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Recipe, er…formula for success!

One of these cookies is not like the other...

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In the kitchen pretty much everything my crew and I bake has a formula – not a recipe. “Recipe” to me means spoons and cups, a dash or a pinch, and they are fine for making small batches. Increasingly, I have noticed (especially in Fine Cooking recipes) that ingredients like flour and butter are given in ounces as well as cups, which is important when you consider that different flours can measure out differently in cups. Weight measurement is especially helpful when dealing with sifted ingredients. You can weigh out exactly 9 ounces of flour before sifting, saving you the time of sifting, measuring, scraping, etc.

When you are dealing with large quantity baking, weighing ingredients is the most effiecient way to go – and I am talking weighing ALL ingedients including baking powder, eggs and sugar. This is where the recipes become formulas. Baker’s formulas are based on percentages, and the percentages are what allow you to effectively scale recipes. Using percentages can also help fix mistakes…let me give you an example.

For my baking company, most of the staple products use made-from-scratch mixes. We take the flour, salt, baking powder (or soda) and sometimes sugar and mix large batches of dry mix for later use. Mixes are usually made by whoever has their hands free, so there is always a chance for error. For example, I usually make the chocolate chip cookie mix, and I know that my formula has a typo – “baking powder” really means “baking soda” – and I have simply been too busy to fix it. Well…one of my assistants didn’t know that, so he used baking powder. When I went to bake the cookies they hardly rose at all and once they cooled, they were hard as rocks. Equipped with my formula and 11 pounds of cookie mix, I set out to fix the problem.

In a baker’s formula, everything is expressed in percent of the total flour weight. So if my formula calls for 4 lbs. of flour, then 4 lbs. = 100%. Two ounces of baking powder = 3.1% of the total flour weight. If you increase your flour to 6 lbs., then your baking powder increases to 3 oz.

I had 11 lbs. off cookie mix, or 176 oz. on hand. Now, I did not account for the fact that there was some leavening in the mix already, I just calculated the correct amount of baking soda and called it a day (I think I got lucky because the cookies were not over leavened). In order to correct the problem, I started off with my original formula to see what percent of the total flour weight the dry mix was:

Flour – 58.5 ounces or 100%

Baking SODA – .75 oz. or 1.3%

Salt – 1.125 oz. or 1.9%

So, the percent of total flour weight for the dry mix is 103.2% (I just added up the %s). By taking the total weight of the dry mix – 176 oz. – and dividing it by 103.2%, I was able to determine the total amount of flour that was actually in the mix my assistant had made. It was 170.5 oz. Once I had that number I just multiplied the flour weight by 1.3% to figure out the amount of baking soda needed – 2.2 oz. Problem solved and the cookies were fine. I LOVE FORMULAS!!!

I think every home baker in the U.S. should have a kitchen scale (I am using a Taylor digital I got at Target for $50, but I am not too happy with it – any suggestions?) and convert their favorite recipes to weight measurement. I have done this with a number of recipes and found that ingredients like flour, butter, sugar, etc can easily be converted – you will probably still have to have your teaspoons handy for the 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar, though. Try it…and I would love to hear your formula successes and disasters (basementbaker@bakelocal.com), or post your comments below.

 

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  • Vanillalatte | 02/27/2010

    This is great info... do you also weigh ingredients like molasses and honey?? Some of my commercial recipes/formulas list them in ounces and some fluid ounces??

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