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Exactly what tricky parts have I ignored? I don't think I've ignored the tricky parts at all. I've presented them in a working context that makes them seem less tricky in the first place.

There is no denying the appeal of a metric system where each unit is an order of magnitude different from its neighbor, but when it comes to cooking, the old system's units tend to be easier because you can use 1 tablespoon instead of 15 mL, or 1 cup instead of 237 mL. So there's a practical advantage because the units are sized for household work. A milliliter is too small a unit for cooking. A liter is too big. Do you want to measure out 2.37 deciliters of milk or one cup?

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While I agree with the first para in your post whole-heartedly, Alex, I think the second is a little tongue-in-cheek?

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> when it comes to cooking, the old system's units tend to be easier

Having been schooled old time and come later to metric systems, I can as a keen cook firmly disagree with this view Alex. The metric units make no difference since you just get as empirically used to the look of 200g of pasta as you might to 4 cupfuls or whatever of rice; but the clear advantage with metric systems comes whenever you need to scale the quantities in a recipe. It's far easier to make a mistake when you have to change the unit of measurement rather than just the numerical value.

Then there is the additional advantage of ease of communication, since most of the civilised world uses the superior system! Of course I wouldn't want to make an American blush by mentioning communication problems, so I will avoid all discussion of failed mars landing probes due to cocked up arithmetic in a mish-mash of units...

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Which leads us to the burning question, is Mars metric?

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No, but Ares is.


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Having worked for a few years as a baker, converting family-sized recipes to a restaurant-sized recipes from time to time, I can say that the metric system does have an appeal in the simplicity of multiplying by ten, but you get so used to the 16 tablespoons to a cup and 16 cups to a gallon conversion that it isn't hard at all. But while the metric system offers some initial ease of conversion, it comes at a price of rarely getting to measure anything in small whole numbers or even one and half of anything.

Take the following bread recipe in imperial units:

imperial units
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 1/3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast

1 egg
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons cornmeal


Convert this to metric units:
946.35295 ml unbleached all-purpose flour
14.7867648 ml light brown sugar
315.450904 ml warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
7.39338242 ml salt
7.39338242 ml olive oil
1 package active dry yeast

1 egg (no conversion necessary but the egg should come from a French hen)
14.7867648 ml water
29.5735297 ml cornmeal

Now of course you'd round the metric units up to some reasonable integers so you weren't squinting at the decimal points all day, but since we're going to try to make this recipe even more convenient by using 1 of something, let's do our rounding at the end.

So let's say we're going to slightly enlarge the recipe to use exactly one liter of flour for ease of execution. That isn't such an increase that our dough will be too big for the pan. Since we increased our flour from 0.946 liters to 1.0 liters, we'll increase everything in the recipe by 1/0.946 or 1.057:

1 liter of flourů
1 liter of flour
16.5 ml light brown sugar
333.3 ml water
7.8 ml salt
7.8 ml olive oil
1 package active dry yeast

1 egg
15.625 ml water
31.250 ml cornmeal

Now let's round those numbers to some reasonable integer values since noone wants to measure 7.8 ml:

1 liter of flour
16.5 ml light brown sugar (or round it down to 15)
333.3 ml water
8 ml salt (or round it down to 7.5)
8 ml olive oil (or round it down to 7.5)

1 egg
16 ml water (maybe round this down to 15)
31 ml cornmeal (maybe round this down to 30)

Now here's my point: measuring 8 ml of salt or olive oil is a pain in the arse. Now I expect that what's used is a 5 ml measuring spoon and a 2.5 measuring spoon to get 7.5 ml and call it done. But who's doing more math in the execution phase: the person whose recipe called for 1.5 somethings and they used a 1 something measure and a 0.5 something measure, or the person whose recipe calls for 7.8 or 7.5 ml and they said to themselves, well, that's 2.5 + 5 ml, so I'll use a 5 and a 2.5 measuring spoon. The metric person ends up measuring more stuff in odd little numbers -- no wonder it's called the metric system. A good recipes sees a lot more execution than it does conversion, and I appreciate the simplicity of measuring 1 of this or 2 of those. It's as if someone assigned names to the frequently-used quantities from the metric system: 250 ml, let's call it a cup. 5 ml, let's call it a teaspoon. 2.5 ml, call it half a teaspoon.

Then again, 1 and a third cups is about pi deciliters, so maybe you're onto something there.

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bad example alex--any baker (as opposed to a cook or chef) will tell you
1--its much more accurate to measure flour for bread by weight, (rather than volume)

2--since flour can absorb moisture, (and the moisture make the flour heavier) you get better results if you make bread by weight (metric) than if you do it by volume.(cups or liters!)

i have (and have had for more than 20 years) a kitchen scale.

there are times when i cook by volume (imperial) but other times i cook (bake mostly) by weights-(mostly metric nowdays since my current kitchen scale has metric and imperial measures)

(there are other time, muffins, and quick breads, when i just wing it..and just add flour (till there is enough, and sugar, and fat the same way) and the results, after years of cooking are fine!)

its easier for me to work in imperial measurement, (i know them so well) but for baked goods, the results are more consistant if i work with metrics (and weigh out the flour rather than measuring out the flour!)

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Well if any baker can tell me, then this baker just asks himself: how exactly is it more accurate to weigh the flour?

I've never understood this. Flour will gain weight when it has absorbed moisture, which means that your x grams of flour on the scale is really slightly LESS flour than you think. Or to put it another way, the total water content of your recipe has already been partially supplied by the atmosphere. Unless your weighing operation tells you how much water to withold or how much flour to add I honestly don't see how it helps to weigh it. Perhaps you know exactly how much additional weight you need for a given hygrometer reading?

Conversely, unless you know how much the volume changes between 1 dry cup and 1 slightly damp cup of flour, you can't do much with the volume measure method to account for moisture either. But I suspect that the changes in weight are greater than the changes in volume for a given rise in humidity, which means that weighing would be less accurate than measuring. Maybe I'm missing something, though. Is it that by also weighing the salt, you can be sure that the proportion of salt to flour is constant? Seems like salt would absorb a greater proportion of water per gram than flour though...

In practice, when I bake bread at home I know that I will use roughly three parts flour for every 1 part water, but I mix it in gradually and add or subtract according to texture. I previously worked as a baker both in a restaurant and in a small bread bakery. In the latter, bread was made by dumping an entire x lb bag into Hobart floor mixer, then adding y gallons of water, using a gallon pitcher. For quantities that large the effect of the atmosphere was negligible.

Disagreements among cooks aside, my main point is that cooking with the metric system on a small scale requires one to operate between the main units. The imperial system on the other hand, directly correlates between units and actions. 1 teaspoon means that the cook takes the teaspoon and fills it up once. The analogous measure by the metric cook is either to take a 1 ml spoon five times (hardly likely), or a 5 ml spoon once, which strikes me as a surrogate for a teaspoon. If they called 5 ml a metric teaspoon I'd be fine with that. Likewise if you're constantly referring to a 200 ml or a 240 ml measuring cup, you're using a surrogate for an imperial cup rather than making optimal use of a ten-based system. But measuring everything out in odd amounts nearly equal to imperial units seems to be using the metric system with a wink.

The ideal kitchen measuring system would be ten-based like the metric system but would have units that agreed with the impositions of nature (e.g. the size of an egg) and the practicalities of living. For example the basic unit for a small spoon-like measure would ideally be the amount of salt you'd use in a common dish, something like that. The unit of liquid measure should be the amount of liquid most commonly used such as the amount of water in a loaf. And the conversion of units should be in an easy-to-calculate system such as tens. IMO the imperial system satisfies the practical criteria better than metric, and the metric satisfies the conversion criteria better.

For other purposes the elegance of the metric system is undeniable. e.g. 1 mL of water at STP has a mass of 1 gram. 1 cubic meter of water is one metric ton. And the fundamental unit of lenth, the meter, while officially described as the wavelength of a a certain color of light (sadly, not Kentucky blue), is about the length of a person's stride.

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>the meter, while officially described as the wavelength of a a certain color of light (sadly, not Kentucky blue), is about the length of a person's stride.

Not if you're born Toulouse.


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True, if you're born Toulouse, you have to make many more strides with your short legs to make le trek.

/Really, I got nuthin'

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