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How do you measure flour using cups?
Posted: 16 January 2008 04:53 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Hi Rose and everyone on the forum,

Well, on my forum we need your help understanding the best way to measure flour using cups. From what I understand (correct me if I’m being stupid) the best and usual way to measure flour is to spoon it into a cup and sweep it off the top, unless your told otherwise at the start of a recipe or book. My friend Sarah at baking911.com does it that way, but I have a sneaky suspicion it depends on what you’re measuring the flour for, bread or cakes.  However, the editors who wrote the “Martha Stewart” baking book say “Measure the flour using the dip and sweep method” which they describe as scooping the cup into the bag of flour and level it off. Sarah and baking 911 says this can weigh up to 20% more.

All of us in England and around the world see these great, amazing cakes, pies and breads from America and want to know how you tackle cups and flour. I’ll put a link back on my website to this thread here.
Hope you can advise us.

Dan Lepard

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Posted: 16 January 2008 08:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Dan, I’m in the US, and I was always taught to spoon flour (or any other dry ingredient) into the measuring cup, then level off with a knife.  Don’t pack it down with the spoon, and don’t lightly sprinkle it in either.  I agree with the comment that the dip and sweep method weighs more than you really need or want in the recipe.  But I have also seen recipes that specifically say ‘measured using the dip and sweep method”, so I assume that particular recipe has been tested doing it that way.

I think the best way to measure is to weigh.  I bought a scale several years ago, and my measuring cups now sit idle in the drawer, I never use them at all. Thank God for Rose, she lists the weight of all her ingredients, so there is never any guess work involved in her recipes. I wish more cookbook writers would jump on the bandwagon and list both cups and weights.  That way, we would know from recipe to recipe exactly how much of each ingredient the author used.

To complicate the issue even further, recipe creators don’t agree on a standard weight for flour in particular.  I have seen the weigh vary from 4 1/4 ounces to 5 ounces, and that much variation can make a huge difference in the way one recipe will turn out.  If I am using a recipe that does not specify how much flour to use by weight, my personal standard is that 1 cup flour equals 4 1/2 ounces.  And this for is All Purpose flour, as some of the other specialty flours have different weights per cup. Yes, it can get very complicated, but to me, baking is a precise science, not like cooking, where it probably won’t matter if you put in more or less of the ingredient called for.  Putting more or less salt, leavening, flour, sugar, butter, etc. into your recipe will just about guarantee disaster.

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Posted: 16 January 2008 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I was also taught, that unless told otherwise, to spoon flour into the cup and then level off.  I have found, however, that some recipies don’t work out well the first time and have found that scoop and level works better.  This is why weighing is so much better.

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Posted: 16 January 2008 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thank you both for this, it does sound like spooning and levelling sounds the way to go at least at first. It’s very reassuring that Rose puts the effort into both giving the weights for the cup measures but also guidance on how to fill the cup and, wow, that you like weighing here as well. I know that some of the readers on my forum are trying to tackle recipes that aren’t Rose’s and don’t offer this level of help that she, or Sarah at baking911 does. It’s a right pain trying to work out which way to fill the cup on some recipes, but having you both make the right noises about spooning and levelling helps.
regards
Dan

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Posted: 16 January 2008 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dan, if you have the Cake Bible check out the chart on pgs 439 - 442. It is very useful if you ever have to convert a recipe from volume to weight. Rose gives the food substance, method of measure (sifted, lightly spooned etc) and the weight of of 1 cup in ozs and grams. Weighing ingredients when baking is so important, I don’t understand why all recipes don’t give weights. Afterall, baking is a science, cooking is an art…...

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Posted: 16 January 2008 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Rozanne, I don’t have it (only have the Bread Bible) but I will as I’ve been meaning to, and will recommend that bakers here in the UK get a copy. I’ve kind of become more relaxed about whether or not people want to use cups but I hope other writers follow Rose, Sarah and others, or just do what the editors on the “Martha Stewart” did and say, effectively, in our book we always measure flour this way. And in recipes on the internet and blogs, where so many people go now.

Dan

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Posted: 16 January 2008 12:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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danlepard - 16 January 2008 03:54 PM

Rozanne, I don’t have it (only have the Bread Bible) but I will as I’ve been meaning to, and will recommend that bakers here in the UK get a copy. I’ve kind of become more relaxed about whether or not people want to use cups but I hope other writers follow Rose, Sarah and others, or just do what the editors on the “Martha Stewart” did and say, effectively, in our book we always measure flour this way. And in recipes on the internet and blogs, where so many people go now.

Dan

Be sure to use the UK edition of the cake bible - the US edition will not give the best results due to the differences in the ingredients available in the UK.

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Posted: 16 January 2008 12:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Flour will settle (compact) as it sits - flour should be stirred of fluffed a bit before you “dip and sweep”.  For the best results, definitely measure by weight. 

It’s important to know flours Do Not all weigh the same weight (see pages 438-439 in the Cake Bible).  You can trust Rose’s listed weights to be correct, but if a non-Rose recipe calls for a specific weight of flour, then use the amount specified in that recipe.

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Posted: 16 January 2008 12:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Dan:
Another thing to note,  most of Rose’s recipies require that you SIFT the flour into the cup.  This will definitely give less flour than spooning.  So…if no other information is given, you should spoon…if it is one of Rose’s cake recipies…you should probably sift unless directed to do otherwise.

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Posted: 16 January 2008 01:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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The way I was taught to measure flour in a cup (by Mom and both grandmothers) is to sift flour into the measure until it forms a complete cone above the lip, and to then discard the excess flour in that cone by cutting the cone off using a dough knife (or other wide, flat blade), leaving a flat top on the flour in the cup.

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Posted: 16 January 2008 01:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I am in the UK and have Rose’s Cake Bible, but the American edition because the UK edition is unavailable at present.  I must admit I have had more problems with the difference in flours between the two countries than in the measuring of ingredients!  At least with Rose’s recipes there is a choice between measuring and weighing, but some, most unfortunately, American food writers tend to use the measuring method which can be very confusing.  I have found that there is not so much difference between recipes using AP flour and our flour as there is with the American cake flour.  Apparently it is the protein content that is the important factor.  Kate from A Merrierworld blog has done some interesting experiments on this but it is a bit complicated to follow and much easier to use UK recipes in my humble opinion.

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Posted: 16 January 2008 05:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Thanks everyone so much. htom how lovely to hear that both your grandmothers and your Mom taught you. Maybe that’s it, maybe there are lots of Moms teaching different ways. But you know, the thing that remains after all this diversity in approaches is that America is a country with a strong cake baking tradition, even with different approaches to measuring. So something must be working! Perhaps having to watch and check when you’re measuring with cups makes you a more cautious baker and helps people to remember how to do things. Sometimes I find relying on scales can almost make me rush things a bit, and hurrying isn’t usually a good thing in baking.

Patrincia and jeannette, I will watch for the UK edition and highlight it on my forum, and of course get a copy if I can. Do you know what year it was published in the UK, and by what publisher. I’m hoping I can track down a copy from one of the second-hand book sellers on abebooks.com

Thanks Bill, I will try and do a little of your and the other posts to clarify it for myself and other readers.

regards

Dan

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Posted: 16 January 2008 08:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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danlepard - 16 January 2008 08:53 AM

Hi Rose and everyone on the forum,

Well, on my forum we need your help understanding the best way to measure flour using cups. From what I understand (correct me if I’m being stupid) the best and usual way to measure flour is to spoon it into a cup and sweep it off the top, unless your told otherwise at the start of a recipe or book. My friend Sarah at baking911.com does it that way, but I have a sneaky suspicion it depends on what you’re measuring the flour for, bread or cakes.  However, the editors who wrote the “Martha Stewart” baking book say “Measure the flour using the dip and sweep method” which they describe as scooping the cup into the bag of flour and level it off. Sarah and baking 911 says this can weigh up to 20% more.

All of us in England and around the world see these great, amazing cakes, pies and breads from America and want to know how you tackle cups and flour. I’ll put a link back on my website to this thread here.
Hope you can advise us.

Dan Lepard

Hi Dan,

Different cookbooks will give different directions.  It is important to note what the authors’ preferences are when trying their recipes because those would have been kitchen tested according to their preference.

Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook—> dip and sweep (fluff flour first if compacted)
Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours—> fluff flour container, then dip and sweep—> She says she learned this from Julia Child
Martha Stewart’s other publications—> mostly spoon into cup then sweep
Rose L. Beranbaum’s Cake Bible—> for sifted cake flour, sift directly into cup then sweep to level
Cook’s Illustrated—> either dip and sweep (fluff flour first) or sift directly into cup as specified
Flo Braker’s Simple Art of Perfect Baking—> for sifted cake flour, sift onto parchment then pour into cup then level

I have a yellow sticky on the first page on all my baking books that state what the author prefers, because it can be hard to keep track.

If a stated preference is not indicated and weights are not given, I will spoon into cup then sweep.  This gives an intermediate weight between dip and sweep (heavier) and sifting directly (lighter).

Of course, all of this is unnecessary if measuring by weight were the standard in North America.

Hope this helps.

PS. I love your website! :)

PPS. Blogger Kate, also from the UK, microwaves the unbleached flours that is available in the UK to make them behave like the cake/bleached flours that are generally used on this side of the pond. 

Julius

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Posted: 16 January 2008 11:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Ok, let me try not to be rude or nasty, PLEASE, get an inexpensive digital kitchen scale.  I’ve tested MANY, and even the most inexpensive scales are MORE accurate than any flour-cup measuring method!

Actually, if you manage to find a recipe where you have every ingredient listed in grams (except for minute teaspoon quantities), your baking results can be fairly acceptable with ANY scale (digital or not).  Once, I had to bake at a remote location, and the only scale I found was a $2.99 spring loaded scale from a grocery store.  It worked, as long as you read consistently in the same manner for each ingredients, like repeated measuring with tapping, and eye-ing the needle reading with the right angle!  It was a tiny scale, I think mostly used to weight diet items, in fact scales with lower capacity are traditionally more accurate.

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Posted: 17 January 2008 03:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Thank you all so much. Julius, amazing, and your advice sounds, well… sound. I will put together a how-to list on tackling cups and post it back here. And I’ve just visited your blog and wondered, “does Julius know that he’s a really, really really good pastry chef?” Hope you do. Keep it up, your very talented!

hectorwong, I think I know where your coming from as I used to be hard line about weighing, and still prefer it. But, if someone just prefers to measure by cups, that’s ok by me. I just want to advise the metric users how to translate recipes that only offer cups measurements. I like the tart in the image with your username.
Thank you all again!
Dan

p.s. Kate’s blog is facinating, and well explored. A few weeks before her first blog post about it here:
http://amerrierworld.wordpress.com/2007/10/28/a-question-of-flour/
i’d posted this hint on my forum here:
http://www.danlepard.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=8365₭ I think there is a certain magic in how the same ideas can be around in the air, in different places and with different people. Serendipity!

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Posted: 17 January 2008 04:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I’m with Hector.  I wouldn’t be without my kitchen scale.  I just about weight everything I can.  It’s much more accurate and the results are outstanding.

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