The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Measurements - Fluid Vs. Weight

Newfie's picture
Newfie

Measurements - Fluid Vs. Weight

Please forgive me if this has been addressed already somewhere. I looked but may have missed something.

One of the things I found confusing when I started with baking was measuring flour. It started with: a cup of flour vs. a sifted cup of flour vs. a cup of flour sifted. Technically, at least 2 maybe 3 different measurements. I asked a chef instructor at a local college what he uses, and it was him that told me the British especially laugh at us North Americans because we use fluid measuring tools to measure dry ingredients. So, since I've learned to convert fluid quantities to weight things are better and more consistent. 

However, some sites still refer to a cup of AP flour as 125 Gms and a cup of WW flour as also 125 Gms. Now I hardly thing the same true volume of each weighs the same. My mother-in-law, who's been baking bread for over 60 years and laughs at me when I weight flour, doesn't measure anything, she goes by feel only. Well, that's fine for someone with that much experience, but for a Noob, it isn't a good plan.

So, what do ""YOU"" use to measure flour?

Thanks.

Jamie

Ford's picture
Ford

I find it is easier to use weight measurements and weighing is both more accurate and more precise.

I take a cup of sifted flour as weighing 4.25 oz. Avoirdupois or 120 g.  As for whole wheat flour, it depends on the miller. King Arthur whole wheat has about the same bulk density as all purpose or bread flour.  Coarser grinds are more dense.  And yes, I stop adding flour to my bread dough when it feels right!

Ford

Floydm's picture
Floydm

If you want precision, pick up a cheapo kitchen scale and always use weights.  From bag-to-bag there can still be fluctuations in the moisture or the protein content of the grains, particularly if you are using grains from smaller mills, but you'll get much closer matches from batch-to-batch using weights that measures.

BobBoule's picture
BobBoule

and even gave up on trying to learn how to bake. It wasn't until I was watching an episode of Good Eats with Alton Brown that I finally understood the problem, flours settles and each cup of flour weigh a different amount. At first I thought that it was ridiculously simple, after all my mom and grandmother used cups and they always made masterpieces but I set my pride aside, purchased a digital scale on sale and produced my first load of bread that was actually edible and did not bring me any shame. For me I will never ever use anything bit a scale for my baking, its actually now easier for me to weigh my ingredients and I now produce very consistent, edible results.

drogon's picture
drogon

Well, since you said it first, "lol", I guess ;-)

I use weights for everything - including water. Milk too, although milks slightly lighter than water but by such a small fraction it's not important. Oil is a bit of an issue, but my crude calculations put cooking oils on average at 13g per (15ml) tablespoon or millilitres times 0.87 to get grams ... (or just convert ml to g to be lazy - it's not that critical for small volumes!)

I think the Australians use cups too - or used to - I have an old Australian cook book and it uses cups.

I can see why it's convenient though, but the engineer in me just can't get round to using a volume measurement for something that's so variable/compressible. (and what is a "scant cup" all about???)

I used to think it was cool to just guess weights - put in what I felt was a good amount of flour for a loaf, add the other stuff then water - and for the most part it was just fine - but not always consistent, and that's what I'm after now (as I sell some of my bread), so for me, it's weights all the way now. (and ounces doesn't really bother me - I was brought up with both imperial and metric units all round although I tend to convert ounce recipes to grams if I'm writing them down or changing them)

One big advantage you'll find moving to using weights is the use of bakers percentages. Makes it trivial to scale up or down a recipe - also gives you a good start when trying your own mixes. e.g. one day you only have 450g of flour when your basic recipe calls for 600g - no problems if you have the percentages - say it's a basic 60% water, 2% yeast, 1.5% salt - then you need 270g water, 9g yeast, 7g salt and off you go...

-Gordon

Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

If you are a Costco member they have a very reasonably priced scale just now.  I, in fact, did not begin weighting with bread.  I bake a lot from JoyofBaking and Stephanie always uses grams.  I wouldn't bake any other way now.

I am in Canada also - MB.

Newfie's picture
Newfie

Thank you for the responses so far.

OK, I do have a decent kitchen scale because I'm quite anal about my coffee, and use it a lot when troubleshooting Espresso shots, or trying a new blend in my Syphon, etc. Matter of fact, it was shortly after I bought the scale that I had my first real success with Irish Soda Bread.

Brings up a question for Ford though, how big a variance can you find in different WW flours? I use 125 gms / cup pf AP and you said 120 gms, well 5 gms isn't much and can be taken care of with a little fluid or flour, depending on which way it's out. Problem is, I've seen references to AP weighing as little as 100 gms / cup which would throw off a recipe by quite a bit.

Now, ratios, I've seen some references here to that way of using / creating recipes, that's pretty cool, and would drive Wifey and her mother nuts when they see me weighing milk, water, butter, etc, he he he.

Again, thanks for the posts so far.

Jamie

pmccool's picture
pmccool

There seems to be an inherent assumption in your questions, Jamie.  That is, a standard volume of flour has a standard weight.  Sadly, that isn't so. 

Here in the U.S., if one looks at the panel of nutritional information on a bag of flour, one finds that the manufacturers have settled on a weight of 120g per cup, at least for most wheat flours.  I haven't paid close enough attention to other types of flour to know if that holds true for rye, or oat, or barley flours, etc.  Some cookbook authors will note that they base their recipes on weights ranging anywhere from 110 to 140 grams per cup.  On-line volume-to-weight conversion calculators have a similar range of values.

When one looks at individual users, the range widens considerably.  I've seen people handle the flour in such a way that their cups weigh anywhere from 100 to 180 grams per cup.  Personally, I use the fluff/spoon/level technique and see results that are consistently between 125 and 130 grams per cup.

Because of these inconsistencies, I strongly recommend to my baking students that they measure everything possible by weight.  I've even taken to using only scales in classes just to reinforce the point.  If a recipe calls for 800g of flour, I know that I can match that amount precisely using a scale.  If the recipe calls for 6-7 cups of flour, I'm never sure how closely I come to the author's intent when I measure by cups.  In one memorable instance, I made a batch of cinnamon rolls from someone's beloved Auntie's recipe and quicly realized that Auntie used a scoop-and-level approach to measuring flour, because I had to put about 3 cups more flour in than the recipe called for to get a manageable dough.

Since volume measurements are so fraught with inconsistency (notice I haven't even gotten into just how inaccurate some measuring cups are for volumes, too), I am now firmly in the measure by weight camp. 

Paul

Ingrid G's picture
Ingrid G

but our cups are metric - 1 cup = 250ml.

I am an avid baker of all sorts and used to battle with this USA/UK cups thing for a long time. It is a nightmare for people how are used to metric weights (so easy!). I used to look at conversion sites. Gave up and bought myself a set of American cup & spoon measurements. If I like the look of a recipe, I measure using the original cups and then weigh the ingredient at once on my trusted scale. These weights are noted on my printed out recipes and then changed for my files accordingly.

If only everybody would work in metric! I'm sure a lot of frustration and failures would be avoided. All professional bakers in the world use metric.

Now, let's not even mention temperature! I have a link on my browser toolbar so I can convert ºF into ºC. Here it is: http://www.metric-conversions.org/temperature/fahrenheit-to-celsius.htm

rsneha's picture
rsneha

Thanks also check this fahrenheit to celsius converter.

Newfie's picture
Newfie

Yes Ingrid, but the issue is flour is compacted so easily. Salt or sugar won't be an issue, but flours can be an issue, agreed?

Arjon's picture
Arjon

doesn't granule size affect the weight per unit of volume? 

Ingrid G's picture
Ingrid G

to show how to scoop flour correctly. Never compact it further by compressing the flour in the scoop (scrap up the sides for example).

This site shows on several screens what not to do, and how to do it correctly: http://busycooks.about.com/od/stepbystep/ss/howtomeasuflour.htm

 

Ingrid G's picture
Ingrid G

If the recipe mentions sugar, for example, it does not matter. 50g of fine sugar (what we call caster sugar) and 50g of confectionary sugar (icing sugar here) weigh the same, even if the volume is different.

Same the other way around - 1 US cup sugar weighs whatever the metric scale says.

I have never had a problem with results for cakes, biscuits, breads or other sweet and savoury recipes.

Be brave and get a good metric scale. It's an investment for life.

Arjon's picture
Arjon

I've had a digital scale since shortly after they were first available, so you're preaching to the converted.  

I think the issue is that if a recipe calls for a cup of sugar, the weight of a cup of different brands can differ if they have different size granules. So two bakers who happen to buy those different brands are baking slightly different recipes. 

doughooker's picture
doughooker

I enthusiastically use measuring cups for flour. I use the same brand of flour all the time and I get wonderfully consistent results every time. I also know how much that cup of flour weighs in grams for calculating BP and hydration. I measure salt in teaspoons, too.

In her show on French bread, Julia Child measured flour in cups and salt in teaspoons, so if it was good enough for Julia Child, my mother, grandmother and several aunts, it's good enough for me. As I say, I achieve remarkably consistent results every time so there is no reason to abandon the practice.

Wet ingredients are a different story. I always weigh water and liquid starter. It's actually quite convenient. If I have a mixer bowl with flour and salt in it, I just put the bowl on the scale and tare it. I can then read the weight of the liquid ingredient directly off the scale as I add it. Very easy.

Here is more than you ever wanted to know about cups: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cup_%28unit%29

Truth Serum's picture
Truth Serum

Excellent question. My scale is a recent acquisition, but I must confess I do love it ! I feel a bit like a mad scientist! When I am trying out a new recipe or if the recipe is in grams, then I will weigh my ingredients,  but if it is  something that I have been baking for years and it is less fussy I use measuring cups.

mini_maggie's picture
mini_maggie

I have a scale but honesly rarely use it except for recipes I get (mainly off here) that are given in weight.  If the recipe I'm following is given in cups, I use cups rather than trying to convert.  Always lifted from the flour bag with a scoop, sprinkled from the scoop into the cup until heaping and then levelled with a straight edge.  No shaking to settle or compacting.  Sometimes a little adjustment of final flour depending on feel of the dough, time of year and humidity, but once you figure out how much to tweak for a given recipe I find the cups measured in this consistent way are pretty consistent in outcome. 

She who laughs at the chef doesn't get to enjoy the spoils ;-)

Brokeback Cowboy's picture
Brokeback Cowboy

Cups are for monkeys. Weight is the only form of measurement for bakers.

Brokeback Cowboy's picture
Brokeback Cowboy

Volume is loaded with inconsistencies. Sifted flour will always be of a higher volume. High protein vs. low will have significantly different measures as well. Unit cups are used mainly in North America which although practical are not worth are not suitable for a meticulous affair such as baking. Scale weight is the only way to go with metric being the most precise form of measure. Invest in a scale as you can pick one up for less than 20$ from Walmart and Canadian Tire.

Joyofgluten's picture
Joyofgluten

cups are for coffee

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and should be big enough for seconds or nice enough to fill it twice.  :)

a_warming_trend's picture
a_warming_trend

Using weight/metric changed the entire game for me. It is actually so much easier to experiment around the baseline precision of baker's percentages. I almost never use recipes, but I stole batteries from other important household appliances when the AAAs ran out on my kitchen scale. Best $20 I've ever spent. 

doughooker's picture
doughooker

I've seen 120 g and 125 g given as the weight of 1 cup of AP flour. King Arthur gives 120 g. Some on-line converters use 125 g.

I have a scale which I have checked using 20 U.S. nickels (1 nickel = 5 grams) and it is accurate. I also have a 240 ml US legal cup measure which holds 240 grams of water on the above-mentioned scale.

I just measured 1 cup of AP flour using the no-pack scoop-into-cup method. It weighed 121.5 grams, so I'm going with the King Arthur figure of 120 grams. There will be differences in weight depending on the properties of the flour being measured, but 120 grams is good enough for me. That's a 1.25% error. If you need better than 1.25% accuracy then by all means you should be weighing.

David R's picture
David R

...ever wanted to use a different kind of flour? (Different number of grams per cup.)

 

What if you needed yeast, or salt?

 

If you promise to use only one brand and type of flour for the rest of your life, and to never use salt or yeast, AND you promise never to discuss your recipes with anyone, then you're OK to measure your bread recipes in cups. 😁

doughooker's picture
doughooker

My mother, grandmother, four Italian aunts and several generations of cooks before them made wonderful baked goods and none of them owned a kitchen scale of any sort, let alone a fancy digital one that measures to a fraction of a gram. I remember my mother saying that my grandmother sometimes didn't even measure. Here measurements were often just "this much" and "that much". My mother said she did it by instinct. How did they accomplish such miracles? They must have been sorceresses!

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

kind of funny. As if it's clever to not measure. What is clever is how you get the result and if you can make things work for you i.e. a scale.

Someone who weighs their ingredients is no less talented then someone who chucks some things together. One still needs the magic touch. There are those who chuck things together and produce great results and there are those who chuck things together and make inedible things. Same goes with weighing.

However using tools shows advancement. It's what separated humanoids from human beings.

drogon's picture
drogon

Always a consideration now when I buy something battery powered - the old digital scales we have (range is 0-2Kg) uses 2 x coin cells - which are relatively expensive and last about 6 months. My newer scales (range 0-8Kg) uses AA's - which last for about a year (even with a back-light) and the scales can be powered via a 5v wall-wart too, if needed. I needed the 8Kg scales when moving to bigger dough sizes so I could measure everything into the same bowl.

-Gordon

embth's picture
embth

However, Grandma had baked bread so many times for so many years that she was able to judge amounts very accurately without cups or scales.  She had developed an "eye" or a "feel" for what was needed and could probably make bread while chatting with the neighbor lady, caring for 5 children, tending the fire in the cookstove, sifting out weevils from the flour, etc.   In the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, Grandma dealt with war years and food rationing.  There were years of poor harvest.   She adjusted her bread baking to what flours were available as best she could.  Grandma did not worry much about crackly crusts and "big holes" in her crumb.  She likely never thought in terms of "crust" and "crumb," "hydration levels," or "artisan loaves."  She did not fret over slashing patterns.   Grandma fed her family and felt lucky to be able to do so.

Her grandchildren's memories of Grandma's bread is that it was perfect….and it was.   First and foremost…it was nourishment.  It was the wonderful scent of the baking bread and the taste of warm buttered (maybe) slices.  Would Grandma's bread be a winner with the judges at a French bread baking competition?  Probably not, but it did win a "warm spot" in the hearts of her progeny and perhaps a ribbon or two at the county fair.   

I love my digital scale and my other modern baking tools, but I also love being able to produce fresh loaves of bread without these tools when I am asked to bake in someone else's kitchen.  I guess that is because I am a Grandma!  

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

Nicely put.

If you have the scales and are creating a work of art then don't be ashamed to use it. Grandma worked with ingredients available. And tools available.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

used a pound scales!  It was bulky and heavy but she did weigh stuff!  The scales never made the move from the farm to the city kitchen because it was too bulky.  Because she no longer cooked for a big family, switched to cups.  

BobBoule's picture
BobBoule

while watching his show on TV, that in the U.S. the reason our grannies used cups is that when our european ancestors travelled here, they minimized what they carried with them, scales and other implements not absolutely necessary for survival were left behind in the old country. They then just reached for a tea cup and because their eyes had already been accustomed to seeing the amount of ingredients used, they eyeballed it and quickly figured out how many of their favorite cup would do the trick. They had in fact had been using weight for all their recipes, before they moved here.

embth's picture
embth

I really appreciate my scale when I am working with large quantities.  You risk lots of costly ingredients if you do not mix your dough by weight.  It makes sense that your grandma was a sharp lady since that trait is carried forward in her granddaughter.   : )

Ingrid G's picture
Ingrid G

I had my trusted scale very well wrapped in a bath towel in my suitcase. Couldn't have arrived without it in my new country. Ah, yes, and my plastic spoons (Europeans use plastic spoons instead of wooden ones). One of the children had our whole cutlery set in his backpack, but that's beside the point.

hanseata's picture
hanseata

probably also baked always the same kind of bread, so she got constant good results. Try expanding your bread baking horizon without a scale, and you end up with trial and error. 

When I moved to the US I especially hated the idea of measuring sticky ingredients like sour cream etc. by volume, and, also, realized soon enough that my measured volume/weight conversions of my flours differed quite substantially from others I found in the internet.

I weigh everything, and to limit my instant yeast usage, I even got a spoon scale to weigh fractions of gram amounts. 

Of course, in the end you always have to go by how your dough looks and feels like, and adjust with additonal water or flour. But if you did that once, and make a note how much you added, you get constant good results by weighing your ingredients. Since I sell my breads, this is important for me, too.

Happy baking,

Karin