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How to measure flour

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I’m proud to say that we don’t get very many complaints about Fine Cooking recipes.  We work hard to make sure they’re as foolproof as possible.  But despite our best efforts, sometimes things go awry. When it comes to baking recipes, a top cause of less-than-spectacular results is the way people measure flour.

Without question, the most accurate method of measuring flour is with a scale. An ounce is an ounce is an ounce, and that’s why our recipes list flour by weight first. If you don’t own a digital kitchen scale, treat yourself to one. They’re so useful in the kitchen, and not just for flour.

If you don’t have a scale, you’re stuck with the not-so-consistent method of measuring by the cup. It seems straightforward enough to measure by the cup, but between the method you use to get the flour into the cup and the fact that the actual volume of a cup varies slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, there can be quite a bit a variation in how much flour you end up with—especially if you’re measuring several cups.

Over the years, we’ve played around with different ways of measuring flour by the cup, and we’ve found that the following method results in the least amount of variation:

1. Stir the flour to break up any lumps.

2. Spoon the flour into the cup without packing.

3. Level the cup with a straight edge, like a knife.

Using this method, you should get roughly 4 1/2 ounces per cup.  At this point, you might be thinking, “But wait, I thought there are 8 ounces in a cup!”  You can thank the U.S. measuring system for your confusion. There are 8 fluid ounces in a cup, which is a measure of volume. But the weight of the contents of that cup, also measured in ounces, varies depending on the mass of the contents. The old adage “A pint is a pound the world ‘round” only applies to water and other ingredients of similar mass. If you were measuring a cup of lead, you can bet it would be much heavier than 8 ounces. If we used the metric system, we’d be talking about grams and liters, and things would be a lot clearer.

One last suggestion: Avoid scooping a measuring cup into the flour.  This approach can lead to a heavy, packed cup of flour, and that leads to dense and dry baked goods.

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  • cyalexa | 02/17/2009

    Because I use several diferent kinds of flour, I refer to the nutrition panel to see how much 1/4cup weighs (30 grams for Gold Medal unbleached AP flour).

  • cyalexa | 02/17/2009

    Because I use several diferent kinds of flour, I refer to the nutrition panel to see how much 1/4cup weighs (30 grams for Gold Medal unbleached AP flour).

  • piesandmore | 02/04/2009

    I have always used the mostly successful method of reading how the recipe is written. If the recipe calls for sifted flour, I know that they are looking for a bit lighter weight. I will then sift the flour first and then measure. I will then resift with other dry ingredients if called for. If the recipe does not call for sifted flour I will use a fork to just to lighten the packed flour and spoon measure. Seems to work. I do like the scale idea since it doesn't require all the measuring cups, so I will give it a try.

  • Ledy | 02/04/2009

    weighing is much simpler than measuring and you don't end up with a flock of measuring cups that need washing, etc.

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