The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Scales and baker's percentages, does the home/ artisanal baker really need them?

Pedro Pan's picture
Pedro Pan

Scales and baker's percentages, does the home/ artisanal baker really need them?

I've been an eyeball-it, hands in the dough, cups and teaspoon (in the case of the teaspoon, usually the cup of my left palm rather than the stainless steel 5 on a ring kind) baker to date.  After all, people have been baking for centuries without weighing everything.  Yet, with all these different recipes and techniques for breads, I can understand how baker's percentages take a lot of the hit or miss aspects out of the equation. And of course the benefit in any kind of volume or mass production is obvious. Finally, the gadget-geek in me is intrigued by those cute little stainless steel digital scales and people keep asking what I want for Christmas...

So I have 2 questions, one philosophical the other practical: 

1. the practical: Any recomendations on a good scale for the home baker?

2. the philosophical: does sticking to strict baker's percentages take the art out of baking and render it a soul-less post-industrial exercise?  

breadnerd's picture

I don't think weighing things takes the soul out of breadbaking. I've never been the "winging it" sort of baker, though I appreciate folks that are. For me, weighing ingredients seems faster and less tedious than reaching for misc. measuring cups. And, I really like how fast it is to scale recipes up and down depending on my needs--without having odd 5/8 measurements :). I have my favorite recipes in an excel spreadsheet, and I can make 1 or 5 loaves really easily.


As for scale recommendations, I have a salter scale, which works fine....BUT it broke and I received 4 defective replacements from the company before they finally sent me one that works--so I can't really recommend them! I would say go for something that has both grams and ounces (grams are really useful for small salt and yeast measurements) and that goes down to at least one gram and 1/8 ounce increments.


Oh, and as for artistry, there's still room for tweaking even with precise measurements--I adjust hydration and add water/flour to get the right feel of the dough I want, and there's always shaping and slashing to get your artistic flow going!


Pedro Pan's picture
Pedro Pan

Thanks everyone for your thoughts and ideas.  The I5000 seems to have all the necesarry functions and the engineer dude on cooking for engineers likes it (what a gas that site is!). Christopher Kimball beware, your status as the most anal "foodie' in America is in jeopardy.   As to the philosophical discussion on weighing, bread and soulful-ness, not sure that the question has been answered yet, just may be one of those unanswerable ones.

sphealey's picture

Even as a former test and measurement engineer, I had the same concern when I started weighing rather than using measuring cups. But I have found that using the scale allows me to make a lot more bread, which itself is fun, and to repeat a recipe exactly when I want to. Besides, the measuring cups are still there when I feel the desire to use them.


As far as which scale to choose, the Cooking for Engineers dude tested and recommended the MyWeigh i5000. I went back and forth a bit between the i5000 and i2500, finally deciding to go with the 5000 (5 kg capacity) so that I could use my larger mixing bowls right on the scale. It has worked out well, although without the 0.5 g precision I still measure the smaller stuff (e.g. yeast) with measuring spoons. The i5000 is one of the better tools I have ever used in my life. I don't have a full set of calibrated masses as the moment, but I have checked it with the lab masses I inherited from my father-in-law and it has been right on at 50, 100, and 500 g. In fact I am not sure if I am testing the scale or those old masses!






Darkstar's picture

Almost all digital scales have this but a Tare button is a necessity so you can zero out the scale with a mixing bowl on it. I use my tare all the time to measure in my AP, and then zero the tare, wheat flour, and zero out the tare.....


I use my KitchenAid mixer bowl on a cheap digital scale I got from Target for around $20 and can move straight from the scale to the mixer without dirtying more than the mixing bowl.


To touch on your second question I don't believe that measuring by weight takes the soul out of baking. It takes the inconsistency out of percentage of ingredients. There is plenty of inconsistency in my baking from the amount of time my poolish sits and whether it is in the refrigerator, on the counter, or kitchen table. Plenty of variables to consider!


Floydm's picture

Yeah, I agree that tare is critical. That and metric/imperial conversion.

I agree with the others that scaling doesn't make baking soulless. It improves consistency and make measuring ingredients quicker.

qahtan's picture


 I make all the bread we eat, and have done so for many years, I never weigh any thing, and it comes out well.

 Today I made white bread, I had a cup of milk that I had had a few days, put that into the DLX bowl, added 1 1/2 cups starter, 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 4 cups flour dip and scoop, mixed that well and let it rest about 15 minutes.

 Then added about 1/4 cup soft butter, several more cups flour until the dough was no longer sticky, added 1 1/2 teaspoons salt mixed with the dough hook and scraper  about 6 minutes..... and so on, this gave me  4 loaves at 1 1/4 pound each and one large bun. qahtan  


titus's picture

Also, what kind of flour do you mostly use? white, whole wheat?

Here's something from BBA with some sample weights

Whole-wheat flour - 1 cup = 4.5 ounces
Coarse whole-wheat flour - 1 cup = 4.25 ounces
Coarse cornmeal - 1 cup = 6 ounces
Rolled oats - 1 cup = 4 ounces
Table salt - 1 teaspoon = .25 ounces
Kosher salt - 1 3/4 teasoons = .25 ounces
Sea salt - 1 1/2 teaspoons = .25 ounces
Instant yeast - 2 1/4 teaspoons = .25 ounces (may be packaged as rapid-rise or fast-rising)
Active dry yeast - 2 1/2 teaspoons = .25 ounces
Granulated sugar, Baking powder, Baking soda - 2 tablespoons = 1 ounce, 1 cup = 7 ounces
Oil, Butter, Shortening, Milk, Water - 1 cup = 8 ounces
Eggs - 1 large egg = 1.65 ounces (without shell)

titus's picture

Posted on the wrong thread!

Should know better than to try this with a 3 day migraine!

andrew_l's picture

many thanks fro the info. Hope the migraine is better now.....

gary.turner's picture

I certainly find the scale easier to use than dry measures.  Faster, too.  I bought my scale about a year and a half ago and haven't looked back.  This thread reminded me to write a critique on Amazon for the OXO digital scale.

The sooner you start weighing things out, the sooner you'll wonder why it took so long to start.



MichaelH's picture

I have no idea what a "soul-less post-industrial exercise" is, and I doubt you do either.

Assume that you need to take a prescription medication; would you prefer that the pharmecutical company combine the ingredients using a scale, or just kind of "wing it"?


Chuck's picture

 the author

Chuck's picture

Just my own experience, which may or may not be similar to others.

Pretty much _every_ brand of scale has a "low end" or "really cheap" model. It will appear to work, but will either give wildly unreproducible measures or break in a few months (or both).

My suggestion is no matter what brand you choose, find out their complete model lineup and get at least the _second_ from the bottom model (not the lowest one).

MmeZeeZee's picture

I, too, was wary of the scale.  But then I remembered that many home bakers throughout the centuries made the same bread over and over and over.  THeir hands were their scales because they always did the same thing.  My mother-in-law has four breads, possibly five, that she's made for fifty years.  She makes one regularly, two semi-regularly, and one rarely.

She doesn't really need a scale.  But for those of us learning, they are essential.  As Lepard points out in the Handmade Loaf, they are the best way to convert from handfuls into universal measures, since other people's hands are different sizes and handle the dough in different ways.

That helped me think of the scale as a translation tool, as much as a measurement tool.

"I have no idea what a "soul-less post-industrial exercise" is, and I doubt you do either."

I guess you haven't worked at Starbucks, have you?  I have.  I think everyone nowadays should try to understand what it means to subject people to soulless post-industrial exercises.  A year of work at Starbucks, a brief read of Weil's L'enracinement, and oh, I dunno, three days of trying to get a mobile phone cancelled due to the death of the subscriber (for a really soulless post-industrial exercise, try doing the cable and the mobile phone AT THE SAME TIME), should pretty much do it for you.

I highly recommend it.  It's really added another layer of depth to my life.

Assume that you need to take a prescription medication; would you prefer that the pharmecutical company combine the ingredients using a scale, or just kind of "wing it"?

I would rather never compare bread to prescription medication.  I'm grateful for modern medicine, but since I use it only in emergencies (for me, a single shot after the birth of my kids, and nothing besides that for the last fifteen years), I can't really fathom applying this comparison.  After all, I want to be pleasantly surprised by my bread.

I don't want any surprises whatsoever with my medication.

Frequent Flyer's picture
Frequent Flyer

....scales really speed things up.  I dump several cup-volumes of flour into a bowl directly out of the flour bag until the correct weight is reach.  Turn the scale off and then back on and the reading is tared at zero again and more ingredients can be added. 


bnom's picture

I had the same reluctance you had with weighing (or even measuing) ingredients for bread. But it does offer some significant advantages. In addition to the ones mentioned above, it helps you control the variables so if something's going amiss with your bread, at least you know it's not because of discrepencies in the amount of flour used. 

That said, yesterday I just couldn't be bothered with baking bread on any recommended terms or timelines other than my own...and I've got some very promising loaves in the oven now. That said, if I wanted to replicate this particular batch of bread, I'd have to wing it all over again.

rossnroller's picture

..not detract from them! Since I have been baking bread (over a year now), I have made over 40 different breads, none of which I would have been able to attempt without some way of measuring ingredients and therefore duplicating formulae. Needless to say I have learnt a hell of a lot in trying all these breads, as well as repeating my favourite ones many times.

Now that I feel I have a good handle on processes and techniques that work, I have graduated to using bakers percentages to try new formulae of my own making. Not possible without scales!

ANY artisan bread baking is, by definition, the antithesis of a "soul-less post-industrial exercise" - and many, if not the vast majority, of artisan bakers, whether pro or amateur, weigh their ingredients to ensure consistency and repeatablility of their breads. As anyone who has some experience in artisan baking will know, there are far more variables at play in turning out quality bread than merely getting the formulae right by measuring ingredient quantities. That's just the jumping off point.

The creativity is in the process and the multiple variables involved - many of which are ever-changing (eg: ambient temperature and its effect on proofing times; flour quality; oven idiosyncracies; the effect of steaming; shaping techniques; scoring...and so the list goes on). Intuition, too, has a vital role in accommodating these variables. The notion that throwing a few ingredients together to turn out a good loaf of bread without using scales is somehow 'creative' and 'soulful' whereas using scales is clinical and 'industrialised' indicates a lack of understanding of the process of artisan bread baking and the many factors that determine the quality of the end product.