Updated: Jul 13, 2021
Weight vs Volume Measurements
Many cooks make the mistake of not understanding the difference between weight and volume. This can dramatically affect the final product, especially when baking. Learning this skill will help ensure recipe success.
Weight is the amount of matter an object contains and is measured by a scale. Volume is the amount of space a three-dimensional object occupies and is measured by cups and teaspoons. Units of weight are inherently more accurate than units of volume because they mostly ignore confounding factors; like how tightly an ingredient is packed into a cup or what shape you've chopped it into.
Baking is not like cooking where you can add a little extra of this ingredient or leave out that ingredient. Baking is all about precision and accuracy so that you can achieve consistent results. And there are so many variables when baking – the quality of your ingredients, how you measure your ingredients, the mixing technique, the material your pans are made of, temperature and humidity of your space, and your oven.
Some of these variables are hard to control, but you can control accuracy by weighing ingredients. Unfortunately this is not always true when measuring by volume, especially with dry ingredients. A good example is flour. If you "dip" the measuring cup into the flour bag you will get a different amount of flour than if you "spoon" the flour into your measuring cup. This is because flour tends to compact with transportation and storage and there is also the problem of humidity affecting its density (volume). However, neither of these things will affect the weight of flour because a 120 grams of flour is always 120 grams of flour. If a batter ends up too thick or runny, it could be a simple volume measurement error - not necessarily a bad recipe.
Working with a scale is much more efficient than working with measuring cups and spoons. 5 main reasons why weighing your ingredients is the best way to go:
1. Time Saving: Place your mixing bowl directly onto the scale, set to zero or tare , weigh the first ingredient. Set to zero, add the second ingredient. Set to zero, etc.
2. Accuracy: When measuring ingredients by volume, what you’re actually measuring could be different each time you use a recipe, and could be off the mark of where the recipe was calibrated. The cup of cocoa powder measured out for a chocolate cake could have been overshot by 3 tablespoons because it was tapped on the counter to make the top level.
3. Recipe Consistency and Portion Size: When you’re measuring with precision, your recipes will turn out the same every time. As far as portion sizes go, if you need to divide a batch of dough or soup into a specific number of portions, you simply weigh the full batch and divide by the number of portions needed.
4. Simpler to Increase or Decrease Recipe Size: Trying to increase or decrease a recipe by volume can be a slippery slope when you’re multiplying or dividing fractions like 1/3 and 7/8.
5. Easier Cleanup: Measuring ingredients like peanut butter, coconut oil and honey isn’t very fun and always leaves messy measuring cups to clean up. When weighing ingredients, you will decrease the amount of dirty dishes - and who doesn’t want fewer dishes to wash?
My goal with Qspice recipes is that when you tackle that same recipe you will achieve a similarly delicious result. You may have noticed that I give most ingredients by weight and volume in hopes of converting you to cooking and baking with a scale. It’s quick and easy as long as you remember to always use the tare function of your kitchen scale BEFORE adding ingredients.
Note: adding to other ingredients is risky when first learning this method so proceed with caution because if you accidentally pour too much of the subsequent ingredient, it can be nearly impossible to retrieve it without disturbing the layer below, especially when you're adding liquid.
Though measuring by weight may require some adjustment to your normal cooking routine, once you’re comfortable with a scale, you’ll never want to cook without one again. Switching from volume to weight is an essential and fundamental step toward becoming a better cook. In the meantime, don’t hate on me if your focaccia comes out a little dryer than it should be!