If cooking is the laid back friend who goes with the flow, then baking is the perfectly manicured friend with a color-coordinated closet with matching accessories and shoes. There is leniency when it comes to measuring ingredients as even the slightest over or under-measurement can change the recipe. It may seem intimidating, but with the proper tools and a little patience, you can measure your ingredients with finesse and create a baking masterpiece. So without further ado, let’s learn how to correctly measure baking ingredients.
You Can’t Measure without Measuring Cups and Spoons
If you’ve ever watched a cooking show, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “Those guys don’t measure a thing and their food comes out perfectly!” Oh TV, it’s so deceiving! The fact is that those professional bakers on TV usually have their ingredients measured out beforehand and, well, baking and cooking are what they do for a living. For the home baker, it is essential to get in the habit of measuring ingredients the right way with measuring cups, spoons and scales to be sure your measurements are as accurate as possible. Who says you can’t bake with big boys?
Dry Measuring Cups
Although residential style measuring cups are most common, make sure you opt for a dry measuring cup over a liquid measuring cup when working with dry ingredients. The main difference between a dry measuring cup and a liquid measuring cup is that the dry measure has a flat rim and no pouring spout. Dry ingredients are meant to be measured by filling the cup to the brim and evening out the top with a flat utensil. The flat, thin rim makes for an accurate measurement, whereas a lip or spout creates an uneven measurement at the top of the cup. Dry graduated measuring cups are perfect for recipes that may call for larger measurements of dry baking ingredients such as pints or quarts.
Liquid Measuring Cups
Liquid graduated measuring cups are often glass or plastic so that you can see the liquid through the sides of the cup. However, the key feature of a liquid measure is the rim which has a lip or a pouring spout. The graduated marking on the sides help you determine the correct measurement, and the lip or spout makes it easy to pour the liquid into a mixing bowl.
Measuring spoons are for measuring small amounts of ingredients such a teaspoon, tablespoon, and fractions thereof. They typically come in sets of three to five spoons. Measuring spoons are used for dry or wet ingredients, so they work just fine as long as the dry ingredients are properly leveled off and the wet ingredients are poured just before they would spill over, creating a round “bubble” at the top of the spoon.
How to Measure Dry Ingredients
Dry ingredients consist of the flours, sugars, and leaveners of the baking world. These ingredients are typically granulated or powdered. As indicated before, dry ingredients do require a different method of measuring than liquid ingredients. It’s good to have measuring cups and spoons, as well as a scale depending on how much you’re making.
When measuring flour, you’ll want to fluff it first with a spoon, which simply means mix it up a bit.. If the recipe calls specifically for sifted flour, strain it through a sifter or sieve. Both of these methods incorporate air into the flour for a more accurate measurement; sifting the flour helps ensure that only the finest particles are used in the recipe.
After fluffing or sifting, use a spoon to scoop the flour from its storage container and into the measuring cup. Using the measuring cup as a scoop is incorrect as it can over-pack the flour, resulting in an inaccurate measurement. Spooning your flour in may take a wee bit longer, but it will be more accurate for a better end result. When filling the cup, do not shake or pack the flour but rather use the back of a knife or other flat utensil to level off the flour. This will make it even with the top of the cup. One way to be sure you have an accurate amount of flour is to measure by weight instead of just by volume; using a digital portion control scale is a reliable method. A cup’s worth of all-purpose flour weighs 150 grams; 115 grams if sifted.
Baking Powder/Baking Soda
Baking soda and baking powder perform different functions in a recipe, but they can be measured the same way. As with flour, fluff these ingredients first to incorporate air and get an accurate measurement. To do so, stir the contents of the container first, then lightly scoop with a measuring spoon. Use a flat utensil to scrape off any excess from the top of the spoon back into the container.
Measure sugar by using the measuring spoon or cup to scoop it directly out of the storage container or bag until it is overflowing. Level off the top by sliding the back of a knife over the rim of the cup.
Brown sugar is essentially white sugar with the addition of molasses. It is thus a more moist, dense sugar. To measure brown sugar, pack it down into the cup or measuring utensil. This can be done by using the cup to scoop the sugar out of the container, then patting it down with your fingers. The goal is for the sugar to retain the shape of the measuring cup when added to the other ingredients.
Powdered sugar is very fine, and as such is prone to clumping if exposed to moisture. Sift the powdered sugar to strain out the smallest particles for the recipe, then spoon the sifted sugar into the measuring cup. Then use the back of a knife to level off the measuring cup to achieve an accurate amount.
Tips for Measuring Liquid Ingredients
Measuring liquid ingredients is best done with liquid measuring cups. Remember those spouts we talked about earlier? Make sure your cups are made from clear plastic or glass as this makes measuring much easier. Rest the measuring cup on a level surface, pour in the liquid, and view it at eye level to be sure the liquid hits the appropriate line on the cup. For smaller measurements, a regular measuring spoon works just fine.
Many recipes call for water or other liquid base for a recipe. The key for measuring water is to use a plastic or glass measuring cup, if possible, and to measure at eye level. It is not enough to hold a cup under a faucet then dump it into a bowl. Bend down to view the liquid in the cup and make sure the meniscus of the liquid rests right on the line of the measuring cup. If the liquid it opaque, such as milk, then simply get as close as possible to the measuring line.
Vanilla and other extracts are typically measured in very small portions, since they are very concentrated and aromatic. With ingredients like this, a little goes a long way. Many bakers pour vanilla into a measuring spoon while holding it over the mixing bowl. This is typically not the best idea, especially if you do not have a steady hand. If any liquid drips over the sides of the spoon, you may end up with more vanilla in the recipe than you need, which can throw off the flavors. Instead, measure over a clean measuring cup or another bowl. This way, any spilled extract can potentially be saved to use in another recipe.
Measuring oil is just like measuring water or other liquid. It simply has a different consistency. Make sure to measure oil in a clean, dry liquid measuring cup. If the cup happens to have any water leftover from a washing or from a previous measurement, it can alter the final measurement of the oil, so make sure to dry the cup before using it.
Tips for Measuring Unusual Ingredients
Not all baking ingredients fall into the categories of dry or liquid. Many ingredients are somewhere in between with a semi-liquid state, or something totally different like chopped nuts. You should most definitely measure these types of ingredients too.
Butter and Shortening
Fats that are solid at room temperature such as shortening and butter which require their own measuring techniques. Butter for baking typically comes in sticks surrounded by paper wrapping. That wrapping is conveniently marked with measurements, usually in terms of tablespoons. One stick of butter is equal to ½ cup. Nowadays manufacturers also make shortening available in “stick” form, whereas it used to be available only in hefty canisters. If you are measuring shortening the old fashioned way, the correct method is to scoop a heaping amount into a dry measuring cup, pack it down so there are no air spaces, and then level off the top with the back of a knife.
Many recipes call for chopped items such nuts, fruit or even candy. Read the recipe to see if it asks you to measure the ingredient before chopping or after. For instance, the recipe may call for “a 12 ounce bar of dark chocolate, chopped.” The ideal way to measure this would be to purchase a chocolate bar wrapped and labeled “12 ounces,” or potentially to weigh a hunk of chocolate before chopping it. However, if the recipe calls for “one cup of coarsely chopped dark chocolate,” then one would measure using a dry measuring cup, filling it with chopped chocolate until it is level with the rim. Typically there is no need to level off the ingredients in this situation.
Measuring eggs does not always require a measuring cup, but rather an understanding of what size egg you need, and how to avoid getting shells in the batter or other ingredients. Always use the size of eggs a recipe calls for, but if no size is given then assume it calls for large eggs. Then, crack the eggs into a small glass bowl before adding them to the other ingredients. This will allow you to see if there are any stray pieces of shell in the eggs, and give you the chance to pick them out before they get lost in baking translation.
Peanut butter is much like shortening in that it is dense, sticky and difficult to manage, let alone measure. When measuring, spoon out the peanut butter into a dry measuring cup until it is level with the rim of the cup. It will help if the cup is slightly greased with a tiny amount of oil, which will prevent part of the peanut butter from sticking to the cup and throwing off the measurement.