or salt that I use then I weigh it to make sure that its in the correct range but that has not turned out to be a huge problem for yeast. Salt can vary dramatically unless I buy the same brand and type of salt, so that one does matter.

Clemicus's picture
Clemicus

A very grateful thank-you to all the informative answers I received. They've been extraordinary. Particularly the history of using teacups in American baking measurements.

Great blog.

Be well all.

deblacksmith's picture
deblacksmith

When we moved to Wales (UK) in 1980 we had to buy a kitchen scale because all of the recipes (not just bread) were by weight, not volume.  It was an inexpensive spring scale made for the kitchen and served us well.  We of course could still use volume with our US cook books but wanted to use local cook books too, like the one from friends at church.  We continued to use this scale on return to the USA but when I got interested in bread baking I got a digital scale that would go to 5 kg and then later a second scale that measure only to 250 g but by the 0.1 g.  Love them both.  The price of these digital scales continue to drop and you can get a good one now for less than $ 25.

albacore's picture
albacore

When I was growing up in Manchester, UK, we never had a set of scales. I think this was quite common. Cooks used to wing it (with experience), or use any old cup they could find.

I remember my Mum buying a gadget called a Tala Cook's Measure. It's an aluminium cone with base, internally printed with weights at varous levels for the most common ingredients. Incredibly, it's still available, eg Amazon UK, today - and people think it's wonderful, judging by the reviews!

Of course it was no more accurate than cups, but convenient.

The digital scale is a truly wonderful invention.

 

Lance

Arjon's picture
Arjon

Here in Canada, sale prices can be found around $10. Models at this price have limited capacity, maybe a couple of kg, and are likely to be +/- 1 gm. But unless you're making more than a couple of loaves at a time, that capacity is likely to be enough, and when you need more, you can always weigh out two quantities that add up to the desired total. As for the granularity, for most intents and purposes, a gram more or less isn't likely to make a noticeable difference unless you need only a few grams. 

IceDemeter's picture
IceDemeter

there are some of us who only use a scale sometimes ;-)

When doing a recipe for the first time or two, or when creating a new recipe, I will use my scale for accuracy.  If I want to replicate something that I've done before, then I'll also use a scale for that.

However, if I'm just making a "loaf of bread", then I have been known to use my favourite mixing bowl, toss in flour until there is "enough", add water until it feels "right", and then just scoop in some levain and some salt.  I can guess the amount of dough pretty well in that bowl, since I've carefully measured in to it so often.

So - if you are making breads that you really enjoy, and aren't having any difficulty with converting mass recipes to volume, then don't worry about a scale and just continue to be consistent with your method of measuring (and don't be afraid to tweak).  If you want to start carefully following someone elses recipe, or be able to replicate results, then a scale can make it a whole lot easier.

Arjon's picture
Arjon

is something I've gotten better at over time, but while I can now produce a decent one-off loaf without weighing, I don't know how consistently I could repeat a particular one. The latter seems like a skill that comes with time and experience, and not at the same rate for everyone. Since pretty much everyone in my circle who asks me about baking is inexperienced, I always suggest weighing. 

jimbtv's picture
jimbtv

I understand that teaching schools often make mixing bread without measuring one of the final tasks in the lesson plan. I think it is a good practice since it teaches how to rely on the senses instead of tools. At the same time, I don't think it would work very well if consistency is your objective.

At a class at King Arthur flour one of my classmates overshot on the water allotment and the dough was like soup. He declared that his intention was to make ciabatta although the assignment was for Pain au Levain. It was a nice ciabatta though.

 

Jim