Uses for a kitchen scale

Many exist.  For all those reasons I recommend home cooks buy a scale.  This holds for beginners especially.

Some writers are passionate about scales to the point of posting a manifesto.  Instead I’ll provide a few examples and none of the bombast.

By Guillaume Paumier (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Coffee

Measuring by weight improves every cup.  Until a few years ago I drank coffee reluctantly, drowning it with cream and sugar.  Now that I’ve pinned down a weight-based brewing ratio, I happily drink my coffee black.  Here’s my procedure.  I brew simple drip coffee:

  1. Measure out the water.  Call this weight in grams W.  Around 400 grams per person is a good place to start.
  2. Measure out the beans.  Call this weight B.  B is determined by B = W \times 10 \div 177, following The Coffee FAQ.
  3. Grind the beans and brew.  (I grind with a simple blade grinder and brew drip coffee.)

Using a scale provides more benefits than a more dummy-proof process.

For example, scales allow for systematic adjustments.  Say I feel coffee from one batch of beans comes on too strong.  I can systematically adjust the beans-to-water ratio.  Instead of choosing B = W \times 10 \div 177, I measure out beans as B^{\prime} = (1 - \alpha) \times B, where \alpha is an adjustment factor.  So with too-strong coffee, the next day I’d choose, say, \alpha = 0.01.  If the coffee is still too strong, I choose \alpha = 0.02 the next day.  And so on.

The other benefit is easier apples-to-apples comparisons of products.  When comparing two products, you want the only difference in cups to be due to the beans.  Measuring by methods other than weight allows for a lot of variability from cup to cup.  This measurement error makes it more difficult to ascertain the true differences between different sets of beans.

Baking

Heuristically, bakers rely much more heavily on the interactions among ingredients and equipment.  For example, I can adjust the heat and seasoning of a tomato sauce as I cook it and still expect a good result.  However, if I poke and prod a boule while it bakes, I’ll probably ruin it.  For this reason, accurate and precise measurements benefit bakers immensely.

Baking was actually my introduction to scales and their usefulness.  In many cases, especially among serious bread bakers, recipes are expressed in percentage form.  This form is known as the baker’s percentage.  I like these recipes because I only have to remember a list of ingredients and numbers.  To memorize a conventional recipe, I not only have to recall ingredients and numbers, but also units of measure.  My usual pizza dough is 100 percent flour, 75 percent water, 2 percent yeast (or 20 percent leaven), 2 percent salt, and a generous drizzle of olive oil.  I’m not sure what that is in cups and teaspoons.  If I worked out my pancake recipe in the form of baker’s percentage, I’m sure I’d be able to reproduce it here!  Reading my entries should demonstrate how far I try to take this percentage idea through my cooking.

Brines

Brines can range from simple (water and salt) to complex (water, salt, sugar, herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, etc.). On the day-to-day I prefer equilibrium brines — see here for now, but I’ll post on this later too — but I want to employ and experiment with traditional brines as well.  I find that using a scale keeps me from worrying about the salt level and helps me focus more on the other interesting ingredients included in traditional brines.

Here’s my procedure:

  1. Measure out the water and reserve some ice.  Call these weights W and I, respectively.
  2. Measure out the salt.  Traditional brines are 5 to 10 grams salt for every 100 grams water.  Choose a concentration 0.05 \leqslant C \leqslant 0.10 and compute the salt weight S = C \times (W + I).
  3. Add other stuff and write down their weights.  Throw them into the brine as well.
  4. Bring the seasoned water to a boil then bring down to refrigeration temperatures with the ice.
  5. Brine, cook, and decide what ingredients and proportions to change.

 Seasoning flour

It’s important to season dredging flour.  However, it’s hard for me to do this on instinct because I fry so infrequently.  I’ve found it’s easier to weigh my flour and add one percent of the flour’s weight in salt.  Since I know my flour is properly salted, I’ve freed up my mind to work with other seasonings.  My dredging flour is 1% salt per 100% flour.

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