The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Are Scales necessary for others ....... like SourdoLady?

CountryBoy's picture

Are Scales necessary for others ....... like SourdoLady?

I realize this is a very hot topic so please tread lightly here, but here goes....

My wife goes into the kitchen and no matter what she does she putters around and puff....out come madeleines or puff....out come stollens....she putters around and puff out come great cakes and No Problema.  She Never Misses; at least not in the past 20 yrs.  Her father was a pastry chef and he never misses. And they never use scales and they are always so Casual about it.  I would like to work towards that ideal.  Do people know of which I speak?

Since it sounds as if Everyone uses scales here, I am just curious if there is anyone out there who does not?  Does SourdoLady?  She is awesome; I wonder if she uses scales....

My ideal is to be the casual master and just have it happen.  I don't want to use ph strips to test acidity etc..  I betcha SourdoLady definitely does not use ph strips per PR in his latest book.  Yes I know Most Everyone here loves to take That Route and that is fine.

 My question is there anyone out there of accomplishment who goes the path that I have chosen and is successful?  Or am I all alone.......   and doomed for failure?

TRK's picture

I am defnitely on the casual end of cooking and baking. I substitute liberally in recipes. When cooking, I will add an extra clove or two of garlic, cut out a little salt, or substitute one vegetable for another. Sometimes I have an idea in my mind and cook toward it without a recipe. I imagine a flavor, then add the things that I think will get me there, adjusting as I go. My meals are almost always edible, though not always exactly what I was aiming for. The more I do it, the better I get at

Baking is a little bit different. I use a scale when baking, because it is a more accurate way of measuring flour. But I am very cavalier about substituting, say whole wheat flour for white in a muffin recipe. Or adding a little flour or water to a bread I think is too dry or too wet. The downside of this kind of baking is reproducibility-the more substitutions I make, the less likely I am to be able to reproduce it exaclty if it comes out well. I find that I have a really hard time following a recipe exactly. I have tested recipes for Cook's Illustrated and for PR's new book, and had to constantly remind myself not to adjust them to match my taste. I would say go for it. Cook and bake by feel, smell, and instinct, with a recipe on the counter as a safety net. You will have failures. And you will have amazing successes that you will never be able to repeat. But you will also have fun and most of your "failures" will be very tasty. I think you will learn more about baking and cooking this way than you will by measuring to the fraction of the ounce and using a pH strip.

No disrespect to PR, but I have enough of pH strips in the lab. You will never catch me with one in the kitchen

sphealey's picture
=== My question is there anyone out there of accomplishment who goes the path that I have chosen and is successful? Or am I all alone....... and doomed for failure? ===


Of course it can be done - my wife picked up piemaking from her mother and grandmothers and she makes me put my scale away when she is baking - claims the bad vibes from its mere presence throw her off!

Admittedly she has incredible color and tactile sense (her father was a very succsssful paint chemist; I found his college grades when cleaning out his desk and he had received Cs and Ds in his mathemetical chemistry classes - he did it all by intuition and feel for 40 years). But it can be developed through lots of practice; even I am getting better at intuitive baking judgement after 3 years and I am totally helpless in the guess-by-eye game.

You will just have to bake bread every day for 3 years.

Good luck and good bread!


edh's picture

I think the point of scales is to be able to recreate something exactly, more than once.

If what you want to bake is a loaf of bread, straight out of someone's book, then scales will let you do that. If you just want to bake a loaf of bread, get out the flour, salt, water, and yeast, and have at it!

I know when I'm baking anything other than bread, I'm like your wife and father-in-law. I'm the one people come to when they need a cake or other pastry. Until recently, no one would even think of asking for my bread (unless they had a peculiar fondness for tummy-aches). Thanks to this site that has changed, quite abruptly, but I use scales for all bread. It's mostly a way of getting the hang of what it should feel like.

Just keep doing it, it'll come...


noelvn's picture

I have gone through scale phases, and definitely used scales with precision when I was baking professionally, but currently I use measuring cups and use them very casually. I mainly use them to make sure I'm in the ballpark for the kind and quantity of bread that I'm imagining, but then I adust to get the texture of dough that I'm aiming for. For me that's the real thing, knowing the dough texture I'm looking for, and judging how much more of what to add by the feel of the dough.

I also feed my starter by texture, making it runnier when I want it to bubble up faster, and drier when I want it to be ready later in the day. And so that means I have to estimate and fudge the amount of liquid to add to make the bread I want -- again, I use measuring cups for this, but I'm kinda going by the seat of my pants on how much I want of any given ingredient. I might measure out a likely quantity of starter, think about how much water it probably contains, so to make one loaf that means I need how much more water?

But there is definitely the matter of reproducibility, as TRK points out. Today's loaf of bread depends on how much time I had for the starter to get revved up, or how little yeast I decided to put in the preferment (my personal favorite baking game is using commercial yeast, just as leeetle as possible), or when doing whole grains, what additional flours or rolled grains or seeds I had around to play with. Tomorrow's bread is going to be a different constellation of how much time I have to preferment, what ingredients I was inspired by when shopping, and what interesting recipe I read recently and thought I'd steal ingredients or proportions or techniques from... not to mention the ongoing balance between baking to my preferences in bread (chewy) and my roommates' (light and sandwichy).

I think it's a matter of experience and personality type -- I've been baking from scratch ever since the mixes that came with my Easy-Bake oven ran out, and during my hippie days there weren't enough groovy baking books yet, so a lot of times you'd start with a template from the Joy of Cooking and then groovify it with whole grains, cut the sugar in half, add nuts and seeds and twigs and whatnot. So I kind of developed an attitude that that a recipe is there to give the general idea of what to do, and from there you just kinda visualize what you want, and use ingredients that taste like what you're imagining.

The advantage of learning this as a kid was that my tea-party audience of dolls and best friend were pretty uncritical, just so long as the outcome had plenty of sugar. And in a college/post-college communal hippie household, there were always hoardes of perpetually ravenous young men to eat and enjoy what I made, no matter how far from target my experiments came out. I suspect that a critical audience would have squelched my creativity before I developed sufficient seat-of-the-pants baking skills to come out with reliably appealing results.


Noodlelady's picture

I don't use a scale. I follow recipes and also go by feel and by eye. Experience helps! I love my historical recipes and all of them use "teacupfuls" or "spoonfuls." I have very few "flops."

Just have fun baking! 


expatCanuck's picture

I'll start by quoting one of my favorite authors, Jerry Pournelle:

  "Better is the enemy of good enough." 

I concur with edh's thoughts.  Scales & measures are awfully useful to achieve & recreate success.  If you don't know where you've been, it's hard to correctly modify your course.

But if you know where you're going (and having made a few hundred loaves that are 'good enough', I do know where I'm going), I don't need scales or measures to obtain a good loaf of bread.  I go by feel.

But trying something for the first time, I'll typically follow the recipe.  Which typically entails usings scales or measures.


 - Richard

expatCanuck's picture

Curiously, while I'm content to go by sight & feel with bread dough, I do tend to use my scale when measuring tea.  That said, I'm more of a tea fanatic than a bread fanatic, drinking white, green, oolong, black and Pu-Erh. Maybe tea is less forgiving?  I dunno ... 

But, as others have said, a little bit of variety in bread (this one has a bit more bite, that one has a more open crumb ... ) is not unwelcome.


 - Richard

CountryBoy's picture

SourdoLady, are you out there? 

I would love to hear your commentary on this topic.


My thanks to everyone who has posted. 

I am obviously doomed and destined for mediocrity and failures for my perspective on this.  But what you don't see is that living with people around me that Always have successes with no scale, means for me to use a scale is in itself a failure............

And they do it so very with no rush, confusion or prior thought...they make it look like fun.



ehanner's picture

I was raised by engineers and lumberjacks. We learned to go with the flow and follow these rules.

1. Measure with a micrometer.
2, Mark with a grease pencil.
3. Whack the bugger off with a chain saw!

(Not really)--Eric :>)

Ramona's picture

I do not think you are doomed in any way.  I agree with you in that some do take extreme measures to get that perfect result.  But you don't have to do all those things to get an enjoyble and successful result.  I have worked with numerous chefs  and they do not set recipes into stone.  They start with a recipe and adjust it as they feel it is needed.  Consistency is very important to duplicate, but just because this week your dough had 4 cups of flour and next week, it had 3 3/4 cups, is not that big of a deal.  I can tell you this though, I know someone that told me that when his wife was alive, that she use to make a particular type of sandwich and when he made that exact type of sandwich, it tasted different.  How a person feels when they cook or bake can transmit to their food result.  I think you need to relax and stop puttting so much pressure on yourself to compete and just make what you want to enjoy it.  Granted, as time goes on, you will get better, but everyone, who is experienced still makes flops.  People who have a passion to cook or bake, want to always move forward and that also includes having some embarrassments.  Casually is the way I want to feel when I enter my kitchen to do anything, because if it's not, then my end result is way off. 

KipperCat's picture

I found this thread quite interesting. I've been cooking for 45 years or so, since I was tall enough to stir something on the stove. I don't need to follow a recipe, and can come up with a tasty and interesting meal from whatever's at hand.

But I'm pretty much a newbie at bread. I don't have the experience to approach my baking that way and have the bread always turn out the way I want it. Unfortunately that doesn't stop me! I know that I would produce better bread at this point if I weren't combining bits and pieces of many approaches and recipes in my own haphazard way. But cooking and baking is a creative outlet for me, and at least I'm still learning this way. I can look at any of my breads and tell you how they could be better. But when I get one that really displeases me, I tend to hew pretty closely to a known-to-work approach for the next one.

SourdoLady's picture

Wow, CountryBoy, that was a very complimentary post. Thanks! Yes, I do have a scale, and I admit that I almost never use it. I did use it when I was a recipe tester for Peter Reinhart, however. As many others have said, scales will give you consistent results that can be replicated. That isn't important to me. I bake for fun and like to experiment with recipes and alter them. About the only recipe I bake consistently without changes is my Deluxe Sourdough, and I have made it so many times that I just know exactly how the dough should look and feel. I have had my share of flops, just like anyone else. Sometimes my experiments work and sometimes they don't. Recently I tried adding some garlic dip mix to a bread dough. It was a disaster. The dough's gluten literally broke down before my eyes. Upon reading the ingredients in the mix (should have done that first) I discovered that it contained citric acid, which is what caused the problem.

When it comes to sourdough starter, I also prefer to just "eyeball" it when feeding. I have no idea what the hydration percentage of my starter is. I thicken it up a bit for storage in the fridge but when proofing for a recipe, I just make it like a thick batter. For me, numbers and percentages take the creativeness out of baking to the point where I don't enjoy it as much. I guess I'd rather wing it and take my chances at success or failure. The challenge is fun!

So, don't worry so much about what others do or how they bake their bread. Do what YOU like to do. Bake as often as you can and your skills will continue to improve. You are NOT doomed to failure. How many years have you been baking bread? I have been baking with yeast for many, many years and with sourdough pretty intensely for close to 10 years. There is some truth to the saying, "practice makes perfect". I am still learning more about bread baking every day and I know that I will never "know it all". 

P.S. I don't even know where to buy pH strips!

andrew_l's picture

I think scales arer great things. If you do something really well once and want to do it exactly the same again - you need to know the exact same measures. If you use scales with a recipe and it doesn't work too well, and use the scales next time you follow the same recipe but increase or decrease something, take notes of the changes, and when it comes out as you want it - by using the scales and your modified recipe you can get the same result again.
 OK, some people don't bother - and sometimes they get good results consistently. But some people are just plain slapdash and even with scales don't really measure properly. (I have a sister like this - some of her cooking is good. Some the birds won't eat...) 

But used well, scales take away the hit and miss element. View them as a measure of accuracy, not of failure, then you'll feel happier!!
Bottom line is - what works for you, is what works for you. What works for someone else, works for them. In the end, if you both end up with good bread - it just proves that there is no "right way". Just ways that work - and neither is intrinsically better than the other.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

to replace her old spring one.  She was very happy because it took the Hit & Miss part out of her recipes, she will still add more of an ingredient if she thinks she needs it.  Your recipes change over time, cooking for more people, or less, and tastes change too from season to season.  A scales can be very helpful in changing times and trying out new recipes.

Can you imagine I just asked my brother to give me a set of dry measuring cups for Christmas?  For the last 25yrs I've gotten along well without them.  I always just estimated and remembered about what 1/2 cup should look like.  But sometime early on, I had to have that first measurement to be able to compare.  You can sit down with scales and spoons and a cupped hand and just fill things and weigh them.  Play around when you bake, measure and then pour from container to container or use your hand like a scoop and make mental notes. (Funny how all these unused cups and things end up in the toy for future cooks?)  Then try to make something without the scales.   I still have measuring spoons in salt, soda, and baking powder handy tool that just takes the stress out and stress is the last thing I want when I cook/bake. 

One time I needed a chocolate cake recipe and went to my neighbor (who was a walking cookbook, who had worked in restaurants all her life) she took out a dinner plate and we put all the ingredients (estimated) onto it, then she came over and we threw the rest together.  She explained why she did everything and reasons for the amounts.  That stuck.  I was very impressed.  And She was happy to explain and teach.  Take advantage of your wife and father-in-law and ask questions or get them to explain a recipe to you, make it a learn/teach situation and see where it takes you.  :)

Mini O

slidething's picture

 CB ~

  Baking Bread is like playing guitar - you need to practice to make perfect ~

Once you get "the feel" for it then it becomes easy. Everybody starts out from square One and that is useing scales - measureing cups & such to get to square two - which is knowledge/experience - Make a small batch of bread evryday - start out with what ever tools you need to get the job done - once you start making "perfect loaves" every time - experiment with the recipe & make notes as to what works and what does not.  By this time you will have learned "the feel" of what is right and what is not ~  GO FOR IT all it take is a little time and exprience .


andrew_l's picture

goes back to Ancient Sumeria, c. 7000 B.C. Leavened bread goes back - who really knows? Certainly Ancient Egypt, c. 6000 B.C. So the same discussions about weigh / use volume was almost certainly going on then, too! Impossible to suppose, though,that at least some weren't weighing accurately, especially for commercial bread  baking, in Ancient Egypt - and certainly by the medieaval period in England and Europe, when loaves had to be sold at a specific weight.
 So -  they could have made "pretend" bread with scales and made "pretend"  bread with volume measures 8000 years ago -  just as we can make"real" bread with scales or with volume measures now. 
As I said earlier - neither approach is the "right" one. But to respond to the implication in Countryboys original posting - using scales is not being doomed to failure!

browndog's picture

You guys are hilarious, and every one of you is profound and brilliant.

CountryBoy, I thought when I saw the title of this thread that you were drawing lines in the battlefield sand---instead you've opened the creativity floodgates. GROOVY.

--And how many ninjas does it take to slice a loaf of bread?

CountryBoy's picture

 Observations of a novice on this thread suggest that:

  1. If one wishes for the ability to reproduce with reliability a bread recipe, then scales are a great help.
  2. That each individual has their own way of enjoying bread baking.  To some that means scales and to some no scales.
  3. That this is a a topic that all bakers have strongly held views on.
  4. That my perspective is possibly best articulated by:
    1. SourdoLady-  I bake for fun
    2. Bman-A scale is unnecessary for baking bread and for learning to bake bread, especially if your goal is to end up using measuring cups
    3. Ramona- Casually is the way I want to feel when I enter my kitchen to do anything, because if it's not, then my end result is way off.

Now get back to the kitchen, make the bread anyway you wish, and forget I asked the question.    :-)

andrew_l's picture

 it's hilarious. If life's too short to peel a grape - who cares if we weigh or scoop? ~Do whatever you find easiest.. Who cares if it's a firm or a batter starter? If the oven is pre-heated or no? If it works for you....

dmsnyder's picture

 Most if not all of my bread cookbooks give precise ingredient measurements but also stipulate that the proportions of flour to water will need adjustment according to the batch of flour used, ambient temperature and humidity and other ingredient and environmental variables. So an obsessive focus on the scale is likely to work against paying enough attention to the dough, which is, after all, the bottom line.

My problem is that, particularly when using an unfamiliar formula, I don't know what the author wants the dough to feel like unless he or she has described it really well. This is one relative strength of Leader's "Local Bread;" he gives more attention than most authors do to how the dough should behave in the mixer or on the bench. After I've baked a bread, I may conclude I would enjoy it more if I made certain adjustments, regardless of whether this violates the author's intent.

Having said all that, I am using my digital scale more rather than less over time. I find adding ingredients to weight with the bowl on the scale is faster than measuring volumes, and I have fewer items to wash. I can always make adjusments of water and flour during mixing and kneading. I do measure ingredients when the amount is much less than the 5 gm precision of my scale - salt, for example.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

David commented

  Most if not all of my bread cookbooks give precise ingredient measurements but also stipulate that the proportions of flour to water will need adjustment according to the batch of flour used, ambient temperature and humidity and other ingredient and environmental variables. So an obsessive focus on the scale is likely to work against paying enough attention to the dough, which is, after all, the bottom line.

A lot of those conditions don't actually impact the measurement of ingrediens.  Temperature IS important, but doesn't change the liquid/flour ratios.  It can change the amount of riser used, however.  Less when warmer, more when cooler.  Unless you adjust the temperature of the water to get the dough temperature right,

The humdidty has little to no effect.  A double-paper sack does a very good job of keeping the humidity within 3 to 5% of where it started out.  And when you cover your mixing bowl with a towel or saran wrap, the humidity in your room is not longer an issue.

Are there differences from batch to batch and brand to brand of flour?  Yes, but they are MUCH smaller than the differences between one cup and the next (whcih can be as much as 25%). 

By all means, don't obsess about weights, but remember that even when one doesn't obsess, weights are MUCH more accurate than measurement by volume or by guess and by gosh.




Cooky's picture

This is a fascinating conversation, especially for a slightly-more-than-beginner like myself. It seems whenever technique comes up, the discussion comes back to the engineering versus artistry schools of bread-making. Most folks obviously use both, but the variations seem infinite. Which may be why this bread business is such an addicitive pursuit.

Myself, I have always been an improviser. My sister, who was an excellent cook, used to complain that whenever she'd give me a recipe I would always end up changing something.

When I started getting serious about bread, however, I found there can be a price to pay for going where the spirit leads, so to speak. Chief among them for me was the inability to recreate triumphs or avoid disasters.

So I bought a scale, and it surely helped -- until it quit working (darn digital gadgetry).

But the tool alone did not give me that casual confidence that you envy so in your relations. My philosophy is that (a) most jobs are easy when you know what you're doing, and (b) it takes a long, long time to know what you're doing.

Once achieved, mastery of a skill allows casual confidence with the basics, and the ability to disguise extraordinary effort beyond the basics. That is to say, experts make it *look* easy, even when it's not.

Don't despair , CB. You've got the heart for the quest.


"I am not a cook. But I am sorta cooky."

susanfnp's picture

I always use a scale. Because:

1. It is so much easier to share recipes using weight rather than volume. As others have said, if a recipe just says 6 cups of flour, that could be anywhere from about 700 to 900 grams. That’s pretty vague, especially when there is no description of how the dough is supposed to feel or handle. Teacups and handfuls may work if you were lucky enough to learn at your grandmother’s knee, but not all of us were.

2. It helps me get consistent results within my own baking. Especially since I use water, and not flour, to make adjustments to the dough consistency.

3. It’s a lot faster than measuring by volume. Fewer dirty dishes, too.

4. Most importantly. It works for me in achieving my desired result: “Good Bread.” Now if my desired result were “Good Bread Whose Creation Does Not Involve a Scale,” then obviously a scale would not help me with that. But that goal is not important to me, although I respect that it is to some. If my second rule in bread baking is “weigh your ingredients,” my first is “do what works for you to get the result you want.” Using tools does not make an artist less of an artist, or a baker less of a baker.


ehanner's picture

Are you a teacher or student of the art? Or both! 

Are we not talking about two entirely different things here? First, "does one need a scale to bake well"? Second, "How does one articulate the subtle nuances of a formula to a wide range of skills?"

From my own experience, and as many have expressed above it is much easier to achieve success on a new bread with a scale and instructions from a trusted source. Hydration percentage is important and I believe difficult to judge by eye and initial feel, just after mixing. The mix undergoes a major change in the first 15 minutes as the flour absorbs the water. Arriving at the proper hydration for a given formula using your own judgement can take time. Who hasn't added a little to much flour, then a little to much water and so on until you end up with an extra handful or so of dough?

A master baker would laugh at the notion that one needs a scale or clock for that matter. However, teaching the new kid how to make a batch of pizza dough is so much easier if you start with a known quantity of flour and water and a given time. (dump that 50# bag of flour into the Hobart and fill the bucket up to that painted line with water and mix for 7 minutes). After a few months and thousands of pounds of dough later the new kid knows what to expect and how to adjust to get a better outcome. Without a scale and clock the teacher and students can be far apart. Oh and as Mike points out a thermometer helps too!


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Eric commented:

A master baker would laugh at the notion that one needs a scale or clock for that matter.

Maybe the master baker doesn't NEED to use scales, however, earlier this year I was at the Bread Baker's Guild  of America's Camp Bread.  It was close to baking nirvana as you can imagine.

Many previous contestants from Coupe du Monde du Boulangerie were there teaching classes.  Craig Ponsford of Artisan Bakers, Jeff Hammelman of King Arthur.    Didier Rosada, who trained most of the winning constestants was there. And that's the tip of a very impressive iceberg.

And ya know what?  They all used scales.  All of the master bakers used scales.

It's not that they had to make 100 loaves for sale later that day.  They were teaching bakers ranging from intermediate to very advanced how to be better.  And ALL of the baking instructors, all of the master bakers felt that scales were a part of teaching and learning how to do better.  As essential as hair control or gloves in a food service establishment.

Maybe the  bakers didn't NEED the scales, but the certainly seemed to appreciate having them.



Rosalie's picture

I had read the first few posts, and then found the topic had exploded.  Here's my two cents (measured by counting).

I would make a poor scientist.  While I know and appreciate the basics of the scientific method, I'm a sloppy record keeper.  When I'm knitting a sweater, I take notes on the left front so that I can duplicate for the right front.  That's about the extent of my record keeping.  So when I bake, I pretty much follow the recipe, and when I want to duplicate it, I pretty much follow it again.  Meanwhile, who knows what liberties I took the first time?

But I prefer scales.

For one thing, I mill my own flour; if the quantity of flour is given in ounces or grams, I know how much grain to mill.  (But I'd better mill extra anyway.)

For another, as has been pointed out, it makes for fewer dishes when you can just dump ingredients into the bowl sitting on the scale.

And brown sugar - I don't know about you guys, but I hate to have to "pack" brown sugar.  Scaling is SO much nicer.


Rosalie's picture

I spent all day yesterday baking cookies and pumpkin bread.  Not one of the recipes I used involved weights.  I spent a lot of time cursing the recipes and researching equivalents.  Measuring by weight is so much easier than measuring by volume (and I don't forsee myself becoming a measure-by-intuition person).  I'm going to have to put together a conversion chart to post on my refrigerator.  I'll collect the info from web sites and books.


CountryBoy's picture

OK, .So could the Forum pls Vote on best Scale, Please?

You guys are very Tough.  I give up; I can't take it any longer.

Please everyone Vote and tell me which one I have to buy and I will do it.  I feel totally crushed and defeated and an absolute failure with no remaining shred of self respect but I will definitely proceed as directed.

Which one should I buy?  Please think inexpensive and long lasting.  I am a computer guy who is fed up with gadgets and machinery that do not work.

Actually, if given the choice I would be a Luddite....whatever they are...

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I'm not sure why you feel beat up.  You can certainly make good bread without scales.   Many, many bakers have done so for a long time.

It's just easier to do it with than without scales.


I've used several different brads, and I prefer the My Weigh line.  I've used a number of their scales.  They hold up well (unless you soak them in water), and they seem to be accurate.


Ol Will Knott  on eBay has been providing good scales, good service and good prices for a number of years.  Get a set of scales that will handle what you think will be your largest batch.  For most home bakers, that would be around 10 to 15 pounds.

I really like their candle making scales - they are pretty well sealed.


Hope that helps,


KipperCat's picture

I have the Escali which JMonkey mentioned and I love it.  The only feature I might like to have is a larger surface, so that I could scale loaves right on the scale, instead of placing a bowl on the scale.  Though if I had that, it would also take up more room in the kitchen, so I don't mind too badly.

CountryBoy's picture

When voting please do suggest: Brand, Model, and best place for purchase.

Thank you very much.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

When you think about buying a scales, think about what you mix in.  There isn't anything more irritating than centering a bowl on the scales and finding out you can't read the thing. 

Mini O

ejm's picture

Generally, these days I use cup and spoon measures a little casually.

I used to try to be much more accurate. When I started baking bread, I carefully fluffed up the flour, spooned it into the cups and used the flat end of a knife to level the flour off off. Then I went through a phase of weighing everything (with a fairly good spring scale). But as I realized I didn't have any way of measuring the humidity of the air, or to control the air temperature or even the temperature of our oven, I decided to do things by feel.

If I'm trying a new recipe that uses weights, I weigh the ingredients (and if I am making the bread more than once, I calculate how many cups because frankly, the cups are much easier to access than the scale) If I'm trying a new recipe that uses cups, I establish whether it is a US recipe or a Canadian recipe and take the necessary steps to reduce the amount of flour if it is a US recipe.

Sure, I've had some failures. Who hasn't? But think about it, people have been successfully baking bread for centuries without the use of digital scales. Bread making is not rocket science.


P.S. I'm strictly a home baker. I'm not running a bakery and it really doesn't matter if yesterday's loaf of sandwich bread was slightly smaller than today's loaf of sandwich bread.

ejm's picture

>I don't want to use ph strips to test acidity etc..  [... using] ph strips per PR in his latest book.

Wha ha ha??? (excuse me for laughing) Sometimes, PR slays me.
JMonkey's picture

I was curious, actually, what the PH of my starter was, so I picked up some PH strips for about $8, I think it was. Turns out, my starter's usually at 4.0 when it's ripe, though it was kind of hard to read the colors. They work better with a solution than dough.

Was fun, but won't be something I'll use on a regular basis.

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I've mentioned a good friend of mine, Samartha, who makes some of the best rye bread I've ever had. He is tied with Jeff Hammelman in that regard. Samartha also has a great sourdough oriented web site at


Several years ago Samartha, being a computer nerd and gadget freak, bought a pH meter for the purpose of testing his starters. And he feels that it was worthwhile. But he doesn't use it any more. He says that he can tell everything he needs to by tasting the sourdough starter.  He wouldn't have reached this conclusion if he hadn't had the pH tester and tasted his starters. Yes, it IS ok to taste your starters.  It won't hurt you or the rest of your starter. 

There are times when we get a bit carried away. Looking at how well the starter is rising gives us a good idea of its activity levels, and tasting it tells us how the bacteria part of the symbiosis is working out. If it's sluggish, some aggressive feedings will perk it up.  If it isn't sour enough, Didier Rosada suggested using about 5% whole wheat or rye flour for a few feedings and that will perk up the bacteria. I won't argue with Didier.

Despite my strong belief that scales help one become a better baker, there are times when I feel people do get carried away. 



ehanner's picture

There is just one more thing I think needs to be added to the scales discussion and that is to set the matter straight about accuracy of digital vs old fashioned counter weight scales. I think the general perception is that digital scales and clocks are more precise. This of course is totally wrong. A digital scale reads say 300 grams when it is loaded with an amount within the range of accuracy and continues to read that amount until it exceeds that range. An old counter weight scale on the other hand will show you exactly how far you are from the set weight. Same with a clock. A sweeping second hand is a visual representation of the exact time displayed on that clock. It's not important to fret about milliseconds in baking but I think Mike has made the point that small amounts are harder to weigh on the digital scales we all use.

I would be interested in trying an old hardware store scale in the kitchen. The Julia Child video with Daniele Forster shows her weighing with a similar scale. The counter space issue will not be popular with my wife but it's a through back thing with me. It isn't so much accuracy but a visualization of the amount of dry products. The hard part will be finding a source for a french scale (grams not pounds).


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Scales are like any technology. There are always tradeoffs, and one of the big tradeoffs is money. You get what you pay for, if you're lucky. And sometimes this year's good stuff is cheaper than last year's OK stuff as technology moves forward.

With any measurement technology, there is a tradeoff between sensitivity and ruggedness. If it's accurate to .001 grams, it's probably more fragile than the shipping scale that is accurate within half an ounce (close enough for shipping) and that can have 75 pound packages dropped on it. (Not lovingly placed there, dropped on.)

I've been down this road a time or two and here are some thoughts.


First, let's drop spring scales, of any sort, out of the description. They are innacurate, and they have a varying level of innaccuracy across their range. They're OK if you're trying to weigh out 2 ounces of pasta so you can stay on your diet. They're OK if you're trying to figure out if you've gained or lost weight. They're not up to the task if you need accurate measurements across a broad range of weights. Like if you want to make one loaf today and 15 next week. Chances are good that there will be innacuracies at one end or another of the scale.... and the recipe won't seem to scale up. The recipes scale nicely, it's the spring scales that don't.

When I was setting up the bakery,I bought a lovely baker's scale. A rugged balance beam. On one side, we put weights, on the other we put what we were matching. It was very rugged, and it was pretty accurate. It wasn't terribly sensitive. I wouldn't use it to measure small amounts of ingredients. On the other hand, we'd cut dough on it to scale loaves and it was very fast. Balances are almost instantaneous. And the pointer makes it easy to get the weights right. "It doesn't have to be exact, if the pointer is between here and here, the loaf is close enough" is easy to teach. However, they cost $300. And they weren't terribly useful for measuring ingredients, mostly because the tare mechanism isn't that wonderful. And it's fairly hard to measure arbitrary amounts such as 123 grams of flour. And despite some people's comments, there is a moment of indecision on balance scales. You can add a sprinkle of flour or salt and scales won't move right away. Or perhaps not at all. Which is frustrating. It is a function of how fine an edge the balance point has. A finer edge makes for a more sensitive scale, but it also makes the scale more fragile.

I also have a triple beam balance from my photography days. I used to compound my own developers and such. Very accurate. Very finicky. It was less than $100 when I bought it. Small differences cause the pointer to swing violently. The balance has a knife edge on it, and if I even thought about cutting dough on it, the scales would die. (OK, maybe I exaggerated a bit, but they would not survive such abuse.)

Several general purpose digital scales find heavy use in my kitchen. They are all My Weigh. One is a KD600, an old candle making scale that goes up to about 11 pounds and has some quirks. I also have two ultra-ship scales one of which will weigh up to 50 pounds, the other up to 55. They ranged from $15 to $35.

The KD600, which is no longer in production, will read in 1 gram increments through it's whole range. The Ultraships will weigh within 2 grams up to 1000, and within 10 grams after that. I weigh most recipes by putting a mixing bowl on the scales, taring the scales, adding the liquids one at a time, taring the scales betwee ingredients, and then the solids with yeast and salt last. They are more than accurate enough for sourdough breads and most yeasted breads. They are not accurate enough for poolish breads where I use very small amounts of yeast. Also, they are fragile enough that I would not cut loaves on the scales. So, I take the dough off the scales, cut off a piece, and then return the rest of the dough to the scales. Also, when we were running the bakery, the staff would become obsessed with being EXACT. After all, a loaf was supposed to weigh 770 grams, or a roll 123 grams. I'd tell people to get it within 5 or 10 grams, because that was easy to achieve and was close enough on loaf or roll size..... and the digital obsession would still take over..... it had to be EXACT. In short, they are very fast for measuring ingredients, not so good for scaling loaves. As mentioned in other notes. you have to be bold adding ingredients or the scales might auto-zero your additions, and the scales can lag a bit after you add ingredients. The newest Untraships are MUCH better in both regards than the older scales.

What about the poolish breads? Well, when I make 20 or so loaves, I use about 2 1/2 grams of yeast in the poolish and another 2 1/2 or so in the dough. A small error is significant here. If I'm making a loaf, we're looking at around a tenth of a gram. The scales above won't cut it, unless I get clever. So, I bought a pair of pocket scales. Accurate to .1 gram. About $20. And very fragile. It seems many people put them in their back pockets and sit on 'em. Which voids the warranty. If you need to measure very small anounts from time to time and can't justify the cost of another set of scales, there IS another way.

Here's where I get clever. Let's say your scales can measure a gram pretty accurately. But you need to weigh a tenth of a gram. So, measure 10 grams of yeast, and add 90 grams of flour. Shake and mix very, very well. Now each gram of the mixture is .1 gram of yeast and .9 grams of flour. You can adjust this to meet your needs based on your scales and what you're trying to weigh. Put the flour and yeast in a clean sealable container and save it.... it should last a long time. In practive, I usually ignore the impact of the flour in the recipe. I use .1 gram of yeast with 1,000 grams of flour. The .9 gram of flour I added with the yeast/flour mix just isn't that important.

With scales, as with any tool, you have to pick your tool to meet your need. And often there are ways to work with a tool that isn't quite right to still get the results you need.



dolfs's picture

When I started out I had the same problem with very small amounts (yeast etc.). I have a My Weigh as well, accurate to 1 gram, but really that means that anything between x.5 gram and (x+1).5 gram shows as X so, on average, you may still make a 0.5 gram error which can be significant. You can use this knowledge somewhat to your advantage by carefully adding the ingredient. If you need .7 of a gram you slowly add and stop just after it flips to 1.0. You know that you are most likely in between 0.5 and 1.0 and likely somewhere in between. You can not do the reverse because you would have to remove a tiny amount. This might work for the very first dry ingredient, but not if you use the tare and add method.So here is what I did. I got myself a set of metal measuring spoons for 1 dash, 1 pinch and one smidgen. The volume relations:

  • Fl. Oz. (1/8 C)
  • Tablespoon (1/2 oz)
  • Teaspoon (1/3 T)
  • Dash (1/8 t)
  • Pinch (1/16 t)
  • Smidgen (1/32 t)
Now, if you know how much a cup or a tablespoon of the substance weighs, you can compute the reverse. Example, with my yeast (SAF blue) and scale, Instant Dry Yeast has a weight of 9.8 gram per tablespoon (level). So, a dash measures 407 mg, a pinch 203 mg, and a smidgen 102 mg. So, using smidgens I can measure at around 0.1 to 0.2 gram accuracy by using volume. I found, experimentally, that if you use fine grain substances such as table salt and yeast measuring is quite consistent (flour has the (in)famous "packing" problem, but you do not need small quantities). There is virtually no "packing" error and using the leveling method you can hardly introduce an error much larger than a few percent of the volume measured. So that means that if you measure a smidgen, you're error is likely to be in the 20 mg range or so. Quite acceptable.

I've used this approach quite successfully for poolishes and the like. If you use dough calculator spreadsheet it has these conversions built in for you (it will compute from the percentage the weight in grams, but will also give you a volume using d/p/s as necessary. It is also helpful if you need to share a formula with somebody who does not have a scale, although you will have to tell them how to scoop a cup (dough calculator is based on typical standard of spooning in the substance and then leveling off).


See my My Bread Adventures in pictures