Kitchen scale

The kitchen scale: a tool whose time has come

CONSIDER the Parmesan problem: Imagine making lasagna with a recipe that calls for garnishing them with “a cup of grated cheese”.

This was a simple instruction when the box grater was the only way to grate cheese. In recent years, however, more and more cooks have purchased Microplanes, which can turn a small piece of Parmesan cheese into mountains of puffy ribbons of cheese. And here’s the trick: The heavier shavings from a box grater can fill a cup with twice as much cheese as the fluffy snow from a Microplane.

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Blog Editorial Director Eat serious, once asked 10 people to measure a cup of all-purpose flour into a bowl. When the cooks were done, Mr. Lopez-Alt weighed each bowl. “Depending on your strength or your picking method, I found that a ‘cup of flour’ can hold 4-6 ounces,” he said. This is a significant difference: one cook can bake a cake with one and a half times more flour than another.

Professional chefs have long maintained that there is nothing simple about a simple cup of flour. There’s also nothing foolproof about that cup of grated cheese, half a cup of diced carrots, or a tablespoon of butter. When you fill a mug or measuring spoon with any ingredient, how much you get depends on a number of factors: how badly you sliced ​​it, how well you packed it. , how carefully you picked it up and if you manage to get everything out of the spoon. (Consider the mess of getting all the honey in a tablespoon.)

But when you weigh the same ingredients on a scale, none of these factors come into play. Four ounces of flour (or cheese, carrots, honey or whatever) makes 4 ounces, no matter who measures or how.

In recent years, digital kitchen scales have become inexpensive and widely available. I have tried several and even the cheapest – the Ozéri Pro, about $ 20 – was easy to use and perfectly accurate. Other models were just as great: the Soehnle digital kitchen scale, around $ 23, and the Oxo Good Grips model, $ 50, was slightly sharper to look at than the Ozeri Pro, but all three were equally adept at their primary function.

Yet the scale failed to become an indispensable tool in American kitchens. Cooks Illustrated magazine said scales were in the kitchens for only a third of their readers, and they were a pretty committed group of cooks.

There is a simple reason for this: the scale does not appear in most published recipes. American cookbooks, other than baking books, as well as magazines and newspapers generally only specify cup and spoon measurements for ingredients. A few, like Cooks Illustrated, offer weights for baking recipes, but not for tasty cooking. (The Times Dining section recently started using weight measurements with baking recipes.)

This creates a chicken and egg problem for the kitchen scale. Cooks do not own scales because recipes do not require one, and recipes do not require scales because cooks do not.

Think of this as a plea on behalf of the kitchen scale. It’s time for recipe editors to recognize this humble gadget for the incredible tool that it is. If more recipes started specifying weight measurements, more cooks would buy a scale. And they would instantly recognize it as one of the most useful gadgets in their kitchens.

Cooks who have given up cups and spoons for a scale may be rhapsodic about this; many describe the purchase of a kitchen scale as a revelation in order to sharpen knives that haven’t had an edge in years, or to buy a new pair of glasses. Not only does a scale provide the most accurate measurement, but also, as you get used to it, you’ll notice it starts to change the way you move around the kitchen.

With a scale, you can bring your ingredients together faster and with less cleaning. Recipes that require weights are also easier to halve, double, or otherwise adapt. And the scale is handy for many other tasks.

“The greatest feat accomplished by the kitchen scale is that it turns almost any recipe into a recipe from a bowl,” said Deb Perelman, who writes the blog. cooking lover. “You’re not looking for six cups and six spoons to bake a cake.”

Instead, you place a bowl on the scale and then pour the flour straight out of the bag until you get the weight you want. Most kitchen scales allow you to reset the reading to zero after each ingredient. Do that, then pour in your next ingredient – and so on. With a scale, you can get by using nothing more than a bowl and a spoon.

Ms. Perelman and other cooks who have started using scales say that over time, they are starting to understand the weight-to-volume conversions of common ingredients that barely vary in weight. This allows you to use a scale even for recipes that do not specify a weight. If you know that a cup of sugar weighs around 200 grams, why bother taking the cup?

Dave arnold, director of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute, recommends that you make a table with the standard equivalences, and stick it next to the scale. Conversions sometimes take some math, but there is a payoff if you can brave it.

“If you start cooking this way, it makes your life easier,” said Arnold. “You will do everything so much faster. “

But the scale is handy even if you don’t convert recipes. For example, it’s easy to get the right serving size for dinner. When making pasta for two, I put the can of linguine on the scale, then remove 4 ounces for each person.

Mr. Lopez-Alt does the same when making hamburger patties, and Ms. Perelman uses the scale to distribute the dough evenly between two layers of a cake and make a batch of buns of the same size.

The scale also ensures repeatability. I once calibrated exactly how many beans I need to make coffee the way I like it. Now every morning I place my can of beans on the scale and then take out 28 grams, allowing me to repeat the same pot every day.

Michael Chu, who runs the website Kitchen for engineers, use a scale to make iced tea. “A slight difference in the amount of sugar you add to your tea dramatically changes the flavor,” he said. “So I figured out how much sugar I like, and now it’s the amount that comes in. “

I have also found that it is easier to weigh liquid ingredients rather than using a liquid measuring cup. A fluid ounce of water weighs about a dry ounce, which means that a cup of water will register 8 ounces on your scale.

Recently I needed 7 1/2 cups of water for the polenta. If I were to use a two-cup Pyrex measure, I would have to fill it three times, and then almost fill it all over again, which is obviously a lot of effort. Instead, I simply placed the pot on the scale and then ran the faucet until the scale registered 60 ounces.

But these are all ancillary benefits. There are a few new cookbooks that feature recipes that specify the weight of each ingredient, and it’s when you cook from these that you notice the real genius of using a scale.

The other day I made the delicious macaroni and cheese from “Ideas in food, The new cookbook from husband and wife chefs H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa. The recipe included grated cheese, butter, and several other ingredients that would have been a mess to measure with cups and spoons.

With the scale, I made the whole casserole dish with just a grater, knife, spoon, bowl, and baking dish.

Cookbook Publishers of America: Every Recipe Can Be This Friendly.