The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hello. This is the 2013

Jezella's picture

Hello. This is the 2013

Hello all and in particular America. I shall no doubt upset a few here but comments on this subject would be most interesting and in particular considering that in the twenty-first century we do have electricity and batteries and for a very small amount of money, a scale can be purchased. A scale is accurate and leaves nobody in doubt as to the quantities required be it ounces or metric. So the question here is why do so many people in the business of food formulas (in America) insist on displaying ingredients is something so variable as a cup. The bottom diameter can be different to the top and marking the height into eights or tens is ridiculous. Add to that, compaction and it gets worse. Same with spoons.

Further, in the case of those that write recipe books that are supposed to sell to the international market makes the situation even more farcical and almost leave me with the feeling, stuff every one else, do as we do. Personally, I would never purchase a book that was written without a SENSIBLE weights and measurement system. That's it, off my chest. Still love TFL.  

LindyD's picture

No idea why some are so opposed to change, Jezella.   Not only does scaling ingredients provide accuracy and consistency, but it's much more economical in terms of time and clean-up.

Do you think if scaling was labeled as a "green" practice and issued carbon credits (am jesting), the recipe writers/bloggers/publishers etc. would get up to speed? 

My personal solution is just to pass by anything written with volume measurements.  

Jezella's picture

What got me started here was looking at creating a sourdough and I'm was being subjected to cups. Cups means so little to so many. I'm sure that all would benefit from the use of weights as all have to admit, is accurate.

Jezella's picture

I can't see how clean-up is easier. On a scale I have my bowl and measure the weight as content is added so have no reason to clean a separate measuring device.

Our Crumb's picture
Our Crumb

required be it ounces or metric

pmccool's picture

Or tradition.  Or "We've always done it that way".  Try to convince a European to switch from metric units to English units and you will begin to comprehend how difficult it is to convince an American to switch from volume to weight measurements for cooking.  Sensibility is in the eye of the beholder, it seems.  And keep in mind that this is coming from an American who has learned to prefer weighing ingredients.

By the way, I see a number of recipes and cook books from across the pond that rely on volume measurements.  They may be metric (dl, etc.) but they are still volume units.  Just saying.


Jezella's picture

I understand what you are saying and to a great extent cup measurements can be no problem. Having said this, in the case of flour, how compacted is it when measured and then there is the measure of water. Just a slight difference here caused hydration levels to vary. If all is weighed, surely between one loaf and next, results will be more consistent and if you feel that the loaf was a bit dry, add 2% and try again. I have 2 Pyrex measuring jugs with fluid grams and ounce markings on them. Same manufacturer. If I compare the weights against each, they vary. So even with marking it is inaccurate between the two same manufactures. This said, what hope is there between one cup and the next.

I'm in my fifties and in the UK and whilst at school we started to change from pound, shilling and pence. Counting from that point on became much easier. Same with changing from pound and ounces to metric. Less confusion. The metric system is an international decimalised system of measurement that was originally based on the mètre des archives and the kilogramme des archives introduced by France in 1799. Give the fact that this is international (supposed to be) and over two hundred years have passed, why the delay in change for cook books. 

PaddyL's picture

And I live in Canada where it's all supposed to be metric.  Mind you, the metric markings are on all the measuring cups and spoons so I guess you could say I measure metrically.  But I never weigh anything, unless it's from a British or Irish cookbook that calls for ounces.  I make super bread and scones, pies, cakes, cookies, you name it and with bread, I seldome measure anything except the salt; I go by the feel and my memory.  I also do not criticize anyone who uses a different method.  Chacun a son gout, as we say in Quebec.

dabrownman's picture

aren't opposed to change at all - just see things differently - like me.  I didn't have a scale or instant read thermometer for 59 years.  I find both nearly indispensable now but know I'm probably more stupid for having them too.  Some technologies makes people stupid but that is for another day.  Even at $35 to $45 for the pair, there was a time when I couldn't afford them and never would have thought of buying them with much more pressing financial needs at hand.

Even though the vast majority of recipes on TFL are in weights and easy as pie to find, some of the really good and older ones are not - like kjknits recipe for KC Wofferman like EM's which comes to my mind.  Some folks just aren't as sophisticated as others and don't need or want to be either.  It also isn't so difficult to convert cup recipes to weights or vice versa.  I have to adjust the liquids in both weight and volume recipes nearly every time.   Everyone's flour is different and the time of year also plays a role. so the water changes no matter how exactly or inexactly you got the flour in the bowl. 

I know some pretty fine bakers that don't weigh or measure anything - they go by feel.   Try getting a recipe out of them, especially when they are dead today and nearly blind in life like my Granny Geraldine :-)  Better to go by feel when it comes to hydration - so much for the oft quoted importance of anal accuracy that is supposedly required for baking recipes :-)  Once you convert from one to the other a few times you know how much a cup of water and flour weigh and quickly put them in memory (or the other way around) and you use this stored knowledge enough not to forget it- regardless of what year it is.

Using volumes are certainly as fast and just as efficient as weights and at least $30 cheaper for the home baker.  I don't get the fuss over it and use both, sometimes in the same recipe to make bread all the time.  Pick the one you like and use it to bake bread - no worries - or use both like me.    Neither will make your bread baking any better or rewarding than the other unless you are a commercial baker making huge batches of dough - then weight is the only way to go if you don't want to be measuring out 429 cups of flour and 3o2 C of water :-)  Some say it is easier to help others out with their recipe problems if the recipe they are using is in weights.  I find this to be the same issue and can covert to be close enough to help if I want to.

TFL prides itself on being tolerant, empathetic, inclusive and forgiving when it comes to all things bread - works well in life too I'm guessing.   I'm thinking cups or weights shouldn't make a difference to the non professional baker.  It's no big deal.  I personally appreciate those bakers who publish their recipes in both weights and volumes - even though I don't do so.   Better to celebrate what bakers have in common rather than worrying about what our minor and inconsequential differences might be.

Sure wish I had a low tech WFO to put my exacly measured bread into though :-)

gmabaking's picture

is just easier for me to use. Halving a recipe that calls for 1 and 1/8 cups of something is much easier to divide by weight. On the other hand if I'm visulizing what size of container I need, or how much rice flour I need to buy, I revert right back to cups and spoons. I resisted using the scale until I found recipe after recipe here on TFL that was only given in weights and I am too slow witted to convert from one to the other. Surely in a world as big as ours, there is room for whatever one chooses.

Speaking of low tech, I heard that those WFO's don't even have oven lights or thermostats! This afternoon I had olive bread bulk fermenting on the counter, found that I needed to make a trip to town for rice flour and simply set the bucket into the foot of snow on the picnic table on my to the car so it would slow down a bit. Don't think the big guys in the bakery could get away with that-

Here's to the tolerant, empathetic, inclusive and forgiving TFLovians in the New Year!

Colin2's picture

Speaking as a non-professional baker of some 35 years, (metric) weights and books that provide those measures, along with precise temperatures for proofing, have made my baking *much* better and more rewarding.  It has let me reproduce new recipes much more precisely in order to understand them, and helped me keep better track of pre-ferments and more complex processes.  

Plus scaling gets a lot easier - with either metric weights or a baker's percentage table, I can scale up or down in my head if I want to make 2/3 of a recipe.

You're right that you still need some feel to correct hydration.  But the fact that it's *possible* to make lots of stuff by feel is beside the point.  The OP is about communicating what we do.

Jezella's picture

I honestly have no objection to what anyone may use to measure their ingredients be it cups, buckets, spoons or a dented beer can. I can also see that all will have their preferred methods. My gripe is that when we are sharing recipes, the difference between one and the next can be vast based on how it is interpreted and therefore, the resulting bread, in this case, differing between one person and the next. I know that there are other variable too. Now, don't get me wrong in thinking I'm ungrateful to people that are kind enough to share their formulas, that is far from the case. Having said this, it becomes frustrating trying to determine what the formula REALLY calls for in the way of weights and measures. This said, I truly feel that book authors need to get their act together and be consistent across continents and I'm sure that in doing so, more people would be happy to purchase and given consistency from the outset, the would be purchaser would know in advance, that they were able to read quantities with ease. The Cup unit is different in USA, Europe and Japan. Weights remain the same.   

Juergen's picture

My problem is that many of the great bread books are originally written for the US or UK market, thus they rely on Imperial Units or Customary Units. Since I live in the Netherlands, I'm only familiar with the Metric system, at times this is pretty frustrating. One solution would be to at least include a conversion table in those books. 

Jezella's picture

I also think it would be a courtesy to the reader.

Donkey_hot's picture

Perhaps you could very easily use online metric converter tool...  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

there are always considerations to take into account.

What language is the cookbook?
For whom is the book intended? (most important)
Where does the author originate? (What kind of measurements are used there? Where is the country located? )
What are the customs of that country that tend to influence the recipe?
Is the book a translation and where was that done? (reflects on the units of measurement in the translating country also foods available and cultural taste come to play.)
Is a "standard" mentioned in the book? Most times it is, look for it.

Be aware that cups like countries vary. Keep notes in your cookbooks or tab note the important book standards, made by the author. Read or skim those notes before paging thru the book. A mind-set sort of thing. A lot can be found in the book cover or author's notes. I love sticky removable index tabs and one or two sticky notes.

The world has gotten smaller with the internet consequently more variety of books are available. Not all books are aimed at the same type of reader. The world is also a big place so... each person has to make more decisions about what they are looking for in a cookbook and who is the intended reader. It would be magic if you pull a book off a store shelf and it meets all desired requirements. We also tend to outgrow books. Or find gems, the ones that continue to sparkle, enlighten and inspire us. That's the point of reading and gaining knowledge.

Take the time to find what you like and enjoy the variety.

By the way, Chileans like cups too!

EvaB's picture

I grew up using cups, and spoons, but not the standard measuring cups and spoons, my mother only had one set of measuring spoons, and they were used for strictly certain items. They were a give away gift from Watkins, as a thank you for allowing the Watkins person to show you his/hers goods, and for buying something like their spices. My mother always used a tea cup from the oatmeal company ( it came in the box of oatmeal) and she had two large what she called tablespoons, one made of what she called German Silver (I think it was pewter) and another that had come from the US Army kitchens during the second World War, have no idea how it became "liberated" or how she got it, but it was larger than most desert spoons, the big one actually would have held about 2.5-3 tablespoons. She rolled out things with an empty whiskey bottle usually onto a piece of waxed freezer wrap, which got folded back up and put into the flour bin.

We were extremely poor and she was one of the cooks that did it by look and feel. I never could cook like that, and bought measuring cups (and lots of them) and spoons, I now have a scale, and still find that things don't always turn out even when I follow the recipe exactly, I have to watch the hydration levels a lot more, as my house if kept at 65% or less humidity (I can't breathe if it gets too high) and my flour is drier so requires a bit more water.

The whole thing is that a recipe by my mother might be in cups and spoons, but if you don't know which spoon, you can be off, if you are thinking an 8 ounce cup, then you might be off as well. You just have to go by how it looks feels and acts.

As to why do people not convert when doing a cook book, part of that is the fault of the publisher who doesn't realize that there are people out there who use different measures (after all unless he cooks or bakes, he doesn't know, but ask him about printing measures, and publishing values and he would know or should the differences in all sorts of countries.) and the agent who is in charge of the cooking book writer, for not suggesting that it be made more user friendly for those of us who like the metric measures or even ounce measures etc.