The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

scaling and measuring - weights against volumes

harrygermany's picture
harrygermany

scaling and measuring - weights against volumes

Hi everyone,

I am very new to the way how American amateur bakers measure their ingredients for baking a bread.

As you might have found out I am from Germany (small country in central Europe ;-)
There we also have many amateur bakers.

And because of cold climate farmers grow rye besides a not too good wheat. And that since hundreds of years.

So our bread baking tradition is a rye-bread tradition.
In southern Europe they have wheat breads.

With rye and medium quality wheat one has to be very concentrated when baking bread.
So we scale (or measure) every ingredient very carefully.
With different sizes of cups e.g. the measurement would be too inaccurate for our weak flour.

The accurate measured ingredients help us (and especially beginners) to produce acceptable breads.

So my question:
As you mostly measure by cups, tablespoons and teaspoons, do they have the same size all over the continent?
Or do you (and most people) have an extra measuring cup which has the correct size?

How about scales?
Do you scale (in ounces etc) things often or do you prefer to measur by cups etc?
Do (some/only few) people have scales that also measure in grams?


As you can see, questions over questions.
Please help me understand your measuring system.


Harry


---------------------------------------
Everyone is a stranger somewhere -
so don´t give narrowmindedness or
intolerance no chance nowhere.

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

While most Americans just use volume measurements, I think most of us on this forum weigh flour at the very least.  It sure is more convenient, especially since the volume of flour in a given weight varies according to how it's packed.  So I use my scales for flour and some other ingredients (except when the blinkin' recipe doesn't have weights).

One problem (in addition to books that don't include weights) is some variation in cups and spoons.  I think they're largely standardized, but not entirely.  I know I have one dry cup measure that holds only 7/8 cups.

As for ounces versus grams, I use whichever is more convenient.  My scale will do either.

Rosalie

sphealey's picture
sphealey

=== As you mostly measure by cups, tablespoons and teaspoons, do they have the same size all over the continent?
Or do you (and most people) have an extra measuring cup which has the correct size? ===

In the US the vast majority of people (other than professional cooks) measure by volume, specifically the US ANSI measurement system. I would estimate that this is because (1) it is how they were taught (almost always by their mothers and grandmothers) (2) almost all recipes are published in volumes (3) everyone else does it that way.

Everyone in the US has a set of measuring cups and measuring spoons somewhere in their kitchen whether they cook or not - even if they don't have a kitchen ;-) Measuring cups and spoons can be purchased at every supermarket, hardware store (ironmongers), household goods store, and petrol station in the nation.

As you suspect these volume measures are not very accurate. I have seen several reports by people such as the Cooking for Engineers web site that show volume measures purchasing from supermarkets, etc are often 5% or even 10% from the standard. However, this doesn't matter too much since it is precision rather than accuracy that matters in cooking, and if Family A always uses the same equipment they will soon adjust ("Grandma says to always heap a little more flour on top of the cup").

This situation is changing a bit with the popularity of fancy cooking catalogs, cooking TV shows, and similar resources. At this point I think most serious home bakers have been exposed to the use of weights rather than volumes and probably have a digital scale somewhere in the cupboard. Almost everyone you correspond with on US breadbaking web sites is probably using weights or can explain why they don't. The fancy cooking equipmet catalogs also sell measuring cups and spoons that meet the ANSI definitions.

Rose Levy Beranbaum and her _Cake Bible_ and _Bread Bible_ convinced me to start measuring by weight (although I still love my precision measuring cups and spoons). For converting recipes I use the chart Ms. Beranbaum developed that is an appendix to _The Bread Bible_. You still run into the same problem though: many here think that her flour conversions are slightly too high (that is, too many grams/cup) and I sometimes have to lower the amount of flour when I use her chart to convert a recipe. I use the same chart all the time so I now can make the adjustment as I go rather than writing anything down.

sPh

Terk's picture
Terk

When I first got into cooking, I used my scale all the time. Now, when it comes to bread, I just use cups or the scale depending on what is convenient. The accuracy of measuring the flour doesn't bother me because I always need to adjust the amount anyways, depending on air humidity, qualities of the ingredients, room temperature, etc. When it comes to quick bread or confections though, I do like the scale. Especially since I use an old lab scale that goes to four significant figures. :)

harrygermany's picture
harrygermany

Hello Terk,

you wrote " The accuracy of measuring the flour doesn't bother me because I always need to adjust the amount anyways, depending on air humidity, qualities of the ingredients, room temperature, etc "

This is probably so, but don't you think that the correct amount at the start of baking makes a greater difference than the tiny little amounts for adjusting?

An example: For a bread I need 800 g flour, 500 g water, yeast, salt etc.
By measuring not correct in the beginning, I have easily a differenz of 100 g flour and 60 g water.
To adjust because of air humidity, qualities of the ingredients and room temperature I might need, if at all, 10 g flour more or less, and 10 g water more or less.

And, by the way, you are sure that you adjust the amounts when you bake?
I never do.

Harry


---------------------------------------
Everyone is a stranger somewhere -
so don´t give narrowmindedness or
intolerance no chance nowhere.

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

Do you scale (in ounces etc) things often or do you prefer to measure by cups etc?
I only use recipies that give all ingredients by weight and typically use the baker's percentage to scale the recipe if needed. I refuse, at this point, to look at any recipe for baked goods (bread, pastry, etc.) that uses only volume measurements.

When making bread, I weigh most ingredients, except for ingredients added in very small amounts. For these, I measure by volume using measuring spoons (a set of measuring spoons provides measures for 1 tablespoon, 1 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1/4 teaspoon). I use the weight to volume chart in Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice to convert weight to volume for ingredients such as dry yeast, salt, honey, etc.

How about scales? Do (some/only few) people have scales that also measure in grams?
Any decent digital scale for the US market converts between ounces and grams at the touch of a button. However, many digital scales for the home market are imprecise when it comes to weighing small amounts in grams. I do have a small, laboratory quality balance scale that provides very accurate measurement in grams if I feel compelled to pursue this level of precision.

One problem... is some variation in cups and spoons
You're absolutely right. Less expensive graduated cup sets and measuring spoons aren't standardized and vary from set to set.

Flour by Weight vs by Volume
The biggest problem, of course, is converting flour measurements in cups to accurate weight measurements. Apparently the US audience for cookbooks still demands measurements in cups, tablespoons and teaspoons. Cookbook authors have struggled with this problem literally for decades, especially when it concerns measuring flour.

For those of us who need to convert a favorite recipe from volume measurement to weight measurement, the flour bag itself provides the necessary clues.

In the US, every retail bag of flour prints the number of cups per pound on the bag. The conversion for white flour (all purpose or bread) is 3 & 1/2 cups per pound, measured by spooning flour into a one cup measure and leveling off with a knife. This puts the average weight of a cup of white flour at 4.6 ounces (or 130 gm). This conversion does not, however, apply to other types of flour, such as whole grain or legume flours. In this case, you need to look at the serving size information, which (for flour) is typically defined as 1/4 cup with the weight (in grams) printed next to it.

Please help me understand your measuring system.
Sorry Harry. I've lived here all my life and still struggle with it. When it comes to any kind of baking, I much prefer the European approach of giving all ingredients by weight. Yeah for the metric system!

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Subfuspersona, the bottom line in converting flour measures from cups to ounces is the recipe writer's methodology.  Whenever I see a naked recipe (that's what it looks like to me when there are no weights given), I look to see how the writer measures flour.  I wrote a post yesterday about an interesting and promising-looking bread book in my library that neither gives weights nor explains how to measure flour.

I take it back about the bottom line.  The bottom line is what works in the recipe.  Fortunately, with bread we can adjust after the dough is mixed.

But you can't just go by what the flour package says.

Rosalie

scott lynch's picture
scott lynch

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the acceptable tolerance for volume in manufacturing household cup and spoon measures was something like 15%, which is astounding--a full ounce is only 12.5% of a cup.
In my own baking, I find the use of ounces maddening--I want everything metric for ease of computation, and all my books that don't have metric measures have them pencilled into the formulas.  Baker's percentages are useful, but most of the books have formulas that are well-scaled for home ovens, so I find the measured formulas more useful than the baker's percentages for baking indoors.  When I bake in my outdoor clay oven, that's a different deal altogether.