Today we’re focusing on something that may seem trivial to you, but it is easily the most important step in every recipe you bake. Measuring ingredients properly is imperative. The difference between a recipe success and a recipe failure could lie within 1 mis-measured tablespoon of flour or sugar. I’m being serious!
Baking is not very forgiving. It is a science. (Nerds unite.) Estimating the measurements of an ingredient in a recipe spells disaster. While you can easily get away with a handful of this or that when you’re cooking dinner, even the slightest miscalculation could turn your soft-baked chocolate chip cookies into rocks. Understanding the correct measuring technique for a particular ingredient will guarantee better baking results. Soft cookies, fluffy cakes, flaky crust!
In terms of measuring your ingredients, it pays off to be a perfectionist.
Flour is the most common mis-measured ingredient.
When measuring flour, use the “spoon & level” method. Do not scoop the flour out of the container/bag with your measuring cup. Believe me, I catch myself doing it often! Scoop the flour and you could end up with 150% of the correct measurement. Rather, using a spoon, scoop the flour into the measuring cup. Do not pack the flour down and do not tap the measuring cup– both cause the flour to settle in the cup. After you’ve spooned the flour into the measuring cup, use the back of a knife to level off the top of the measuring cup.
Drill this in your head: spoon & level flour– do NOT scoop.
I often use dry old-fashioned rolled oats in recipes like granola, oatmeal bars, or oatmeal cookies. These are also called whole oats. Sometimes I use quick oats, which are finely chopped whole oats. Quick oats have a more powdery consistency than whole oats. I actually never keep quick oats in the house. However, some recipes call for quick oats (when a more powdery, fine oat is ideal). To make my own quick oats, I simply grind up whole oats in the blender or food processor for about 3 seconds. A few quick pulses chops them up into quick-oat-consistency.
Make sure you are using the correct type of oats that the recipe calls for. To measure oats, use the same spoon & level method that you use with flour. (see above!)
Baking Powder & Baking Soda
Shake up the baking powder or baking soda container a bit. Using a measuring spoon, lightly scoop out of the container. Use a knife to level it off.
Always remember the differences between the two. Each expire after 6 months, though I find they begin losing strength after 3 months. Write the date on the box so you know when to replace.
Active Dry Yeast
Typical yeast packets are 2 and 1/4 teaspoons, which is 1/4 ounce. Measure yeast how you would measure baking powder or soda. Check to see if your yeast is active by sprinkling it in a small dish with 2 Tablespoons of warm water (105F-115F degrees) and waiting about 5 minutes for it to begin foaming. If the mixture does not foam, the yeast is not active. This little step is called proofing the yeast. Some recipes already work “proofing” into the first step.
White (Granulated) Sugar
Unlike flour, sugar is measured by scooping the measuring cup or spoon into the container/bag until it is overflowing, then leveling it off with the back of a knife. Sugar is more forgiving in recipes than other ingredients because the sweetness of a finished product depends on your tastebuds. However, it is always best to measure the ingredients exactly as the recipe states because sugar crystals are imperative to break down other ingredients. Sugar also aids in proper browning and stabilization.
Measure brown sugar like you would granulated sugar. Unless the recipe states otherwise, brown sugar should be packed into the measuring cup or measuring spoon. For most of my recipes, I pack the brown sugar.
Confectioners’ Sugar (Powdered Sugar/Icing Sugar)
I usually always sift confectioners’ sugar. I especially do this when I make frosting to avoid lumps. You don’t always have to sift confectioners’ sugar (unless the recipe calls for it), I just prefer it. Whether you sift or not, confectioners’ sugar must be measured using the spoon & level method– explained in the flour section above.
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted means that the sugar is sifted after measuring.
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar means that the sugar is sifted before measuring.
This is the case with any ingredient, not just confectioners’ sugar.
Like confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder is full of lumps. If a recipe calls for sifting it, make sure you do so. Measure cocoa powder using the spoon & level method, as you would measure flour or confectioners’ sugar.
(maple syrup, agave, honey, molasses)
To easily measure and use sticky liquid sweeteners in your recipe, spray the inside of the measuring cup lightly with nonstick spray. This will make it much easier to get the sweetener out of the cup! I do this with sticky, thick sweeteners every time.
Other Liquid Ingredients
(oil, water, milk)
Liquids like water or oil need to be measured at eye level. Using a liquid measuring cup, pour the liquid into the cup. Then, bend down to make sure the liquid is EXACTLY at level with the measuring requirement from the recipe.
(chocolate chips, dried fruit, chopped candy, sprinkles, etc)
Easy. Just scoop or pour into the measuring cup. These ingredients aren’t typically used to make up the structure of a baked good.
(applesauce, yogurt, sour cream, peanut butter, etc)
Measure semi-liquid ingredients in dry measuring cups. They are much too thick to be accurately measured in liquid cups. Spoon & level, like you do with sugar or flour, then use a rubber spatula to help release the ingredients into the mixing bowl.
I find these baking equivalent charts helpful when I’m in the kitchen.
Dry Ingredient Equivalents:
- 1 Tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
- 1/8 cup = 2 Tablespoons
- 1/4 cup = 4 Tablespoons
- 1/3 cup = 5-1/3 Tablespoons
- 1/2 cup = 8 Tablespoons
- 2/3 cup = 10-2/3 Tablespoons
- 3/4 cup = 12 Tablespoons
- 1 cup = 16 Tablespoons
Liquid Ingredient Equivalents:
- 1 cup = 8 fluid ounces = 1/2 pint
- 2 cups = 16 fluid ounces = 1 pint
- 4 cups = 32 fluid ounces = 2 pints = 1 quart
- 8 cups = 64 fluid ounces = 4 pints
- 4 quarts = 128 fluid ounces = 1 gallon
The most accurate way to measure? Weigh your ingredients!
Weighing takes out the guesswork.
Weighing is how I measure when developing recipes. Some people might say it’s a waste of time, but if you want the exact results you see on my blog and in my books– weighing your ingredients will help you get there. A cup isn’t always a cup, but a gram/ounce is always a gram/ounce. Here is the food scale I own.
I refer to this master chart often. If you can’t find an ingredient listed below, go there!
Here are a few common ingredients:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour = 125 grams (4 1/2 ounces)
- 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour = 115 grams (4 ounces)
- 1 cup bread flour = 130 grams (4 1/2 ounces)
- 1 cup sifted bread flour = 121 grams (4 1/4 ounces)
- 1 cup (packed) brown sugar = 200 grams (7 1/2 ounces)
- 1/2 cup butter = 1 stick = 115 grams (4 ounces)
- 1 cup cake flour = 115 grams (4 ounces)
- 1 cup sifted cake flour = 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces)
- 1 cup chocolate chips = 180 grams (6 1/4 ounces)
- 1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder = 41 grams (1.6 ounces)
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar = 120 grams (4 1/4 ounces)
- 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar = 115 grams (4 ounces)
- 1/4 cup cornstarch = 28 grams (1 ounce)
- 1 cup granulated sugar = 200 grams (7 1/2 ounces)
- 1 Tablespoon honey = 21 grams (3/4 ounce)
- 1/2 cup maple syrup = 156 grams (5 1/2 ounces)
- 1 cup milk = 227 grams (240ml; 8 ounces)
- 1/4 cup molasses = 85 grams (3 ounces)
- 1 cup oats = 95 grams (3 ounces)
- 1/2 cup peanut butter = 135 grams (4 3/4 ounces)
- 1 cup sour cream or yogurt = 227 grams (8 ounces)
- 1 cup whole wheat flour = 113 grams (4 ounces)
Now go bake up something incredible!