This post is all about sharing a secret that every successful baker must understand. Armed with this knowledge, you will be well on your way to becoming a baking GIANT! (or moderately sized with a GIANT baking heart, if you prefer.) At least in your own kitchen. 🙂
It IS true that cooking a great savory dish leaves a little more wiggle room for experimentation and creating a smashing success with just about whatever happens to be in your pantry. A little of this, a dash of that and maybe even some of that leftover chicken from last night’s dinner and you can whip up a culinary masterpiece, with ease.
The chemistry of baking, on the other hand, is a little more particular, and requires precise measuring to create the necessary reactions when specific ingredients, in specific amounts, are combined. Intimidating? It doesn’t have to be. As a matter of fact with just a little knowledge and a collection of basic formulas for the baked goods you love most, you can be comfortable baking every day. AND, the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be to use what you know to experiment and get creative with baking, just the way you do when you’re cooking.
That’s the basis for a whole new category of posts I want to share with you in 2014 — Baking Basics. You’ll see it in the menu tabs above, and I’m hoping it will fill up quickly with posts you can reference, when you have questions. Identifying yourself as a scoop and swooper or a spooner is the first important baking basic I want you to think about, as it has a tremendous impact on your success when you’re baking.
So, what’s the verdict? Are you a “scoop and swooper” or a “spoon and leveler”? What about the recipes you use? Were their authors scoopers or spooners? It may not seem like a big deal, but I promise, understanding the difference will help you achieve much more consistent results when you bake. Until I started baking large batches of breads, cakes or cookies for freezer cooking, I didn’t realize how significantly the way I measured flour would affect my final product. After some time experimenting, I’m convinced that some of my friends who say they love to cook, but can’t bake, may find that this simple knowledge can change their minds.
The scoop and swoop method is exactly what it sounds like. You dip your measuring cup into the canister to fill it and use a finger to swoop the little mound off, making the flour level with the top of the measuring cup. Spooners add flour to their measuring cup, a little at a time, and then using the flat edge of a table knife or some other straight edge, level the top with great precision. Each method incorporates a different amount of air into the flour and affects how much flour is actually in the cup. Scooping and swooping adds more flour (by weight) to your recipe — as much as 20% more, depending on how vigorous a scooper you are. 🙂 If you’re baking a recipe that calls for 4 cups of flour and the recipe’s author was a spooner, but you scooped, you would end up adding almost a whole cup more flour than the original author used in her recipe. And when you are baking multiple loaves of bread, where 12 – 15 cups of flour may be used at one time, that difference becomes even more significant, using 3 or more extra cups of flour, compared to the original recipe’s author. Holy bread brick, Batman!
No wonder so many people think they can’t bake. This is quite a dilemma, since I don’t think I have EVER seen a recipe that stated whether the author scooped and swooped or spooned and leveled. What’s a perfectionistic, wanna-be GIANT supposed to do? Ideally, I would convince all of you to measure your flour by weight and every recipe would be written with weight measurements. The reality is, that’s probably not going to happen. Oh, I’m definitely going to get some of you weighing your flour, but those of you who don’t have access to a scale, can still be great bakers. You just have to keep certain facts in mind.
- If you don’t personally know the recipe’s author and how the flour was measured, your first attempt at making the recipe is ALWAYS going to be a trial run. Don’t give up if a recipe doesn’t turn out the first time. It may be as simple as adjusting the way you measured the flour, so always keep track of what method you used and try, again, using the other method.
- If the recipe gives weight measurements (oz or gm), in addition to volume (cups), then weigh your flour to get results consistent with the author’s.
- If you have a kitchen scale, you can update the recipes you use most often, and new ones that you try, by measuring out the flour in cups and then weighing the total amount. Note the ounces and grams measurement on the recipe, so anyone using the recipe after you, will have access to the most accurate measurements and you won’t have to rely on memory when baking it, in the future.
- Be consistent in the method you use for measuring flour when you create your own recipes. You’ll want to share with others who use it, what method you use, so they can come as close to duplicating your method, as possible.
- If you can afford it, buy a kitchen scale. Successful bakers and chefs rely on this method to achieve consistent results every time they bake. 5 ounces of flour is 5 ounces of flour whether you scoop it up in a cup or you spoon it delicately into the bowl. It is the most accurate way to measure and to help ensure baking success.
To give you one final illustration of the differences between volume measurement and weight measurement when it comes to flour, and why weighing is far superior, let me show you two bags of flour I recently milled. One was milled from hard white wheat berries, the other from Einkorn wheat berries (an ancient variety, without all the modern-day modifications). In a recipe, if I were using volume measurements, I would need almost twice as many cups of Einkorn flour to achieve the results I had with hard white. Someone creating a recipe that says use x amount of cups of either one, would have to note what specific wheat their flour was milled from to get the same results for anyone else who used the recipe. However, if they gave weight measurements, the recipe, as written, would work with either flour.
Have I convinced you, yet? Are you already in the car on the way to Walmart to buy a kitchen scale? 🙂 There are other factors that can affect the favorable results of your final baked products, but accurately measuring flour is at the top of the list. From now on, recipes I publish, here, at Busy-at-Home will give both volume and weight measurements and if you don’t have access to a scale, you’ll know I scooped and swooped for the results I got, so you should, too. 🙂
How do you measure flour? Have you ever been frustrated to follow a recipe exactly and still not have it turn out? What’s your greatest baking fear? Success? What puzzles you about baking or what questions would you love to have answered about baking? I’m anxious to show you that you can be an extraordinary baker and I’ll help with all I can.
Now, go bake something amazing! You can do it!