The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Rant: Cookbooks and conversion of formulae

PastryPaul's picture

Rant: Cookbooks and conversion of formulae

This is the time of year when I adjust, test, convert and create reicpes and formuale. I have no doubt that many cookbook authors lurk these pages, and this rant is, respectfully aimed at you or your publishers, or both.

We all know that scaling ingredients is the way to go, yet most books, and internet recipes etc. insist on providing volume measurements. Some might say this is old... The topic of weight of flour has been discussed ad nauseum here and many other places. Knowing what a cup of flour SHOULD weigh in no way helps in converting recipes.

When an author writes up his/her recipe he/she is trying to get a quantity across. Saying "1 cup" is meaningless. US cups are 237ml, UK Imperial cups are 285, and Australian cups are 250. To further complicate the issue, some authors say to scoop, some spoon and level, yet others advocate fluff, spoon and level. If I know that my AP's true weight is 123g per US cup, it does not help me when I have no idea what you, the author, intended the conversion to be. points out what they assume a cup of flour and a cup of water are. I appreciate the effort, Jeff and Zoe.

I am very perplexed since I assume every single formula and recipe started out weight-based and was converted to volume in an effort to reach mainsteam home-based cooks. If I may make a suggestion, stop insulting your readers' intelligence and stop dumbing down recipes. At the very least, put a note in the book of what you mean by "a cup." There's nothing worse for an author's reputation than having recipes that don't work out. True, the recipe's failure is probably due to faulty measurement on the reader side, but they will blame you.

Here's another idea... one that your publishers might love... Build a companion web site where you can actually sell scales to your readers!

Zoe and Jeff use 140g per cup, many others use 150g per cup. Maybe you guys can just post here what you mean by "cup" of flour etc.

End of rant


holds99's picture

In my opinion, any baker who is serious about producing consistent results must scale the ingredients.  It's all about baker's percentages translated into weight---not volume measurements.  Scaling allows a baker to bake one or a thousand loaves with a high degree of consistency.


PastryPaul's picture

I appreciate your comment, Howard, but the point I think many authors are missing is that the actual success of their recipes is in jeopardy.

Let's look at the basic Boule dough recipe from ABin5 (Jeff and Zoe, if you are reading this, I am not using you as an example as a slight of any kind... In fact, you "guys" are exempt from my rant since you state what the term "cup" means. Besides, I've not only recommend your books, I've also bought them for myself, and pretty much all my family -- Not my customers though, I ain't that dumb)

  • 3 cups Lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tbs dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tbs Kosher Salt
  • 6 1/2 Cups AP

Because Jeff and Zoe state that a cup of water is meant to be 225g and a cup of flour is meant as 140g, we get:

  • 675g Lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tbs dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tbs Kosher Salt
  • 910g AP

But, if we just use actual weight (OK, mass):

  • 711g Lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tbs dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tbs Kosher Salt
  • 800g AP

This is not at all the same dough. C'mon authors, do like Jeff and Zoe and tell us what you mean.





proth5's picture

an interesting chat with someone who had spent her culinary school externship working in a test kitchen.  After being steeped in the "always weigh the ingredients" culture and the "best local ingredients" movement - she found it fascinating to deal with how the rest of America really cooks.

Most home cooks love their little volumetric measuring cups (and there are folks who choose cooking tooks not for their usefullness, but how they fit in with their decor...) so writing in these measures is only logical to reach a mass audience.  You and I may know and love the ratios and weights, but it isn't the way for most people.  It really isn't. Why, I'm not sure, but it will take a big change in how a whole lot of people think. And publishing a cookbook geared to a USA audience and writing it in grams (because, believe it or not, the vast majority of folks here use pounds and ounces on daily basis) will further alienate a buying public.

Personally, I just don't buy those cookbooks anymore and for my "heritage" recipes, I do the conversions based on my actual measurements, so I can adjust from there.

Of course, our conversation then devolved into discussing the fact that American cooks are still using canned cream soups and Velveeta - which lead to a suggestion from a world famous baker that pastries laminated with the orange stuff would be an interesting experiment.  :>)

Rant received - point understood. Other side also seen.


G-man's picture

Not converting volumes to weights, but converting the mind of a person who measures by volume to the mindset of one who measures by weight.

I speak in weights when I feel that accuracy matters and if I see a recipe measured in volume I generally avoid it. I make sausage and bacon and such, and whenever I've relied on a volumetric measurement in a recipe I didn't create I've ended up dissatisfied with the product.

I think that if people who are generally seen as producing consistent quality start insisting on weights and refusing to compromise with volume, the general attitude may begin to change. Food scales are cheap and the value is truly huge.

proth5's picture

so much with what you say.

When I was growing up (and dinosaurs roamed the Earth) any kind of scale that measured small quantities with any kind of accuracy was mechanical and quite expensive.  They were difficult for home bakers to obtain. Cups and spoons were not.  We actually practiced measuring and to this day, I can measure several cups of flour and they weigh pretty much the same each time.

In this day and age with inexpensive digital scales, I personally like to weigh ingredients, but old habits die hard. I don't know why folks feel more comfortable with cups and spoons, but many still do (per the cited discussion).  Scales and baker's percents seem scary - too hard - too professional.  A lot of home cooks don't worry about consistency - they just want to get the thing made today.

Unfortunately, cook book writers must often write fro the world that is, not the world as they want it and I can understand why they do what they do.


PastryPaul's picture

I quite realize that volume measures are the norm in home kitchens and that writing to the larger population is only good business. My point is not that volume measurements should be abolished. It is that weight measurement should also be included.

They don't even have to be included in every recipe, although that would be ideal, even a simple table placed after the preface listing something like Ingredient, Volume measure, Weight by ounce, Mass by gram. How much can 1 more page cost?

I credit the Food Network and cooking shows on TLC with raising the bar on what the general public has come to expect. Foodies are found in every walk of life and their standards are rising every day. Their bar is set high. A recipe has one shot to work out right or the whole book, and any subsequent ones, will likely be re-gifted. It would be a shame if a recipe failed due to ambiguity in measurement.

Regarding pastries laminated with that orange stuff... Hmmmmm, sounds like a fun experiment. I think I'll give it a go.


EvaB's picture

(most people seem to be math phobic, myself included) but the fact that mom or grandma didn't weigh things. Its a connection to the past as well as a scary thing to try and weigh things. But for me its not just the math, or the connection, that has actually turned me to using a scale its the fact that I like the recipe to turn out each time! When I use the cups its close but not always the same consistancy and have to add water or maybe flour (that's rare but it does happen) when I weigh things its easier to get it the same each time. But I still have that other problem, cups are faster and if my hands are mucky getting the scale gunked up bothers me.

Another reason to weigh is the fact that my house is dry, I like it that way, so the flour is dry (lives in a dry house its dry) so measuring in a cup makes a difference to the flour, because dry flour is less puffed up, so fills the cup differently, so when you measure the cup you tend to get more flour than the more humid home might, so then you wind up with a drier dough and that doesn't react the way the recipe says it should. I've proved that more than once doing my bicuit dough, which is simple, flour, baking powder, salt shortening and water, but depending on the weather the flour measures up different and I wind up having to add more water than the 7/8 cup to get rollable dough. That is a simple recipe, but cakes are a different kettle of fish so to speak, you can't add water to get the right consistancy without throwing off the rest of the recipe, and so on! So the biscuits still get made with the cups (its just plain faster) and those other recipes get the scale. And yes it does make a big difference to the bread, my bread will actually raise better when its been weighted out, over the cups method I used to use. Don't know why exactly but it does, now to get spectacular bread (mine is better than the bread of old but still needs improving) I really need to get a proofer! There is really no place in my house that is warm enough to really raise dough, and using makeshift things like microwaves is a pain in the posterior. I want a really good proofer, so that is on the list!