In baking, accurate measuring is crucial. I often add a tablespoon or two of flour for high-altitude baking, but if you get a few extra spoonfuls of flour it can result in a tough baked good. So, how do you ensure that your measurements are accurate?
It helps to know how the recipe writer measures. For dry measuring, I spoon the ingredient into the cup and then swipe across it with the flat edge of a knife. I have seen recipes that call for dipping into the container and then swiping. Both methods can be used, but they lead to differences in measurement. It’s best to measure how the writer did.
An interview with baking guru Dorie Greenspan included the following dialogue:
“(Interviewer) You can get into a 1-cup measuring cup anything from 3 ounces to 6 ounces of flour, depending on how you actually measure. What are different ways that you measure with those dry measuring cups?
DG: There are two schools of dry measuring. School one is the spoon-and-sweep method. …You lightly spoon it into the measuring cup until it’s overflowing, and then you sweep it.
Then there’s the scoop-and-sweep school. That’s the school that I belong to. I have a big bin of flour and I aerate it — I stir it around with a knife or a whisk before I start measuring. Then I scoop my measuring cup into the flour bin, get it until it’s overflowing and then sweep it. There is a difference. … It can be about a quarter of an ounce difference between spoon-and-sweep and scoop-and-sweep.”
Another thing to take into account is when to pack the ingredient into the cup. Packing down flour is never good – it bakes best when light and fluffy. However, cocoa powder can come out of the package in clumps and needs to be packed down to get an accurate fill in the cup. A general rule is if it starts light then don’t pack it down (flour, baking powder, salt, sugar). If it is dense and forms clumps, then pack it in to make sure there are no air holes (cocoa powder, brown sugar, ground flax seeds, sliced dates).
With liquids I always use glass measuring cups. More sage advice from Dorie: “Measuring liquid is an exercise in deep-knee bending. You need to have a see-through measuring cup — I like to use glass. You pour in the liquid, then don’t lift the measuring cup up to eye level. … Bend down so that you’re at eye level with the measurement and see that you’re on the line.”
That takes me back to science class in high school. Remember the meniscus? It curves up at the edges and down in the center so be sure that the curved bottom of the meniscus is in line with the desired measurement on your liquid measuring cup.
Enough science. I need a cookie.