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The Other Side of the Oven

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HistoricFoodie View Drop Down
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    Posted: 03 March 2015 at 15:41
I ran into yet another food snob who, in the most supercilious tones, made it perfectly clear that to bake a decent loaf of bread one must, repeat must, use a scale and weigh all ingredients.

In a word: poppycock!

This was obviously another instance where a foodie has jumped on the conventional wisdom bandwagon, without understanding the fundamental reason for a “rule.” They proclaim that weight is more precise than volume, and sneer at those who don’t own a scale.

People like that disturb me, and are one of several reasons I eschew the word “artisan.”

Let me preface this by saying I do use a scale. But that’s a personal choice, made for various reasons. If you’ve read my primer on bread making some of them are revealed there. However, and this is the point, you do not have to use a scale to bake good bread. There is nothing wrong with volume measurements. Not for the home cook.

Until about the last quarter of the 20th century, virtually all American bread recipes used volume measurements. The more advanced would use volume as the primary measurement, then put the weights in parens.

Thousands of loaves were successfully baked using those recipes.

Then came the foodie revolution. All of a sudden we’re being inundated with recipes using weight, and sanctimonious commentary about why you must have a scale.

Well, let’s look at that issue.

First of all, the reason for weighing. Commercial bakers do not use recipes. Instead, they use what amount to being chemical formulae. The weight of flour is the index measurement, and all other ingredients are expressed, by weight, as a percentage of that. Thus, every bread formula will add up to more than 100%, because 100% is the weight of the flour. Thus, a formula might be written as flour, 100%, water, 65%, yeast, .002%, etc.

The reason for this is that it allows simple mathematical scaling of ingredients to increase or decrease the quantities. It doesn’t matter if you’re planning one loaf or 100 of them. You use the same ratios as expressed in the formula.

Most of the “I only use a scale” snobs, however, can’t do the math. So, for them, “artisan” breads have been reconverted to recipes, using raw weights. Instead of 100% flour, the recipe will say, 28 ounces flour, ……etc. Many times, as a sop to those poor, benighted home cooks who don’t have a scale, the volume measurements will be put in parens.

The problem with that is simple: Not all flour weighs the same. In fact, the experts can’t even agree on the average weight of one kind of flour. Figures range from 4 ounces per cup to 5 ½. For the record, that’s a 26% difference. So much for precision.

To be fair, most of the more recognized authorities have settled on 4.5 oz per cup of unbleached bread flour. And sometimes that works out. When I was using King Arthur flour, 4.5 ounces per cup was near enough to make no never mind. But, when I switched to Weisenberger, all my figures went out the window, because Weisenberger flour hydrates differently. I actually have to use 5 ounces when a cup is specified.

What this adds up to is that all “artisan” recipes have to be adjusted by adding more flour or more liquid as the case may be. In other words, no matter how carefully you weigh things, you have to make the same sort of final adjustments as you do if you use volume measurements.

What actually counts when making bread is consistency. If you’re comfortable weighing things, then do so. If you’d rather use cups and tablespoons, then that’s fine too. Just be consistent.

To measure flour consistently, you do need a cup that is measured to the brim. Use it to either scoop directly, overfilling the cup, or use a separate scoop to do so. Then run a straight edge, such as the back of a knife, across the cup’s rim. That will give you the same amount of flour each time.

The second thing to keep in mind is that making bread is, essentially, a tactile experience. Dough has a particular feel about it; a certain stretchiness, a precise plasticity. Once you know, through experience, what dough should feel like, adjusting flour and water is not a problem.

First time you use a particular recipe, I would recommend that you measure any adjustments, especially if you have to add flour. A small amount, maybe as much as a quarter cup, can be explained by environmental factors. But if you have to add a large amount of flour, it could mean that the flour you are using is different than the one used by the recipe writer. That’s what happened, for instance, when I switched to Weisenberger flour. Once I learned that difference I was able to automatically adjust.

The long and short of it is simple: If you want to try your hand at baking bread, and don’t own a scale, don’t sweat it. Just use volume measurements, as given in the recipe you have. You’ll do just fine.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 March 2015 at 16:33
     Wholeheartedly agree with you, Brook.  Those that say that Baking cannot be done with precise measurements, and that baking is a science are full of it.  Well, I do agree that baking is a science...but not as they're thinking.

    You were the one who turned me over to making bread, and suggested the Bread Bakers Apprentice - Peter Reinhart.  When going through the book you learn that baking is just as you describe, a tactile experience.  It's to be made by hand in the old methods, which is my understanding of artisan.  Not the bastardized version used by many nowadays.  My brother and I were recently grabbing a few beers at a decent pub in his area...we noticed the lady sitting beside us ordered the charcuterie plate.  My brother commented to her, oh, nice charcuterie platter.  She looked at him and commented that he was wearing a Carhart coat, and probably should pass on the Charcuterie.  My brother kindly let her know the coat was a knock off.  This is becoming our current crowd of foodies
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drinks Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 March 2015 at 21:04
I am a seat of the pants cook, if there is a way to mess it up, I have done it, several times, HOWEVER, I make some really nice stuff and enjoy it.
Snobs are a pain and should be ignored as much as possible.
In my opinion, cooking is an adventure, not a science.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2015 at 01:44
Originally posted by gonefishin gonefishin wrote:

     Wholeheartedly agree with you, Brook.  Those that say that Baking cannot be done with precise measurements, and that baking is a science are full of it.  Well, I do agree that baking is a science...but not as they're thinking.

    You were the one who turned me over to making bread, and suggested the Bread Bakers Apprentice - Peter Reinhart.  When going through the book you learn that baking is just as you describe, a tactile experience.  It's to be made by hand in the old methods, which is my understanding of artisan.  Not the bastardized version used by many nowadays.  My brother and I were recently grabbing a few beers at a decent pub in his area...we noticed the lady sitting beside us ordered the charcuterie plate.  My brother commented to her, oh, nice charcuterie platter.  She looked at him and commented that he was wearing a Carhart coat, and probably should pass on the Charcuterie.  My brother kindly let her know the coat was a knock off.  This is becoming our current crowd of foodies

All I want to know is....did you get your brother out of there before he bitch-slapped charcuterie lady??Angry
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2015 at 04:44
Originally posted by Hoser Hoser wrote:

 

All I want to know is....did you get your brother out of there before he bitch-slapped charcuterie lady??Angry

  She would have had it coming, that's for sure.  It's one of those situations where there is such ignorance that you just shake your head.  We were actually ending a very long day and night at that point.  I'm surprised that nothing more was made of her comments, but at that point...I'm convinced if we had said something there was no good that would have come out of it.

   Further to Brook's point.  This is the lady who says that you have to use precise measurements in baking, this is the lady who buys nitrate free bacon and only organic products from her grocery store.  Forget having a talk with this group of people about making quality bacon or bread at home...forget talking about properly raised farm animals, or produce, that aren't labeled "organic".  These people, who know everything already, are the reasons why true craft quality, or proper old world methods die off.  Because these people believe they already know all there is...there's no reason to talk to Brook about growing vegetables, or preserving seeds...there's no reason to talk to the local, independent farmer about good farming practices.  They've already seen Mario Batali, or fill in the blank, make a comment on Tv about cooking, or food...they now know all they need too.  

    But it gets interesting when "these" people start to group in abundance...other people start sourcing their opinions from what these people are saying...soon, their thinking becomes common knowledge
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2015 at 06:21
Maybe it's cuz I'm old and slow, but, what's the connection between charcuterie and Carhart? I'm missing something.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2015 at 06:36
BTW, guys, the ultimate irony is that finished dough is the result of how a given volume of flour reacts with a given volumeof water.

Try dropping that tidbit among the "you have to weigh to be precise" snobs and see what happens. But it's the basic fact of good bread.

Maybe I better explain. If a recipe is written based on flour weighing 4 ounces per cup, and you flour does weigh that, then you should only have to adjust for environmental reasons. In other words, you'll be adding flour or liquid by the tablespoon.

But what happens when the flour is "heavier" or "lighter?" F'rinstance, if you switch from King Arthur (at 4.5 ounce) to Weisenberger (at almost 5 ounces). Because the Wesenberger is "heavier," it physically occupies less space. Which means it doesn't balance with the amount of liquid; you need to add considerably more flour for it to do so.

But, again, there's no reason that using volume measurements does not result in great bread. There are two actual reasons for the emphasis on weighing. First is the erroneous belief that you cannot measure consistently using volume. That's plain nonsense. At worst you'll have to add a bit more flour or water at the end. But you'll likely have to do that anyway, so there's no loss, no foul.

The second reason, and this, more than anything is what leads to the snobbery, is that most European recipes (baking or cooking) are written based on weight. And if you're a food snob, anything done in the European manner is automatically better.

Gimme a break!

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drinks Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2015 at 11:43
Yep!!!!!!!!!
I wonder how many women do not have a scale, or even a graduated measuring device and still manage to feed their family?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2015 at 13:48
Originally posted by HistoricFoodie HistoricFoodie wrote:

Maybe it's cuz I'm old and slow, but, what's the connection between charcuterie and Carhart? I'm missing something.



    I believe that she was trying to make the connection that we were of "working class", therefor shouldn't be dining on something like a charcuterie platter.  Come to think of it we were wearing camo coats and stocking hats also.  Earlier we attended an outdoor brewery festival...which we almost wore our insulated bibs to LOL

   The thing that irks me is that this "snobbery" type of attitude is counterproductive to furthering good foods.  If she were thinking she would get the connection between possible hunters and inquire about various types of game, or cured meats that we may also enjoy...or possibly even make.  There could have been discussion about some of the most prized cured meats around the world.

   Heck, if I find out someone's a farmer...I hope to shut up and learn a few things.  I'm certainly not going to tell them what some celebrity chef taught me about in one of their episodes on the food Network, or on the Chew (or whatever that show is)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2015 at 17:28

I wonder how many women do not have a scale, or even a graduated measuring device and still manage to feed their family?

Excellent point, drinks. I'd say not as many as there used to be, but only because graduated measuring devices are both cheap and commonly available nowadays. But I'd bet good money that most of the food snobs don't know the difference between metal and glass/plastic cups.

I'd also bet you're grandmother measured flour with a teacup. And spoonsful either in her palm or using the same soupspoon that later was used at table.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drinks Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 March 2015 at 18:00
Yep!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 March 2015 at 05:01
I believe that she was trying to make the connection that we were of "working class", therefor shouldn't be dining on something like a charcuterie platter

Ahhh, now I see. It's the North Face/Patagonia syndrome. Or, in other words, food snobs get to eat charcuterie; the rest of us eat cold cuts.

Maybe we need to get her and her ilk down to a Kentucky dove shoot, where the guy (or gal) next to you, wearing ratty old K-Mart camo outfit might be a doctor, a lawyer, or even the mayor. And, as it turns out, the guy with that $5,000 antique side-by-side is a plumber, while the next governor of the Commonwealth is shooting a Mossburg 500.

You find a lot of things at a Kentucky dove field. But snobs are not numbered among them.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Percebes Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 March 2015 at 08:54
In the Alberta Oilfields it is generally accepted that the 20 year old guy wearing the Carhartts is likely making 150K a year and can more than afford a nice Charcuterie platter.

Carhartts mean cash up here.
And would also be safe assuming that he has never baked a loaf of bread in his life!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 March 2015 at 22:08
It looks to me as though everything that can be said has already been said. Outstanding discussion!
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