Baking Tips: Is It Better to Measure by Volume or Weight?

by Jeanne on December 9, 2010

I’ve been seeing a lot of information floating around the net about how to best measure your ingredients for baking. I wanted to weigh in (pun intended) with my thoughts and experience.  There is some information swirling around that home bakers absolutely must have the precision of weight measuring in order to bake well.  I want to debunk this notion.

As you know, I am a life-long and avid baker who lives in the U.S.  As such, I have measured by cups (volume) for the majority of my baking career.   I also measure by weight in certain situations.  If I’m multiplying a recipe to increase the amount by several times or if I’m messing around with developing a bread recipe, I measure by weight.  If I’m making cakes or cookies at home, I measure by volume (cups).  I’d say that on the whole I measure by volume about 80% of the time.  As do most home bakers in the U.S.

As you know, baking is a more exacting process than is cooking. It doesn’t work that well if you willy-nilly throw in pinches of baking powder and dashes of flour like you might when spicing up a cooked dish. But, baking is also not rocket science. Baking–and home baking in particular–is not so exacting that you are doomed to failure if you are a bit off here and there on your measurements.

Home baking has a fairly large margin for error. This means that if you are off by a gram or two when measuring your flour or sugar, your cake or batch of cookies will still come out just fine. And that is the kind of difference you get in home baking–grams of error. When you measure by volume (cups) the difference between each time you measure the same ingredient with the same cup is a few grams. And, if you know weights, grams are tiny amounts.

To give you an idea of how tiny a gram is, let’s discuss how baking ingredients are measured in other parts of the world.  In the world of measuring by weight, there are grams and ounces. To get a sense of the differences between grams and ounces, 1 ounce is equal to 28.33 grams. That’s a lot of grams.  In countries other than the U.S., it is most common to weigh ingredients by grams.  And because a gram or two isn’t a big deal and because many older home scales do not measure in increments smaller than five grams (although this is changing), grams are always rounded up or down to the nearest five gram measurement.  So, when faced with the gram equivalent to one ounce, a home baker would round up the 28.33 to 30 grams.  And that’s OK, because a difference of a gram or three isn’t going to affect the success of the baked good.

Professional baking is a different story.  For professional baking, it’s important to measure by weight because the margin of error is much smaller.  When you are measuring ingredients for hundreds of loaves of bread–which means multiplying the recipe by hundreds–measuring by volume and being off by the gram or two per multiple becomes being off by pounds (or kilograms) in the final mix.  This would be a disaster for the professional baker.  This is why professional bakers measure by weight–it is more exacting and they have a much smaller margin in which to make mistakes.

Also, I have found that it’s important to use volume measurements when substituting for ingredients.  Gluten-free flours have different densities and different weights per cup.  And I have found that things work best if you substitute by cups when you are substituting for flours, not by weight.  Also, substituting for butter with butter replacers is best done in volume, as well.

All of this is to say that we need to consider the context when talking about how to measure for baking projects.  Home baking does not require the precision that professional baking does.  And the science behind baking supports the choice to measure by volume for the home baker.  It’s fine and it’s not a lesser art than measuring by weight.  100 years of delicious home baking created by using volume measurements has been proof of this.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not advocating against the use of using weight to measure by.  If you are a home baker and you measure by weight because you like to or you find it easier to do so–go right ahead.  Measuring by weight is just fine.   And, my readers from outside of the U.S. are already measuring by weight–which is why I now include weights in my recipes.

My message to home bakers is: measuring by volume is just fine and it works well.  Relax.  Baking is fun!  Baking is forgiving for the home baker.  Trust yourself and your experience.  And if you need any further convincing, look at all the baked goods on this site that have been developed with and use volume measuring to make–deliciousness doesn’t lie.

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