How to Properly Weigh and Measure
There are two types of kitchen folk in this world-those who like to bake, and those who don’t. Baking is science and requires precision to get a positive end result. Many people do not have the patience to follow recipes so accurately, but it is SO worth it! In culinary school we were taught and only used metric, which is way easier because it is even whole numbers. My grandmother taught me how to bake a lot of things by eye and feel, as her generation was known to do. I’m a stickler about proper measurements and it is especially important when baking with substitutions. Gluten free baking, in my opinion, requires the most babysitting. Let’s talk about some measurement basics, with pictures to help illustrate.
Using a Scale for Weight
Most professional pastry and culinary kitchens use scales for accurate measurements, whether it be for ingredients or scaling out batters and doughs. Even your favorite cookie scoop is scaled to ounce portions for even dough balls. For 20+ years I have been using Escali brand digital scales. They are affordable, durable, weigh in metric and US standard and come in a ton of colors. Any digital scale is fine, I prefer not to have a glass top one just because of the risk of glass breaking by food. I also recommend getting a scale with an 11-pound capacity.
I taught Professional Baking and Pastry for many years, and before the class began their 9-month course in the kitchen we would have some lecture days to educate them. One of my favorite days to teach that first week was weights and measures because it was really so eye opening. Most people don’t realize that yes, a cup is 8 ounces, however, a cup does not necessarily WEIGH 8 ounces. Dry and liquid measurements cannot be confused, nor should the equipment used for it be either.
How to Use a Digital Scale
Most scales are the same face format with an on/off/tare button and the measurement button. Tare is used to zero out the weight on your scale when you add the weight of the bowl or a new ingredient. You want to zero it out every time to see your accurate measurement. Be careful! They time out to conserve battery after a few minutes and turn off.
The weight button lets you toggle between pounds, ounces, fluid (liquid) ounces and grams. This is very helpful when weighing flours (especially gluten free) because I like to weigh my gluten free flour at 140 grams per cup, as that is the closest weight to a cup of wheat flour when substituting. I rely on it as well for weighing fats like shortening and vegan/safe butter.
Here is an example of gluten free flour blend being weighed at 140 grams per cup.
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you have these in your kitchen. Great! But, are you using them correctly? Dry measuring cups are used for…wait for it…dry ingredients. Things like flour, sugar, oats, etc. should only be measured in the cups and not in a liquid measuring cup. This is a standard set of dry measuring cups and spoons. I like metal because they wash better (plastic is porous and can stay greasy) and have sharper edges for more accurate measurements.
Also, a HUGE thing to remember is that just because a liquid cup weighs 8 ounces, a dry cup does not. So, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of say, crispy rice cereal, don’t assume to weigh out 8 ounces. Everything has a different weight and density. Let’s take a look…
Here’s a cup of rolled oats. If someone went by the “8 ounces to a cup” rule and weighed it at that it would be completely wrong, throwing the whole recipe off.
Let’s weigh the oats and see what happens.
See what the scale says once the oats are weighed? It’s only 4 ounces. Huge difference! Always follow a recipe when it says by weight or volume. It will make all the difference in the world.
Measuring Gluten Free Flour
I’ve made reference in this post and in others that I use 140 grams per cup of flour when substituting in recipes. Why that number? Wheat flour (depending on brand) will weigh 130-140 grams per cup. When substituting wheat for gluten free blends, this is a great rule of thumb to yield positive results. Gluten free flour blends are amalgams of flours and starches that are very light and very dense so every blend can be different across the board weight wise. The 140-gram rule has helped me with many substitutions. However, this doesn’t apply when using cassava, tigernut or coconut flour.
When using a recipe that does not call for a weight but just a dry cup measurement of gluten free flour, properly measuring is crucial. The common way to measure wheat flour is the “scoop and level” method, this is not the case with gluten free. For these blends, get your measuring cup and a piece of parchment paper or foil to catch the overflow flour. Spoon the flour into the cup lightly, shaking as you go to fill in, but not pack the cup. When the cup is overflowing, shake excess off and gently level off. The paper or foil is there to catch the excess flour and use to easily pour back into the packaging with no waste.
Liquid Measuring Cups
I’m proud owner of at least two generation’s worth of glass Pyrex measuring cups because they are simply awesome. But as awesome as they are, PLEASE don’t use your liquid measuring cups for dry ingredients! It yields a wrong measurement entirely. These are used for (need I say it?) liquid/wet ingredients such as milk, honey, juices, etc.
When measuring, keep the cup on a flat surface. Holding it and looking down won’t be accurate as you can’t see the meniscus. The meniscus is the curved surface on the liquid. Looking at it dead on without a shaky hand is what you want.
Here’s a pro tip for measuring sticky liquids like honey, maple syrup, agave or corn syrup-lightly spray or oil your cup. The stickiness will slide out without losing it all stuck to the cup.
I hope this can clear up some questions and give you courage to try a scale! As bakers, our creativity comes out in the final product, so it is that much more gratifying when a perfect cake to decorate comes out of the oven. Understanding how to substitute can lead to taking a favorite old recipe and making it safe for a new tradition.
As we all know, reading labels and preparing food when managing allergies is a job within itself with much responsibility. All the brands I use are ones that I have contacted, and Casey has eaten safely. That being said, I must remind…
Please do your own research when deciding which products and foods are safe for the allergies you manage. These are the ones that are safe for our needs but may not be for you. Everyone has different comfort levels with manufacturing and production procedures.
And, as a friendly reminder, always have 2 epinephrine auto injectors on hand!