I’ve often said (including here on Gear Diary, I think), that in the kitchen you’re either an Alton or a Mario. “Altons” refer to Alton Brown, the Mr. Wizard of the Food Network who combines science and math with recipes to teach you how to cook and why precision is important. I’m an Alton. “Marios” are more like Mario Batali, cooks who throw in a dash of this and a sprinkle of that and never measure anything. My girlfriend is a Mario. Well, maybe she’s more of a Maria…
These two archetypes can work well together in a kitchen, as long as everybody knows what their strengths are. Altons tend to be better bakers, because baking relies on chemical reactions to make bread rise and delicate balances between the ratios of flour, butter, liquid etc to create fluffy pastry and pillowy yeast rolls. You can’t be messing around with science in situations like that, or you’ll end up with fallen soufflés and burnt biscuits.
I had my attitude confirmed recently by no less of an authority than the man generally considered the best American-born chef living today, Thomas Keller. The award-winning chef/owner of French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon Bakery visited my hometown of Nashville recently, and I had the extreme good fortune to share a lunch with him as part of my day gig as a food writer for www.foodrepublic.com. He was promoting his new cookbook Bouchon Bakery, which he cowrote with Chef Sebastien Rouxel. One topic that we discussed was the precision necessary to be a good baker.
His advice was pointed and specific.
“Buy a scale that measures in grams. If you don’t have a scale, you’re not going to be successful. In fact, the idea of cups and teaspoons and tablespoons is really archaic and probably should be illegal….Pastry and baking is all about precision. Every time you scoop a cup of flour it’s going to be a different weight, I guarantee. Think about the recipe for a pound cake. It’s a pound of flour, a pound of butter, a pound of eggs, a pound of sugar. It’s not a cup. They don’t call it a cupcake.”
So I immediately went to my Amazon wish list and added the KD-8000 Baker’s Math Kitchen Scale. This particular model ticked off all the boxes which Chef Keller suggested: inexpensive, easy to use, easy to clean, ability to scale ingredients within a recipe and a tare function. The only shortcoming was that it was not precise to within a 1/10 of a gram like some of the recipes in Keller’s book, but that’s probably a little more accurate than I’ll ever need. Within a gram is good enough for me.
Here at Gear Diary, we do a holiday gift exchange, and most of us use Amazon Gift lists as a starting point to pick a present for online friends who we’ve never actually met in person. My Secret Elf was kind enough to quickly harvest the scale off my wish list and send it to me, and I’ve been a baking fool ever since. Actually, I’m a baking smarty, not a fool.
The scale runs off of batteries, but has an optional AC cord available. I’m fine with batteries, since the extra cord running across my counter would clutter up my work surface and the scale turns itself off after a few minutes anyway to save batteries. It comes in two parts, a base and a detachable platform that hold whatever you are weighing. This allows for easier storage since you can tuck the platform between a couple of sheet pans in your cabinets if necessary.
Baking is often messy, so I appreciate the clear plastic cover that swings down to protect the buttons on front of the scale. With both wet and dry ingredients flying around my kitchen, the detachable cover is much easier to clean than the whole scale. The controls are simple to use. There’s a power button, a tare button (which resets the scale to zero), a mode function to switch between ounces, grams etc. and a button which enables the percentage weighing mode, which is very helpful for scaling recipes bigger or smaller.
To use the scale, you can either weigh each ingredient on the platform, or take advantage of the tare function to simplify the process considerably. Rather than measure out cups, tablespoons, ounces and other measurements, all you need to do is take an appropriately sized mixing bowl and set it on the scale. The display will read whatever the bowl weighs. Then hit tare to reset the scale to zero and account for the weight of the vessel. If the recipe calls for 3 cups of white flour, it’s a simple Google check to discover that 3 cups weighs 375 grams. (This weight to volume conversion differs depending on what you’re measuring, so check online in advance.) Then all you have to do is sift in your flour until the display reads 375 grams.
If the next ingredient is 3 tablespoons of salt, just hit that tare button again to reset the weight and add salt until it reads 54 grams. As long as you zero the scale out between every added ingredient, you’ll be accurate and only have to mess up one bowl instead of all the cups, bowls and spoons in your kitchen. Look at how many things I’d have to clean up if I did this the old way.
And this is all it takes now.
More precision and less clean-up? Count me in! And the KD-8000 will be a very valuable addition to my kitchen tool collection. Thanks Secret Elf!!
The KD-8000 Baker’s Math Kitchen Scale is available at Amazon and many department stores.
What I Liked: Inexpensive. Easy to use and clean up. Precise to within 1 gram. Makes baking easier and much less messy.
What Needs Improvement: Not much really. For the price, you can’t expect accuracy to .1 gram, and my cooking skills wouldn’t take advantage of that much precision anyway.