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.

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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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellen April 2, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Jeanne,

This is a brilliant explanation! I have heard so often “the right” way to measure is by weight but no one ever says why. Thank you SO much for explaining this issue.

Ellen

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Jeanne April 2, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Ellen: Oh, I’m so glad! Happy baking!

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Heidi @ Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom January 8, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Jeanne! I LOVE this post, thank you so much for taking the time to write it. You’ve taught me everything I know about the art of gluten free baking! Question for you, when YOU are measuring flours by volume, which method do you employ, the spoon & level or the scoop & level?

xo,
Heidi

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admin January 8, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Hi Heidi! I’m so glad this post is helpful! And I’m so glad to help out! I use the scoop and level method. That’s just what I’ve always done. :)

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Marie November 10, 2011 at 11:14 am

‘Starter Recipe’ calls for 125 grams of flour hydrated 100%…how do I weight the water in metric for this?

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admin November 10, 2011 at 11:30 am

Marie: The recipe includes weights and mls:
“Place 1 C (5 oz) of sorghum flour and 1 C (8 oz/250 ml) of water in your container.
Mix thoroughly (I’ve been using a whisk and it’s worked well). Add 1 or 2 leaves of red cabbage. Mix those around with the flour-water slurry.”

5 oz=140 g
8 oz=230 g

I hope that’s helpful!

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Marie November 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Thank you…that makes it clearer for me.

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admin November 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Marie: Oh, good!

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Teresa March 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm

I just found your blog today, as a result of a kerfuffle on another blog about how to measure. I love what I’ve seen so far.

I most often use a g-f flour mix that I get at our local food co-op (which uses a mixture of rice flours, potato starch and tapioca flour) and find that most of the time, measuring in cups works just fine. Even when I experiment with different mixes, I’ve not run into many problems. I’m considering getting a scale, since I want to experiment even more, but I’m not desperate to do so. I’m glad you provide weight conversions, as it makes it more inclusive for everyone, no matter how they bake.

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admin March 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Teresa: Thanks for visiting!

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Shirley @ gfe January 29, 2011 at 7:30 am

Hey Jeanne,

Thanks so much for this post! I’m happy and successful just stirring my flours and spooning them into my measuring cups. The fact that I focus on flourless and crustless often and a simple gf flour mix usually, too, means that tons of flours and starches and their weights don’t come into play and there’s much less room for error. ;-) I applaud you for writing this post! And, I just realized you had email subscription (thought you only had RSS and that makes me crazy), so now I’m on board to receive your updates–woohoo!

xo,
Shirley

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admin January 29, 2011 at 8:27 am

Shirley: Yay! I’m so glad!

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Karina January 1, 2011 at 11:35 am

I measure by spooning flours and starches into nested cups and leveling them off (and I definitely do not use dry nested cups for liquid measurement like a popular GF cookbook recommends). I use nested cups for dry ingredients, and liquid oz. cups for wet. It’s how I’ve baked for 40 years.

I’m not a math person. To convert my method to grams, and weigh every conversion out would turn baking from an art into a science, and frankly, I’m not interested. Baking brings me pleasure. I’m an intuitive cook. That’s how I develop recipes- through inspiration and getting creative.

Intuition and experience (through trial and error) are valuable when you bake gluten-free and vegan to boot. Nine years gluten-free, it’s worked for me.

In the end, we all have to find our own method- what works for us, individually. Maybe it’s a right brained vs left brained issue? I’m totally visual and intuitive. Never been adept at math or hard science.

Cheers! Karina

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Scatteredmom January 1, 2011 at 11:02 am

I have never, in my life, weighed flour to bake. Ever. Chocolate and nuts, yes….but nothing else, and everything I’ve baked turns out just fine! I agree-asking an inexperienced baker to weigh things might put them off baking altogether.

However, I’ve considered buying a digital scale just to make things more precise. But then I bake a LOT.

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htom December 31, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I’ve done both, and mostly use cups. I do sift wheat flours into the cup to form a cone on top, and then cut that cone off with a dough knife, to achieve a more consistent volume of flour in the cup. With GF cooking, I mostly use a tablespoon to scoop the GF flour into the cup (again forming a cone and cutting it off.)

Where the scale is much more useful is in sizing the results. Total weight of dough/batter = X; dividing it equally into two or three or … pans is very easy. No more skinny layers or small loaves.

Love your recipes; I have some friends who are GF or Vegan or both, and it’s wonderful to be able to make treats for them, too. Thank you.

I wishing you a prosperous and happy new year.

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admin December 31, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Htom: Thanks! And yes–the scale is awesome when multiplying recipes! And I like the way you measure for volume measuring–right on! Happy New Year!

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Jodi December 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Unfortunately you haven’t taken into account that people measure by cup in different ways. Some people scoop into the flour while others spoon in, or like me, a combo of both (when I measure this way). Some people leave that cup slightly mounded, and others use a knife to level it off. That can make a HUGE difference in your product – not just off by a gram or two. There is also a difference between what constitutes a cup or a tablespoon between countries so if I’m making a recipe created by someone in the U.K. using a cup measure made in the U.S. that will be a problem. Weighing gives uniformity.

I’ve been a baker all of my life and I started weighing ingredients a few years ago and really like it. All across the gfree blogosphere I see that every cook has to explain their method of measuring by cup so it obvi does make a difference in how their product turns out. Weighing takes the guess-work out of it and also allows for an easy way to substitute other flours of varying weights. Is it absolutely necessary? No. Especially if you’re using a recipe you created yourself (and therefore have a standard way of measuring) or one you’ve used for years and know how to do. But I think a scale in your kitchen is a valuable tool. One of the commentors above said he always measures butter and he’s absolutely right – a bit of butter here/there can make a huge difference and I always measure it out as well.

I understand there’s a bizarre reaction among americans about doing things in the way people in other countries do things especially if it’s European. Don’t get angry at me too! I just want to encourage people to try something new – sometimes other people do have a better way of doing things. Weighing ingredients is one of them.

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admin December 31, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Jodi: It’s fine for you to disagree with me. But, in my experience, there isn’t that much of a difference for casual, home bakers. I think it’s fine to measure by weight–I’m not saying it isn’t. As I said, I often measure by weight. Measuring by weight is great.

Some of your points do not really come into play in my argument. I never said that UK cups are the same as US cups. I realize there’s a difference–which is why I include weights in my recipes–at the request of my UK and Australian readers.

I wrote this in response to my US readers who wrote to me and said they had read that they HAD TO measure by weight in order to bake and therefore would never be able to bake again because they couldn’t afford a scale. That’s nonsense. And spreading the concept that measuring by weight is the ONLY correct way to measure–gf or not–makes me crazy. I have enough experience to know it’s not true. Even taking into account the different weights of the different flours.

So, if you want to measure by weight–go ahead! That’s terrific!

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Jodi December 31, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Hi, I haven’t read your blog before and found a link to this post on another site so I’m just speaking to what you wrote in this post. You didn’t mention that people were saying they could never bake again unless they could *afford* a scale. First off, I imagine people were just exaggerating with that comment? I mean, “never bake again” sounds a bit silly don’t you think? And secondly, you make it sound like it’s a sports car!! Scales range from manual (for less than $10) up to digital (anywhere from $25 up). I bought a digital scale in Canada that retailed for about $30 – I got it on sale for about $23. I’m on a tight budget myself but it works amazing and like ever other kitchen gadget I adore, was a great investment. (People may be able to find a used one at a thrift store even cheaper.)

Anyways, you don’t mention in the blog that you’re replying to a specific person – I assumed you were talking the merits of weight vs. cup measure in general so in that case, talking about the differences in cups from country to country applies. (And is germain to the conversation to anyone else who comes upon this blog.)

Also, I was responding here with the response you gave to Morri above in mind. You were advising someone in Europe to just sub one flour for another regardless of their weight/cup – this is where weighing is crucial. Let me give you an example…

The other day I was making some gfree bread. The recipe called for a cup of arrowroot flour but I didn’t have enough on hand – a first for me. I consulted the amounts of starches per cup to do a replacement. Here’s what I found:

Arrowroot flour – 225g per cup
Potato Starch – 190g per cup
Cornstarch – 150g per cup
Tapioca starch – 125 g per cup

(And yes I wrote them down for future reference!) That’s a HUGE difference. Imagine if I’d used a cup of Tapioca starch – that’s a volume of 100g less!! I used potato starch as the sub and added some more. (Being familiar with the recipe I was then able to eyeball how much more I needed but if I was new to it, I would have had to do some math!)

I’m quite familiar with the gfree blogs and I’ve never read anything where someone is saying weighing is the only correct way but maybe I missed something?? Regardless I wouldn’t say it’s the only correct way but I would say it’s the most precise way and invaluable when subbing one flour for another.

I responded only because I thought these points weren’t covered in your blog.

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admin December 31, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Jodi:
It sounds like this post has pressed some buttons for you. I’m not sure why you’re so angry about it. I agree with much of what you say. I understand your arguments. I know the weights of different flours. And one thing I’m realizing, that may help you understand where I’m coming from (and that I may discuss in a future post), is that I am not expecting any of my readers to use a single gf flour when baking. I’m mostly expecting folks to use my mix or a similar mix (my recipes are clearly written for my mix). Most mixes come out to be roughly the same weights. If someone wanted to use 1 flour and not a mix, they wouldn’t have good results regardless of how they measure–because no 1 gf flour is going to produce good results (at least in my experience).

Unless we go through a huge point-by-point discussion, I’m thinking I will never convince you that weighing by volume is OK for the casual home baker. And you will never convince me that home bakers must use weight to measure their ingredients. I’m thinking that we should agree to disagree on that point.

I feel a mission of sorts to encourage people to bake. It’s my passion and I love it. I react badly to any dogma that discourages people from baking. Insisting on weighing ingredients in the US discourages folks who are already a bit nervous about baking from actually baking. I hate that. If you don’t consider the scale price to be an issue, that’s fine. Some of my readers do.

Please let’s agree to disagree. Thanks.

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Timly March 2, 2012 at 6:51 pm

“And spreading the concept that measuring by weight is the ONLY correct way to measure”

If by correct you mean precise then it’s the only way.

You should encourage the end of volume measurements.

I really can’t think of a single advantage that volume measurements have over a scale and quite a few disadvantages.

I know I won’t waste my ingredients trying a new baking recipe unless it is in weights. Except when baking where the ingredient amounts will vary to get the right consistency (like pasta dough. I don’t weigh flour for pasta dough. But then I don’t use measuring cups either).

The “never bake again I can’t afford a scale” is absurd. A scale can be found for $25. Don’t bake that month and you have your scale money.

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admin March 2, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Timly: I think we will have to agree to disagree. I like measuring by volume at home. And it works just fine for me. If weight works better for you, then that’s good for you! For me baking is about having fun and part of having fun means choosing the method that you like best. :)

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Karina December 31, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Thank you for this post- I really learned a lot. I have wondered what all the fuss is about (regarding using a scale). I have never- in over 40 years of baking- measured by weight (or grams). That said- I’m not baking twenty loaves of gluten-free bread at a clip. It’s a very personal, one-at-a-time process in my humble apartment kitchen. With gluten-free baking, I find there are other factors (as mentioned above) that are more likely to affect the outcome in GF baking rather than the exact flour measurement in grams- the day’s humidity, the altitude (high altitude GF baking is a challenge) and the temperature of the ingredients. Not to mention, the single biggest AHA! moment reported by readers, when I ask if their oven is calibrated. Dozens of readers report that once they bought an oven thermometer and checked their oven temperature accuracy- it was OFF. Sometimes way off! Apparently a common problem.

Again, thank you for your take on this. I can sleep at night now. ;-)

Happy New Year! xox

Karina

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admin December 31, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Katrina: Yay so glad to help! Also, you are right–oven temperature is so very important! I tell everyone to get an oven thermometer–knowing your oven temperature will save so many headaches and baking disasters.

Happy New Year!!

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CherylK December 28, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I’ve cooked and baked by volume for years, too. Never had a problem. But I just read Ratio and am intrigued by the ratio-by-weight method which I think would be a good system if you’re experimenting with recipes.

On the other hand…”if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it has always been my philosophy!

I love your blog and read it often but this is my first comment. I have a friend who has Celiac disease so am always on the lookout for good recipes to make for her.

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admin December 28, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Cheryl: Thanks for visiting and commenting! I agree, the ratio method is fun to play with. My argument is not that one shouldn’t use weight to measure, just that home bakers don’t NEED to use it.

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Mary December 18, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Hi, glad I stumbled across your site. I don’t weigh, I measure, and while I’ve had my share of failures, generally my baked goods turn out well. There are so many variables–humidity, temperature, variations in ingredients–that in my opinion are at least as important in baking success as precision in measuring.

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admin December 18, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Mary: Yes, so true!

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Morri December 11, 2010 at 4:44 am

This has also been one big ol’ question mark for me. I’ve become an avid reader to many gf/healthy living blogs, some of which do swear by measuring out ingredients. As I am currently a U.S. exchange student in Sweden, having a fully stocked kitchen with appliances (especially with a student budget) has put a hiatus on honest-to-goodness mad scientist gf baking.

So, after searching the cyber realm to getting an answer, I hope that you can bring clarity to my confusion. I hope it’s not a “dumb” question, but I want to be absolutely certain how this weight v. volume debate actually works.

Okay, let’s start with a hypothetical “math problem”.
To make my question more clear, I’ll give you an example:

Say a recipe calls for 1 cup of brown rice flour, which is 158 g. But I, seeking to try something different and struck with inspiration (or is it madness? :D), want to use buckwheat flour instead. So, 1 cup of buckwheat flour is 120 g. In conclusion, that is a difference of 38g.

If the recipe calls for 158 g or 1 cup of rice flour, does that mean I use 158 g of buckwheat flour? Do I make substitutions with volume in mind, or with weight?

See what I mean? I really hope someone can help me with this, as I plan on creating a gf/healthy cooking blog when I get back to the States.

Thank you! (P.S. LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!)

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admin December 11, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Morri: These fall into the “um” category with gluten-free baking. Because all of the flours are different weights, it becomes a bit of a crapshoot to try to adapt recipes to different single flours. This is where you need to analyze the properties of the flours. My easy answer is go with 1 C to 1 C. My more complicated answer would be to analyze the properties of each flour. Buckwheat flour is not the best flour to bake with–because it’s got a certain flavor and is gritty. Do you want that property in your baked good? If so, I would substitute the cup for cup and forget about the weight.

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Morri December 12, 2010 at 2:55 am

Thank you for the answer! Maybe it’s more of a balancing act; a place between volume and weight for substitutions of various flours. I’m just glad that there is an “um” category, and that my question was understood. And I agree; buckwheat, unless in buckwheat crepes or Russian blinis, should not be exclusively used in gf baking. But it was the only thing I could think of as an example. My goal is to not only substitute wheat/gluten flours with gf flours but gf flours with other gf flours (hence, the mad scientest bit).

Anyway, thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I can’t wait to be part of the gf blogging community soon!

Best wishes and happy holidays!

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admin December 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Morri: You’re wecome–happy holidays to you, too!

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Jodi December 31, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Sorry but I respectively disagree with your guess here.

Morri, a difference in weight between flours will make a HUGE difference in your final product. Go with the measure by weight when substituting flours especially when there is such a huge difference of weight on a per cup basis. Your flour to butter ratio will be completely off and you’ll end of with a dry product in the example you gave here. cheers!

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Alissa December 10, 2010 at 8:20 am

Thank you so much for this. I work in a lab, and the idea of having to weigh out stuff in my kitchen, just like I do at work, makes me not want to bake. And just like making growth media in the lab, close is usually good enough. I’ll be sticking to my measuring cups at home!

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admin December 10, 2010 at 8:33 am

Alissa: You’re welcome!

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InTolerantChef December 10, 2010 at 1:37 am

This makes me laugh. I’m a professional chef, and when I’m at work I weigh ingredients but when I’m at home I use cup measures. I hadn’t really thought about it before. The only thing I always weigh is butter, I find it really can make a difference to the finished product.

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admin December 10, 2010 at 8:34 am

I know. I’ve had many professional bakers tell me the same thing. The concept that you MUST weigh ingredients in order to bake at home is ridiculous.

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Johnna December 9, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Love this post (and love baking by weight or measure). What I really love is the last line: deliciousness doesn’t lie. Maybe on a t-shirt…or cross-stitched on a pillow…or emblazoned on my kitchen wall. LOVE IT!

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admin December 9, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Johnna: I’m so glad! And yes, deliciousness doesn’t lie!

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Karen Robertson December 9, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Jeanne,
Well done, thank you.
Karen

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admin December 9, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Karen: You’re welcome!

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Becca December 9, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Seriously! If home baking was a precision sport there would be no way to explain all those hundreds of recipes that use nice round amounts of flour and vanilla and baking soda, etc. Finer fractions are not required. There’s plenty of room for the slight variations that come from different styles of dry measuring too. Most important message: don’t be intimidated and let some need for perfection interfere with the possibility of good enough!

Bake on Jeanne!

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Jeanine December 9, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Yes, just what I need to read, thank you! I’ve read about weighing ingredients out lately, and have never, in my 15 years of baking, measured my ingredients by weight, everything is volume. And now I was worried that on top of converting to GF, I was going to have to convert to grams & ounces. Now, nah, I’ll leave that for those that want to leave the rest of us scratching our heads. I’ll continue on with cups & teaspoons. :) Good article!

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