Once upon a time, back when we were starting the business, we decided we needed to find out just how good our measuring cups really were. After all, we were “professional bakers.”
We gathered all the measures in our test kitchen, brought more from home, and got out the scales. A cup of water weighs eight ounces. Some of the cups held more than eight ounces, some less. Few were close—sometimes as much as 20% off.
The best were Anchor Hocking glass cups. The one-cup measure was right on at one cup. The two-cup measure was right on at two cups. The two-cup was not accurate at one cup.
Accuracy is important. Baking is exacting. Quality, in part, depends on the right amounts.
When we are developing mixes or a recipe, we never use cups. It’s always scales. It’s the only way to know for sure.
For many of formulas–formulas are always constructed as percentages–we measure to 1/10 of a percent.
Where the pH is important, e.g., where buttermilk (an acid) and baking soda (a base) is used, we use litmus paper to makes sure that we have balanced the acid with the base.
We do have to convert from dry to liquid and liquid to dry. We don’t use a conversion chart–there are too many variations from batch to batch and between brands. We measure a cup of a dry ingredient ten times and then average the ten weights.
The home baker doesn’t have to be so careful. But it does pay to find the best, most precise measures you can find. You’ll need a scale for that.
How to Measure Correctly
There’s a right way and a wrong way to measure and by measuring right, you will get the consistent results you are looking for.
To measure liquids: Use a clear glass measuring cup, one designed for liquids. Fill it to the mark and set it on the counter or on a shelf at eye level and look through the glass. Never try to hold the glass up to your eyes–it will never be as level and steady as on the counter.
To measure dry ingredients: Use a dry measure of the capacity you wish to measure–either a spoon or a cup. For a cup, stir to loosen and unpack the ingredients then lightly spoon them into the cup. Level the top with a spatula or the back of a knife. Except for brown sugar, never pack the ingredients into the measure. When using a measuring spoon, scrape the top level as you do when measuring with a cup.
To measure herbs: Lightly fill the spoon to the top with herbs but do not level with a spatula as you would with powdered ingredients. Dump the herbs into your hand and crush them to release the flavors before adding them to the recipe.
The Importance of Measures
To measure shortening: Pack the shortening into a dry measure with the back of a spoon or spatula pressing to force out any air pockets, then level it by scraping the top of the cup.
Flour can be tricky to measure. We always use a scale to get accurate, consistent measurements. If you use a dry measuring cup, stir the flour to fluff and loosen it–packed flour will weigh considerably more than loosened flour–then spoon it into the measuring cup. Also, scooping the flour out of the bag with the measuring cup rather than spooning flour into the cup will give you significantly more flour–enough more that the results of the recipe may vary considerably.