Weigh to Bake
Oct 27, 2005 | From the kitchen of Rose
i can't imagine life without a counter-top scale to weigh ingredients!. if i wrote books or recipes just for myself i wouldn't even include cup measurements. while I'm going out on a limb i might as well admit that given my druthers i would use only the metric system. it's so much easier, faster, and more reliable. can you imagine how crazy-making it is to create and proof all those charts in my books that list each ingredient in volume, ounces and grams! but i've got to cater to those resistant to weighing because as far as i'm concerned, it's better to bake by volume than not to bake at all. and baking makes me happy so i want to share it with everyone.
bakers are born, not made. we are exacting people who delight in submitting ourselves to rules and formulas if it means achieving repeatable perfection. the rewards of this discipline go beyond providing absolute sensory pleasure. there is also a feeling of magic and alchemy that comes from starting with ingredients that don't remotely resemble the delicious magnificence of the final result.
i've been championing the use of scales for baking for years but now i have a new and persuasive argument that just might tip the balance! two of the most important ingredients used in baking have changed in their packaging over the past few years, impairing accuracy of baking results. at first i thought it was a fluke but when i mentioned it to other bakers and chefs they also were puzzled and aware of it.
i've been finding more and more often that when i unwrap a stick of butter and weigh it, instead of getting the 4 ounces listed on the label, it weighs only around 3.87 ounces. I just don't get it. there used to be laws and fines that encouraged manufacturers to go a little over the mark rather than risk going under (in more ways than one)!
the unnatural change in egg yolks, however, presents a real mystery of nature. i first noticed something weird when i was baking at a friend's house in the french countryside. i was making a lemon custard tart and instead of the 6 yolks i would normally use i had to use about 10 to equal the same weight. each "large‿ egg in the shell weighed the standard 2 ounces or 56 grams but the yolk inside was tiny. happily most french households have kitchen scales so it was no problem. several years later i noticed the same thing happening in the u.s.! now as you know, the yolk is the living embryonic organism and the white is it's food. could this new imbalance be a metaphor for the trend toward excessive food starting even this early in the development of life? I remember thinking at the time "poor little yolk--what happened to you?‿ and then yolk after yolk appeared in the same sad size.
another curious thing i've learned about eggs is that the law dictates that a dozen large eggs weigh in at a total of 24 ounces, but there can be significant variance in the weight of each individual egg as long as the total adds up.
before you start thinking that the problem is me, i should add that my three scales (are very high caliber laboratory scales that i calibrate on a regular basis.
recipes may not suffer greatly if the variations are minor but they won't be perfect either. of course not everyone's goal is to be a perfect baker but if you're on this blog site i'll bet you're interested in investigating the possibilities of perfecting your baking. so here are some more of my pro-scale arguments:
any lover of baking ultimately will adore using scales once past the fear of what sometimes, at first, is perceived as a foreign object. weighing ingredients is not only reassuring, it is much faster than measuring and results in far less cleanup. consider how much easier it is to scoop cocoa or powdered sugar, with the inevitable lumps, into a bowl for weighing, rather than to try to measure out a level cup, lightly spooned. and i wouldn't dream of trying to figure out how tightly to pack brown sugar into a cup when i can weigh it in a flash. also think how much more pleasant it is to weigh a greasy substance like vegetable shortening, rather than to smear it into a measuring cup or to weigh sticky corn syrup or honey. and if a recipe calls for a number of ounces of bittersweet chocolate that is not the exact weight of a chocolate bar, isn't it nice let the scale determine the exact amount.
scales that have the ability to eliminate (tare) the weight of the bowl also make it possible to add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl, one after the other, rather than having to use separate bowls for each. they can then be mixed together, eliminating the need either to sift the flour or to sift the dry ingredients together.
another benefit of weighing is the ease of decreasing or increasing recipes. and once in a great while, i have completed a batter or dough and suddenly wondered if i remembered to add an ingredient. when there is the slightest doubt, all i need to do is weigh the final unbaked product. if it is less than the total weight of the recipe, my suspicions are confirmed and i can add the missing ingredient.
not convinced yet? then think about all the money you'll save on postage by not having to add more than necessary!