How to measure flour - FineCooking.com

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How to measure flour

By Jennifer Armentrout, editor

January 28th, 2009

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.


posted in: Blogs, Jennifer Armentrout, flour, weights and measures, scales
Comments (7)

smlee writes: Fine Cooking recipes use 'ozs' in weighing dry ingredients. I have a Metric Scale. What conversion factor should I use ? Posted: 10:38 am on April 10th

cyalexa writes: 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). Posted: 8:43 am on February 17th

cyalexa writes: 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). Posted: 8:42 am on February 17th

jRcooks writes: I have recently gotten back into baking bread and find my kitchen scale (Salter Nutri-weigh Model #1450)to be indispensable. I can't believe I hadn't discovered it long ago, and only wish that more recipes included weights for ingredients. I recently resurrected a Granola recipe from a church group cookbook published in the 1970s or 80s. After tweaking the ingredients (17 of them!), and modifying the preparation procedure slighly (microwave ovens were not common back then), I have come up with a fast and effective way to to measure all of the ingredients using my scale and only one bowl and a half-sheet baking pan. The results are incredible: healthy, nutritious, and, most importantly, delicious. I store my scale in the front of a drawer under my baking counter. To use it I merely open the drawer, flip open the lid, and I'm off and running. Posted: 6:07 am on February 9th

piesandmore writes: 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. Posted: 5:42 pm on February 4th

Ledy writes: weighing is much simpler than measuring and you don't end up with a flock of measuring cups that need washing, etc. Posted: 5:13 pm on February 4th

guajillo55 writes: "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."

Well, yes ... and no. Many recipes and cookbooks employ this very method, usually called the dip-and-sweep method, which gives you 5 oz. of all-purpose flour to a cup. Ms. Armentrout's method is usually referred to as the spoon-and-sweep method, which, as she says, yields about 4.5 oz per cup. (King Arthur Flour goes with 4.25 oz. per cup). As she notes, weighing is always best, since it removes any doubt about which method is called for in a recipe. But maddeningly (it's my pet peeve), many recipes and cookbook authors don't specify which method to use. I even have a few books devoted solely to baking in which the authors are mum on their method of measuring flour. Imagine writing an entire book on baking and not mentioning this crucial information!

One baking expert recommends that in the event that you don't know which method to use, go the spoon-and-sweep, 4.5 oz./cup route to be on the safe side. If you need to, you can always add in a little extra flour. Posted: 2:25 am on January 29th

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