10 May 2008

Tools of the Trade - Two Great Ways to Use Your Kitchen Scales

DISCLAIMER: This post will confirm what most of you suspect: I am a complete nerd. I am an incredibly anal cook/baker. I like math and scales. As with all my advice, I encourage you to use the intestinal method: take what works for you and "pass" the rest. (I know, it's gross, but I love how true it is!)

As promised in my Choice Goods post, I'm going to share with you how I use the kitchen scale to my advantage. Warning to Math Haters: using scales requires you to use your math skills. The good side is that you only have to dredge up the stuff you learned between first and third grades.

1. Measuring "sticky" stuff
I hate measuring shortening, peanut butter, honey, molasses, etc. They are a pain to get into the measuring cup, a pain to get out and a pain to clean up. But that was the old way. Now I put my mixing bowl on the scale, hit the "zero" button and simply add the ingredient until it gets to the right weight. The only thing I get dirty is the spoon. It's wonderful! If I have another ingredient to add, I hit zero again and then add it. Easy peasy!

*TIP* When measuring an ingredient into the bowl, pile it on top of itself. Be like a little kid and make a "mountain." That way, if you accidentally put too much in, you can take some out without scooping other ingredients along with it. This doesn't work with molasses though. Molasses is like hot lava and melts all the other ingredients. If you get too much molasses, well...I just hope you like molasses.

I can hear you asking, "But what if I don't know the weight of my ingredient?" My friends, there are two approaches to answering this question. First approach: Most labels have the number of grams a serving weighs. For example, my sour cream says "Serving Size 2 Tbsp (31g)." If I need one cup I just multiple the 31g by 8 since there are 16 Tb in a cup. I have a quick-reference measurement conversion sheet taped on the inside of my cupboard door for times such as these. (Click on picture at right to read labels.)

*WATCH OUT!* Stop pouring liquids about 20 g away from your desired weight. Scales tend to have a delay in them, so you need to let them catch up. If you pour until your desired weight and stop, you'll inevitably go over. Not easy to remove honey from that bowl full eggs and flour now, is it?

The second approach is this: Every time I use an ingredient for the first time, I weigh it and write it on a reference sheet. For instance, if I'm going to use molasses (it's serving size is in mL, not useful for my purposes) I place the measuring cup on the scale, zero it, fill it with molasses and record the weight. Sure it's messy this time, but next time I won't have to measure it out, I can just weigh it directly into the mixing bowl. I've done this in one-cup measurements for most of my commonly used ingredients. (One cup is easier to convert, as opposed to changing a 1/4 c serving size into 2/3 c, for example) Alternatively, you can record how much specific ingredients weigh on a recipe, but the disadvantage is that you have to find that recipe again to know the weight of that ingredient. If the one-cup weights are all in one easy-to-access place, you can use them for any recipe. Once you have calculated the recipe-specific weight, by all means, write it on the recipe for future use.

2. Dividing cake batter
If you bake and have to divide your batter, it's important for the pans to have an equal amount. This is not only for aesthetic reasons, but so they can bake at the same rate and come out equally moist in the end. Once again...math! For this to work, you need to use identical cake pans.

I have recorded the weight of my most commonly used bowls (including my Kitchenaide one!) and have them written on the reference sheet with the ingredient weights. (click on picture at left for details) After I make the batter, I weigh the bowl + batter. I then subtract the already-known weight of the bowl. This gives me the weight of the batter. I divide this number in half. This is how much batter should make it into each pan if I could get every tiny bit of batter out of the bowl. I never can. So use it more as a guideline.

Now you need to put your cake pan on the scale and zero it. Pour the batter in until you're about ten grams below the amount that should be in the pan. Take that pan off and put the second, empty one on the scale. Dump the remaining batter into this pan. If it's too much, scoop some into the other. If it's too little, grab some from the other pan. Your goal is to have the two pans weigh almost the same as each other. You don't have to be too anal. Within ten or fifteen grams is close enough.

These are my two great tips for kitchen-scale usage. My husband makes pancakes every Saturday and since I showed him my handy-dandy reference weights, he weighs every ingredient except the smaller ones that use measuring spoons. He loves it, I love it, we love it. See? The kitchen scales are helping to fill our house with love.

Do you have any tips on putting your kitchen scales to work? Share them! Believe me, I want to know! Also, if any of this in confusing, let me know! I'll try to clear it up.


Quentin said...

A daddy mole, a momma mole and a baby mole came up to the surface from underground. The daddy mole takes in a deep breath, "MMMMM I smell sugar". The momma mole takes in a deep breath, "MMMMM I smell honey". The baby mole takes in a deep breath, "MMMMM I smell moleasses".

tricia said...

quentin my friend! (i hope that's you anyway) i don't have your email because my potterpeople account was swallowed up by dark side (spam). i had to surrender and retreat. baby!? i was thinking there should be one of those by now...

Quentin said...

send me ur new address to qcollamore@tampabay.rr.com