Cake Baking Basics: Formulas and Measurements


Bakers generally talk about formulas rather than recipes. If this sounds more like a chemistry lab than a food production facility, it’s for good reason. The bakery is very much like a chemistry laboratory, both in the scientific precision of the procedures and in the complex reactions that take place during mixing and baking.


Ingredients are almost always weighed at the bakery, rather than measured by volume, because measuring by weight is more accurate. The precision of the measurement, as we have said, is essential in the bakery. Unlike home baking recipes, a professional baker’s formula doesn’t call for 6 cups of flour, for example.

To prove to yourself the importance of weighing rather than measuring by volume, measure a cup of flour in two ways:

(a) Sift some flour and spoon into a dry measure. Level the top and weigh the flour.

(b) Scoop out some uncrushed flour to the same extent and pack it lightly. Level the

cover and weigh the flour. Notice the difference – no wonder homemade recipes are so inconsistent!

The baker’s term for weighing ingredients is scale.

The following ingredients, and only these ingredients, can sometimes be measured by volume, at a ratio of 1 pint per pound or 1 liter per kilogram:

o Water o Milk o Eggs

The volume measure is often used when scaling water for small or medium batches of bread. The results are generally good. However, as long as precision is paramount, it’s best to weigh, as a pint of water actually weighs a little over a pound, or roughly 16.7 oz. (This figure varies with the water temperature).

For convenience, liquid volume measurements are frequently used when preparing products other than baked flour products, such as sauces, syrups, puddings, and custards.

Measurement units

The measurement system used in the United States is very complicated. Even those who have used the system their entire lives sometimes have trouble remembering things like how many fluid ounces are in a quart and how many feet are in a mile.

The metric system

The United States is the only major country that uses the complex measurement system just described. Other countries use a much simpler system called the metric system.

Abbreviations for the US units of measure used

pound (lb)

ounce (oz)

gallon (gal)

fourth (qt)

pint (pt)

fluid ounce (fl oz)

tablespoon (tablespoon)

teaspoon (tsp)

inch (in)

foot (ft)

In the metric system, there is a basic unit for each type of measurement:

The gram is the basic unit of weight.

The liter is the basic unit of volume.

The meter is the basic unit of length.

The degree Celsius is the basic unit of temperature.

The largest or smallest units are obtained simply by multiplying or dividing by 10, 100,

1000, etc. These divisions are expressed by prefixes. The ones you need

know are:

kilo- = 1000

deci- = 1D10 or 0.1

centi- = 1D100 or 0.01

milli- = 1D1000 or 0.001

Formulas and measurements

Metric units

Basic units

Quantity unit abbreviation

weight gram g

volume liter L

length meter m

temperature degree Celsius ° C

Divisions and multiples

Prefix / Example Meaning Abbreviation

kilo- 1000 k

kilogram 1000 grams kg

deci- 1D10 d

decilitate 0.1 liter dL

centi- 1D100 c

centimeter 0.01 meter cm

milli- 1D1000 m

millimeter 0.001 meter mm

Conversion to metric

Most people think that the metric system is much more difficult to learn than it really is. This is because they think in metric units in terms of US units. They read that there are 28.35 grams in an ounce and are immediately convinced that they will never be able to learn metrics. Don’t worry about being able to convert US units to metric units and vice versa. This is a very important point to remember, especially if you think the metric system can be difficult to learn. The reason for this is simple: you will usually work on one system or the other. Rarely, if ever, will you have to convert from one to the other. (An exception could be if you have a team based on one system and you want to use a formula written on the other.) Today, many people own imported cars and repair them with metric tools without ever worrying about how many millimeters are in an inch. Similarly, when American bakeries and kitchens switch to the metric system, American cooks and bakers will use scales that measure in grams and kilograms, volume measures that measure in liters and deciliters, and thermometers that measure in degrees Celsius, and will use formulas If these units indicate, you won’t have to worry about how many grams are in an ounce. To get used to working in metric units, it helps to have an idea of ​​the size of the units. They are not exact conversion factors.

A kilogram is a little over 2 pounds.

One gram is approximately 1D30 oz. Half a teaspoon of flour weighs a little less than one


A liter is a little more than a quart.

A deciliter is a little less than half a cup.

One centiliter equals approximately 2 teaspoons.

A meter is a little over 3 feet.

One centimeter is roughly equivalent to 3d8 in.

0 ° C is the freezing point of water (32 ° F).

100 ° C is the boiling point of water (212 ° F).

An increase or decrease of 1 degree Celsius equals approximately 2

Fahrenheit degrees.

Metric formulas and recipes

American industry will likely adopt the metric system one day. Many recipe writers are already eager for a head start and are printing metric equivalents. As a result, you will see recipes that call for 454g of flour, 28.35g of butter, or a baking temperature of 191 ° C. No wonder people fear the metric system! Kitchens in metric countries do not work with such impractical numbers, nor do we normally use figures like 1 pound 11D4 ounces of flour, 2.19 ounces of butter, or a baking temperature of 348 ° F. That would defeat the whole purpose. of the metric system. It should be simple and practical. If you have a chance to look at a French cookbook, you will see nice round numbers like 1kg, 200g, and 4dL.

The metric measurements in the formulas in this book are NOT equivalent to the US measurements shown next to them. You should think of the metric part of the formulas as standalone formulas with returns close to but not equal to the returns of the US formulas. Giving exact equivalents would require the use of awkward and impractical numbers. If you have metric equipment, use metric units, and if you have US equipment, use US units. For the most part, the total performance of the metric formulas in this book is close to the performance of the formulas. from USA, keeping ingredient proportions the same. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to keep the proportions exactly the same because the American system is not based on decimals like the metric system. In some cases, metric quantities produce slightly different results due to varying proportions, but these differences are usually extremely small.

The principle of using a bakery scale is simple: the scale must be balanced before adjusting the weights and it must be balanced again after scaling. The following procedure applies to the most commonly used type of bakery scale.

1. Place the scale scoop or other container on the left side of the scale.

2. Balance the scale by placing counterweights on the right side.

and / or adjusting the ounce weight on the horizontal bar.

3. Set the scale for the desired weight by placing weights on the right side

and / or moving the weight of the ounce.

For example, to set the scale to 1 lb 8 oz, place a 1 lb weight on the right side and

move the ounce weight to the right 8 oz. If the ounce weight already exceeds 8 ounces, then

you can’t move it another 8, add 2 lb to the right side of the scale and subtract 8

ounces by moving the ounce weight 8 places to the left. The result is still 1 lb 8 oz.

4. Add the ingredient being scaled to the left side until the scale is balanced.


A good balance should be accurate to 1D4 oz (0.25 oz) or, if it is metric, 5 g. Dry ingredients weighing less than 1D4 oz can be scaled up by physically dividing larger amounts into equal servings. For example, to scale 1D16 oz

(0.06 oz), weigh out 1D4 oz first, then divide this into four equal heaps using a small knife.

For fine pastry work, a small battery-operated digital scale is often more useful than a large scale. A good digital scale is relatively inexpensive. You can instantly measure amounts to the nearest 1D8 oz or to the nearest 2 g. Most digital scales have a tare or zero button that sets the displayed weight to zero. For example, you can place a container on the scale, set the weight to zero, add the desired amount of the first ingredient, reset the weight to zero, add the second ingredient, and so on. This speeds up the weighing of dry ingredients that need to be sifted together, for example, however remember that careful weighing on a good balance is more accurate.

British bakers have a convenient method of measuring baking powder when small amounts are needed. They use a mixture called muffin flour. To make one pound of muffin flour, combine 15 oz. Of flour and 1 oz. Of baking powder; sift together three times. One ounce (1D16 lb) of muffin flour therefore contains 1D16 (0.06 oz) of baking powder. For every 1D16 oz of baking powder needed in a formula, substitute 1 oz of muffin flour for 1 oz of the flour called for in the formula. To facilitate formula calculations and conversions, the fractional ounces that appear in the ingredient tables for formulas in this book are written as decimals. Therefore, 11D 2 oz is written as 1.5 oz and 1D4 oz is written as 0.25 oz.


Bakers use a simple but versatile percentage system to express their formulas. Baker’s percentages express the amount of each ingredient used as a percentage of the amount of flour used. In other words, the percentage of each ingredient is its total weight divided by the weight of the flour, multiplied by 100%, or:

100% =% ingredient

Thus, the flour is always 100%. If two types of flour are used, their total is 100%. Any ingredient weighing the same as the amount of flour used is also indicated as 100%. The ingredients in the cake formula listed on page 11 illustrate how these percentages are used. Check the figures against the equation above to make sure you understand them. Remember that these numbers do not refer to the percentage of the total return. The total return on these percentage numbers will always be greater than 100%. The advantages of using bakery percentages is that the formula is easily adapted to any performance, and individual ingredients can be varied and other ingredients added without changing the entire formulation. For example, you can add raisins to a muffin mix formula keeping the percentages for all other ingredients the same. Clearly, a percentage system based on the weight of flour can only be used when flour is a main ingredient, such as in breads, cakes, and cookies. However, this principle can also be used in other formulas by selecting a main ingredient and setting it to 100%. In this book, as long as an ingredient other than flour is used as the 100% base.

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