I try not to be dictatorial, but honestly: for best baking results — Use. A. Scale.
Sure, most of us grew up using measuring cups like our moms and grandmas did. Grandma used a teacup and soup spoon; for more consistent results, Mom switched to standardized measuring cups and spoons. Now it’s time to embrace precise weight rather than less accurate volume — which means using a scale.
What's the single most important reason for using a scale?
Flour is the bedrock of most baking recipes. And it’s also, unfortunately, the ingredient most prone to being mis-measured. If you dip your measuring cup into your canister of flour and just dump it into the bowl — or even if you tap the cup to settle the flour, then sweep it level — you could be using up to 25% more flour than the recipe developer intended.
This can spell utter disaster: If your yeast bread doesn’t rise well, your cookies are crumbly, or your muffins and quick breads are dry, an excess of flour may be the culprit. Switching to a scale ensures more consistently successful results — shares King Arthur copywriter and self-proclaimed beginner baker Laura Scaduto: “I learned quickly that as a new baker, it's small steps like using a scale that yield the biggest results!”
Flour is the bedrock of most baking recipes. And it’s also, unfortunately, the ingredient most prone to being mis-measured.
Scales ensure accuracy; measuring cups don’t
A good-quality scale is calibrated to ensure accuracy to 1 gram, which is about .04 of an ounce. Compare that to the accuracy of your measuring cups. Even if the markings on the side of your liquid measuring cup are correctly placed (and trust me, many aren’t), how close do you come to those markings? And in the case of dry measuring cups and spoons, do you level off the ingredients with absolute perfection every time?
Getting decent results measuring by volume is possible, of course. But with so many recipes these days giving precise gram measurements — including all of the recipes on our site — you’ll give yourself the best possible chance for success by using a scale.
Bonus: less cleanup
Never mind swabbing sticky peanut butter or honey out of your measuring cup; when you measure by weight, there are no cups to clean. Score!
Taking virtual baking classes? Use a scale.
If you’re one of the many bakers who’s taken advantage of virtual learning opportunities during the pandemic, a scale will put you on an equal footing with your instructors. Notes Amber Eisler, director of the King Arthur Baking School, “In our online classes students are joining us from around the globe and there are a lot of variables, from climate to available equipment. If we’re all weighing our ingredients, that variable is removed and the whole class is able to bake together more successfully.”
Which scale is best?
The best scale is the one that suits your particular needs. If you concentrate on yeast bread, baking multiple loaves several times a week and frequently scaling recipes up and down, you may need a scale with more capacity and precision. Or perhaps you occasionally bake cookies or muffins; you’ll be able to get along with something simpler. Here are some features to consider:
Capacity: Some scales offer huge weight capacity (over 30 pounds); these are good for those of you baking big batches of bread or many dozens of cookies. Not a big-time baker? Settle for a smaller-capacity (10- to 15-pound) scale.
Ounces vs. grams: Many recipe authors are transitioning from American to metric weights, so make sure the scale you choose offers both options. Thankfully, most scales these days do.
Precision: Most digital scales weigh in 1-gram increments and fractions of an ounce, which is precise enough for most bakers. If you’re a baker wanting extreme precision, though — say you want to use “baker’s math” when baking bread — you may want to supplement your standard scale with a micro scale: one that weighs in fractions of a gram. More on micro scales below.
Speaking of precision, if you worry about your scale losing its accurate calibration over time, here’s a way to check it: Find a nickel (yup, a 5-cent piece) and place it on your scale; it should register 5 grams. If you’re concerned that your scale doesn’t do well with very small amounts (but it’s fine otherwise), weigh six nickels; close to 30g? You’re good to go.
Size: Is counter or storage space an issue? Scales can be large and thin, small and chunky, or anything in between. Take a look at your work area, then the scale you’re considering; make a paper cutout of its footprint and set it on the work surface. Will it be in your way? Does it fit in that area between the flour canister and stand mixer? This pre-purchase step is well worth the effort.
Price: A scale’s price will be based on the array of features it offers, so scales with all the bells and whistles can be quite expensive. But don’t let price stand in the way of measuring ingredients by weight: You can get a reliable scale with the basic features you need at a very affordable price.
Tare feature: Set your mixing bowl on the scale. Add your 3 cups (360g) of flour. Tare (reset) the scale to zero. Add your 4 tablespoons (57g) of butter. Tare the scale to zero … get the picture? There’s no arithmetic necessary when your scale can easily be reset to zero after each ingredient is added. The vast majority of scales offer this feature; just make sure the one you choose is one of them.
Genius tip for measuring ingredients on the fly: the reverse tare
Speaking of taring, here’s a tip perfect for those times when you need to add an ingredient gradually, with the mixer running: think adding sugar to beaten egg whites for meringue, for instance.
Rather than pre-measure the sugar into another bowl (thus creating more cleanup), do this: Set your bag or canister of sugar onto your scale. Tare the scale to zero. Dip spoonfuls of sugar, one at a time, out of the container into the mixing bowl. When the number on the scale reaches the weight you’re looking for (or its negative; it may have a minus sign in front of it), you’re there.
Example: Your meringue recipe calls for 1/2 cup (99g) of sugar, added gradually to the egg whites in the mixing bowl. Place your container of sugar on the scale and tare the scale to zero. Gradually add sugar to the mixing bowl, and when the scale reads 99g (or -99g), stop: you’ve transferred 1/2 cup (99g) of sugar from its original container to the bowl.
This is easiest with dry ingredients since you spoon rather than pour. But if you’re measuring liquids, just keep setting your carton of milk or jar of molasses back on the scale between additions; so long as you don’t wait too long (and let your scale turn itself off), it’ll work fine.
Note: Not all scales will let you do a negative tare. Some (particularly older models) simply don't register when you're removing weight rather than adding it.
For serious bakers: the micro scale
Micro scales (aka gram scales, gem scales) measure small amounts of ingredients with great precision, usually down to the hundredths of a gram. But why would you ever want to be so precise — especially since almost every recipe you’ll follow measures in whole grams, not fractions?
The vast majority of bakers don’t need to add a micro scale to their array of gear; frankly, it’s overkill. But for some — bakers wanting to scale large bakery-style recipes down to home size, say, or advanced yeast bakers following baker’s math — a micro scale can definitely come in handy.
It all comes down to degrees of accuracy. Standard scales tend to be very accurate when measuring standard amounts of ingredients: 1 cup of flour, 3 tablespoons of butter. But when measuring less than an ounce (28g), some scales will start to falter, giving readings that can vary by up to several grams; this is especially true with poorly manufactured scales.
In addition, some older digital scales measure in 5g increments — not helpful when you’re trying to accurately weigh a teaspoon of salt (6g).
Micro scales are a key tool for bakers using baker’s percentage. Let’s say you manage to chase down a recipe for ciabatta from your favorite bakery. The only thing is, the recipe is written for 150 pounds of flour — and it’s written in baker’s percentage, calling for 2% salt and 1.5% instant yeast. Scaling down the recipe to use 500g of flour (a bit over 4 cups), you’ll use 2% (10g) of salt and 1.5% (7.5g) of instant yeast. If you want to follow the bakery’s recipe exactly, you need a micro scale to weigh those tiny amounts.
They’re also useful for everyday recipes that include small amounts of potent ingredients — e.g., 1/8 teaspoon citric acid or 1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia. Add even a tiny bit too much of these strong ingredients and you’ll definitely taste the difference — and not in a good way.
Still, do you need a micro scale? Need, no. But if you want one, decent micro scales can be found online for under $15.
Ready to buy a scale?
King Arthur sells six standard (not micro) scales. Any of these would work for most baking; check out the chart below (and my special-feature callouts) to find the one that best matches your needs.
|Essential Digital Scale||$32.95||11 lb.||Small|
|Glass Kitchen Scale||$39.95||15 lb.||Small|
|KD-7000 Digital Scale||$59.95||15.4 lb.||Large|
|Extra-High Capacity Scale||$64.95||33 lb.||Large|
|Volume and Weight Scale||$69.95||13 lb.||Medium|
|Pull Out Display Scale||$54.95||11 lb.||Medium|
Essential Digital Scale: This scale is small enough to slip easily into a shallow drawer (like your junk drawer) when not in use.
Glass Kitchen Scale: This ultra-thin (1/2”), easy-to-store scale features a large, bright display with 1”-tall digits, a real boon to those of us with vision issues.
KD-7000 Digital Scale: With its handy AC adapter (no more worrying about batteries), this is the scale used in the King Arthur Baking Schools.
Extra-High Capacity Scale: If you’re a large-scale baker, this 33-pound capacity scale allows you to weigh out the ingredients for over 20 loaves of bread at a time.
Volume and Weight Scale: This scale includes a database with weights and volumes of 99 of the most common baking ingredients. Just set your mixing bowl on the scale, select your chosen ingredient from the database, and add it to the bowl: No matter how the recipe measures (grams, ounces, cups), you’re covered.
Pull Out Display Scale: Larger mixing bowls can obstruct your view of a scale’s display. This one solves the problem with its moveable display: Pull it out to read with ease, then retract it for storage.
Enough weighing your options; get a scale and weigh your flour!
As I noted earlier, good scales come in a range of prices; you don't have to break the bank to purchase a scale. And since it saves you both time and effort (cleanup), AND puts you one step closer to baking perfection — well, what are you waiting for?
Shop our favorite scales
Cover photo (Glass Kitchen Scale in action) by Kristin Teig.