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Cookbooks That Use Weight-Based Measurements


Chris Amirault
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People buy cookbooks for various reasons. Some just like to read them, some to impress their friends, others use them for inspiration and a good chunk of them really do use them to cook. A lot. Of those that use them to cook, some like weight measurements, others use volume. While most of us posting here prefer weights, I'm pretty sure it's inaccurate to say that everybody does.

When I sent in the manuscript for my first cookbook, I got a note back from the editor asking that I convert all the weight measurements to volume. The publisher told me most home cooks don't have scales. We went back and forth on this a bit. In the end, all of the recipes are in volume, but I was able to get them to put a little chart in at the beginning with a few weight to volume equivalents.

I'm now finishing up my second book, going a different route and trying self-publishing. This has been one of the toughest things to figure out. I prefer weights, but I am positive that a lot of the readers who bought the first book were happy with the volume measurements and I'm sure they're expecting the same with this book. So I'm trying to figure out the best way to include both while still making it easy to read (and including metric and Imperial measurements -- it makes for a lot of numbers for each ingredient). Since I am the publisher here, I can put in what I want.

I think to say that the publishing industry should stop using volume measurements is impractical. And I don't think that every cookbook-user would agree.

There are also different types of cookbooks, of course, with different target markets. And perhaps there is no single answer for the cookbook industry as a whole.

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I think to say that the publishing industry should stop using volume measurements is impractical. And I don't think that every cookbook-user would agree.

I don't think anybody is saying they should stop giving volume measures (not going to happen anyway, I agree), but that it's not impractical for publishers to provide weight measures for those who want it.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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Pam,

I appreciate your honesty and first hand experience, but I have just one "Yeah-butt"

Yeah-butt....

Has anyone actually done a pictorial step-by-step insctructional on how to actually use a scale? Many people don't like to use weight measurements becasue they've never been shown how to actually do it. There's pictorials on how to sharpen knives, how to make certain doughs or tricky confectionary items, but to the best of my knowledge, nothing about how to use a scale and the merits of using one.

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Watch Ina Garten and co. and they'll be using cups and spoons like mom, watch British cooking shows (Nigella, Jamie O are the most widely distributed) and they will be using scales like mum (though they don't talk about the merits of using one, but then again they don't give it a second thought).

I don't know if Alton Brown has had an episode of Good Eats where he talks about the advantages of using a scale. I would imagine a bread episode would/should.

Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

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Pam,

I appreciate your honesty and first hand experience, but I have just one "Yeah-butt"

Yeah-butt....

Has anyone actually done a pictorial step-by-step insctructional on how to actually use a scale? Many people don't like to use weight measurements becasue they've never been shown how to actually do it. There's pictorials on how to sharpen knives, how to make certain doughs or tricky confectionary items, but to the best of my knowledge, nothing about how to use a scale and the merits of using one.

Do people really need a pictorial to figure out how to use a scale? Other than the tare function (which wouldn't need much more than one demonstration), what else is there that would require demonstration?

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Also, it's an excuse to buy another gadget for the kitchen. Who's not into that? Maybe if Kitchenaid brought out a "Professional" series scale in designer colors that cost $300, people would think it was cool and want one?

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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Reviewing this thread with its many thoughtful comments, I'm struck also by something else, often seen in writing that advocates an idea the writers are already "sold" on, so they take its merits as demonstrated, evident to anyone who'll check.

The factor I notice is lack of searching examination of why people might not do things in the way we see as enlightened. To judge by some postings, mere narrow publisher profit motives impede this. I'd like to offer further context as grist for thought. Also I emphasize dougal's point: pro-forma weight conversions in cookbooks are worse than none at all -- a risk if publishers treat them as an afterthought (or as placating an eccentric market segment). I glanced just now at some modern European cookbooks, whose conversion notes reveal the density problem underlying all this (volume equivalents corresponding to at least 4:1 weight range, material-dependent). Other countries, incidentally, cite pounds, gallons, etc. as "English" measures (I recall we did so in the US too, until even England metricated).

I (working in applied science, and with early interest in it) have used weight measures frequently for 40 years and know their considerations. Even remember Avoirdupois - Apothecaries' - Troy conversion factors from earlier pub'ns, when all three systems were common (a nuisance, and an argument for metrication, and the historical reasons why nails are graded in pennyweight, malt whiskys dispensed in drams, and a pound of feathers is heavier than a pound of gold, yet an ounce of gold is heavier than an ounce of feathers -- they're still measured in different "ounces" and "pounds"). Points to reflect on:

1. Home cookbooks aimed for practicality. Historically, people used simple measuring tools at hand, and it worked. Through the 19th and even into the 20th century, published recipes specified various kinds of glassfulls or even (under metallic currency of steady value!) "five cents' worth" of some ingredients. When seasons dictated your diet, and supplies were bought 50 pounds at a time, you came to know your ingredients. If your flour isn't changing often, a volume measures a consistent weight, and you also get to know its cooking properties.

2. Scale-technology revolution. Before I got a digital scale I used three traditional kitchen scales, decades old (two spring-type and a balance). All ungainly enough to need inconvenient storage in a crowded kitchen. The main spring-type one handles a few pounds and resolves something under an ounce, and is a bulky structure displacing maybe half a gallon (2 liters). In the 1990s, strain-gauge sensors and (especially) cheap ultrahigh-resolution analog-digital converters began enabling quality electronic scales at household prices. Colleagues developing this technology mocked up one in a lab, as a novelty, in the mid-90s that could weigh a stack of books and still accurately weigh additional single paper sheets. The fine resolution in today's $20 electronic kitchen scales -- in flat shapes, much easier to store and use -- is recent, is outside the intuition of many cooks who don't have them. Like early microwave ovens or food processors, only people who have them take their merits for granted -- and become impatient with other cooks unaware of any lack.

I believe a successful acceleration of US kitchen culture toward more weight measures for solid ingredients will be one that successfully addresses these factors.

Incidentally gill, or quarter pint, 118 ml -- found in [older] US cookbooks too -- actually is a formal standard volume measure, unlike "cup," which evolved in kitchen use and can be ambiguous to newcomers. Like the deciliter that it's close to, a gill happens to be a very convenient size for kitchen work -- in sauces, ladles, plate portions, etc. The larger problem in UK-US "English" measure conversions is the UK Imperial definitions with 20% larger pints and gallons. 1 Imperial gill = 142 ml.

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I couldn't decide whether to post this here or in the Ad Hoc at Home topic. In the opening pages of , Keller lists what he considers to be four essential counter top appliances:

  • vita-mix
  • stand mixer
  • scale
  • food processor

Scanning through the recipes, I've yet to find one that gives weight-based measurements. Why oh why would you explicitly tell people to go out and plunk down for a scale and then just as explicitly prevent them from using it to cook your food? It's even more frustrating given that most (all?) of the previous Keller books have given measurements in both units, so presumably he can twist an editor's arm.

 

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I couldn't decide whether to post this here or in the Ad Hoc at Home topic. In the opening pages of , Keller lists what he considers to be four essential counter top appliances:

  • vita-mix
  • stand mixer
  • scale
  • food processor

I need a bigger counter space to take all that plus work on it. Both my food processor and stand mixer are in a large armoire type thingy in our breezeway. The scale is inside a kitchen cupboard and the vita-mix, which DH picked up at our local transfer station (aka dump) is in the garage awaiting our attention... :wacko:

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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  • 2 months later...

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.

It is in general yes, but I found the reality is much murkier than what dougal et al suggested, and there are a lot of exceptions. Here in New Zealand, the Australian Woman Weekly's series cookbooks like Kitchen, Cook, and Bakecollated cookbooks, the default measurement for liquid and powder type of stuff (sugar, flour, bread, crumbs) the preferred units are in cups but the metric equivalents are given. (For example, a recipe will say 1 cup (250 mL) water, 1/4 cup (35g) plain flour for the recipe of traditional turkey with forcemeat stuffing)

Allyson Gofton is a popular celebrity cook geared to the home market and she hosted the TV Food in a Munite programme for more than 10 years here. She uses cups only in the measurements, but has 2 pages on her Bake cookbook explaining the current New Zealand measurement standard and the equivalent of cups to grams or mL for food stuff from water to chopped chocolate.

The books by Annabel Langbeim are geared more towards the gourmet, foodie middle/upper class end, and even uses cups for measurements. For example, in her Cooking To Impress: Without Stress title, her apple crumble recipes uses "1 cup flour, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 cups rolled oats, finest cut available..."

Back to a more mass market level, Alexa Johnson is a historian and a amateur, but a very good one. She has provided the exact metric equivalent for her baking recipes in her Ladies, a Plate and A Second Helping: More From Ladies, a Plate that talks about traditional NZ baking.

Alison Holst is the grande dame of popular NZ cooking, and she uses volume in her recipes. For example, in her The Best of Alison Holst she advises "125g butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 cup all purpose flour..."

Edited by johung (log)
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Also, it's an excuse to buy another gadget for the kitchen. Who's not into that? Maybe if Kitchenaid brought out a "Professional" series scale in designer colors that cost $300, people would think it was cool and want one?

I need one of those, and I already own a scale.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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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.

As a former stoner, I must protest. I have a VERY intuitive sense of what a kilo is. I can tell you if my kilo has been shorted by more than say, 50 grams, just by holding it. Kilos? No problems. This may explain why so many good bakers I meet sport dreadlocks.

I don't know if Alton Brown has had an episode of Good Eats where he talks about the advantages of using a scale. I would imagine a bread episode would/should.

Alton has demonstrated proper scale use several times (sometimes with "W"). (What's to know, other than "set your scale to metric and learn how to zero out with the tare function?)

He also wrote a nice little bit in his baking book explaining the logic behind weighing ingredients instead of measuring them.

It's a shame our foodie community doesn't have an "Oprah" -- a mogul who has more clout in the publishing world than any author or editor. If Oprah said, "Honey, you can't make a decent meal unless you WEIGH the ingredients," her minions would cause a run on Williams and Sonoma. Bed Bath & Beyond would crumble under the crush of consumers demanding a damned scale.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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It's a shame our foodie community doesn't have an "Oprah" -- a mogul who has more clout in the publishing world than any author or editor. If Oprah said, "Honey, you can't make a decent meal unless you WEIGH the ingredients," her minions would cause a run on Williams and Sonoma. Bed Bath & Beyond would crumble under the crush of consumers demanding a damned scale.

Give Rachael Ray a call.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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As a former stoner, I must protest. I have a VERY intuitive sense of what a kilo is.

:smile: This explains a lot about the part of the US population with trades in sciences, technology, medicine, etc. To say nothing of pharmacy.

But people who cook are notoriously independent, I predict they'll keep buying cookbooks for merit of content, not type of measure. Some of the best, most insightful cookbooks I've read use all sorts of measures, and wouldn't interest current US publishers anyway. Fussing over whether or not a book uses weight is a little off the point. Like those expensive stainless-steel kitchens.*

--------

* Marcella Hazan: "I am very skeptical of the dream kitchen -- not necessarily because of its elaborate equipment, but because of the spirit in which it has been assembled. It sometimes seems to reflect more of an interest in theater than in the taste of cooking ... Some of the best food I have ever had has come from kitchens so bare that to use the word 'equipment' to describe their facilities would be an overstatement." -- More Classic Italian Cooking, 1978. Knopf, ISBN 0394498550.

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