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How to Convert Recipes From Cups to Weights

November 8th, 2015 by Cocolat

In response to my article in the Washington Post about why you need a scale in your kitchen, a reader asked how to convert recipes from cups to weights and how to know whether a scale is accurate. Her questions and my answers follow, in addition to my cheat sheet of weights for the most common baking ingredients.

Q: Do I now toss out all my cookbooks & try to replicate recipes (including grandma’s) with appropriately written ones found on the Internet or in Medrich’s cookbook? How does one exchange old recipe cups for ounces or grams?

A: Please don’t toss out beloved old recipes (or books) just because they don’t have weights! There are two methods for converting recipes to weights, depending on whether a recipe is a familiar favorite or one that is new to you.

If a recipe is already a tried-and-true favorite—one that normally turns out well for you— measure with cups exactly as you usually do but then weigh each measured ingredient before you add it to the batter. Don’t use a chart in the back of a book or on the Internet for this—the idea is to capture what you actually do, but in weights. Jot your weights on the recipe. This requires extra steps only the first time you make each recipe again. You will up with a repertoire of reliable recipes with weights, and those recipes will forever be faster and easy to reproduce.

For recipes that you have never tried, use a weight chart from a credible baker or pastry chef (or my Cheat Sheet below) for ingredients other than flour. Don’t fret about slight variations (a few grams or tiny fractions of ounces) between charts for most ingredients.

Flour is a critical exception — a few extra nuts or raisins in a recipe don’t hurt a thing but too much flour can make a huge difference. There is no official agreed upon weight of flour per cup across all recipes and all cookbooks. My cup of flour weighs 4.5 ounces, while King Arthur’s weighs 4.25 ounces. People who dip and sweep may be getting 5 to 6 ounces in 1 cup. The trick is to use the same amount of flour as the cook who created the recipe!

Here’s how: if the recipe is in a book that does not include weights, read the front of the book to see if the author explains how they measured flour—whether they dip the cup into the flour and sweep it level or if they fluff the flour and then lightly spoon, or any other details. Then measure a cup of flour exactly as described and weigh it. Use that weight per cup for the recipes in that book or in any other book where the author describes measuring in the exact same way.

If you remember seeing your grandmother dip a measuring cup into the flour canister or sack—and that is probably how most grandmothers did it—or you remember her doing it a different way, then you should measure a cup of flour her way and then weigh it. Use that weight for all of her recipes!

Q: HOW DO I INSURE THE ACCURACY OF MY SCALE?

A: Check the weight of an unwrapped 4-ounce/113 gram stick of butter. If you plan to weigh small quantities, like salt and leavenings, or you just want to know that your scale is accurate in small increments, weigh some coins: 2 pennies or one nickel should weigh 5 grams. (Keep in mind that if your scale is accurate only to 5 grams, it will always round up to the nearest 5 grams: 1 penny will register 5 grams and 3 pennies will register 10 grams. Don’t let this confuse you. And don’t expect to be able to measure in 1-gram increments.)

If the scale is off, use the calibration feature—check the manual to see if has one and follow the instructions. Absent a calibration feature, return a new scale to the store. Or, regardless of age, email the manufacturer asking if they can fix it for you. They might ask you to send it to them. Do it. Sometimes they will send you a new scale!

ALICE’S CHEAT SHEET: THE WEIGHT OF COMMON BAKING INGREDIENTS

Butter: 4 ounces/113 grams per stick (thus 1 T=14 g)

Nuts: weights vary by type of nut and whether the nuts are whole or already chopped. When it comes to nuts, exact amounts are rarely critical, but it is so much easier to weigh first and chop next. Here are the weights that I use for different types of nuts:

Walnut and Pecan halves or large pieces: 3 ½ ounces/100 grams per cup, or 4 ounces/113 grams per cup if already chopped

Peanuts: 4 ounces/113 grams per cup

Whole Almonds or hazelnuts: 5 ounces/140 grams per cup, or 4 ounces/113 grams if already chopped

Pistachios: 5.33 ounces/150 grams per cup

Sugar

Granulated sugar: 7 ounces/200 grams per cup
Brown sugar (firmly packed): 7 ounces/200grams per cup
Confectioners’ sugar: 4 ounces/113 grams per cup

What I Learned From My Mother

May 1st, 2014 by Cocolat

Some people were taught to cook by their mothers.  I was not. My mother was not sure enough of herself in the kitchen to preach or teach, per se.  You just had to hand around.  She cooked simple food but was never adamant about her methods, although she was and is adamant about what she likes and doesn’t like.  She doesn’t like foods that are sauced to death or fussed with.  She doesn’t like mayonnaise on anything. She likes food to taste like what it is.  She wants her green veggies bright green, al dente, as we all learned to say a few decades ago.  Don’t give her any long-cooked southern veggies with pot licker; these would not be her style.  She probably sounds unsophisticated and unadventuresome.  She isn’t.  She knows good food when she tastes it, and though she was brought up in New York, she has the palate of a Californian. When I’d come home from college in the 1970’s, there would always be a perfect ripe avocado.  My dad thought avocados were for girls, and my brothers were not interested (!), so she didn’t buy any unless I was around to enjoy them with her.  We’d catch up at lunch: the avocado would be sliced and fanned on toast, sprinkled with salt and pepper with a squeeze of lemon. I recently saw a “recipe” for “avocado toasts” that involve mashing an avocado with mayo and this and that.  My mother and I just don’t get that: how to ruin an avocado, we would have said.

Several months ago, we had a late lunch at Mani Nial’s Sweet Bar Cafe in Oakland after a doctor’s appointment.  She wanted to share the turkey sandwich with avo and cheddar. I thought that sounded boring, but I agreed anyway.  It turned out to be a great sandwich. We fell silent for a while, just chewing and enjoying.  When she emerged from her reverie, she sighed,  “now I’m thinking about what (insert name of retirement community where she lives) would have done to these same ingredients”!  At times like that I realize two things:  first, my appreciation for good things to eat did not come out of nowhere, and second, we had better do something fast about institutional food, before we all go to live in (otherwise splendid) retirement communities!

My mother turned 91 recently.  She is still big on vegetables and salads, and fresh fish.  She and my father “discovered” Sushi 30 or 40 years ago, when you had to go to a Japanese community to get it.

Up until several months ago when my mother decided to stop drinking even the smallest glass of wine or beer, her “happy meal” might have been have been boiled edamame, a few pieces of super fresh sushi, and plenty of hot saki.  Gelato for dessert, if possible. She doesn’t care that sophisticated people drink chilled sake of better quality than the type that is served hot or warm.  She likes what she likes. If she weren’t my own mother, I would probably think she was the coolest sort of character.  Instead I roll my eyes sometimes.  I wish she were still drinking a little, because we tend to get along especially well over a glass of wine.  At least we are still eating sushi and avocadoes. And rolling out eyes together over what other people do with food…

Eye rolls aside, I am who I am because of her.  I don’t necessarily accept anyone’s rules about anything (especially food) unless I’ve proven them for myself.  Of course I have my own rules, but those usually come after I’ve thoroughly (but privately) discredited someone else’s. I am more rigorous in my process and more adamant about my food rules than she was or is, but she was a home cook, not a professional, so she gets a pass there.  Like her, I also have distinct preferences for good ingredients very simply prepared, I rarely eat a dish (other than dessert) with loads of creamy stuff in it or on it, and I like my food to taste like its ingredients.    

PS.  Since I wrote this post my mother has gone back to drinking a little wine.  This makes us both happy. 

Chocolate Hamantaschen

March 8th, 2012 by Cocolat

What?  Purim already?  I know people who don’t like Hamantaschen because they don’t like poppy seeds especially, or prune filling,  or anything else reminiscent of the Jewish cookies of childhood.  Well, I do like  (love, even) poppy seeds and prunes and the like,  but I am sensitive to the needs of others.  So I offer you this very good recipe for Hamantaschen filled with CHOCOLATE.  I think everyone will be happy  now.  Try it, you’ll like it!


CHOCOLATE HAMANTASCHEN

Forget poppy seeds, prunes, or apricots! Here, Haman’s Hat brims with bittersweet brownie filling and these cookies should NOT be saved for a Jewish, or any other, holiday
Makes 3 dozen cookies
Ingredients for Filling:

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cups (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large cold eggs
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
Ingredients for Cookie Dough:

2 cups (9 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened but not squishy
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Equipment: 

Cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper
A 3-inch round cookie cutter
Make the filling: Melt butter with chocolate in a stainless steel bowl set in a wide skillet of almost simmering water.  Stir frequently until the mixture is melted and smooth.
Remove the bowl from the water. Stir in the sugar, vanilla and salt.  Add the eggs one at a time, stirring in the first until incorporated before adding the second.  Stir in the flour and beat with a spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy and comes away from the sides of the pan, about one minute.  Scrape into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed.
Make the cookie dough: Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together thoroughly and set aside.
In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.  Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.  On low speed, beat in the flour just until incorporated. Form the dough into two flat patties.  Wrap and refrigerate the patties at least until firm enough to roll, but preferably several hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Position racks in the upper and lower third of the oven.
Remove one of the patties from the refrigerator and let it sit until supple enough to roll but still quite firm.  It will continue to soften as you work.  Roll the dough between 2 pieces of wax paper or between heavy plastic sheets from a plastic bag to a thickness of 1/8 inch.  Turn the dough over once or twice while you are rolling it out to check for deep wrinkles; if necessary, peel off and smooth the paper over the dough before continuing to roll it.  When the dough is thin enough, peel off the top sheet of paper or plastic and keep it in front of you.  Invert the dough onto that sheet.  Cut cookies as close together as possible, dipping the edges of the cutter in flour as necessary to prevent sticking.  Press dough scraps together and set aside to reroll with scraps from the second patty.
Place cookies 1/2 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Scoop and place a level teaspoonful of filling in the center of each cookie. Bring three sides of each cookie up to partially cover the filling.  Pinch the edges of the cookies well, to seal the corners.  Bake 12 minutes or until pale golden at the edges, rotating the cookie sheets from top to bottom and front to back half way through the baking. Repeat until all of the cookies are baked.
Slide the parchment liners onto cooling racks.  Cool the cookies completely before stacking or storing. 
Oh, and sorry, no photos today. I just now realized that it was Purim in the first place.