According to statistics from the National Bureau of Imaginary Culinary Statistics Used To Prove a Point, 90% of the mistakes both novice and experienced cooks make in the kitchen come down to measuring errors. Primarily, this is because of the numerous methods of measuring volumes that we have to remember. Do you sift it or pack it? Is a cup of diced carrots the same as a cup of shredded carrots? Who the heck decided that an ounce should be a unit of weight as well as a unit of volume? Why are we even using volume at all?
I enjoy cooking quite a bit. Having three different things going on the stove, something else on the grill, and trying to time them all to finish at the same time is happy chaos. Truth be told, though, I’m not really a big fan of baking, and I think it has to do with the inaccuracies of our system of measurement.
First, my little hardwired coding brain can’t accept that the best combination of ingredients for a perfect cake, cookie, or pie just happen to come in 1/4 cup increments. For example, here are the first five ingredients of a “Best Chocolate Chip Cookie” recipe from the internet, rated 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 6,000 ratings:
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 3 cups of flour
Seriously? The best chocolate chip cookie recipe in the world, the one that has been honed to perfection to create the greatest cookie ever tasted by mortal men, and the ingredients just happen to be measurable in whole cups? Take for example the sugar. There are approximately 192,000 grains of sugar in a cup. Is it possible that 195,000 grains of sugar would produce a better cookie? Why not 192,005 grains? Perhaps what you mean to say is “Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe for Those Who Are Frightened by Fractions”.
Second, if by some freak happenstance the perfect cookie was measurable in whole cups, what does “3 cups of flour” mean? I know what it means in the fantasy world inhabited by cookbook writers. It means you take a bunch of flour and fluff it for a while, then, using the same care you’d use were it Ebola-infused nitroglycerin and not a baking ingredient, gently spoon the flour into a measuring cup, then scrape it level. Just be sure not to drop the flour into the cup too hard, or scoop it up too quickly, or accidentally shake the cup, or chop the flour to get it to fill in the gaps before scraping, as these can all lead to the flour becoming packed and you’ll have to start over. Meanwhile, here in the real world where a cookie recipe is not something you take vacation days from work to complete, we just spoon out some flour into a cup until it looks right and dump, or sometimes even scoop it straight out of the canister with the measuring cup and hope for the best. So much for that perfect recipe.
Here’s the thing, though. We already have a system of measurement that takes into account the inaccuracies of volume. A pound of flour is a pound of flour. It doesn’t matter how you scoop it or shake it or fluff it. And it’s not like this is some magic baking secret I just uncovered that is going to change the way the world makes brownies; professional bakers have been using weights and not volumes for years, and many home bakers in other parts of the world use grams as their units of measurements, not cups, teaspoons, jiggers, hogsheads, or whatever obscure unit your recipe is written to use (one popular family recipe calls for half a jar of peanut butter…because “jar” is an SI unit of volume).
If you want baking perfection, you really need to get a kitchen scale. If you’re a geek and want baking perfection, your kitchen scale should be Bluetooth controllable and come with its own iOS app.
The Drop Kitchen Scale is similar to your basic kitchen scale, but instead of an LCD or dial, you read the weight using the iOS app and a bluetooth connection. The scale app includes the ability to zero the scale and quickly switch between grams, kilograms, and ounces. The real power of the Drop, however, comes from the integrated recipe app.
For the initial test, I started with one of the “Getting Started” recipes – the “Quick Chocolate Chip Cookies”. Each recipe is broken down into three sections: “Introduction”, “Prepare”, and “Make”.
The introduction begins with a professional photo of a perfect version of the finished product, making you both very hungry and very hesitant to continue because you have never produced anything this good in the kitchen, unless by “produced” you mean “produced it from the paper sack with the name of the local bakery on the front”. The intro photo is followed by the recipe’s rating and the list of the items needed to complete the recipe in the unfortunately-titled section “You’re Gonna Need”.
After the introduction comes the “Prepare” section – a fully customizable ingredients list. First, if the serving size isn’t quite right for your needs, you can quickly increase or decrease the servings and the app automatically adjusts all of the ingredients. Since we didn’t need a hogshead or two of cookies lying around, I cut the servings of the cookie recipe in half. Next, you can adjust the recipe based on the quantity of a single ingredient you have on hand. Running low on brown sugar and can’t quite get to the 145g the recipe calls for? Dump into the bowl what you have and hit the “Scale Recipe” button, and every other ingredient will be adjusted accordingly. Finally, let’s say you have an aversion to food that is brown, you despise the Rolling Stones, or you have some other reason why you don’t want to use brown sugar in your recipe. Tap the “Replace Ingredient” button, and you will be presented with a list of items that can be used as replacements. In this case, light brown sugar, granulated sugar, demerara sugar, and turbinado sugar can all be used as replacements for brown sugar.
Now that you have all your ingredients and you’ve munched on a few handfuls, or bags, of chocolate chips, you’re ready to go. Hit the “Start Recipe” button and begin making your cookies. Follow the instructions on the screen, and as you add ingredients, the app will automatically switch to the next step once you’ve reached the proper weight. On those steps that don’t require weighing, such as stirring or adding tiny amounts like teaspoons, you can hit the button on the Drop to move on and keep your filthy chocolatey fingers off the iPad. On many of the steps, an handy instructional photo is included to help you along.
So, how did they turn out? First, let me say that living at 6,000 ft. elevation, I may not have been the best suited person to review a baking gadget and app. I went through a number of recipes, and I could not find high altitude variations for any of them. That said, these cookies turned out better than just about any other recipe we’ve tried. They were just the right amount of crispy and chewy; they even look almost as pretty as the intro image.
Aside from the high altitude, the only other issue I had with the Drop was the recipe app tolerance. As you are adding ingredients to the bowl during the “Make” phase, the slider on the scale is constantly updating. Once you get within a certain number (not exactly sure how close), the app basically says, “Ah, close enough,” and moves on to the next step. I would prefer the ability to control that tolerance myself or to turn off that feature completely.
There are currently 296 recipes in the app, with more being added by Drop all the time. They can be searched by name, meal, total prep time, difficulty, food type, occasion, or diet type (e.g. there are two “Easy”, “Vegan”, “Cookies & Bars” recipes in the system today). If you’re not sure what you want to make, you can brows alphabetically through all the recipes, or through specific categories such as “Latest”, “Featured”, and “Autumn”.
The Drop Kitchen Scale of iPad can be purchased for $95.99 on Amazon.
Drop supplied me with a scale and app for review. All opinions are my own.