Ciabatta catastrophe – how do you measure up?

Don’t let the photo fool you, the bread turned out rather disgusting, both in taste and texture. I guess I’m on a ciabatta roller coaster having great success recently, now followed by a ciabatta disaster.

I enjoyed the ciabatta bread made in less than 5 hours and figured the full-length version must taste EVEN better. I thumbed through my recipe books and looked online, settling for a recipe from Epicurious. The recipe required a ‘sponge’ to be made the night before. I whipped the sponge together in a matter of minutes and let it set until the next day, about 18 hours later. On the following day, I carefully measured the ingredients and heated liquids to exactly how they were listed. The dough was much stiffer than with the 5-hour ciabatta but I assumed this must be what ‘real’ ciabatta dough is like.

It wasn’t until the loaves were baking that I had my first inkling something was wrong. The loaves looked ‘too smooth’ and not as rustic. I patiently let them cool before cutting into the first loaf only to discover a typical bread texture.

There weren’t any holes and the texture wasn’t chewy at all. And to add insult to injury, it didn’t even taste good – just bland. Such a disappointment. I’m not sure what I could have done wrong to make the bread such a flop. The yeast didn’t seem bad either, so I chalked this one up to a ‘bad day’.

Then today, I received a comment on the 5-hour ciabatta post and it got me to thinking. The recipe I used for the 5-hour ciabatta had been written using weight measurements and I weighed everything accordingly on a kitchen scale. Kate mentioned that she tried making the recipe without a scale and using varying amounts of flour from 2 to 4 cups. She wondered how many cups are equivalent to 17.6 ounces called for in the recipe.

It’s interesting how weight vs. volume measurements can throw off a recipe. With weight, a pound is a pound. With volume measurement, how you measure ingredients can greatly impact the recipe. I decided to test this out for myself in trying to answer her question on how many cups are in 17.6 ounces.

I started by using a spoon to shake the flour onto my scale. I measured the 17.6 ounces of flour, then spooned the flour into my measuring cups. Using this method, 17.6 ounces of flour was equivalent to about 3.5 cups of flour.

I decided to now try the reverse. I normally dip my measuring cup into the flour bag, then level off the cup. I used this method to scoop out 3.5 cups of flour, then weighed on the kitchen scale. The 3.5 cups of flour measured this way ended up weighing 22.5 ounces, a difference of 4.9 ounces! Pretty significant.

This could explain the issue I had over the weekend with my ciabatta bread, since I did scoop versus using a spoon to fill my measuring cup (which I believe is how you’re supposed to do it). I guess I’m destined to be a rule breaker.

So, the big question is — how does everyone else measure their flour? Do you spoon it into your measuring cup or do you scoop it out of the bag/container with your measuring cup?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ben March 10, 2008, 8:15 pm

    Something that looks as insignificant as weight vs volume can be the difference. I hate measuring, but now that I have to write down my recipes I find myself using my scale and measuring cups a lot. I guess it is a good way to learn :-/

  • Peter G March 10, 2008, 9:06 pm

    I weigh mine with electronic kitchen scales. It can be a very confusing thing especially as each country has its own definition of a cup etc…A cup of flour is not the same as a cup of water (I learnt this the hard way)…Overall yuor bread does look good though.

  • Peter M March 10, 2008, 9:23 pm

    Allen, I do believe the weather can have an affect on bread making too. Was it a dry day on disaster day and humid when you triumphed with Ciabatta?

  • Erin March 11, 2008, 5:05 am

    I just bought a kitchen scale. A pink one of course. This is a very good point that most of us take for granted.

    Your bread does look good! If this is your best “kitchen disaster” Allen than I’m not impressed ;) I mean, come on…it isn’t green and it doesn’t look like a “pet accident” ha ha…

  • Allen March 11, 2008, 9:35 am

    Ben: Owning a scale is such an important thing — glad to see you’re forcing yourself to measure or else we wouldn’t get any of your recipes!

    Peter G: Thanks — it’s definetly tricky converting different weights and measures across countries, but it adds a fun challenging dimension :-)

    Peter M: Hmmm, the weather is warming up and it may have been a bit warmer on disaster day.

    Erin: Hooray — another scale owner! Ahhh, it’s not green nor gooey. I don’t even like the photo … guess this means our friends at TS would love it? Will have to test this out … :-)

  • kat March 11, 2008, 10:59 am

    I do both depending on the recipe. For example in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day they specifically tell you to dip your measuring cup into the flour & then flatten it with a knife.
    I’ve often wondered with my other recipes though if the reason they don’t turn out is my measuring utensils aren’t right.

  • Coffee Machines March 12, 2008, 5:34 am

    I have never really got the knack making bread. Such a shame, it’s my favorite food :)

  • Jen March 15, 2008, 4:39 pm

    I got a kitchen scale this past summer and love using it for baking bread. Even when I recipe uses cups, I generally covert it into weight measurements- it takes the guess work out of it.

  • V January 27, 2009, 6:50 pm

    Just stumbled across your blog. I guess this is not very timely, but if you are still interested…

    I was told that bread making is by feel. You don’t add the flour based on quantity and weight (it’s just a general reference), but by how the dough feels. I took a seminar given by King Arthur Flour a while back on artisan breads, and their dough was very, very wet, but the result was probably what you were looking for. Chewy, and full of holes. So check out their website
    Good luck!

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