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Chris Amirault

Cookbooks That Use Weight-Based Measurements

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Over in the Kitchen Scale Manifesto topic, much sorrow was expressed at the lack of weight-based measurements in cookbooks. Off the top of my head, I realized I had a few books on the cookbook shelf that fit the mold:

James Peterson's Sauces, the rare rigorous non-baking book. His Glorious French Food has a lot of weight-based measurements, but it's not as complete as Sauces.

Grant Achatz's Alinea -- no surprise there.

Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie and the sections on charcuterie in Paul Bertolli's Cooking By Hand.

The CIA books: Professional Chef and Garde Manger. Again, not a shocker.

From the baking section, quite a few, including Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice, Maggie Glazer's Artisanal Baking Across America, Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread, Pierre Herme's Chocolate Desserts (though NOT his Desserts book, strangely), and the King Arthur Flour's Baking Companion.

What are the other books that use weight, and not volume, in their recipes?

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The CIA uses weight in its professional books but volume in its books for home cooks. I'm not sure if there was much of a to-do about it, but I was certainly disappointed by this decision. It was a missed opportunity for leadership. When Rachel Perlow and I spent a day baking at the CIA in connection with the release of "Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America," she asked about this in the Q&A session. The editors, chef-instructors and audience members (other than us) were uniformly and totally closed-minded on the subject. They were not under any circumstances even going to consider giving weights in a book for home cooks. Posting about it, Rachel wrote:

During the question and answer segment I inquired if the book has weight measures or volume? The answer was volume, that weight measures are used in the professional book & textbooks (i.e. Baking and Pastry : Mastering the Art and Craft ), but were not for the home cook. So I followed up with "since weight measures are so much more accurate don't you think it's the duty of the CIA to educate the public on this issue and encourage its use?" The response was pretty much the same, saying that home cooks don't want that type of measurement, that they couldn't assume everyone has a scale. One of the other attendees said "well it certainly wouldn't sell as well if they did!" I'm sure that's the reason, in a nutshell. I just figure that if Jamie Oliver can be on TVFN using weight measurements, the CIA should be able to put them in their book. Maybe someday.

And I wrote:

To me, it seems almost a moral obligation for an institution like the CIA to be pushing home cooks towards weight measures for baking and pastry. While I understand the marketing downside of not including volume measures, what possible objection could there be to including both? Any competent typesetter can put the metric weights in small type in the margins so they don't bother anybody.

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In the UK, the ONLY books using wretched volume measures these days are imports from the US.

That is except for small quantities - teaspoon and below - where the assumption presumably is that quantities of less than 5g are below the accuracy and precision of most home scales.

However today you can buy a 1g precision scale in supermarkets for under £10 (roughly $15 US).

The insidious problem is those books US books 'republished with weight measures' where the conversion has been conscientiously done by a drone looking up figures in some table or database.

The problem there is that neither the drone nor the publisher have the wit to realise that the whole reason for using weight measurements is the same reason that every such table and database is inaccurate -- how much a volume measure contains depends on how hard you pack the stuff in.

Its not the measure that is inaccurate, its the variability of fitting stuff into it.

Volume measures in books should be outlawed for the same reason that they are outlawed for sales.

They are not accurate measures for particulate solids.

That is why you buy flour by weight, and not in "20 cup" bags.


Edited by dougal (log)

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I have a couple of those mentioned above, and I'd add The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread: Cakes, Cookies, Bars, Pastries and More from New York City's Favorite Bakery, which is really a good book, and I can confirm that the results are true to the products they serve in the bakery--usually better, because they're even fresher homemade. They give all measurements in grams, ounces, and by volume.

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To me, it seems almost a moral obligation for an institution like the CIA to be pushing home cooks towards weight measures for baking and pastry.

Especially since it presumably would not add to their editorial cost. They're almost certainly starting with recipes they know the weight measures for; they wouldn't have to worry about conversions.

I wonder if some of it has to do with not just "Americans don't use scales" but also "Americans hate and don't understand metric." I don't think it's stretch to think that most of us who DO use scales in the kitchen prefer metric, especially for baking--it's just easier. But an American knows about how much chocolate there is in 4 ounces of chocolate, 100 grams, they don't quite get.

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There may be some generalizations to be made here. Does this sound right?

- Non-North-American cookbooks generally use weight.

- In North America, professional cookbooks of all kinds, as well as advanced-amateur baking books and advanced-amateur books on unusual aspects of cookery (charcuterie, home brewing, whatever) often use weight.

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Sounds about right to me.

About when do European cookbooks start using weight? It doesn't seem like it has always been the case. Elizabeth David's cookbooks never got very far in the U.S., as I understand it, because she refused to convert from British units of measure like gills and wine glasses for American editions (not that it matters much, since most of her measurements are approximate anyway, which isn't necessarily a bad thing).

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".....but also "Americans hate and don't understand metric."

Ahhhh, but they do, every single American does every day, they just don't know it.

Consider this, waaaay back in the day when the Americans adopted the "dollar" for their currency, they gave up on the British system of 12's, 16's, and whatevers, to the pound,florin, crowns, shilling, penny, ha'penny and whatever. Well, any intellignent person would do the same, wouldn't they?

As a result, you have 100 pennies to the dollar, or 10 dimes to the dollar, 10 $10 to every $100, 100 $100's to every $1,000,and, well, I've never actually had a million dollar bill before.

The metric system and the electonic scale go together like tomatoes and basil, like strawberries and cream.

The average "American" uses scales in their lines of work or professions every day. What's so different about using scales at home?

It's a conspiracy, I tell you.....

Do we cry out to the Media for some intelligence?

Write them letters that never get answered?

Have some kind of a spokesperson, a Ralph Nader, to hold the media responsible for what goes on in the cooking magazines and the TV cooking shows?

Well, we should, but first there are other fish to fry.....

The whole hosptiality industry has other worries. There are no standards for what constitutes a "Cook", or for that matter, a "Chef", let alone a "pastry Chef". As a result there are no standards for the education of such trades, and as an even further result, because there are no standards, there is no pay scale that is "pegged" to such standards. Face it, teh Hosptiality industry pays some of the lowest and worst wages. Add on to that, it is normally accepted to tip the waitron a percentage of the entire bill. Think of that, by tipping one person a percentage of the entire bill, you are acknowledgeing that that person was responsible for the entire dining experience.

Me? I just laugh when I see the volumes, and pull out my "cheat sheet" of aproximate weights and work from there.

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".....but also "Americans hate and don't understand metric."

Ahhhh, but they do, every single American does every day, they just don't know it.

Actually, they do know it: they buy stuff packaged in metric all the time in grocery stores; beverages are probably the most common. But they still don't really have an intuitive sense of what a kilo is.

Consider this, waaaay back in the day when the Americans adopted the "dollar" for their currency, they gave up on the British system of 12's, 16's, and whatevers, to the pound,florin, crowns, shilling, penny, ha'penny and whatever. Well, any intellignent person would do the same, wouldn't they?

As a result, you have 100 pennies to the dollar, or 10 dimes to the dollar, 10 $10 to every $100, 100 $100's to every $1,000,and, well, I've never actually had a million dollar bill before.

That's not metric. It's decimal. Anything can be represented decimally, metric is a system of weights and measures with particular defined values.

There are times when weights are used in American cookbooks--when it's an ingredient that comes packaged in certain standard sizes, like a 15-oz can of beans. Or items that get weighed at the store, like meats. So I think the idea of knowing the weight of the ingredient is not completely alien. Just the idea of using the scale. And metric.

One thing that strikes me as odd is that the resistance to the scale runs somewhat counter to the impulse to sell every kind of gadget for the kitchen. You'd think the fact that most American kitchens don't have one would be a marketing opportunity for someone. It has to be sold as labor- and thought-saving, though.

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Yah-butt.....

Metric is a system of weights and measurements based on units of 10, NOT based on some long-dead King's uh,...appendage length or a series of units of 12 or 16. The foot is divided into 12, then into fractions, the pound is divided into 16 then into fractions, give me a fraction in decimal form, and I'll walk off, far, far away, I'm a cook, not a machinest or mill-wright.

Temperature in metric is based on 10's as well. The first celcius thermometer was a blank one, immersed in boiling water (at a sea level), a mark made on the themomter, then immersed in ice-water, and another mark made. The space between the two marks was divided by 100, or, if you like, in 10 units of 10. Thus, water boils at 100 and freezes at "0". Folks, it don't get much simpler than that.

What really burns me up is the cooking mags. On the better ones, the content, thoughtfulness, and pure intelligence is fantastic--except for the quantitites given of ingredients. The magazines make statements identifiying that weighing out flour is far more accurate, or weighing out chocolate chips/ coins, but then give amounts for sugar or butter in volume.

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There may be some generalizations to be made here. Does this sound right?

- Non-North-American cookbooks generally use weight.

- In North America, professional cookbooks of all kinds, as well as advanced-amateur baking books and advanced-amateur books on unusual aspects of cookery (charcuterie, home brewing, whatever) often use weight.

That's definitely what I've found.

All of my modern cookbooks use weight measures bar the North American books.

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The idea that metric and weight must go hand-in-hand certainly doesn't hold true in the UK and Ireland. Perhaps this is changing for my generation and younger (I'm 33) but even still I don't have good intuition for grams or kilos, it's much better for pounds and ounces. Most cookbooks I've seen have weights in ounces and in grams, and you can take your pick. My mother, for example, would never have measured in grams, always in ounces.

The "Americans don't use scales" argument probably holds more water, IMO.

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Just to point out the obvious here: there's a bunch of Yanks around these parts who believe that the UK is filled with cookbooks using a superior measurement system. The moment is ripe for the return of the Empire (at least on our cookbook shelves)!

Pray, what exact books can be had on your bonny shores that we 'Mercans can try to hunt down? Same goes for y'all in the other, better colonies. :wink:


Edited by Chris Amirault adding reference to our Aussie & Kiwi friends (log)

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Yah-butt.....

Metric is a system of weights and measurements based on units of 10,

Yes, metric is decimal, but there's more to it than that. The decimal part isn't what confuses people. The units still have meaning, and the meaning is what Americans don't really understand. If you say to the average American, It's 22 degress Centigrade outside, they don't have any idea if that means it's hot or cold. If you say a pound of butter, they know what that is, but a kilo of butter is unknown.

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Indeed, any intuition I have about centigrade temperatures comes from darkroom work, so as long as it's around 20C, I know it's about 68F, and I know that 0C is freezing, and 100C is boiling, but move away from those reference points, and I have to start thinking about it.

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As was mentioned here on the Kitchen Scale Manifesto topic, Michael Ruhlman's Ratio would seem at first glance to be a great example of a book that uses weights: he starts out with a section on the importance of the scale. Immediately, though, he starts talking about circumstances in which it's more convenient to use volume measurements (he says, for instance, that "it's easier to measure out a cup of corn than 5 ounces"). And I'm sure this was undoubtedly at the insistence of the publisher, but in the very next section he says that a scale isn't necessary to use the book. The recipes themselves are a mishmash of volume and weight -- for example, you get a lime peanut vinaigrette recipe that calls for 1/4 lime juice, 1/4 cup peanut butter and, yet, 4 ounces of oil.

It's unfortunate that he couldn't follow through on his insistence on how important a scale is. My guess is that as much as an author might want to use weights, American publishers are convinced that American home cooks won't buy a book that uses them exclusively.

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It would seem that, for a publisher looking to move the ball forward on this issue, the most painless thing to do in a cookbook (or any written recipe) context would be offer alternate measurements in parentheses. Once such a system is set up it represents little additional work. Indeed, a recipe tester (in this case, somebody who writes cookbooks for chefs) I spoke to recently told me she works in metric weights and then does a bulk conversion to volume using a standardized table, 1 cup of flour = x grams, etc. At the very least, a publisher could offer its assumptions in an editorial note: "for the purposes of all our recipes, 1 cup of flour = x grams." That way at least those of us willing to use scales could do the conversions ourselves. But as it stands, with a few notable exceptions, we're mostly kept in the dark about what a cup means in any given recipe.

Being an author is a little bit like being a screenwriter, in that there's a whole hierarchy in which you're on the bottom. If the editor, director, whatever wants things a certain way, that's how they're likely to happen. You have a little bit of political capital to spend and need to pick your battles. Having never written a cookbook, I have no idea how hard I'd fight for weight. But I certainly wouldn't want to do anything to damage sales, and the fact of the matter is that a weight-only cookbook will sell fewer copies. Still, I think I'd at least try to get both weight and volume measures included. There's so little cost to doing this, and everybody in the industry knows the superiority of weight, so I have no idea why this doesn't just get made standard operating procedure.

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That's how Rose Levy Beranbaum's books are written. They actually give the weight by ounces and grams, and give volume measurements as well, so there are three choices for readers.

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I visited a used bookstore yesterday, one with a large cookbook selection, and noted that a lot of American cookbook titles promise to impart secrets of professional and/or famous chefs. Ironically, none of them used weight-based measurement, which I consider to be the biggest professional 'secret' -at least where baking & pastry are concerned.

So, I think that Americans would accept scales quite readily -if they were told that the scale was the real secret of great cooking.

Two weeks ago, I saw one in use on America's Test Kitchen as they made Almost No-Knead bread. I guess I should send a fan letter (for the scale) recommending that the scale make more appearances.

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That's how Rose Levy Beranbaum's books are written.

Yes, RLB's books are very good that way--all of the information you could ask for presented in neat little tables. And it would seem not have hurt the sales of those books one bit. It is more work for the typesetter to do that--you can't just plunk lots of tables down randomly on a page. So it costs more. But relative to the rest of the costs of a cookbook, it's probably not that much. You're already paying for complicated layout, anyway. Somebody has to compile that information in some way, and check that it's correct (ok, I know they'll skip that step). The big remaining problem is that publishers still perceive it as a negative from a sales perspective, or at least not a positive (it won't sell additional copies, so why have additional cost?). How to change their minds? I don't know. I know from first-hand experience that that sort of inertia can be hard to overcome. They would have to see a book sell big numbers because it had weight measures.

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Just to point out the obvious here: there's a bunch of Yanks around these parts who believe that the UK is filled with cookbooks using a superior measurement system. The moment is ripe for the return of the Empire (at least on our cookbook shelves)!

Pray, what exact books can be had on your bonny shores that we 'Mercans can try to hunt down? Same goes for y'all in the other, better colonies. :wink:

As I've said, pretty much ALL our books are now metric (and of course weight) based. (Except for small quantities being in teaspoons and sometimes tablespoons - "Nobody's perfect!")

So, here are a handful of interesting books you might not have seen (yet) -

And all of these use metric measures ONLY - no pounds, and no cups.

Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarah-Ravens-Garden-Cookbook-Raven/dp/0747588708/

Ottolenghi http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottolenghi-Cookbook-Yotam/dp/0091922348/

Classic Bull http://www.amazon.co.uk/Classic-Bull-Accidental-Restaurateurs-Cookbook/dp/0333766504/

Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache http://www.amazon.co.uk/Red-Velvet-Chocolate-Heartache-feel-good/dp/0593062361/ (totally, wonderfully, off the wall, BTW)

River Cottage Handbook No 2 : Preserves http://www.amazon.co.uk/Preserves-River-Cottage-Handbook-No-2/dp/0747595321/

No Place Like Home (Leigh) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Place-Like-Home-Rowley-Leigh/dp/0007232411/

Family Food (Blumenthal) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Family-Food-Approach-Cooking-Penguin/dp/0140295399/ Heston's pretty relaxed about quantities generally

Tagine (Basan) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tagine-Ghillie-Basan/dp/1845974786/

Those are probably considered slightly 'foodie' but no way 'pro'.

Some ('home recipe' books principally, I'd opine) are still published with imperial measures in brackets (pounds for solids, UK pints {not US pints!} for liquids) after the principal metric quantities.

Two I can lay my hands on now are

Recipes to know by heart http://www.amazon.co.uk/Recipes-Know-Heart-Xanthe-Clay/dp/1845333586/

The Ultimate Recipe Book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ultimate-Recipe-Book-Good-Food/dp/0563522976/

These are actually pretty good books, despite the titles.

My 1984 paperback of Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book uses metric with imperial in brackets. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Grigsons-Vegetable-Penguin-Handbooks/dp/0140463526/

However the 1990 Feast Days by the iconoclastic Jennifer Patterson is of course exclusively Imperial! http://www.amazon.co.uk/Feast-Days-Spectator-Jennifer-Paterson/dp/0719548489/

I'll leave it to a publishing pro to discuss how and when the changeover happened!

Incidentally, all the above have my recommendation!

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Indeed, a recipe tester (in this case, somebody who writes cookbooks for chefs) I spoke to recently told me she works in metric weights and then does a bulk conversion to volume using a standardized table, 1 cup of flour = x grams, etc.

Marcel Desaulniers might work this way. I've noticed that a lot of his recipes have, for lack of a better word, metric-osity to them. When it comes time to portion cake batter into two pans, it always seems that the batter weight is exactly 2000 grams (1000 in each pan), three pans, 3000 grams (again, 1000 in each pan), etc. I really like that about his books, but then he's nothing if not extremely precise. That said, his recipes never fail if you follow them as written.


Edited by fooey (log)

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