THE MAESTRO SCALE
by Michael Ruhlman.
This scale is one of the most important tools in my kitchen. It ensures accuracy in following (and repeating) a recipe. When you measure by weight, you can double or halve a recipe as you need. And it makes measuring ingredients faster, easier, and cleaner.
The Maestro is a two-in-one scale, with a main scale for weighing heavier items (5 pounds/2.25 kilograms of flour, for instance) and a pop-out small scale for weighing lighter items (such as yeast or baking powder), accurate to one-tenth of a gram. (Measuring in grams is easier and more accurate than ounces; even American cookbooks are adopting metric measurements now.)
If you cook using ratios rather than recipes—that is, cooking by proportions—a scale is an imperative. This scale has a percentage button to make measuring even faster. For instance, the standard ratio for bread is 5 parts flour, 3 parts water. That same ratio is expressed in the baker’s percentage, 100% flour, 60% water. You can either create a recipe using ratios (I’ve build a smart phone app for this purpose, called Ratio) or work from percentages.
This means you can simply set your mixing bowl on your scale and pour in 500 grams of flour and then add 300 grams of water (or 20 ounces of flour and 12 ounces of water), and this will result in a standard bread dough. Or pour in the flour, hit the percentage button, and add water till the readout says 60%. (You also need to add 2% salt and 0.5% dry yeast.)
A pie dough is 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter or shortening, and 1 part water. Measuring shortening by simply adding it to your mixing bowl is much cleaner than trying to measure it by cups or tablespoons.
Flour is perhaps the most variable ingredient measured by volume. Depending on the type of flour and the humidity in your kitchen, 1 cup of flour can weigh anywhere from 4 ounces to 6 ounces. This means that if you were measuring out 4 cups of flour for, say, a cake, you might end up with a pound of flour in your bowl or a pound and a half. Failing to use a scale when baking is perhaps the most common reason baking recipes don’t turn out.
Salt is another critical ingredient, especially when measuring to make a brine or a cure. My standard brine uses 5% salt—that is, 50 grams for every 1000 grams of water. Different types of salt, even different brands, have different weights by volume, so there’s only one way to ensure you’ve got the right amount of salt in your liquid: weigh it. Morton’s kosher salt weighs more than Diamond Crystal, so if you were to measure by volume, one brine would be saltier than the other. Coarse sea salt has a different weight than fine sea salt, which has a different weight than table salt, and so on.
I love that if you know a ratio, like bread dough, it’s like knowing a thousand recipes. If you understand that crêpe batter is one-half part flour and one part each liquid and egg, you can make as many or as few crêpes as you want.
A basic shortbread-style cookie dough is always exactly 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter, 1 part sugar; an angel food cake batter is always exactly 3 parts each egg white and sugar, 1 part flour. (For more on ratios, see my book Ratio or the Ratio app, or visit ruhlman.com. For more on bread baking, see my Bread Baking Basics app for iPad.) All of this is possible thanks to the power scale.