Feathers and pennies

I was a good student as a youngster. The one subject that tripped me up was physics, and this was often because I got lost in the story of the problem.

You know, as in “if the train is travelling at 35 kilometres per hour and the wind is from the west and it’s Tuesday, what colour are the conductor’s eyes?”

At least it seemed like that is how convoluted they were.

My dad used to make my brother and I think with puzzles, too. I remember him asking, “Which weighs more, 100 pounds of feathers or 100 pounds of pennies?”

There was much discussion about the piles of feathers and pennies, and it took more than a few minutes before I realized the size of the pile was not the point… 100 pounds is 100 pounds.

Why am I rambling about weights and trains? All this is connected to cooking, and I thought it was high time I shared what it took me a long time to learn.

Especially in the global world today where we use recipes from all over the internet, it is important that we remain faithful to their original proportions.

A hundred pounds may be the same amount in pennies or feathers, but a cup of flour is not the same weight (in pounds or grams) as a cup of sugar or a cup of butter.

Here in North America, the recipes we use are mostly listed in cups and teaspoons. In Europe, recipes are listed in grams. When I started baking more than 40 years ago, on the odd occasion we needed to convert there was no mention on the charts I saw about what you were converting.

A cup was 250 grams. Now, I know why some of those recipes didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped.

Using weight is a more accurate way to bake, where science is often crucial in how a recipe turns out. The chemistry of how ingredients change in combination with each other and with the heat of cooking is the key, and proportions are important.

Imagine if you put twice as many Mentos candies in that pop bottle… the reaction is bigger, right?

I am not preaching that everyone needs to get a scale and start weighing all their ingredients. But if a recipe does list weight, you are better off to stick with that system if you can. Similarly, for your Grandma’s shortbread recipe that you bake every Christmas, stick with cups she mentioned when you measure it out. You know it works, no need to change it.

If you do want to make a switch, the best conversion site I have found is Baking Calculators

For crazy cooks like me who are always finding new things to make, here are my suggestions:

  • Buy a digital scale. They are inexpensive and will allow you to work with weights. Especially if you bake bread, it is an especially useful tool.
  • Be gentle with your ingredients and follow recipe directions. If it says sift the flour, do so. If it says pack the brown sugar, do not forget to do that either. And always at least fluff up your flour in the container before you scoop it out. (You can add as much as 20% more flour if you just reach in and take a scoop out of your flour bin.)
  • Check on substitutions before you use them. Sometimes honey will work instead of sugar, or vice versa, but sometimes amounts change and other times the recipe may not turn out as you wanted.
  • Think of recipe websites as you think of movie reviewers or your favourite celebrities. We don’t like all of them. They might not be our style, or maybe they just don’t have much experience and so their methods are not as proven. I like to use sites of bloggers that have a history and groups that test their recipes in their kitchens first.
  • Read through the directions and think about the size and time of the recipe before you start. I speak from harried experiences here, folks. I have been up to my ears in ingredients with a hungry hubby, a messy kitchen and in the end unsatisfactory results. Set yourself up for success. Whenever you can, do a complicated recipe in stages, even days.

In the end, it is all about enjoying the journey. Some of us like the journey more than others, so keep that in mind when you cook.

As we head into the holiday season with even more time at home than usual for most, the urge to bake will be strong, I am certain. Pace yourself. You can always save some ideas for the New Year, or next holiday season.

And if your cookie tins get full, doorstep drop-offs are a handy way to keep your consumption reasonable and make room to bake something else.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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