Measuring is EVERYTHING

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Learn how to correctly measure your baking ingredients-- recipe disasters usually stem from mis-measured ingredients! sallysbakingaddiction.com

Fellow bakers! Welcome back to my Baking Basics series. Cue little dance in the kitchen holding a whisk.

Ooooh before I forget (which, let’s face it, always happens)… I shared another post in my photography section yesterday!

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!

Learn how to correctly measure your baking ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

In terms of measuring your ingredients, it pays off to be a perfectionist. 

Flour

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.

Learn how to correctly measure your baking ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Oats

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.

Learn how to correctly measure your baking ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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.

Brown Sugar

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.

Learn how to correctly measure your baking ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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.

Cocoa Powder

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.

Learn how to correctly measure your baking ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Liquid Sweeteners

(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.

Learn how to correctly measure your baking ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Add-ins

(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.

Semi-Liquid ingredients

(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.

Learn how to correctly measure your baking ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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!

Learn how to correctly measure your baking ingredients on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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)

 

Q: Did you make it through this novel of information?!

Q: Did you learn anything new?

Good. Now go bake up something incredible!

How to measure all of the common baking ingredients including the #1 mistake you could be making when measuring flour!

177 Comments

  1. I’m new to the kitchen in general, but baking is something I’m really starting to get interested in. I got a Kitchenaid hand mixer for my birthday this year and the color alone makes me want to get to work on a batch of something sweet. I’m the kind of girl who loves reading the instructions before doing anything new, so I really appreciate how much precision baking requires.  Those equivalence charts can be so handy in a pinch! Thanks for posting! 
    XO, Bee.

    1. Oh my Sally, I just assumed when you’re baking that you’re using tasty ingredients, so chuck them in a bowl, mix and bake. I’ve always thought of baking as being forgiving! oops. wrong. I’m printing this for my fridge. Maybe I need you to peek over my shoulder while I bake…..just to keep me accountable. Things like Peanut Butter….I CONFESS, I don’t measure because I’m too lazy to clean out the cup. Yikes.

      1. Sometimes I’m like that with PB too– but not when I’m developing recipes! Scraping out that PB measuring cup is definitely annoying.

      2. A friend sent me a set of OXO measuring cups for sticky stuff and they are AMAZING!  I use the small one almost daily when measuring peanut butter for my smoothies and the larger ones work just as well.  Nothing sticks, they are easy to hand wash or stick in the dishwasher!  
        Here is the link on Amazon:
        http://www.amazon.com/OXO-Grips-Measuring-Sticky-Stuff/dp/B00A2KDAIW/ref=sr_1_cc_5?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1438190901&sr=1-5-catcorr&keywords=oxo+good+grips+measuring+cups

  2. Thank you for your “nerdy ” posts,I allways want to now why I have to do certain things. For me as a German the chart is especially helpful because  we are used to weight all ingrediens.
    I find it especially difficult to messure things like cubed Butter in a cup. How Do you do this?

    1. I always weigh butter. I understand that butter isn’t sold in stick form in other parts of the world– so weighing is incredibly important.

  3. I am still amazed by how unusual it is in the US to use a food scale. I only got measuring cups a year ago or so to make it easier when baking american recipes. So thank you very much for providing all the volume-weight-conversions!

  4. I am constantly getting hits to my blog from people searching something along the lines of “why should I measure properly” or “the importance of measuring,” because I have a post just like this one. It’s so so so important and I get so angry when people try to tell me it isn’t!!

  5. It kills me to see bakers/cooks on television dip a measuring cup into flour and level it off with their chubby little finger – not accurate! I’ve only done that a few times myself (after watching them) and always worry if the finished product will be any good. Thanks for this post. It’s restored my faith in professional bakers. lol

  6. It was reading your blog that converted me to weighing my ingredients – now I am annoyed if recipes aren’t written using weights because that means I have to go look it all up. Weighing has improved my baked goods CONSIDERABLY – people have gone from “liking” what I make to very passionately loving what I make. It feels good!

    I always wondered about the brown sugar…I feel like recipes always used to specify whether “packed” or not but maybe it was just the recipes I was using when younger. Either way, thanks for clarifying. The sifting pre/post measuring was new to me too. LOVE those sprinkles – I need to hop over to your friend’s shop and order some…big holidays are right around the corner, right? 😉

  7. Sally – I adore everything about this. After reading on this blog over and over again (and, let’s face it–on almost all good baking sites) that weighing ingredients is the best way to ensure accuracy, I finally went out and bought a food scale. I paid next to nothing for my scale, and it is a miricle worker! I actually find that it makes baking faster AND has cut down on dishes as I can just add to my mixing bowl and reset the scale each time rather than dirtying a bunch of measuring cups. I also love it for measuring melted butter–I have no microwave and find that I always lose a bit when melting on the stovetop, so the scale has really helped. Next on my list – oven thermometre. Baby steps. As always, thanks for all the tips 🙂

  8. Thanks for all this helpful info! You alluded to it somewhat in this post, but I’m curious as to how important the sugar measurements are in recipes. As an American living in Europe, when I bake and serve a dessert I find that cutting the sugar by half (or at least 2/3) for things like brownies, cookies, and even some cakes makes the recipe more palatable for my friends. I’m just wondering how much I’m actually affecting the recipe. Hmm…

    1. It really depends on the recipe. I find cutting sugar back slightly in muffins/cupcakes and quick breads is usually fine– somewhere around 1/4 cup reduction. Things get a little more tricky with cakes, cookies, and other desserts. Depending on the recipe, sugar gives structure, tenderizes, absorbs water, gives stability, caramelizes (added flavor!), encourages browning, and more.

  9. Hi Sally!  Thank you so much for these posts.  I used to consider myself an awful baker before I started reading your blog a couple years ago, but now I feel so much more confident!  I just have one question which I have always wondered (although I think I know the answer).  Do you also use dry measuring cups when measuring liquid sweeteners (such as honey)?  I never know which to use so usually I use the dry cups.  Thanks!

    1. Jill– great question! Yes, I use dry measuring cups when I measure sticky sweeteners. Not sure if that’s the “correct” way, but it’s the easiest for me.

  10. I love these posts! They really add a little more depth to just baking a cake/cookie/muffin/tasty food, thanks!

  11. My favorite blog on SBA yet! I’ve started to weigh my ingredients recently and have noticed a huge difference in the outcomes. Powdered sugar especially can be a pain to measure and it’s allofthedifference to be able to weigh and trust in that number. Totally printing off the conversions and weights to keep in my kitchen. Thanks for such applicable, great info!!!! 🙂

  12. Thanks so much for the master chart! I was using one of your older recipes with the measurements in cups last night and went searching through some newer ones till I found what the weight of 2 cups of flour is! 
    The fact that baking is science is what makes me love it!! 🙂
    Lx

  13. This was so helpful and I’m proud to say I’ve been using the spooning method with flour. I learned a lot of things I’ve been doing wrong and will definitely be taking your basics back to my kitchen!

  14. I weigh everything. Thanks for the chart! So handy. I often find I have to google the correct weight in grams because most recipes don’t list the grams. However, some are starting to (like Chocolate Covered Katie) and I find it incredibly helpful to have the correct grams listed in the recipe!

  15. Love the weight chart! I’m used to European cooking which generally uses weight measurements as opposed to volume. I appreciate that it shows grams too. Love love love your website and look forward to each and every email!

  16. I’m from Australia and would like to know, do your recipes use US cup sizes or English? I’ve noticed that they vary and I never know which ones to use particularly when the dry ingredients are in cups and wet ones in a liquid amount. 

  17. Great post! Spooning and leveling flour has finally become a habit around here, but I admit to leveling my baking soda and powder by scraping against the jar edge – not very accurate! I usually only weigh for cakes or other things where I want the finished product to be perfect – I should do it more often.

    My trick for measuring peanut butter, shortening and stuff like that is to push it into the measuring cup with a knife, and stir it around a bit to make sure there are no holes or air pockets. It’s hard to describe but it’s what my mom taught me! Measuring butter is my downfall – it’s usually sold in 450g blocks here, not sticks. I usually just cut it following the lines on the package, but I know that’s not super accurate (and I’ve broken two knives doing it with cold butter!) I’m going to start weighing it.

  18. Thank you so much for the weight chart! I always weigh my ingredients since reading on your blog months ago! I have your website on my phones home screen (big fan needless to say….hahaha)! 

  19. I’ve noticed that your recipes usually do not instruct that we sift the flour after measuring it. Do you assume that the flour is sifted or do your recipes not require sifted flour unless they specifically says so? Thanks. LOVE your blog!

  20. Hi Sally! Love this post! Interesting timing. I made your recipe for lemon blueberry cake yesterday for my daughter’s birthday. The recipe stated that the batter would be very thick, but even before I was supposed to add the lemon juice my batter was not anywhere near thick so I decided to leave it out. My batter would have been very thin had I added it. After reading through the recipe 3 times to see where I went wrong, the only thing I can think of is that I must have left out 1 of the cups of flour. I decided to cook it anyway and see what happened. To my surprise, it still tasted great. It was very light and moist. Because I know how important it is to use the correct measurements in baking, I was very lucky that for some reason the cake came out okay. Everyone loved it!

    I think it would helpful if you could do a post on the various types of yeast and if they are interchangeable.

    Thanks for the great post and your great recipes!
    Lori

  21. Thanks for the tips for all the different ingredients.  I was always a casual measure-er until I read how important accuracy is in one of your cookie recipes.  You mentioned that you used a scale to get the correct amounts.  I got one and since then, my baking recipes come out SO much better!  These tips are really helpful!

  22. When I lived abroad, I used a scale for the first time to make cookies. They turned out to be the best cookies I’ve ever made in my life! My friends refused to believe I didn’t buy them from the village bakery (even though that bakery didn’t sell chocolate chip cookies). When I returned to the US, I went back to using measuring cups and have never re-created those amazing cookies. I recently bought a kitchen scale and have used it with great success. I think it’s time to give those cookies a try again!

  23. Measuring is the difference between something that is awesome in your mouth, and something that you have to mix with ice cream to make it awesome. 

  24. Ever since I started baking your recipes (which I love, and never fail me, and I share with all my friends), I’ve been weighing my ingredients.  It makes all the difference in the world!

  25. Hi Sally. I do appreciate always going back to the basics in everything.
    I have a Salter scale that I hardly use and want to use it more. Are you familiar with those scales. So one cup of flour equals 120 grams and I am assuming the 125 grams is accounting for the weight of the measuring cup? Could you talk about using the scale more and I think the tare process….Not sure if I used that word correctly. Thanks.

    1. Digital scales usually have a zero out option, so you can weigh the empty cup and zero out the weight so it is not accounted for. I would see how much the empty measuring cup weighs, then make sure you have 125g of flour (for example).

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