Joy the Baker

Baking 101: I’m Still A Baker Even Though I Use Measuring Cups, Not A Kitchen Scale

November 6, 2013

measuring cups

The baking world is a pretty friendly place. We bakers generally fill our days with butter, flour, sugar, chocolate, and high-five one another from afar.

The pastry chefs generally take themselves more seriously than the bread bakers. The wedding cake bakers might occasionally scoff at the cupcake bakers. The gluten-free bakers usually like to talk about flour mixtures far longer than wheat flour bakers. For a group of people that wakes up at 3am every morning, it’s surprisingly friendly… until we start talking about one thing: measuring cups or scale baking, volume vs. weight.

Those are fighting words.

Let’s break down the difference between baking using measuring cups and baking using a kitchen scale.  Let’s talk about how either way, it’s cool.  Yea… it really is.

The Kitchen Scale 

The kitchen scale is an amazing tool.  Truly.  With a digital kitchen scale you can place a bowl on the scale, zero out the weight, and measure your ingredients in grams and milliliters.  You can easily read the number of grams and milliliters as they accumulate in the bowl as flour is tossed in.  Scoop in 180 grams of flour and 110 grams of sugar.  No problem at all!  Most European recipes are written in grams and milliliters, making the kitchen scale a necessity.  Professional bakeries also use kitchen scales.  They’re often baking on such a large scale that using anything other than a kitchen scale would be too time-consuming and inconsistent.

Kitchen scales are accurate and reliable.  When properly calibrated, which they usually are, kitchen scales make measuring ingredients pretty fool-proof.  A gram is a gram and a milliliter is a milliliter, making international recipes totally accessible.

Baking is a science as much as it is  a home-cooking adventure.  Part of that science is accurately measuring ingredients and kitchen scales are one of the best ways to ensure that ingredients are properly measured.

The only problem with the kitchen scale is… well, it’s just not my tool of choice in the kitchen.  That… well, maybe that’s more of a personal problem.

The Measuring Cup

While kitchen scales measure by weight, measuring cups measure by volume.  We fill the space inside of a 1 cup measuring vessel (intended for dry ingredients), and do so as consistently and deliberately as possible.   Dry measuring cups (not to be confused with liquid measuring cups) usually come in increments of 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, and 1 cup measurements.  You may recognize cup measurements from most American recipes.  We sure do love our cups.

Measuring cups can be a great kitchen tool… if you know how to use them.

Let’s talk about measuring a cup of flour.  One cup of all-purpose flour by volume should be about 4 ounces of  all-purpose flour by weight.  Well… 4 ounces if your flour is well sifted and measured with a tender hand.  If you’ve measured your flour by plunging your measuring cup into the sack of flour, packing the white powder into the cup, you’re more likely to emerge with nearly 6 ounces of flour, rather than the intended 4 ounces.  Generally speaking, one cup of all-purpose flour, sifted lightly with a whisk is about 4 1/4 ounces by weight.

We talked about how to store, sift and measure flour in Baking 101: Must We Sift This Flour.  Those notes are important if you’re as stubborn about your measuring cups as I am.

How To Measure Flour With Measuring Cups

- Use a large spoon or whisk to fluff the flour in its storage container.  It’s great to aerate the flour slightly before it is measured because flour tends to settle as it sits.

- Use a large spoon to lightly sprinkle flour into the measuring cup.  Depending on the size of your spoon, it could take several dips into the flour container to fill the measuring cup.

- When the sprinkled flour reaches just above the edge of the measuring cup, use a straight edge to sweep off the excess flour, so that the flour is flush with the top edges of the measuring cup.

- Repeat with more flour as necessary.

So…

In my home kitchen I use measuring cups.  Since I learned how to bake using measuring cups, it’s what makes me the most comfortable in the kitchen.  When I work in professional kitchens and make enormous batches of scone dough, I use a scale… because no one should ever attempt measuring 32 cups of flour by volume.

If your takeaway from this post is that I’m stubborn and unwilling to do what’s right and just use a kitchen scale, I wouldn’t disagree with you.  I am stubborn.  I’m also a sore loser.  You should see me lose at Uno.  Not cute.

I think that stepping into my kitchen should feel good.  Part of those feel-good feelings involve measuring cups for me.  My dad taught me how to bake with measuring cups.  When I reach in the cupboard to pull out those big jars of flour and sugar, I’m basically just trying to recreate every good smell that ever came out of my kitchen when I was growing up.  Part of those memories involve measuring cups.  Maybe that feels like an inconsequential thing from a professional baker… but actually, it’s everything.

Resources

King Arthur Flour has some great tips on flour conversions and how to consistently measure flour by volume.  It’s a great place to start!

The Kitchn has helpful baking ingredient conversions.

I’ve spent a lot of time teaching myself how to bake.  When looking for super reliable baking proportions, I always consult the book Professional Baking. It is an encyclopedia of every classic base and dough.  Remember encyclopedias?  Me neither.

Ratios by Michael Ruhlman is a simple book, but totally transforms the way you approach the kitchen.  Everything from pancakes to mayonnaise is broken down into a simple ratio.  Kitchen scale recommended.

Whether your preference is the almighty kitchen scales or a trusty set of measuring cups, just make sure you have something super functional that makes you want to step into the kitchen and make a big ol’ mess.  It’s worth it.


101 Comments Add A Comment

  • I’m with the other Europeans here: grew up with kilos and grammes. But being intrigued and interested in American baking – so much more divirsity (is that spelled right?…) than here in Denmark – I have brought home measuring cups when visiting family in Canada.
    To find out how to convert the amount of one stick of butter to grammes, google a conversion site. And your problem will be solved :-)
    Kindly, Lene

  • I’m from the UK so the kitchen scales are my default, but since I’ve been doing more baking I wanted to explore using cups… However, my biggest issue is that I ALWAYS forget how many cups I have added as I go along! I get to my 3rd out of 4 cups and think, is this the second? Fourth? How many have I done already?? Disaster! I’m sticking to the scales.

  • there are measuring cups just for liquid? am i doing this whole cooking thing wrong, because i definitely use the same ones for everything?

    • Not only are there 2 types of measuring cups (those for liquids have a spout), but people should be aware that having a jumble of different measuring cups from different sets (you know, the 1/3 cup pink one you had in college, the 1/2 cup beige one from 2 apartments ago, the random metal 1 cup measure you pinched from mom’s house) will throw off the ratios in a recipe. I can say from experience in our test kitchen that a 1/2 cup measure from one set will give you a different amount than a 1/2 cup measure from a different set. There are no standards or enforcement that ensure accuracy for these things until you get to the level of scientific equipment. But if all your cups are from the same set, they’ll relate to each other consistently, and you shouldn’t have too much trouble.

      • That’s an excellent point, Susan. I discovered that the hard way, with an old mismatched set – 2 half cups of flour was actually producing 1 cup plus an eighth cup (two tablespoons over!). I scrapped them all and started with a new full set.

  • ahh! i love this! i grew up in north america, and now i live in france – so i’ve been battling between the two types of measurement styles! i still love the measuring cup though :D, a scale is used only for super finicky treats (like macarons!). thanks for sharing, this is so useful AND includes a cute story.

  • Great advice! I love measuring cups…but I have way too many of them!

    http://sometimesgracefully.com

  • I love your Baking 101 series! Will be buying the Professional Baking textbook for sure. Thank you!

  • I relate to your nostalgic need to use your measuring cups. I still use the same Tupperware stacking measuring cups I got about thirty years ago. My mother never used dry measuring cups and put everything in her Pyrex liquid ones. That is, if she bothered to measure at all. She was one of those cooks who never measured, which is why bread making was always impossible to learn from her because she just knew how much flour was necessary by the feel of the dough. I learned how to properly measure ingredients and follow a baking recipe in my 8th grade “Foods” class. I just loved knowing that I could bake just about anything by following a simple formula. The science nerd in me, though, wants that digital scale so I can bake like Jamie Oliver does.

  • Sometimes I use both in the SAME RECIPE. I’m the confuser. I’m multi-cultural. It’s fusion baking.

    Cups are so easy for liquids, I love ‘em. Scales are great for throwing everything in the bowl quickly, resetting in between, I love ‘em. The only cup measurement that bothers me is butter – who measures butter in cups? Who is doing that?

    I grew up weighing ingredients, and it gives me that exact nostalgia you’re talking about, which is just a lovely feeling. Really enjoying Baking 101, thank you so much for it!

  • I’m with you Joy. I have both but my natural inclination is to reach for my measuring cups. It’s what feels easy and natural and for writing my blog, it’s what I know most of my readers use, so there’s little motive for me to force myself to use a scale when it’s not what I really love doing. This is a great post and no doubt the comments will be great!

    And I love playing UNO. Haven’t played in a good 20 years I think though! Must change that!

  • I am sorry but I going to have go for team scale here. I love my scale and hate the cup conversion. Maybe because I make macarons and pastries more often than the normal baker. Hehehe.
    Also how can you be bothered to wash up all those cups and spoons? and The speed is so much better with a scale.
    Either way, I guess it is up the baker to know what suits there style best.

  • I’m European and so I naturally use a scale because – hey….I got no choice here haha. All the cookies and cakes that my mom made in her German kitchen were made using a scale. But after I had been to America, I couldn’t live without my chocolate chip cookies any more…and so I bought cups there and took them back home with me. And since the emerging of all those great American food blogs, cups are a necessity anyway. I really love both weighing methods, though :)

  • I have both measuring cups and a scale. I’m european and I’ve always used grams, but since my baking books are mostly american I have bought measuring cups. It works pretty well specially with liquid measures. But with flour I didn’t know what went wrong… And this post has explained a lot of the messes that I made in the past. Sift that flour girl!!!!
    I once measured 1 cup of flour and it measured 156 grams which is in fact 1,5 cups… so this is brilliant Joy and thanks to your Baking 101 I think I can start baking some serious cakes.
    For conversions I use convert-me.com is a brilliant website that has a specific cooking converter and you choose the ingredient and it makes the conversion according to each ingredient. It’s specially useful for me for the butter measures, because I don’t know what the heck a stick of butter is!!

  • I love this! I used to measure by weight until I started reading a bunch of american food blogs and they dragged me over to the dark side. Now measuring using scales seems fussy and I can’t be bothered, even though it clearly is the more accurate way haha. You’ll never get me with your inches though, centimeters for life :P

  • I live in Japan and learned to use scales for baking and cooking in general 40 years ago. They are MUCH better. Its faster and no mistakes are made. I find it easy to use British cookbooks that typically give the recipes in grams. I think America should go digital!!

Leave a Reply

15 trackbacks

Pre-Order!

homemade decadence

The Web Series

bonkers_sidebar

Homefries

Brown Butter Banana Bread with Rum and Coconut
Sweet Corn Pancakes
Roasted Apricot Breakfast
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie
Ham and Cheese Puff Pastry Pie
Creamy Pumpkin Pie Bars
Homemade Hot Dog Buns
The Ultimate Club Sandwich
Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwich

Joy, Recently

Roasted Tomato and Pesto Grilled Cheese
Free Print with Cookbook Pre-Order!
Let It Be Sunday
My Favorite Travel Essentials
Vanilla Bean Sweet Potato Waffles
Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Let It Be Sunday
Sausage, Cheddar and Grits Frittata
Roy Choi’s Furikake Kettle Corn