When deciding what the very first technique I wanted to explore should be, I asked myself...
What one technique is used in every single recipe that most people might not even know they could be doing better?
The answer...baking by volume vs. weight.
Starting Your Recipes Off Right
The most important thing you can do to give your bakes the best chance at success is to make sure you’re using the precise amount of ingredients called for in the recipe.
Unlike cooking, which is often guided by intuition and tasting, baking is a science. Albeit a very tasty and fun one!
At the core of any successful scientific method is precision. In this case, that means making sure every single ingredient you add to your experiment (aka recipe) is measured as precisely as possible.
Is that all it takes to be a baking master?
So does that uber-accurate measuring ensure success? Well…no, unfortunately. There's much more to it than that. But learning the differences between baking by volume vs. weight is a great start!
Your recipe itself may be poorly written, and your methods of preparation are very important as well. That said, if you don’t get the right amount of ingredients into your bowl, there’s no point in bothering with the rest.
Proper scaling is the foundation of any good recipe, so let’s talk about the two main ways you can measure your ingredients and discuss why you may choose one over the other.
Measuring by Volume (cups and spoon)
If you’ve ever baked anything in America, you probably don’t need me to explain how to measure using volume, aka with measuring cups and spoons.
Even if you’re not familiar with this measuring method, it’s pretty straightforward. You add your ingredient into the cup, liquid measure, or measuring spoon, and level it off.
As with most measurement systems we use in the US, this one differs from many other parts of the world. Simply put, we measure by volume (the space an ingredient fills up) rather than by weight (how much a certain ingredient weighs regardless of the space it fills up). The weight of an ingredient is based entirely on the physics of gravity, the earth's "pull" on it. (Aaaaand I’ll stop the physics lesson there. After all, it definitely wasn’t my favorite subject in school.)
Measuring by Weight (ounces or grams)
If you didn’t guess from my ramblings above, I am a STRONG advocate for baking by weight. And I think you’ll find most professional bakers are. I have never worked in a restaurant, hotel, bakery, or really any professional kitchen that didn’t bake by weight.
Why is this? Simply because it’s the most accurate, cleanest, and (once you’re used to it) easiest way to bake. Especially if you’re constantly resizing recipes to vary your production output numbers.
Scaling by Weight Basics
If you’re new to measuring by weight, which I’m sure many of you are, don’t worry! I’m going to devote several lessons to this method, so keep an eye out for that. For now, we’ll stick to the short version.
To measure by weight, you use a kitchen scale. You’ll start by placing a bowl on it, then you’ll “tare” the scale so that it reverts to zero. At this point, it's essentially no longer counting the weight of the bowl.
Once your've tared your scale (zeroing it out), you can start adding your ingredients, one on top of the other. You can weigh out the right amount of each by taring the scale in between each ingredient (much more detail on this in the future "how to" lesson!).
The Short + The Sweet
While the jump from weight to volume may seem scary, I promise that once you get over the learning curve, you will fall in love with its simplicity.
There is a one minor annoyance to contend with. Namely, the fact that most of the recipes you’ll find in American cookbooks and online use cups and measuring spoons. This fact alone is the most common reason for people to continue baking by volume vs. weight. That said, more and more developers are starting to include gram weights (Christina Tosi and the Milk Bar cookbooks are a great example).
Regardless, you’ll be surprised by how quickly you can learn how to convert all the classic baking ingredients by heart.
To help you with that, I’ll be sharing a few more lessons on the pros and cons of scaling methods. We’ll also discuss how to start converting your favorite recipes once you’re ready to take the plunge into baking by weight. I can promise you this: once you jump in, grab a swan floaty (provided by moi), and have a look around, the water is absolutely lovely.
Check out my next two lessons in this series to learn more about the benefits of each of these measuring systems and decide which one will work best for you!
Ready to learn more and put all your new skills to good use?
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