Donuts and the Eternal Question

I whipped up a half batch of yeast donuts today and the unaltered recipe called for 1 egg, which brought me to the eternal question: volume or weight? In the case of the egg, the obvious answer would be weight, since eggs (unfortunately) don’t come in half sizes. The egg aside, should one measure by volume or weight?

It’s true that most home bakers don’t have a scale and in North America, most of our recipes are volume measures. The standard volume measures were popularized by Fannie Farmer, in her 1896 cookbook, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Fannie also introduced leveling. I grew up measuring dry ingredients in precisely this manner: Scoop the dry ingredients into your cup, tablespoon or teaspoon measure and level it off using a straight edge. While this might be convenient and seem logical, there is a reason why weighing ingredients in baking is superior.

mixing up donut dough

Baking, unlike cooking, is an exacting science. In cooking, a little extra paprika thrown in won’t result in a horrible end product, most likely you’ll just end up with a slightly more flavourful dish. Baking, however, is a chemistry of ratios. Sugar to fat determines crispiness of cookies versus chewiness. Fat to flour determines whether or not your cookies hold their shape or spread all over the pan. Ratios determine successful baking.

When measuring ingredients with volume measures, there are a multitude of variables that affect how much you are able to fit into your measure. For example, flour. Measuring flour by volume will most likely result in differences in weight. These differences can be explained by the compactness or fluffiness of the flour, how you handled the flour, how it was processed, etc. When you measure flour by volume, you may have a different weight measure of flour every time. On the other hand, when using a scale, what you weigh is what you get.

Lots of times beginning bakers wonder why their finished products don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to. It could be something a simple as weighing ingredients. It might seem a little bit neurotic to weigh out everything (eggs and liquid ingredients included), but if you do, you’ll find that your recipes come out the way that they should. Or if they don’t, just blame it on the scale!

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