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Recipe Troubleshooting: Volume versus Weight

Recipe Troubleshooting: Volume versus Weight

A professional baker friend once told me the way to make the best baked goods is to always weigh ingredients; measuring by volume is not reliable. That is true in making soap and cosmetics as well.

I’ve seen many recipes that give volume measurements rather than weight. The difficulty is knowing just how much of an ingredient is in that “one cup.” Have you ever tried to pack shortening into a measuring cup? Is there any way to be sure there are not any bubbles somewhere in it? What about butter? Each stick of butter has helpful marks for measuring by tablespoon. But how can you be absolutely certain you got the full amount you intended to use?

When it comes to using waxes, the shape can play a big role. Some waxes come in tiny shreds. Others are in discs or beads or pastilles. I often buy bars of beeswax from local beekeepers from which I must chip or shred what I want to use. Can you imagine how impossible it would be to get an accurate volume measurement when you are hacking random-sized chunks from a bar of hard wax?

I like to try different waxes in a recipe to see which one I like best. When it comes to beeswax beads versus castor wax shreds, a tablespoon differs up to one gram. That can quickly cause a recipe to turn into something not quite what you’d intended.

The solution to these issues is a scale. Let’s do a bit of experimenting. I weighed one tablespoon of all the different waxes I have on hand. I tried to be sure each tablespoon was leveled. It seems like those waxes would not differ all that much, but they did.

Ingredient Weight Volume Wax on the Scale
Beeswax Beads, Light 9.6 grams 1 Tablespoon
Beeswax Beads, Yellow 9.2 grams 1 Tablespoon
Castor Wax 8.4 grams 1 Tablespoon
Rice Bran Wax 9.3 grams 1 Tablespoon

One tablespoon of yellow beeswax weighed 9.2 grams. A tablespoon of castor wax was 8.4 grams. Rice bran wax – 9.3 grams. One tablespoon of light beeswax beads weighed 9.6 grams.

It’s not surprising that each tablespoon of wax has a different weight. First of all, there are differences in the size and shape of each wax. That determines how much will fit in a tablespoon. Second, it is impossible to get the same amount in each subsequent scoop.

Another issue is specific gravity. This applies to liquid ingredients. Specific gravity refers to the weight of one fluid ounce of the liquid. Water has a specific gravity of 1 because one fluid ounce of water weighs one ounce. Liquid glycerin, however, has a higher specific gravity (1.21). If a liquid floats in a jar of water, it has a lower specific gravity. If the liquid sinks, it has a higher specific gravity. What does that mean for makers? Just this: if a recipe calls for 2 fluid ounces of glycerin, and you decide to change that to a different humectant, you need to substitute using weight, not volume.

Don’t compromise your recipe by inaccurate measurements! And don’t despair if a recipe you’d like to try uses volume measurements. In our next blog, we’ll look at how to convert a volume measurement to weight.

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