Friday, December 2, 2016

Why I Bake Bread Using a Scale, and You Should Too

I am doing some posts about my adventures in baking bread, including some recipes, and I realized that I have become completely attached to weighing ingredients rather than using measuring cups. So the first recipe had volume measurements but if you try that and want to keep following you will need to get a scale. You can get a good one for very little money. I picked one out for you on Amazon for 9 bucks but now it costs $40, so forget that. But if you look on Amazon you will find digital kitchen scales for $10-15 that will works great.  I would stick with one that gets 4.5 stars or more. (Update: thesweethome.com gives top honors to the Jennings CJ4000, which apparently measures to 1/2 gram accuracy, helpful for things like spices. I don't think I can count on my current scale to be any closer than 2-3 gm. As of this writing it is $26 on Amazon.)

People assume I'm advocating for a scale because it's more precise. It is true that weighing ingredients is more accurate, since flour especially varies in how much it compacts depending on how you store and measure it. I have taken a certain amount of good-natured guff in response to my admittedly-crazily-obsessive post about the inaccuracy of tablespoon measures.  My cousin Anna, a far more accomplished baker than I will ever be, wrote, "When one is not in a medical setting, that level of precision rarely matters. That's what I love about baking!" And her mother Barbara, award-winning cookbook writer/culinary historian, who first introduced me to bread-baking when I was 8, was even more pointed in a good natured way: "What is the takeaway message? My answer would be, walk away when a mathematician is in the kitchen. I am trying to think of a recipe that demands precision in tablespoon measures. I'll get back to you when something turns up."

They are right, of course.

So why weigh your ingredients, really?

  1. It's easier, quicker, and has less cleanup.  You put your mixing bowl on the scale, zero it, and throw in the ingredients one by one, zeroing the scale again after each one. No measuring spoons and cups to wash out (OK, you might still occasionally use a measuring spoon). Have you ever measured out tahini in a measuring cup? Or peanut butter? It's not pleasant to try to get air bubbles out, and it's not pleasant to wash the measuring cup afterwards.