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Bread making - volume vs. weight

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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    Posted: 31 December 2012 at 10:05

There's no doubt that in baking, it is axiomatic that weight trumps volume when measuring ingredients.... or is it?

I'm a complete novice when it comes to bread baking, and will probably never be able to say that I've advanced beyond that level; however, I've seen it happen both ways. Sometimes I try to stick hard and fast to weighing components, only to get a product that I know could have been better if I would have tweaked beyond those self-imposed parametres. Other times, I've found that I can drastically improve a product if I weigh the ingredients. One example of this is my semi-famous focaccia al formaggio di Recco, where I struggled for years trying to find eye-ball the "sweet" spot," and only succeeded once or twice before finally making it using weighed ingredients, as the recipe advised to begin with.
 
To make things more complicated (to me, at least) recipes for or discussions among more advanced bread bakers seem to always deal in percentages. I know in my head that this SHOULD simplify things but it never does.....
 
So I've come to the conclusion that I don't know enough about the subject to comment intelligently on it ~ anyone else want to take a stab on it?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 December 2012 at 13:52
I've always been of the thought that weight was the better measurement because it's more precise, but lately I'm wavering on that a little bit. Especially when it comes to baking things like bread, you often have to adjust the amount of flour for humidity and such to get the proper dough, so does it really have to be that precise? Confused I dunno.  I guess I'm in the same boat as you Ron. 
Mike
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 December 2012 at 17:03
As with so many things culinarian, the answer is, it depends.
 
Personally, I always weigh, but only because I'd gotten into the habit. The fact is, it's not necessary. An awful lot of great bread has been produced from cups and teaspoons.
 
Weight is used because professional bakers do not use recipes. They use formulae. And the only way one can multiply or divide the quantitiy is to maintain those proportions. The flour is always expressed as 100%, and its weight is the benchmark.
 
Unfortunately, a lot has been made about the "precision" of weighing that doesn't hold weight (sorry about that) for the home cook making only one or two loaves. Volume measurements, in that case, will produce a fine loaf of bread.
 
The key to understanding is that even with weighed ingredients, you often have to adjust the flour or the liquid to make the dough. As Mike notes, environmental factors affect how much flour is necessary.
 
Untimately, producing a good dough is a tactile experience. Once you learn what good dough feels and behaves like, that becomes your target. Getting there can be done equally well by weight or by volume.
 
One more point: James Beard, among many other great cooks, used volume measurements for his bread recipes.
 
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 January 2013 at 09:16
Another note on weighing. If you work that way, and change flours, it might necessitate a change in the basic weight as well.
 
For example, Reinhart uses 4.5 oz per cup as his basic weight for flour. When I was using King Arthur flour, that worked perfectly. When I switched to Weisenberger I noticed that I had to adjust with a considerable volume of flour. Sometimes well in excess of a cup.
 
A lightbulb suddenly went off, and I established an actual benchmark with the Weisenberger. Turns out it is denser, overall, than the King Arthur. With it I use 5 oz per cup as my basic flour weight, and the recipes have returned to normal.
 
Here's the point. Had I not established an actual benchmark, weighing the flour was no more precise than measuring it by volume.
 
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 January 2013 at 09:20
On the other hand, there are times when weight can make a difference.
 
When I started experimenting with my pullman pan, I determined that 43 ounces was the proper weight of the finished dough to perfectly fill the pan. Keep in mind that, unlike a regular loaf, there is little room for expansion. Too much dough will cause the lid to warp, twist, and even pop off.
 
I've posted, elsewhere, my recipe for oatmeal bread. When adjusting it to make a pullman loaf, however, there's no way I could hit precisely 43 ounces. So I went slightly higher. Result: Once I back out the 43 ounces I need, there is just enough to make a mini-loaf at the same time.
 
But, using a pullman pan takes us beyond the casual bread baking stage. By the time a home baker reaches that point, nothing about bread making is intimidating.
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