Baking Like A (Mad) Scientist, Part 3- Why Weight? Go for it!

Good evening, friends and neighbors! I apologize for the lack of posting last week- the 9 to 5 got the better of me, and I desperately needed a brain break. I’ll try to be more on top of it in the future. Tonight’s entry comes to you, powered by green tea.

Tonight continues this months apparent theme of Baking like a Scientist with a crucial, often miscalculated, and widely feared aspect of the math behind the tasty sciences….

#2. Measuring and Weighing

In the entry before last, I mentioned the importance of putting a metric on as much as possible- times, temperatures, amounts, motions, turns, etc. This is necessary for exactitude, and therefore consistency. An exact amount of ingredient A, under the same conditions, with react with an exact amount of ingredient B the same way whether it’s today, tomorrow, or in 20 years- whether it’s you, or someone else.

Here, I feel the need to mention something very important. Consistency is being able to produce something the same way, tasting exactly the same, over and over again. For a professional baker, this is crucial- if you are intending to sell a certain product, it CANNOT vary from day to day. If you are baking for just yourself though, it’s important to know which ingredients CAN be messed around with, and with ones can’t. In general, anything that contributes to the chemical and physical reactions necessary to make the product happen must be measured carefully- I’ll do a future post about how to dissect a recipe prior to experimentation.

For right now, though, let’s discuss the crucial difference of…

WEIGHT vs. VOLUME

For the most part, the recipes you will find in books with be volumetric- meaning, the amounts of ingredients are listed in terms of volume, or how much space they occupy. In the USA, this is usually in terms of cups, pints, teaspoons, tablespoons, quarts, etc. Almost everywhere else in the world, the metric system is used- liters, milliliters, and so on.

Volumetric units are handy because they require very little skill or practice to learn- just the ability to count. They have a few significant drawbacks, however-

1. Density

Different amounts of product can take up the same amount of space. For example, almost every recipe that calls for brown sugar requires the measure to be “packed”- that is, the brown sugar should be pressed into the measure very tightly to ensure there are no gaps. This is because brown sugar is clumpy, and an unpacked cup of brown sugar is significantly less that a packed cup. Similarly, a cup of sifted flour is noticeably less than a cup of unsifted flour.

2. “Level” Measurement

Ideally, every volumetric measure should be level- a knife or ruler scraped right across the top of the filled cup to make a completely flat measure. Some ingredients, however, defy this- how do you scrape a level across the top of a cup of nuts, or berries? Additionally, some recipes will call for a “heaping” spoonful, or a “scant” cup- what do THOSE look like? Different for everyone who makes the recipes, every time they make it.

3. Different Volumes

In measuring, a “pint” (abbreviated as “pt”) is 2 cups, or 16 fluid ounces (fl oz.) Most bars in the world, however, recognize a “pint” of beer as being around 12 fl oz.

Additionally, there is the question of what KIND of ounce a recipe means- a fluid ounce (volumetric), or an ounce of weight (16 to a pound.)

For these reasons and more, professional bakers (and most anyone who uses the metric system) prefers to work in terms of WEIGHT, rather than volume.

Working with weight lends itself VERY well to the precise nature of baking. A pound of flour is a pound of flour, whether it’s sifted or unsifted. 6 oz. of brown sugar is 6 oz, whether pressed into a lump or broken up- thus making for quicker, easier, and more accurate measuring. Ingredients in small amounts, such as baking powder or salt, may still be done in volumetrics, but in general a professional bakers formula is given in weights.

The other reason weight is used is because of….

CONVERTING

Imagine you want to quadruple a recipe that calls for 4 cups of flour. That’s 16 cups of flour you have to measure out and level… without losing count. Little ridiculous, right? Too much time, too much work, and too many chances for a screw-up. Additionally, consider the following:

3 teaspoons (tsp) = 1 tablespoon (Tbs)

2 Tbs = 1 fluid ounce

8 fl oz. = 1 cup

2 cups = 1 pint

2 pints = 1 quart

4 quarts = 1 gallon.

So you’ve worked out the recipe you’re multiplying out calls for 18 cups of milk- how many quarts will you need to buy from the store? What if they only have gallons?

As much as I love math, I like doing as little as possible when I’m in the middle of something. Now, if we were doing weight-

16 ounces (oz) = 1 pound (lb or #)

That’s it. All there is to remember- and that’s just in America! Anywhere that uses the metric system, it’s…

1000 grams (g) = 1 kilogram (kg)

Simple, isn’t it? And all you need is a kitchen scale. Instead of scooping, leveling, guessing, figuring… you just pour your ingredient on to a scale until it’s the amount you need. When you are working in a busy bakeshop, anything to make your job faster and easier is a good thing.

Well, I certainly think that’s enough for tonight! Any questions? Ideas for what to cover next? Something in the kitchen that puzzles you still? Leave me a message in the comments! Next week, it’ll be back to more fun food stuff- promise!

Stay classy,

– BHB

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