Baking 101: Weighing Ingredients and a little Pound Cake

A couple of summers ago, I took a bread making class in Paris and in the first lesson learned how important it is to weigh the ingredients, especially the flour.   Since I have an aversion to anything remotely diet related, buying a food scale has been right up there with sucking down low carb shakes and gnawing my way through meal replacement bars.  To be perfectly honest, I worried that having a scale in my kitchen would tempt me to weigh everything I ate, which would eventually lead me to be that person at the family picnic pulling out premeasured packages of carrots and raisins.  But I believed my beloved French chef when he explained that if you didn’t weigh the ingredients you would come out with inconsistent results, so I bought a scale and–this is hard for me to say–it has changed my [baking] life.

I’m going to skip the part where I spent a Saturday evening measuring out flour and sugar and chocolate chips to see if what I would normally consider a cup (using that tried and true method of scooping out flour using a measuring cup and tamping it down until it fit) actually weighed what a cup should weigh.  All you need to know is that no, it does not.  What’s worse, I was actually using almost twice what I needed with my method.  Of course this meant that if I was adding almost 2 cups of flour to a recipe that called for 1, and not upping the amounts of everything else (especially the liquids), things were not going to be all goodness and joy as the recipe would want me to believe.  Also, what might work one time may not work another, because I may–in my pre-weighing days–use a 1-1/2 cups one time and 2-1/4 cups the next time (which is part of the reason why in most non-American cookbooks you’ll see measurements in grams, so ingredients can be easily weighed and measured).  Oh, the frustration over lost cakes and hard breads of my past! [insert fist shake]

After a lot of trial and error, and a lot of reading of cookbooks, I now know that a cup of flour is actually 4-5 ounces (which still annoys me. Is it 4? Or is it 5? Seriously?!).  According to Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything, a cup of liquid is truly 8 ounces, but a solid like flour is not.  It is a lot of work to remember this and translate it into 1/2 and 3/4 cups after years of just scooping and going at it.  But! The results are worth it.  I made a pound cake for Easter that I’d done before with ok, but slightly dense, results.  This time, it was light and fluffy and moist and all-around yummy. 

Pound Cake

Pound Cake

Two days later and it hasn’t dried out or turned crumbly.  So yeah, I refuse to have a people scale in my house, but am all about the food scale.  But I promise never to show up at your party with premeasured bags of raisins….


Paula Deen’s Pound Cake (my notes in red)

  • 1 stick of butter, softened
  • 1.5 cups of flour (7 ounces)
  • 1.5 cups of sugar (10 ounces. This is where things get confusing and annoying.  Even Bittman uses “cup” when measuring out sugar, so I suppose you should assume 12 ounces for a cup and a half.  I used 10 just to be on the safe side and it was the perfect amount of sweetness)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (4 ounces)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid on 6), cream butter and sugar together.  Add the sour cream and mix until incorporated.  Sift the baking soda and flour together.  Add to the creamed mixture (turn mixer to 4), alternating with eggs, beating each egg 1 at a time.  Add vanilla and pour mixture into a greased and floured loaf pan.  Bake for 1 hour or until knife inserted comes out clean (cover with foil half way through so it doesn’t brown too much).


4 Responses to Baking 101: Weighing Ingredients and a little Pound Cake

  1. Alethia Van Fleet says:

    Hello Heather:

    I’m so glad for people like you in the world who would go to the trouble of weighing the right amount of flour for baking. Your recipe for pound cake is lovely and I’m happy for the lucky folks who were able to taste your delicious, moist pound cake.

    Alethia Van Fleet

  2. esther says:

    will that ever be the cake i made?

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