When it comes to baking, accurate ingredient measurements can make the difference between terrific baked goods and so-so ones. Here are some of the guidelines we use in our test kitchen for consistent measuring.
Liquids: Always use liquid measures (spouted glass and metal cups and beakers graduated with cup measurements and fluid ounces) for liquids, unless you’re measuring table and teaspoons. Put the cup on a level surface and get yourself at eye level with the measure before assessing the amount of liquid in the cup.
Flour: Weighing is the best way to measure flour, which is why we give a weight first in our recipes. If you must measure by volume (cups), always stir the flour a little and then spoon it into the cup before leveling with the flat side of a knife. If you scoop the cup directly into the flour, the flour will be compacted into it, and you’ll get too much. Extra flour means your dough will be drier or tougher than it should be. Scooping is also inconsistent. In consecutive tests using the same flour and measuring cup, weights differed by as much as 1/2 ounce, depending on how much pressure was used when scooping. If your recipe calls for sifting, be sure to sift at the right time. “One cup flour, sifted” means you should sift after measuring; “one cup sifted flour” means you should sift before.
Sugar: Granulated white sugar is relatively dense and heavy, so it doesn’t make much difference if you scoop or spoon the sugar into the cup. But treat confectioners’ sugar as you would flour. For brown sugar, measure by scooping the cup into the sugar and packing it in.
Other dry goods: Always use dry measures (measuring cups and spoons that hold the exact amount) for dry ingredients like spices, grains, cornstarch, baking powder, etc. Unless the recipe calls for a “heaping” measure, level it.