I’ve always wondered about measuring my ingredients especially when it comes to cooking savoury food. When you read many recipes, for example: it calls for a carrot, but they never ever tell you how big or small that carrot is. So the question is, does it matter?
In my opinion, for savoury food, it’s open to your judgement of how much of the different ingredients you want to add in (provided you are not doing molecular gastronomy). The acceptable range is pretty wide. It really is to taste because like I mentioned in a previous post, what you taste may not be the same as what someone else tastes. However, when they tell you to add a dash of vinegar, is there a quantifiable amount? A dash is around 1/16 of a teaspoon, and a pinch is what you can pick up with the first 3 fingers. For savoury, I believe in practising restrain. Just because you may like a certain ingredient, doesn’t mean you should be heavy handed with it. Also the rule of the thumb is to taste taste taste. Try to season as you go, why? If you season only at the end, you get only the salt on top of the dish. What you want is the flavour to be infused in the entire dish.
For sweets on the other hand, precision is very important. There is also that little problem of the weather. For pastry, bread and cookies/biscuits, you need to know what sort of texture you need to get to because most recipes are tried and tested in dry countries. Did you know that flour and sugar absorbs humidity? So if you were to measure flour in a cup, you will realise that on days that are more humid, for the same cup of flour, you’re actually getting less flour in terms of amount. What I would recommend you to do is to always weigh out what the equivalent is. For example, one cup of flour is around 230g (for me) Go through the exercise of measuring out in weight 1 cup of all the different ingredients (plain flour, self-raising, white caster sugar, brown sugar, etc) in your environment. For eggs, the standard size I use is 55g. Importantly, look at your batter, bread or cookie dough’s texture, and adjust it if it is too wet/dry. You may not know what optimum should look like at the first try but after doing this often enough, you will know for sure what it should be. And if all else fails, google for a photo of what someone else’s looks like and compare.
The last thing which is really important is temperature. When I get a new oven, I love baking cookies in it. I do that to figure out where the hot spots in my oven are. If you just want to go through this exercise without wasting your good cookie dough, buy the frozen one and follow the instructions very carefully because those are very vigorously tested and if you were to follow the instructions, you should get the same cookies every time. I also use an oven thermometer to understand my oven. Sometimes it doesn’t always read the same temperature inside as what you are trying to calibrate it to be. Also when deep drying, use a candy/deep frying thermometer to make sure that the oil temperature is between 170 degC and 180degC.
I know that these things are common sense to some and it also takes experience to tell if your measurements are good for the recipe, but enjoy the experience. Keep going, and keep tweaking as you go. It’s all part of the learning process.