Whaddya mean I can just pour ingredients onto either of these smart scales until they tell me to stop and I get delicious homemade cookies for my trouble?! What sort of black magic is this? It's called "baking by weight" and it will change the way you look at cooking.
Baking requires a far more precise hand than regular cooking -- the easiest way to bake something inedible is to bungle the measurements. Baking by weight is more precise than baking by volume, though it can seem a strange and unusual practice: you need to painstakingly weigh out ounces or grams instead of using your measuring cups and spoons. That often means converting the stated ingredient's volume to weight, depending on the recipe, which isn't something you can easily do in your head.
But the $US100 Drop and $US70 Perfect Bake scales take care of everything. You just pour all the ingredients into a single bowl on top of the scale, one by one, until a tablet app tells you to stop. They walk you through the entire recipe -- hundreds of recipes included -- without requiring a calculator. Sure, you could do it for cheaper with untethered devices like the OXO Food Scale or Polder Easy Read Digital Kitchen Scale, but the newer gadgets can help even neophyte dough punchers look like top-flight pastry chefs.
So which to buy? Sadly, the scale you should get has nothing to do with build quality, UI, recipe database, or anything tangible... and everything to do with the kind of tablet you own.
On one hand, you've got the Drop Kitchen Scale which, on the whole, is the superior product. It connects wirelessly via Bluetooth, runs for a full year on a single watch battery, and offers one of the best looking user interfaces I've reviewed. The scale itself measures just over six inches in diameter. It turns on and pairs with a single button press and runs literally every function through the tablet -- from recipe browsing and selection to automatically advancing instructions to the scale's readout itself.
That last point is perhaps my favourite as it allows me to keep the tablet safely (and cleanly) out of the way and doesn't require I squint at a minuscule LED readout. The Drop scale's recipe database is expansive and gorgeously illustrated, offering pastry classics like lemon madelines and chocolate chip cookies alongside more obscure fare.
And overall, it did make my baking efforts mentally easier -- I didn't need to continually recheck the recipe to make sure I was using the correct amount and unit -- even if it didn't completely eliminate the need to use measuring cups as I'd initially hoped. They're far easier to control than a full 5-pound bag of flour.
The Drop scale is not perfect, however. For one, it's a $US100 kitchen scale, nearly double that of the untethered models mentioned above. Unless you bake regularly and passionately, that price tag is tough to swallow. What's more, it only runs on the iPad -- specifically one with Bluetooth 4.0 running iOS 8 or later. Got an Android? Tough shit. Have an older iPad converted into a dedicated kitchen tablet? You're SOL. You'd better come correct if you want to play with this luxury kitchen toy.
The Perfect Bake from Pure Imagination, on the other hand, will pair up with just about any device that has a headphone jack, but like many things sold at Brookstone, its functionality is just a bit shit. Like the Drop scale, the Perfect Bake offers access to hundreds of recipes and walks you through each recipe step by step. It also allows you to input your own recipes and even tracks your supply of ingredients using its Pantry feature. Unlike the Drop, however, the Perfect Bake incorporates an on-board digital readout that displays weights in a variety of units so you don't have to have a tablet to use it -- you just have to bring your own recipe.
The Perfect Bake has its own set of connectivity woes. The 3.5mm cable that plugs into your tablet is less than a foot long, which means that you've got to set your tablet right next to whatever you're baking. Which means that some of what you're baking will end up smeared on the glass screen.
Plus, even though the app is rated to run on both Android 4.0 and iOS 6.0, Google Play steadfastly refused to install it on my Nexus 7 running 5.0. It did install on my HTC Sense running 4.3 but the headphone jack input would only register with the app about 75 per cent of the time. So. Much. Plug wiggling. It did run pretty dependably on last year's iPad 3, though.
Another drawback is that the scale demands three AAA batteries to operate and seems to run through them far faster than the Drop does. The biggest issue I had with the Perfect Bake was its obsessively precise weight requirements -- pop quiz: how many eggs are in 55 grams of egg? -- and, while it does scale recipes, I constantly found myself pouring in too much of each ingredient and throwing off the recipe.
It's tough to say which of these scales is "best." The Drop offers a higher quality experience at the expense of wider device compatibility, the Perfect Bake offers wider device compatibility at the expense of usability. In short, if the Drop Scale worked on anything but Apple's latest and greatest, I'd snag it in a heartbeat -- the Perfect Bake, not so much. Right now it's on sale for $US40, which is about as much as I'd ever pay for it.
Now for me, when I bake, it's one of maybe a half dozen go-to recipes who's ingredient lists I can recite from memory so having an app walk me through 90 per cent of what I bake is less than vital. Still, when I do try something new it's nice to have that extra bit of help. Plus, both platforms definitely help relieve some of the anxiety that neophyte bakers feel when attempting a new recipe, not to mention the anxiety felt by those asked to sample these concoctions once they're done. That help, however, costs up to $US100. You can buy a normal food scale and an awful lot of ingredients for that kind of dough.