Hi. After another messed-up attempt at baking a whole grain cake, I realized I have a (I hope not too) basic question about measuring. I have been using a shortcut in which I just put a container of an ingredient in instead of measuring it out in cups, etc. For example, if I add a 4 oz. container of applesauce instead of measuring 1/2 cup (which is what the recipe asked for), will this make a noticeable difference in the baking? I know that weight and volume are not the same except for thin liquids like water, but I have been doing this for ages when cooking and I never realized it, maybe because it didn't make such a difference to the results. I don't want to get involved with weighing all of the ingredients if I don't have to.
Thank you for any insights,
I'm curious as to why you don't want to weigh ingredients? Exact weights don't matter much in general cooking, but they are more critical in baking. I confess I am biased -- I hate trying to bake from recipes that use cup measures for dry ingredients. It's unpredictable, messy, and inaccurate. If you want reliable results, weighing is safer. And slimline digital scales don't cost a lot and don't take up much room -- you can slip them into a drawer when not in use.
See for example this page for how much variation you can get when measuring flour in cups. I find the finicky scooping and levelling more trouble (and messier!) than just putting my bowl on the scale and tipping flour into it until it reaches the desired weight, then using the tare function to add the next ingredient. So the first thing I do when I want to bake from a recipe that uses cups is convert everything to grams.
As someone who has lived in both the UK and USA and uses cookbooks from both countries, I am firmly on the side of digital scales, especially for baking. Weighing is far more accurate, as veronicafrance says it is so much easier when adding several ingredients to the bowl just to reset to zero as you add each new ingredient and there is much less washing up at the end (or even during the process if you need to reuse a cup measure between wet and dry ingredients).
There does seem to be a movement from some US food writers towards measuring in grams. I know Michael Ruhlman is a big advocate - see a post on his blog on the subject. Some of my recent baking books list weights as well as measures - Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy by Alice Medrich, Miette by Meg Ray & Leslie Jonath both have ounces though I wish everyone would follow Joanne Chang's lead in Flour and offer measurements in grams (the most accurate of all).
Jane or, other EYB friends. . . just so I'm crystal clear on this, in the UK would all ingredients be weighed then regardless of whether you are cooking or baking?
I haven't pulled any books off my shelf and I can certainly understand the benefits of weighing ingredients for baking but in terms of cooking, would you, as a matter of course weigh your mushrooms, shallots or chopped herbs for instance? For example, I just made a dish calling for 1 cup of chopped herbs...would a weight be provided in the UK or Europe?
I've been debating whether to invest in an electronic kitchen scale for some time now. At present I have a fairly old Hanson scale from Ireland that has served me very well for baking. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
Yes in the UK all measurements are weight (or volume for liquids). There are no cup measures in the UK though they do use teaspoons and tablespoons for small amounts such as baking soda or vanilla essence. Not everything is by weight - for example a recipe might say a small head of cauliflower or one onion or a bunch of parsley but generally most ingredients are by weight.
Thanks so much Jane, that's very helpful.
Just to add to what Jane said, even if a recipe for a stew says 500 g of carrots, that doesn't mean I actually weigh them. I just eyeball them because I know what 500 g of carrots look like and one carrot more or less isn't going to ruin the dish :) It really is only baking that requires weighing ingredients properly. So I probably would weigh the carrots for a carrot cake.
The other advantage of weighing ingredients for baking is that you'll get more consistent results each time you make the recipe! I don't have a digital scale, just an old-fashioned one, but it's quite accurate and marked in both pounds and grams. It serves my needs but I might think about a digital scale if I start to do more baking!
Yikes, Cati, that ingredient list is a real mess, and I appreciate the heads-up -- something to look out for in evaluating new cookbook acquisitions. The editor of the US edition of HTBADG should be ashamed. And it's baffling: once you've gone to the trouble of translating the given weight of raisings to '1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons', it's trivially easy to include an ounces/pounds conversion of the original metric weight.
For US adaptations of cookbooks from other countries with ingredients by weight, IMO the practice for publishers and editors should be to keep the original listing of weights (converted to ounces/pounds), then add in parentheses the volume or quantity equivalents. That way the many US cooks who use scales can quickly assemble the ingredients, and the (probably still a majority) of others who don't can work in their accustomed way, while being given the opportunity to get a sense of the weights of a given quantity of ingredients.
Cati - same book same issue - hardly use it as aresult, which is crazy as Nigella has wonderful recipes!
I enjoyed the comments. I am so compulsively careful, I tend to measure and weigh when I bake. I am just not confident that the scale is right and I am so afraid of making a careless error. I measure twice and bake once. But to answer the orginal question about the weight versus volumn. In solids it isn't always the same but in liquids it is. So 4 ounces of milk is always a half a cup but 4 ounces of drained ground beef is a cup. Apple sauce is a liquid (confusing so I looked it up -doesn't hold it's shape) and 1/2 a cup of apple sauce is equal to 4 ounces.