The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Weighing Flour

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Leesky's picture
Leesky

Weighing Flour

I hear people extolling the virtues of weighing flour instead of just measuring, but I'm curious about why.


Since the amount of flour actually used varies depending on humidity etc. how can such exactness make any difference?

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

"Since the amount of flour actually used varies depending on humidity etc."



'etc' what?  About the only thing that might cause the weight to vary is humidity, and unless you can demonstrate otherwise, I'd be willing to be that effect is small at best.


Meanwhile, measuring by volume is extremely variable.


So, if your options are measuring with some variability, or measuring with a much greater amount of variability, which would you choose?


Second, measuring by weight means you can work with bakers percentages, which makes scaling a recipe dead simple.  And, at a glance, you can immediately determine the type of bread the recipe will turn out (hydration level, salt content, etc, all give hints to the type of result you can expect).


As an aside, measuring by weight is also a *lot* easier, from a purely mechanical standpoint.  No need to level off measuring cups, counting off while getting flour everywhere.  Just grab your scoop and dump flour into the bowl until the desired weight is reached.  Overshoot?  Take some flour out.  Easy peasy.

susies1955's picture
susies1955

Thanks, that is a real good question. I don't understand either as I always keep track of the dough ball no matter how much flour the recipe calls for and I add more or add water accordingly. 


I'll be watching for the answers. :)


Susie

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

I'm not sure that's always the solution.  I learned to bake decent bread from my Kitchen Aid.  At least I learned about what texture the dough should be so I could finally make decent bread, not bricks. 


Doing bread the Kitchen Aid way means that the dough is ready when it pulls away from the sides of the bowl cleanly.  So that is what I always aimed for.  The dough has a particular look and feel. 


BUT . . .


Now I am learning to branch out to other types of bread and along with that comes other dough consistencies.  Some of the highly hydrated doughs are wet and sticky and will never pull away from the sides of the KA bowl (don't even use the KA for those!)--the texture is entirely different from the basic breads I was making before.  So when making a new recipe, I don't even always know what the "dough ball" should feel and look like, until I've made it a few times and get to know that particular dough.


Last week, for example, I was making my first ever batch of English Muffins.  The receipe actually said "The dough will start out very sticky--resist the temptation to add extra flour".  My instinct was to add enough flour to get the "KA" consistency, but that would have resulted in very heavy and tough English Muffins.  I had no idea exactly what the dough should look and feel like, so I had to depend on accurately weighing ingredients to figure the recipe out.  And in doing so, it worked out fine (OK, so I added a LITTLE extra flour, so sue me!). 


 

baltochef's picture
baltochef

Janknitz makes a really good point here..If a baker is following a recipe that is written for the ingredients that are available for purchase in his/her country, and is using weight measures to scale the ingredients; than the chances that the recipe will turn out as the author of the recipe intends are far, far greater than if the baker is using volumetric measurements..Volumetric measurements simply add a greater number of variables to baking than do weight measurements, thus increasing the chances for mistakes to be made, and the recipe to fail..


Trying to follow recipes on a forum such as TFL where the participants come from all across the planet is greatly simplified by using weight measurements as opposed to volumetric measurements..


For some time I have been trying to wean myself off of using Imperial measurements such as cups, teaspoons, tablespoons, pounds, and ounces..For an "Old Dog" like me that was raised on Imperial measurements, the metric system has been slowly, but surely, taking the place of Imperial measurements..Old habits are hard to break..


When my current Soehnle Imperial-Metric digital kitchen scale bites the dust, it will be replaced by a analog gram/kilogram only baker's balance beam scale for the heavier ingredients, and an Ohaus Dial-O-Gram scale for the lighter ingredients..I will not have the option of weighing in ounces/pounds, and my mind will adjust to the metric system far easier than it now does when I have the option of switching between Imperial and Metric at the push of a switch..


I will still keep a set of measuring cups and measuring spoons around, but only in order to convert older recipes written with Imperial volumetric measurements to metric weight measurements..


If recipes for the internet were only written using metric liquid and weight measurements, than folks in the United States would have little choice but to think metric, purchase metric scales, wrap their heads around the metric system, and finally accept it as the easier system to use..


Multiples of 10, such as the Metric system employs, are far easier to figure out in one's head than are the fractions that are the hallmarks of the Imperial system..


Bruce

susies1955's picture
susies1955

Janknitz,


Ok out of all the replies yours helped me the most to understand the "WHY" of weighing. Now I get it and will make an attemp to at least at least "TRY" it once in a while. :o)


All but two of my bread recipe books go by volume though. 


Susie

sephiepoo's picture
sephiepoo

I just bought a digital scale a couple years ago and it's amazing the difference in consistency it has made.  Measuring cups aren't always exact, and even between the same cup size between brands can vary incredibly.  The volume of things like flour can change dramatically depending on how packed down it is, or how fluffed it is, or even if you aerate with a fork before scooping and leveling, you might still end up with an air pocket that got covered up with flour.  If you tap the cup to make all those air pockets collapse before leveling, you're just packing the flour down and changing the volume, again!


Personally, I agree completely with FancyPantalons in that it is so easy to just scoop and dump directly in your bowl, and if you've added a bit too much, it's easy enough to take it out.  It's also significantly easier to measure when you are doubling, or even changing your recipe to a different percentage, ie increase by 33% or decrease by 40%.  Baker's math uses weight (I particularly favour grams) and it'll give you a headache if you try it with volume, probably because it really just won't work.


So if measuring cups differ by brand, and you're never sure how fluffed up or packed down your ingredients are, weight is the only consistent thing.  Gravity isn't going to change on us anytime soon, hopefully.

Leesky's picture
Leesky

The 'etc' I was referring to was anything little 'ol inexperienced me might be thinking about just now.


Thanks all, this makes sense.

baltochef's picture
baltochef

For thousands of years most bakers measured their ingredients using volumetric measurements as opposed to weighing out the ingredients..There is nothing wrong with this methodology as long as the baker has a very clear understanding of the entire baking process from start to finish..In the "Olden Days", an aspiring baker would learn the process as they worked directly along side of a fully experienced baker..A mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, father, grandfather, uncle, brother, close friend of the family, or a professional baker that the young boy or girl was being apprenticed to to learn the craft of baking..By learning this way the aspiring baker learned how to adjust for, and compensate for the variables that always result from volumetric measurements..


On this forum, people recommend weighing out ingredients where ever possible because doing so simply eliminates approximately 50% of the variables that can cause a bread to fail..If one is an experienced baker, then it will be that experience that keeps a baker from making mistakes at any point in the process..


Very light ingredients are usually measured with a set of volumetric measuring spoons as most home bakers will not elect to invest in a digital, or analog, scale that will accurately, and consistently, weigh foods down to 0.01, or 1/100 of a gram..


Heavier ingredients should be weighed, especially flours, as there can be an astonishing difference in the weights between a 1-cup measurement of the same flours taken out of different bags with different lot numbers on them..Over the years, I have recorded differences that ranged from 3.25 ounces per 1-cup measuring cup of flour, to as much as 5.5 ounces per 1-cup measuring cup of flour..Depending, of course, upon the type of flour in question, how it was handled, the way in which the flour was put into the measuring cup, etc..I have easily recorded 1/2 to 1 ounce differences in measuring out, and then weighing a cup of the EXACT same flour from the round, white polyethylene Cambo storage containers that I keep most of my bulk baking ingredients in..


Even though I am a trained chef / pastry chef, I have only been weighing out ingredients for baking at home since 1997..I always figured that my restaurant experience would keep me from making major mistakes in executing a recipe when using volumetric measurements instead of weighed measurements..Thus, I have made my fair share of mistakes while baking at home..


I will state unequivocally that any baker will benifit from weighing the ingredients in their recipes..How much of a benifit will depend upon how talented, and how intuitive, the baker is in discerning the differences that ALWAYS result when measuring ingredients with measuring cups and measuring spoons..The less experienced, and less intuitive, the baker is, the greater the benifit will be realized from weighing ingredients..


Consistency, and repeatability, are the goals of any baker..Weighing out ingredients is the single most important thing that the home baker can do to insure that their baked goods will turn out the same time after time, month after month, year after year..Period..


The cost of a modern digital scale is so ridiculously inexpensive, compared to decades past, that I see no real reason for the 21st Century home baker not to use one..Weighing out ingredients simply requires approaching baking from a completely different mindset than measuring the ingredients in measuring cups..


Bruce


 

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

using Alton Brown's pretzel recipe.  It had a weight measurement for flour and I hauled out my huband's hop scale to weigh the flour in 8 oz increments (the limits of that scale).  The dough was PERFECT--I didn't have to add a drop of flour or water to adjust the consistency.  It made so much sense to have that precision.


I was given an inexpensive baker's scale for mother's day (Primo Escali--yay husband!) and I found it wonderful to use all weekend (I got it early!).  No measuring cups to wash!   Precise measurements for my baby sourdough starter and no gloppy starter on measuring spoons and cups.  I make a multi-grain bread with almost 20 ingredients, and it was so nice to just scoop from the canisters right into the Kitchen Aid bowl. 


I'm learning baker's percentages, and I wanted to add some of my sourdough starter to the multigrain bread.  It was so easy to weigh out 20 g of starter, to know it's percentage was 100%, and replace an equal amount of flour and water in the recipe.  That would have been a real PITA if I only had volume measurements available. 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I am totally convinced of the superiority of measuring ingredients by weight rather than volume. Weighing is more important with flour, but, you know, it is also important with the ingredients many still measure by volume - salt and yeast.


The size of the granules of both salt and yeast can make a major difference in how much you get per unit volume. For example, most recipes seem to assume that 5 gms of salt is one tsp in volume. However, I routinely use a sea salt with larger granules than "table salt," and 5 gms is significantly more than 1 tsp. Similarly, I use instant yeast which has larger granules than Active Dry.


Another point: An experienced cook can avoid actual measurement of ingredients when they are very experienced with the recipe they are doing. However, I would submit, even an experienced, professional would likely measure ingredients precisely when making a recipe they have never used before.


There are dishes I have cooked hundreds if not thousands of times over 40 years or more.. The precise amount of ingredients I add to them is "enough." They always turn out good, and vary insignificantly from one batch to the next.  I have made some breads a dozen times or so. I may vary the proportions of flours or the amount of water in order to intentionally try to improve the bread, but I still measure everything precisely in order to reproduce a variation I like.


David

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

I use recipes from a lot of sources, and many have volume measurements for salt.  Furthermore, the recipes just say "salt", as in "1 1/2 tsp salt".  Drives me nuts because I want to scream WHAT KIND OF SALT!!!??? 


I usually use Blue Diamond Kosher salt in baking, but if the recipe doesn't otherwise specify and gives only a volume measurement I have to assume they mean regular table salt.  A weight measurement would be SO much more useful!  So far my educated guess has been correct, but who knows when one of these days the recipe creator will really have meant coarse sea salt or something. 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Cooks Illustrated tested the various salts and concluded:



What, then, can we conclude from the results of these tests? For one, expensive sea salts are best saved for the table, where their delicate flavor and great crunch can be appreciated. Don't waste $36-a-pound sea salt by sprinkling it into a simmering stew. If you like to keep coarse salt in a ramekin next to the stove, choose a kosher salt, which costs just pennies per pound. If you measure salt by the teaspoon when cooking, use table salt, which is also the best choice for baking.



I always use kosher salt for baking and save the exotic sea salts for use ON foods and baked goods.   


My palate is just not sophisticated enough to detect whether an expensive sea salt was used in my sourdough bread, or the cheap stuff.


I think that if a special salt is required, then the recipe is going to say so.  Otherwise, you're good to go with kosher or table salt.



SulaBlue's picture
SulaBlue

Talks about the weight of various salts in either the BBA or the Whole Grains book. I think it's the BBA. There's a chart as well, I believe, which lists the volume of a certain weight of salt. You could copy that and post it on the inside of your cabinet for reference.

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Not long ago I attended a sourdough class at an artisan bakery in the area.   We were given handouts at the start of the class.  I was very surprised to see the ingredients listed by volume only.  Absolutely no idea why the baker (who had studied with Didier Rosada) did not provide both volume and weight measurements.  I have my theories, but will keep them to myself.

Two weeks later I had finished building the firm “chef” his recipe called for, but after three attempts I was unable to replicate the sourdough bread we had shaped and baked during the class (which had been premixed, bulk fermented, and divided by the baker)

Especially troublesome was the consistency of the levain made from "one-quarter cup" of the chef.   His handout claimed the levain should be “very stiff.”   Mine was like soup if I followed his volume instructions and didn't severely reduce the hydration.

I finally contacted him and asked many how grams his one-quarter cup of chef weighed.

He said 25 grams.  Mine weighed 75 grams.  

End of story

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hi folks,


The reasons for weighing or not weighing ingredients have been discussed, I think, in other threads at this site, and can probably be found by using the search feature.


Despite the fact that I scale ingredients for any dough religiously, others may demur, and that's OK.  Not everyone takes baking that seriously.  As I may have mentioned elsewhere here, I like coffee, but I need it to be easy, and I'm willing to accept a bit of inconsistency for the sake of getting that first cup in my hand quickly.  I measure with a 1/4 cup measure.  In serious coffee houses, you're supposed to weigh the coffee before brewing it and discard what's left in the pot after 30 minutes.  They're right.  I don't question that they are correct about that -- I just don't care enough about the results to take it that seriously.


But I'm passionate about bread, and I need consistent, predictable results there.  So I weigh the ingredients.  If getting as close as possible to the same quality in every loaf is important, you should scale ingredients.  If it's not imperative that you get that consistency, and you're a fan of mystery, I won't try to convert you.

ejm's picture
ejm

I alternate between weighing and using volume - depending on which recipe I'm using. Generally if it's a new recipe, I weigh the ingredients. If it's one that I've been making for years and made before I got my digital scale, I use cups and spoons. I do prefer it if the measurements are by weight (metric is preferable, then there is no guessing about whether "4 oz water" means 4 ounces or 4 fl.oz and if it is fluid ounces, whether those are imperial or US fluid ounces...).


-Elizabeth


Lindy wrote:
>Absolutely no idea why the baker (who had studied with Didier Rosada) did not
>provide both volume and weight measurements. I have my theories, but will
>keep them to myself.


<rant>I, on the other hand, can't keep my big trap shut. I realize that this not only looks like I'm doing a backflip but will make me quite unpopular as well. However, I will be so happy when people STOP using cup measures exclusively in classes, on TV, and cookbooks. I would love it if the measurements were given by weight with the cup measures in brackets (along with a note about whether the cups are US and hold 240ml or Cdn/Australian and hold 250ml). My guess is that the baker was kowtowing to those who insist that it's "hard" to weigh the ingredients. As if! It's so much easier! And there's no need to search through the dish rack to find the 1/2cup measure buried under some bowls.  And let's retire pounds, ounces, inches and feet while we're at it too (*cough* as I continue to talk about what fraction of an inch thick flatbread should be and how hot in degrees Fahrenheit the oven should be).

Which other countries, besides the U.S., do not use the metric system? Answer here: http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/internat.htm</rant>

baltochef's picture
baltochef

As I mentioned in my above post, the vast majority of home bakers do not weigh out the light ingredients in a recipe such as salt, yeast, chemical leavening agents, dried ground spices, etc..The reason is that most home digital kitchen scales only weigh down to the closest 0.1. or 1/10 of a gram..Most of these scales can be set to weigh in grams/kilograms, or ounces/pounds..When these scales are set to weigh in ounces/pounds they weigh more coarsely than when set on grams/kilograms..


To accurately weigh very light ingredients at home for the purposes of baking, the baker must invest in a second scale that usually has a maximum capacity of 2.2 pounds, or 1 kilogram; and that will weigh down to 0.01, or 1/100 of a gram..


These scales are generally aimed at weighing letters for postage, and usually have price tags that start at approximately $100.00..Weighing postage is a serious business, and requires a scale that is quite accurate; usually a bit more accurate than the average digital kitchen scale aimed at home bakers..Thus, the higher price tags..They usually come with a set of weights that allow the user to tare, and calibrate the scale; a function that most home digital kitchen scales lack..


For those people that appreciate analog tools there is really only one scale left on the market that fits the bill for weighing very light ingredients..It is the Ohaus Dial-O-Gram scale (not the Ohaus Dial-O-Grain scale)..The price for the Dial-O-Gram scale ranges from approximately $150.00 -$185.00, depending which internet site you look at..


As someone mentioned in a post discussing scales on another thread several weeks ago, reloader's scales (for measuring bullet weights and gunpowder charges), which measure in grains, can be found for very little money on the used market..Their only drawback, which is minor, is that the baker must convert grains to grams by the use of a conversion table..


Using a scale capable of accurately weighing small amounts of light ingredients takes ALL of the guesswork out of baking breads..If one is already weighing out the heavier ingredients, then the next logical step is to weigh out the lighter ingredients, especially salt..


3 grams of salt is always going to equal 3 grams of salt, regardless of what type of salt one is talking about weighing out..A teaspoon of salt, on the other hand, can vary greatly depending upon the granule size of the salt crystals..


Bruce


 


 


 

BNLeuck's picture
BNLeuck

I've noticed recently that I've lacked the patience to measure down to the letter, or rather, number. I don't use volume unless I have no choice (recipe only comes in volume), and I do prefer metric to standard (I agree with ejm here... why the bloody hell are we still using standard?!?!?!) but I find that if my 900g of flour is 902, I just don't care. My scale only goes down to 1/8oz, and there are like, 3.5g in an 1/8oz. But I've never gotten drastically different results when I barely hit 1/8oz versus nearly going over, so I don't figure 2g of flour more is going to mess with it terribly. Now, I am more careful with things like salt or yeast, where that same 2g actually makes a difference. But seriously, if it doesn't even change the baker's percentage by 1%, does it really matter? I don't think so.


Now I'm going to take my (slightly incoherant self) to go get some food. I'm starving.