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Rose Knows: Why Weigh

Rose Levy Beranbaum - August 4th, 2014

Rose Levy Beranbaum—award–winning author of The Cake Bible, The Pie and Pastry Bible, The Bread Bible, A Passion for Chocolate, and many more—will be answering baking- and pastry-related questions in her column on FoodArts.com, “Rose Knows.” Her latest cookbook, The Baking Bible, is due to hit the shelves in November 2014 but in the meantime, read more on her blog, Real Baking with Rose Levy Beranbaum. Her new scale, the Escali Alimento Rose Limited Edition Digital Scale, was released this month.

Any pastry chef worth his sugar is going to weigh major ingredients rather than measure them by volume. Not only is weighing easier and faster, it’s also more accurate. Try measuring a cup of flour and weighing the results each time, and you’ll see that they vary. And when it comes to liquid, measuring cups with spouts, designed for the purpose, are not rigorously standardized the way laboratory beakers are. Measuring cups can be as much as 25 percent off.

Recently, in the home baking venue, major newspapers such as the New York Times, are listing weights for baking recipes. And when the Escali scale company approached me to produce a “Rose Scale,” it was like a barometer to indicate consumer interest and verify the trend. Someone has even produced a scale designed to work with an iPad.

And why are accuracy and precision so important in baking? Because you have to get it right the first time. When you bake a cake or a tart, you cannot taste it part way through the baking process and decide what to add. And if you measured the flour with a casual attitude or a heavy hand, you cannot undo the effects of dryness and heavy texture. A cook must constantly taste, prod, evaluate and adapt to the variation of ingredients. A baker, however, is working with ingredients such as flour, sugar, baking powder, liquid and butter, which are far more consistent. The variance in baking results comes from the manner in which people measure the ingredients even more than from the mixing technique. Using scales to weigh the ingredients totally eliminates this potential problem.

Weighing ingredients is not only reassuring, it’s much faster than measuring and results in far less cleanup. Consider how much easier it is to scoop cocoa or confectioners’ sugar, with the inevitable lumps, into a bowl for weighing, rather than to try to measure out a level cup, lightly spooned. Measuring brown sugar by packing it into a cup is far more time-consuming than scooping it into a bowl to weigh. And a greasy substance like vegetable shortening, or sticky liquids such as corn syrup or honey, are much easier to weigh than to measure.

Scales that have the ability to 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 scaling recipes up or down. And once in a great while, I have completed a batter or dough and suddenly wondered if I remembered to add an ingredient. When in 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. Convinced? You’ll never look back.