Bread is at once one of the simplest and most complicated recipes. On the one hand, there are basically four ingredients involved in making bread, be it baguette or boule: flour, water, yeast, and salt. On the other hand, the proportion of those ingredients will determine whether you get a dense brick or crusty, open-crumb perfection.
Of course much depends on your desired loaf. Chef Adam Leoni, who teaches bread-making at The Brooklyn Bread Lab, explains that while big holes are popular in the states, other countries covet a denser loaf. After all, more holes mean less bread (i.e., less sustenance).
Whatever your goal is, getting it right means getting the ratio of water, yeast, flour, and salt just so. And that means using a digital scale.
Digital scales are not commonplace in American kitchens — we're still very wed to our cups and spoons, and most cookbooks use these measurements as opposed to ounces or grams — but they're easy to find and easy to store, and you probably don't have to spend more than $20.
A Brief Tangent on Cookies
I'll admit that I am not always a meticulous baker. My chocolate chip cookies, which I make with measuring cups using the same exact recipe, come out slightly different every time. Sometimes they are thin and crispy, other times they are cakier, with a melty center. And yet, they always taste delicious — so it's hard to bother with a scale.
Back to Bread
Bread, however, is a different beast — one that relies on an exact ratio of flour to water (often five to three) and requires the kind of precision that measuring cups don't offer. Leoni says that a cup measurement may weigh anywhere between three-and-a-half to five ounces (or about 100 to 142 grams). That's a big difference — especially when you multiply it by five (or more).
A digital scale delivers an exact measurement every single time — no guesswork required. It also means fewer dishes. Really the only other tools you need are a bowl, a clean dish towel, and your hands (although Leoni admits that a bench scraper does come in handy).
Do you own a kitchen scale? What do you use it for?