We have all done it. Made a tried-and-true recipe and suddenly it flops. Fails. Falls. Every “F” word you can think of applies here. What happened? What could have gone wrong? It was perfect every other time!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, baking friends, but usually this is user error. Tech guys have an acronym for computer problems caused by human error: PEBKAC — Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair. Yep.
Here it’s a case of PEBMAO: Problem Exists Between Mixer and Oven. In other words, it’s you. Or one of your ingredients. But ingredients can’t be held responsible; they’re just ingredients.
Good news! I can help you. The best way to get reliable results from your recipes is to convert them to grams. No, change is not easy or comfortable. But I promise you it will pay off in the long run.
Hold on to your apron folks, here we go!
It’s a case of PEBMAO: Problem Exists Between Mixer and Oven. In other words, it’s you.Click To Tweet
I’m going to use an old family recipe from my husband’s side, one that I make routinely enough that weights will be beneficial in speeding up my prep time. One tip as we begin: Pay attention to all the bowls, cups and spoons I use for this recipe. They will matter when I share my final tip with you at the end.
First, you’ll need a simple kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients.
Let’s start by learning how to “tare” the scale. Once you turn it on it will automatically set the weight to “0.0 oz.” or “0 g”. Great! But before you scoop up any ingredient to weigh it, you need to account for the weight of the measuring cup, bowl or spoon. You only want to measure the flour weight. So place your measuring vessel on the scale, hands off, and press the “Tare” button once. The scale will now reset the weight to “0.0 oz.”
Now whatever you add to the measuring cup, even if you remove the cup from the scale first to scoop or fill it, is the only weight that will be measured. This is good. I mean, you always deduct five pounds for clothing weight when you step on the scale, right? Or 15 pounds. Whatever.
Now that you know how to tare your scale we can begin with our ingredients. I’m going to walk you through each with little helpful hints along the way, things that do make a difference. Plus, I like to talk.
Let’s start with flour. I used a mixing bowl because I need a total of 2 cups of flour for this recipe and it’ll hold both. After taring the scale I scooped my flour. When you scoop your flour for purposes of converting your tried-and-true recipes, scoop as you normally would. If you usually drag the cup through the bag of flour and press it a bit against the sides, be sure to do that now. It does matter, because a more densely-packed cup of flour will weigh more than a cup that has been filled by pouring or spooning the flour into it. That rule of “do as you normally would” pertains to this whole process. So act natural. No pressure.
You can measure with either of the units the scale allows: ounces and pounds, or metric grams. As you know by now, my preference is grams. They are far more accurate than ounces and pounds, and you don’t have to do any math to move from ounces TO pounds. The less math in my life, the better. To do this on your scale, simply hit the “Units” button on your scale to switch at any point. No need to re-tare the scale if you forgot. It converts instantly without changing any other information.
Now comes the part where you get to play culinary secretary. If you write your recipe ingredients on a blank sheet of paper you can easily record each new measured weight as you make the recipe. I was making this cake anyway for my husband and figured I’d take the extra time to convert the recipe. It’s a minimal amount of one-time-only effort to get your favorite recipes converted.
I need a half cup of Crisco for this cake recipe and I normally just cut the pat of Crisco where it indicates on the wrapper. But if you scoop it into a measuring cup normally, do that instead.
Bonus Tip: Crisco is fat. Butter is fat. Their weights are not equal. Butter is this magical ingredient that weighs the same in volumetric ounces as it does in weight ounces. 1⁄2 cup butter = 4 measured ounces AND 4 weighed ounces. See? Magical. However, 1⁄2 cup Crisco = 4 measured volumetric ounces and 3.1 weighed ounces. This is a large difference. It’s best to not make assumptions about ingredients. Just weigh them independently when you are converting. You’ll only have to do this once.
I’m using a different bowl to measure my sugar here. Normally, I would use my seemingly identical second metal bowl (the twin to the one I used for the flour) to measure and not have to worry about re-taring the scale. But since the bowls, surprisingly, do not match in weight, I just grabbed the nearest one to me. Lesson? Don’t assume. You know what happens when we assume, right? Baked goods misbehave.
It’s also tempting to think that flour and sugar are similar in weight. They are distinctly different with 3+ ounces per cup separating them. Again. No assuming or guessing! Your cakes, cookies, and pastries will tell on you.
Eggs!!! Eggs are good to know by gram. I know that in general each large egg, unshelled (yes, you need to weigh them without the shell) weighs about 45 grams. Why does this help now, when I just got done telling you not to assume and to look for exacts? Because if your recipe calls for 130 grams of egg, you know to grab 3 large eggs. It’s a mental note you’re taking here for making things easier in the future.
If you bake with extra large eggs or medium eggs, that number will be different. Just like school, no copying. Eyes on your own eggs and do your own work.
Liquids are always fun to put on the scale. It NEVER spills or makes a mess and the pours are always perfect and easily end right at the brim of the cup. OK. I lied. It’s easiest, if you can manage it, to tare your measuring cup on the scale and leave it there, pouring your liquid into it. Less mess transferring it. And I know about messes…
Water! Another magical ingredient that makes certain things a bit easier in baking. Just like butter, water is equal in volumetric ounces (fl.oz.) to weighed ounces (oz.). I always hear Alton Brown running around in my head during these times reciting “A pint’s a pound the world around.” A pint is 16 volumetric ounces and 16 weighed ounces. I didn’t need to break that down for you, did I? I get carried away sometimes.
Baking soda. Tablespoons and teaspoons. These are tricky. Often they are used for very specific roles, like flavor enhancing and leavening. As such, they do need to be measured carefully because of their potency. That’s why unless I’m making a HUGE batch of something, I leave them as is: teaspoons and Tablespoons. Why? Because a single teaspoon of baking soda weighs just 4 grams. That’s difficult for average kitchen scales to weigh accurately. Most scales are accurate to .1 ounce or 3 grams. And even then, 3 grams is tough for a scale to detect when that’s all it’s being asked to weigh. So unless you need 4 or more tablespoons of something, I would just leave it be.
Now, let’s combine our ingredients the way we normally would and then weigh the final batter. Why do this? So you know how much you SHOULD have in your batch. Why is this important? It isn’t always. But when you’re not sure if you’ve added the buttermilk or all the flour, you can check your batter before sending it to the oven. If your final weight is off more than about 30 – 40 grams, walk yourself back through your steps. The best of us forget ingredients sometimes. Of course you wouldn’t be able to check 1/8 tsp. salt like this recipe calls for (which I almost forgot while shooting this how-to) but it’s one more tool you’ll have to diagnose problems.
Now that you have all your weights, fill in any blanks by doing some basic math. I didn’t originally weigh everything in grams, or even hit the “Units” button to make things easier. It happens. For all of your “ounce” measurements, multiply those numbers by 28.35. Every ounce equals 28.35 grams. Likewise, if you measured in grams and want ounces, divide your grams number by 28.35 to get the equivalent ounces.
While you’re doing a bit of number crunching, add up your grams and/or ounces to get a total weight from the individual ingredients. This should nearly match the final batter weight you measured before heading off to the oven. Your added numbers should be slightly higher than your actual measured weight. Why? You lost a tad between transferring between bowls, your spatula, and the mixer attachment. Keep both numbers just for future reference.
Now pop your cake, cookies, or pastry into the oven, sit yourself down with a cup of your favorite beverage and spend a couple of minutes typing up your results. You’ll have that old family recipe FINALLY saved in digital format, so if your recipe card gets lost or covered in melted chocolate you’ll still have a copy. I’ve lost a few of my favorite recipes to food-based mishaps and I could smack myself for not getting them typed up and saved sooner. Add your instructions to the typed recipe and you’re good to go!
And now that I’ve taught you how to convert a recipe, you’ll find one other HUGE bonus to weighing things instead of getting out the measuring cups: FEWER DISHES!!! Isn’t this alone more than worth the effort?!? You can keep adding your ingredients to the same single bowl the whole time because you simply have to re-tare the scale each time you need to add a new one. Anything that helps keep my pile of dishes down is gold in my world!
So enjoy your new scale. Enjoy fewer “what happened to my recipe???” moments. And enjoy the recipe that my husband grew up on, Mama’s Chocolate Cake. It’s old school in flavor and meant to be served from the pan it was baked in. And I’ll be in BIG TROUBLE if I’m found to have leaked this recipe… (for the full cake I used this on, check out my Southern Take on Chocolate Cake).
(This post was originally published by CakeMade, under my former moniker “The CakeLady”. I was the sassy silhouetted advice columnist there and this was my advice tutorial, if you will. :D)