The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Measuring by weight question...

Teresa_in_nc's picture

Measuring by weight question...

Recently I got a digital scales to measure by weight my breads and pizzas, mostly. I was told this was a more accurate way to measure, flour, starter, water, etc. than by using cup measurements.

I'm getting the hang of it slowly, but was unsure how to proceed today when the recipe I was making called for one cup of sourdough starter. Do you use the fluid oz measurement or the dry oz/lb measurement? I used the fluid oz today, but it seemed like the amount was a bit more than one cup measured with a measuring cup.

Today, I just said "what the heck, I'll just put the rest of this bowl of starter in and go from there." (I hate to waste perfectly good starter.) I didn't need all the flour called for in the recipe. I poured the warm water in by fluid oz. weight (5 oz.) but wasn't sure how to weigh the starter, by fluid oz. or by dry oz/lb.

Any help is very much appreciated,

luc's picture

While not a direct answer to your question... here are two links that may help:

How much does a cup weigh?

and this:

The Ever Useful Wikipedia Weights and Measures Page

I thought they both had some good info. I suspect that when it comes to baking one can never know enough about different systems of weights and measures. I spend a fair amount of time converting between the imperial system (lbs., ounces etc.), the metric system (grams, kg and ml etc.) and the local Asian system (catty)... so yeah the more reference one has the better. :D

Best regards,

pjaj's picture

In the first link to "How much does a cup weigh?" it suggests that 1oz = 28.35gr be rounded down to 25 for dry weight but up to 30 for fluids. This would surely throw off the hydration of most doughs. If you must round (rather than use a calculator or metric / imperial scales) then obviously 30 is a closer approximation.

As far as I can see there are two major disadvantages to using cups.

  1. It depends on how tightly you pack the cup for many ingredients (notably flours) and different cooks have different ideas on this. Scooping flour out of the bag with the cup will surely pack more in it than tipping the same flour out of the same bag into the same measure even if you level off the contents afterwards.
  2. A cup is not even a standard measure. See the Wikipedia link, it can be anywhere from 236.59ml to 284.1ml to the cooks favourite beverage container. It depends on where the "cup" was made (USA, Australia, UK, US FDA - they are all different)

I was brought up in the 1940s and 50s on the Imperial system, but have no problem using metric, it's so much easier and the units are exactly the same in everywhere in the world - if you haven't tried it, don't knock it.

Mind you, I do get annoyed when I switch on the electronic scales and find my wife ( I die hard imperialist) has left them on pounds or fluid ounces!

Teresa_in_nc's picture

Thank you for those links, Luc. So maybe I sort of got it right by measuring the starter by fluid ounces. I'm trying to get the hang of putting all the bread ingredients in one stainless bowl and zeroing out the scales after each addition, but it's a learning process. Thankfully, bread is very forgiving.

qahtan's picture

Sounds like you are weighing the scoop method of weighing, which in effect if you are saying 5.some thing in a cup you are really still only using the scoop method, because that is incorrect and will really throw your recipe up the wall.

Ingredient: Right Way - all dry measurements leveled in their cup after measuring Wrong Way - - all dry measurements leveled in their cup after measuring Difference
All-purpose unbleached flour Spooned into metal cup: 4.41 ounces (125 grams) Dipped with metal cup: 5.0 ounces .59 ounces more
Bread flour weight - ounces Spooned in metal cup: 4.5 ounces Dipped with metal cup: 4.9 ounces .4 ounces more

qahtan's picture

Teresa remember also that if you are following an imperial recipe ,
a pint of liquid is in fact 20 ounces. In Canada they seem to be all over the place, some metric, some imperial then volume by cups.

Teresa_in_nc's picture

Sorry, but you lost me in that last post. I'm trying to learn to measure using my new scales where I put the stainless mixing bowl on the scales, zero out the bowl, then measure the flour by the weight added onto the scales rather than adding x-number of cups.

What I wasn't sure of was whether to measure the somewhat liquid starter by dry weight (oz/grams) or by fluid ounces. The bread is in the oven, so I'll soon see if I figured it out or totally missed the mark.


Chuck's picture

Completely avoid "fluid ounces". If you find the occasional cookbook that requires that sort of measurement, throw the book away:-) Do everything by weight ("fluid ounces" is a volume measurement).

(Depending on the density of the thing you're measuring, sometimes "fluid ounces" will turn out about right, leading you to think it might be correct when it really isn't.)

With "weight" measurements you still have two choices: ounces or grams. I find the metric (grams) preferable for several reasons:

  1. no possibility of confusion with those @#$%^&* "fluid ounces"
  2. no possibility of confusion about exactly which definition of an "ounce" (Troy ounces, etc.)
  3. the smaller unit is much more appropriate to the things you're measuring, often requiring nothing at all (or at most one digit) after the decimal point


MangoChutney's picture

Strictly speaking, fluid ounces used for something which is purely fluid will be reproducable.  If I tell you to use 5 fluid ounces of water in something, it is very unlikely that your water is of signficantly different density than mine.  Where the problem comes is in using fluid ounces for powders, which can have different densities due to different particle sizes, or for mixtures such as sourdough starters which can have compositions all over the place.  I couldn't agree more that the units used should be appropriate for the type and quantity of the material being measured, but that means there can be a place for fluid ounces also.

Chuck's picture

I personally am not after the number one most appropriate unit of measure for each and every ingredient, just any unit of measure that works reasonably well. When I lay out all the possible ingredients in bread and which measures can reasonably be used for each one, what stands out is measuring by weight will work for every ingredient. It may not always be the very best, but it always works pretty well, and it's a heck of a lot easier for me to make bread when I don't need to think at all about which measuring unit to use when. So yes, I find it works better for me in my kitchen to completely avoid "fluid ounces" (even though they may be a "better" choice for some ingredients if properly used). To each his own...

[edit] Look up "fluid ounce" in Wikipedia though and see all the equations and variations, and you'll get an idea why I call them "@#$%^&*".

qahtan's picture

But it is very complicated changing one method to another.


Oldhenwife's picture

Not at all. Well, not if you were brought up learning to calculate in both metric and imperial. And there are tables which can be printed, fixed in the kitchen and referred to when necessary.

The only complicated element is if volumetric amounts are used, that's a definite no-no.

My old recipe books give amounts in imperial and oven temperatures in Fahrenheit, modern ones are in all centigrade. Here in England few recipes are volumetric, when we see 'cups' we suspect it's from across the water. And how on earth you're supposed to measure a cup of butter I can't imagine! Nor do we have 'sticks' of butter.

I suspect that British and European cooks and bakers have it easier than those in other continents.

pjaj's picture

I agree with Oldhenwife, Metric is far simpler and less error prone than Imperial / US measurements.

As I said in my post above I was brought up on Imperial and old money (£sd) and remember, at age 10, having to do sums (by hand!) such as

"What is the cost of 3 tons 12 cwt 3 stones 4 lb 7 1/2 oz @ £4 13s 5 1/4p per cwt?"

or would you prefer

"3678.847kg @ £0.092 / kg ?" (the same thing to 3 decimal places,as far as I can work out)  = £338.45

 I rest my case.

Teresa_in_nc's picture

This is the bread I made today with whole wheat sourdough starter. The recipe had 1/2 cup potato flakes in it. Mixed by hand, rested for twenty minutes before adding the remainder of the flour, kneaded by hand for ten minutes, the dough handled very well and rose nicely. Just not as much flavor as I was hoping for though.

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Sylviambt's picture

Hi Teresa,
I don't have a great solution, but have found a similar challenge in switching from cup to weight measurements. One thing that does help is a bread book that does provide weights and percentages as well as volume measures, such as the Bread Bible.

Was wondering, what scale are you using. I've got a Salton (increments of 1/4 oz or .1 gm) and have found it to be horribly insensitive. Do you, or anyone else out there, have a better product to suggest?

In search of the perfect crust & crumb

gary.turner's picture

I've been using this  OXO digital food scale for more than two years now. I have no regrets, and recommend it unreservedly.



//edit: Ack! I just realized this thread is  five years old. --g

BellesAZ's picture

I get caught out on old threads too.. it doesn't matter though because the issue is still timely.

I have two scales, an Escali and the Oxo.  I like each but each has one drawback.

The Escali surface is a bit small.  I find I have to balance a large bowl on it, so when I am in a rush, it's a bit of an extra step.  Because the bowl is big, it's hard to read the weight.  So, that's kind of a major drawback.  What I love about it though is ounces is very precise.  It displays as a decimal and not as a fraction.. which I love.  All the recipes I use are precise in decimal places.  For example 4.25 ounces of flour.  On the Oxo, it doesn't read out decimal places when using ounces, it uses fractions so it says 4 1/4, which then it jumps to 4 1/2 and if I need a measure right in between, like 4.35 ounces, then it's a bit of a guessing game. 

The Oxo scale is much bigger though and I love that for large mixing bowls.  I also love that my measure bar pops out of the main frame and I can pull it closer to me.. or light up the reader part for easy viewing. 

andrew_l's picture

Teresa, the other way to work out how much starter you need by weight is using percentages. In this method you can assume the starter to represent 30% by weight of the finished dough. So if you aim for example to make a 2 lb loaf - work out the total amount of ounces in that, work out 30% and hey presto! Starter weight.

Having used imperial weights (pounds, ounces etc) I'm now converted to grams / kilograms ONLY for bread - percentages work so much better in hundreds than in sixteens and fourteens!!!

manxman's picture

I could never understand the reason for using cups when denisty of flour can vary so much so has no bearing on weight.
Also i have found that measuring jugs such as Pirex(corning)can be more than 10 percent out My Pirex jug 300cc only gives 280grm of water instead of the 300.
I agree with Andrew that percentage by weight is the best I weigh the liquids in the same way as dry contents. provided your scales have a nice basin then it is so easy, even weighing starters

longlivegoku's picture
Do you, or anyone else out there, have a better product to suggest?

I've owned a few scales and have found one that suits my needs fairly well. It's accurate enough to weigh the small stuff but also goes up to 5.5 lbs. That's plenty for me.

MyWeigh Scale

RuthieG's picture

The important thing to remember is that no matter how accurately you measure, there is still nothing better than knowing what your loaf should feel like.  We all know that the weight and absorption of flour and other ingredients is directly affected by several things.  So measure as accurately as possible, but be prepared to adjust your recipe if necessary....


I use a small inexpensive scale and it works fine for me... It has all the functions that I need and it holds a decent size bowl.  I love the zeroing out feature.

BellesAZ's picture

Well, of course.  But for a beginning baker, how do they know what a dough should "feel like"?  Besides, that's an arbitrary marker by which to judge proper hydration - especially when someone is new to baking.  Your "feel" may be different to mine, but I understand your point.. the more experience you have, the more you know what's right.  The best way I've found to tackle a new recipe is to make it exactly as written and then make a slight adjustment if Ifeel I need more hydration.  Living in the desert Southwest, I can pretty much always count on needing something extra. 

I kind of have to chuckle at bakers who insist on using a scale for accuracy.  My grandmother, an incredible baker, always used measuring cups or she just added "enough" flour.  She knew, without having a scale, what her dough should "feel like".  Those that condemn measuring cup bakers should really step back and consider for a moment that experience is what matters... and you're right, you can feel a dough when it is properly mixed.

RuthieG's picture

I so agree...I actually remember the wooden bowl that always had flour left in it from the day before and more just added to it when bread baking day arrived and not a measuring cup or spoon or even a spoon for stirring.  It was all hands own.   


I chuckle too and that is the reason that I made the comment.......You gotta learn the feel and I remember all the days, weeks...was it years...of not quite having it right and someone told me...You'll know when you have it and day I all the newbies just keep on keeping on and while every loaf may not be perfect......I am way ahead of the game now.  I wasn't lucky enough to have any living family members still making bread but I sure do remember back when it was a regular occurance.  I am sure that the feel isn't the same for everyone.  I enjoyed your reminisince of your Grandmother.

msbreadbaker's picture

Well, I was wondering where you had been, haven't heard from you in a while. Good to read your points again. Jean P. (VA)

Oldhenwife's picture

It's a pity that there are people who ARE beginning bread bakers - that they haven't learned from their mother or grandmother. Or even school.
My grandma did bake bread but I never saw her do it, I did see it come out of the oven next to her coal fire - no controls, just 'feel'. I was more interested in how she cut slices, by holding a loaf against her sacking pinny and cutting towards her. My mother wouldn't let me do that, said it was dangerous. Pah! She just didn't like my grandma (Dad's mother).
My mother taught me to make bread and explained all the processes more than sixty five years ago. I don't use her method now but I did for a long time.
'Feel' of dough, of done-ness and of oven heat are skills we learn from experience. No book or internet forum can explain them, no system of measuring will be used when one has made mistakes :-)
Yes, I still make mistakes when distracted, did it this morning when making cup cakes but that's something I rarely do and have no interest in learning either. Bread is far more important and exciting, still.

BellesAZ's picture

Your Mother and Grandmother probably had no idea that they were opening a whole new genre of baking for you.. and they were giving you the groundwork.  I agree with you on the bread vs other baking.. I love pastry baking and patisserie style baking.. but bread is my first love.

pjaj's picture

Whilst my grandmother didn't bake bread, I have an undieing memory of her slicing loaves in exactly the same way, and it was only a cotton pinny! Health and Safety - pah!

However she did bake excelent fruit cakes, and not a scale or cup in sight. She did it all by eye and feel. When they came over to visit, our American cousins called it Grandma's Guess Cake.

BellesAZ's picture

You're right about that!  No book or recipe can give you the magic for creating the perfect loaf.  Just ask me how many times I baked baguette breads.. over and over and over again until I was satisfied with them.  They were my first loaves when I started into my artisan bread baking many years ago.  All I saw was what good ones looked like - I hadn't learned what you have to do to get them that way!  LOL

Floured wooden bowl.. boy, does that bring back memories. 

Breadandwine's picture

You need to know the composition of a starter to begin with, really.

I use a 2:1 ratio, water to flour, and add 300g of starter to my mix. That's 200g of water along with 100g of flour. You just need to subtract these amounts from the amounts in the recipe.

Then I refresh my starter with the same ratio of water and flour, so I always know where I am.