On Measuring Flour

Today we are talking baking fundamentals. I hope you are okay with that! I promise I have recipes coming up for you this week. Three of them in fact! Three! But today we’re going back to the very beginning. A very good place to start…

How To Measure Flour Correctly- Baker Bettie

Absolutely without question the second most important part of baking is measuring your ingredients properly. The first most important thing being having a heck of a lot of fun while doing it! But baking is a lot more fun when things turn out properly and measuring your ingredients properly is a huge part of this. HUGE!

I’ve been meaning to talk about measuring flour for some time. It is the one ingredient that causes most problems in the baking world. Here in the United States we have become very accustomed to measuring everything in volume instead of using weights.

And while this can be fine and good for those who bake often and know how to measure by volume properly, this can create a lot of issues if you are not very careful. So let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about how to properly measure flour both by volume and by weight!

This is important baking stuff folks! It may seem really simple and basic, but it really isn’t if you aren’t experienced and I want to help prevent baking disasters for you!


1 CUP IS NOT ALWAYS 8 OUNCES

I once had a pastry chef tell a class I was taking that a cup of flour was 8 ounces. And all the non-bakers (which was most of the class) just took it as truth. And this is something that is really confusing in the baking world.  Ounces by weight and ounces by volume are two separate things. We are all taught: 1 cup is 8 ounces, right? And that is kind of true. But it really isn’t true at all. Just stick with me here.

How To Measure Flour Correctly, Volume vs Weight- Baker Bettie

1 cup measures 8 fluid ounces, meaning it is 8 ounces by volume. So if I fill that 8 oz cup up with water or any other water based substance it will be 8 fluid ounces and it will also weigh 8 ounces. Because water based liquids (water, milk, juice, coffee, cream, and even melted butter) measure the same amount by weight as by volume. BUT dry ingredients and other heavier, non-water based liquids (honey, molasses) do NOT measure the same amount by weight as by volume.

Just think about it. Will a cup of lead weigh the same as a cup of feathers? Absolutely not. They may be the same by volume, but not by weight. Not that we are baking with lead and feathers here, but you get the picture.


EQUIPMENT FOR MEASURING FLOUR BY VOLUME

Measuring by volume simply means that you will use a vessel (such as a measuring cup) to portion out the proper amount of your ingredient. This technique is not often used in professional kitchens and it really isn’t even used much in other places other than America.

The reason for this is because there is a lot of room for error using this technique. However, it is such a common way for recipes to be written (I also write my recipes this way) and therefore I want to teach you how to do it properly!

First thing we need to discuss is measuring cups.

Liquid Vs Dry Measuring Cups

See these cups stacked up on the left? These are what we refer to as “dry measuring cups.” This is what you should use to measure flour by volume. That cup on the right? That is what we refer to as a “liquid measuring cup.” Can you measure flour in that?! No! No, no, for the love of Pete, no!

The reason why it is important to use dry measuring cups for measuring a dry ingredient, such as flour, by volume is that you have a very precise top to the measurement to level off and keep things more accurate.

See where the 1 cup mark is for the liquid measuring cup on the right? It is a good inch or so below the top. This is okay for measuring liquid where you can get down to eye level and see where the liquid hits the line.

But for dry ingredients it could be mounded more to one side or the other and you can’t level off the excess you accidentally put in the cup. So just put that liquid measuring cup away during your flour measuring, okay!

Side note: a common misconception is that you cannot use dry measuring cups to measure liquids by volume. That is not true. In fact, it is probably more accurate to use them for measuring liquids. A 1 cup dry measuring cup measures 8 oz by volume and so does a 1 cup liquid measure. The liquid measure just should not be used for dry ingredients because it is difficult to level off and get an exact measurement on a dry ingredient.  I almost exclusively use dry measuring cups for both dry ingredients and liquids. 


HOW TO MEASURE FLOUR BY VOLUME PROPERLY

The technique that I use to measure flour that has consistent results is what I like to call the Spoon and Level method. Basically, you lightly spoon the flour into the measuring cups and then level it off. Let me walk you through this complicated process (hear my sarcasm?).

How To Measure Flour Correctly- Baker Bettie

Step 1: Lightly spoon the flour into the measuring cup making sure not to pack it down.

How To Measure Flour Correctly- Baker Bettie

Step 2: Use the handle of the spoon or a knife the level off the flour.

How To Measure Flour Correctly- Baker Bettie

See that? A leveled cup of flour ready to go into the recipe with success! I know it seems so simple, but I can’t tell you how many people do this wrong. I did it wrong for a long time when I very first started baking until someone told me otherwise! Dipping the cup into the flour will cause the flour to be packed down and will result in too much flour in your recipe.

I cringe everytime I see someone measure flour by scooping it up with their measuring cup and patting it down with their finger. Not to mention any names, but it rhymes with Daula Peen.


MEASURING FLOUR BY WEIGHT

The most accurate way to measure flour is to weigh it out. If you know how much flour should weigh you can easily measure flour by weight even if the recipe is written by volume.

1 cup of all-purpose flour should weight 4.2 ounces or 120 grams if measured properly. I am going to start adding weight measurements to my recipes so that they are more accurate for those who use a scale when baking.

Note: I have seen varying weights listed for a cup of flour at times. Sometimes 4.5 oz, sometimes 4.75 oz. However, 4.2 oz is the most common weight I have seen stated, it is what my professional pastry book and what King Arthur Flour lists, and it is what I base all of recipe writing on. 

How To Measure Flour Correctly, Measuring by Volume- Baker Bettie

You can experiment by weighing a cup of flour after you measure it to see if you’ve measured it properly. I tried this a bunch of times and I am pretty accurate, but I have a lot of practice.

And then I purposely packed some flour down into a 1 cup measure and then weighed it and it weighed over 5 oz. I also tried it by just dipping the measuring cup into the bag of flour and then weighed it and it was well over 5 oz as well. You can see why measuring by volume can cause issues!


SIFTED FLOUR VS NON-SIFTED FLOUR

Most recipes call for the flour to be measured before it has been sifted and then will call for it to be sifted later. This is important to notice because sifted flour weighs less by volume than unsifted flour. It is important to notice how the recipe is written so you know if you should measure it before or after sifting.

  • If the recipe calls for 1 cup flour and then instructs you to sift it somewhere in the process of making the recipe, measure the flour before sifting it.
  • If the recipe calls for “1 cup flour, sifted” you would also measure the flour before sifting it.
  • BUT if the recipe calls for “1 cup sifted flour” THEN you want to measure the flour AFTER sifting it. This is not seen in many recipes, but it is important to note because it is occasionally seen.

How To Measure Flour Correctly, Sifted Flour- Baker Bettie

1 cup of sifted all-purpose flour weighs 4 oz or 113 grams.

I made a chart a while back of all the weights of the most common baking ingredients. You may notice that different kinds of flour has different weights. Pastry flour and cake flour weight less than all-purpose flour. The protein content of these flours is less and therefore the same volume weighs less as higher protein flours. Click here to see the Weight Conversion For Common Baking Ingredients Chart.


I hope this helps you understand and troubleshoot possible flour measuring problems! I am going to try and do more of these “fundamental” baking posts. Please let me know if they are helpful or too boring! I geek out at this stuff a lot so I can see my rambling and putting you to sleep. I don’t want to do that! Let me know.

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