Baking Bread – Measuring, Conversion

Bread recipes for the home baker usually list ingredients by volume: cups, tablespoons etc.  A recipe for a 1 lb. loaf of bread requires 2 cups of white bread flour or whole wheat flour.  I like to measure by weight – particularly when loading a bread machine. My notes, for the ingredients I use are the table below, at the end of this post. I use mainly use metric weight; I may also note US ounces. For ingredients that are largely water – i.e. milk, butter, eggs, syrups – rather than seed or vegetable oil I note weight of water, taken from conversion tables.

Many recipes round flour and water to the nearest quarter cup. The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook (Harvard Common Press, 2000; by Beth Hensperger) goes to the nearest 1/8 cup.  Usually, recipes refer to a standard measuring cup. A US cup is .87 of an Imperial (U.K., many other English speaking countries) cup.  An Imperial cup is 1.2 US cups.  A metric cup is a quarter liter (250 millilitres) which is .88 Imperial cups or 1.06 US cups.

Scales in ounces go down to 1/8 oz, but not necessarily to decimal fractions.  Metric kitchen scales go to the nearest gram. That is close enough for flour.

Small measurement errors can affect the loaf.  Errors in conversion factors and mistakes in arithmetic (e.g. slips in entering numbers in a calculator) can lead to the extra tablespoon of water that changes the dough and the loaf. Measuring by weight is more exact. It is the standard for commercial baking. Converting volume to weight is fuzzy.

Baker percentage (B %), a method of managing the production of bread. It is explained in a some baker cook bookbooks, For instance Peter Reinhardt devotes pages 40-45 of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice to this topic. It is a tool taught to professional bakers, and addressed in texts such as Daniel T. DiMuzio’s Bread Baking; An Artisan’s Perspective. For the baker-manager, it is a calculation to scale inputs to create 2, 10, 100 or 1,000 consistent loaves of bread. The assumptions are consistency of ingredients, equipment, energy, working space, and time.  For managing production, every ingredient is put into the formula.  The formula can be used to build dashboard indicator of the use of a bakery.  It is as precise as it needs to be, for how it is used. B % is explained:

Flour is the ground product of grains, including flour and meal. In B %, all flour is counted to determine Total flour weight, even when flours differ in density and protein content. It is conventional to express the relative amounts of flour as a percentage of the total flour weight (e.g. 50% bread flour and 50% whole wheat; or 90% bread flour and 10% rye flour). A baker manager may count all dry ingredients. A home baker may not need to count seeds, sugar and other small quantity ingredients.

The weight of every other ingredient is expressed as a percentage of the Total flour weight. The fluid percentage is called the hydration rate, a scale of how wet, sticky and messy the dough is. Conventionally, only the main fluid counts for the hydration rate: water or milk.

Flour is the product of milling grain. Flour has plant proteins and starch. Water and protein make dough sticky and stretchy. Starch feeds yeast – some is fermented. Starch is the carbohydrate in bread – the thing that makes it food.

White bread flour (and Canadian All-Purpose flour) and whole wheat flour milled from “red, hard” wheat are nearly a standard commodities. There are variations depending on the wheat variety, and milling method.

The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook suggests 1 cup of bread flour or whole wheat flour converts at 5 oz.  Reinhart (The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and other books) says 4.5 oz.; he measures bread flour scooped in a scoop and poured into the measuring cup. When flour is scooped or spooned into a measuring cup, it is less dense. There is a range of weights for a cup of bread flour in the sources:

  • 4.875 (4 and 7/8) oz. = 138 g.
  • 4.9 oz. = 139 g
  • 5 oz. = 141 g.

[Updated June 2020] TheZorjirushi machines recommend this method, and recipes list ingredients:

  • bread flour 4 1/4 cups or 544 g., implying that 1 cup weighs 128 g.;
  • whole wheat flour 4 3/4 cups or 570 g., implying that 1 cup weighs 120 g.

Where recipes provide weight, I refer to weight and ignore volume.

For milled flour in recipe conversion, usually drag-scooped cups are more appropriate. A caution on using Food Facts labels (which may suggest the weight of a quarter cup of flour), conversion calculators and tables. These are based on software that hook into the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) tables or other data, which may use loosely filled cups, rather than drag-scooped cups.

I weigh white bread flour (Canadian All Purpose) and whole wheat flour at 139 g. per cup in a recipe. While whole wheat and bread flour weigh the same amount per unit of volume, bread flour has more of the proteins that bond to form gluten. It is mixed, kneaded and handled differently.

Other flours might graph to a mean, but show more variability. Some millers have conversions for their products – e.g.  King Arthur.

White Whole Wheat flour is mentioned in a recipe from BLBMC (p. 127) “White Whole Wheat Flour Bread”. (see variation with 3 cups of flour). It is supposed to work like bread flour; a loaf is supposed to work on basic bake, which is a “white bread” cycle. It is available from King Arthur mills in the USA:

White whole-wheat flour is … made with hard white spring or winter wheat — the bran, germ, and endosperm are all ground to result in another 100 percent whole-wheat flour. … because it’s made with hard white wheat instead of hard red wheat, like whole-wheat flour, it has a paler color and its taste is milder. It’s still nuttier than all-purpose flour because it includes the fibrous bran and germ of the wheat, but it’s a more approachable whole-wheat flour, particularly for those who don’t enjoy the hearty taste of whole-wheat flour.

It can be used interchangeably with whole-wheat flour in any recipe

https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/guides/white-whole-wheat

I substituted Rogers “Whole Wheat Bread Flour”, for White Whole Wheat in a recipe. The Rogers product was an enhanced whole wheat flour, higher in protein (gluten) than the flour in the recipe. It was a lesson. I stopped looking for flour that can’t be obtained in this part of Canada.

Too much water is cited by many sources as a cause of some kinds of failure – weak and sunken loaves.  Too much is in relation to the amount of flour that is being hydrated, and the mixing or kneading action of the machine. An extra 30 grams (1/8 cup = 2 tbsp.) of water into 3 cups of flour means a wet sloppy dough.  The goal is tenacious and somewhat elastic (i.e. that pulls back to its original size and shape) dough that is also extensible – it relaxes.  Too much water can make the gluten too slack.

Wet ingredients that contain water may be noted to see if a dough has a higher real hydration rate than a simple calculation implies. Ingredients that contain water are not necessarily counted directly – it involves conversions and extra math.

Water is water. A cup depends on the recipe and the context. A cup of water, USA standard, is 236.6 grams, which rounds up to 237 g. (in the metric system one milliliter of water is one gram). An Imperial cup of water converts to 284 grams. A metric cup of water is 250 grams.

Water content of baking ingredients can be calculated by referring the USDA Food Composition Databases. For a Canadian product, the Canadian Nutrient File may have the value. Using the databases takes some practice. Not all of the water reported in the data is released from the source ingredient and incorporated into dough. It may be necessary to use a teaspoon or two more water to get the hydration right (for 2 cups of flour in bread machine).

Milk is nearly all water. A cup of fluid cow’s milk is 244-245 grams according to USDA averages. Whole milk should be 3.25% butter fat. 2% milk, 1% milk, and non-fat (or skim) milk are reduced fat milk products. 1 + 1/4 cups of skim milk has 1 + 3/16 cups (1 cup + 3 tbsp) of water.

Reconstituted milk is nearly the same as the fluid milk. Substituting powdered milk and water for fluid milk can be approached by mixing the powder and water and pouring the reconstituted milk into the measuring vessel. In mixing the milk, 1 cup of water will gain weight and volume.

Unpasteurized milk can lead to surprizes. Some bakers think milk,  real or reconstituted, should be scalded to denature proteins. I don’t spend time and energy on this.

Butter has water. Maple syrup, honey and other syrups have some water. Eggs have water.

The home baker’s trick is reduce water in a recipe by 1/4 cup for 1 cup of honey, when honey is used to replace sugar. The average for honey in the US and Canada is 17 g water per 100 g of honey. The typical pure maple syrup for sale in the US or Canada is 32 grams of water per 100 grams of syrup.

A large egg, in the Canadian egg grading system is about 57 g.  A large egg contributes 40 g. to hydration – nearly 3/16 of a cup of water.

Yeast means yeast organisms that have been commercially grown, preserved, packaged, and distributed as a leavening agent. Commercial yeasts changed. Most grocery stores carry active dry yeast and smaller grained dry yeast: instant dry yeast, quick-rise/rapid-rise yeasts, and “bread machine” yeast. Cakes and blocks of fresh yeast are rare, and not usually mentioned in home baking recipes.

Recipes may refer to active dry yeast by volume measuring spoons; or by packets. Active dry yeast was and is still sold in foil packets containing .25 oz. of yeast. This was a tablespoon at one time. Active dry yeast became somewhat denser and finer grained. A packet of modern active dry yeast is about 2.25 teaspoons, but is still .25 oz. = 7 grams. A 7 gram/.25 oz. packet of modern active dry yeast is equivalent to 5.6 grams of instant dry yeast.

Bread machine recipes refer to Instant Dry yeast, bread machine yeast or equivalent small grain yeast. Conversion is simple if a recipe refers to instant dry yeast or equivalent small grain yeast. 1 tsp = 2.8 g.

Salt is a chemical control on yeast. Recipes that say salt always refer to ordinary table salt. Some table salts are fine-grained and denser. Kosher salt has large crystals and it less dense. A baker measuring by volume should be aware of the differences, but these differences do not affect measurement by weight. 1 tsp of ordinary table salt = 5.7 g.

Yeast and salt should be measured to .1 gram, which requires a small high precision scale. More expensive than measuring spoons, but important. Some brick and mortar retail stores sell high precision scales.

My table:

IngredientVolume
US Units
Metric | US Weight
Water contentBrand; notes
*Food Facts label value, not checked
Wheat Flours
Bread Flour (USA) or
All Purpose White
Flour (Canada)
1 cup139 g. | 5 oz. drag-scooped, typical;
Rogers Foods Unbleached
[BC Brand]
Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup139 g.
(120 g. nominal)
drag-scooped, typical;
Rogers Whole Grain WW
Whole Wheat Flour1 cup120 g.*Anita's Organic Mill
Atta
Durum blend for flatbreads
1 cup120 g.*Golden Temple
Spelt Flour1 cup120 g. | 4.2 oz.typical
Spelt Flour1 cup118 g.True Grain Organic SG, sifted (BC brand)
Spelt Flour1 cupnext?
Other flour & Meal
Rye flour120 g. | 4.2 oz.nominal/typical
Dark Rye Flour1 cup124 g.
(nominal 120 g.)
Rogers Dark Rye
Rye Flour1 cup120 g.Anita's Organic Mill
Buckwheat Flour1 cup130 g. Nunweiler's
Besan
(Chickpea Flour)
1 cup92 g. Teja
Bulgur1 cup140 g.typical
Cracked Wheat1 cup140 g.typical
Cracked Wheat1 cup124 g.Teja
Dry, Soluble
Vital Wheat Gluten1 cup120 g.typical
1 tbsp.7.5 g.
Sugar, white
granulated
1 tbsp.12.5 g,
Sugar, brown1tbsp.14 g.
Nonfat (Skim) Milk Powder1 cup96 g.
1 tbsp.6 g.
Salt & Yeast
(Table) Salt1 tsp5.7 g. Regular; not fine grain
Instant Dry Yeast1 tsp2.8 g.
Active Dry Yeast1 tsp2.4 g.
Active Dry Yeast1 "packet"7 g. | .25 oz.
(2.25 tsp.)
Older recipes 2.5 tsp.
Water-Fluids
Water1 cup237 g.
Skim Milk1 cup245 g.
223 g.
1 % Milk1 cup244 g.219 g.
2 % Milk1 cup244 g.
218 g.
Whole Milk1 cup244 g.

215 g.
Buttermilk1 cup245 g.

215 g.
Evaporated milk1 cup256 g.
203 g.
Butter1 tbsp.14 g.
2 g.
Egg, large157 g.*
36 g.*Canada standard
average
Molasses1 tbsp.21 g.
4.5 g.
Honey1 tbsp.20 g.
4 g.
Maple Syrup1 tbsp.20 g.
6.5 g.

3 thoughts on “Baking Bread – Measuring, Conversion”

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