s

Greg Patent is the author of A Baker’s Odyssey and the award-winning Baking in America. He lives, writes, and bakes in Missoula, Montana.

How did that flour get into the cup?

Measuring flour

By
April 4, 2008

One of my pet peeves over the years has been the guesswork we bakers face when it comes to measuring flour. A recipe might say, “1 cup flour.” But how did the flour get into that cup? If we just weighed our dry ingredients, there’d be no problem — and in the first half of the 19th century, weighing is what home bakers did. Then somebody decided to use cups, and all sorts of problems began.

What size cup might be meant? And would you use the same cup to measure liquid and dry ingredients? Some authors said to use teacups, others tumblers, but no guidelines for what amounts these measures represented were given. By the time Fannie Farmer published her first cookbook in 1896, the shift from weighing to measuring was complete, and measuring cups were standardized to contain 8 ounces — by volume! And we had cups with spouts to measure liquids and smooth-rimmed cups to measure flour and the like.

If no instructions for measuring flour are given, then you’re safest measuring flour this way.

Many cookbook authors today, and a few of the food magazines, will tell you how to measure flour for their recipes. Some will say to use the dip and sweep method, which means you dip your cup used to measure dry ingredients into the flour container, fill it to overflowing without shaking or banging the cup, and sweep off the excess flour with a metal spatula or straightedge of some sort. A cup of flour measured this way weighs 5 ounces, on average. I say on average because the dryness or humidity of the flour will affect its weight.

The most common way to measure flour is probably the spoon-and-level method. If no instructions for measuring flour are given, then you’re safest measuring flour this way. Stir the flour in its container to aerate it, spoon it into your dry measure until the cup is heaping — again, no banging or shaking the cup — and then sweep off the excess, leveling the flour in the cup. This cup of flour weighs 4 1/2 ounces.

If a recipe calls for sifted flour, you sift more than you need with a flour sifter, spoon the flour very gently into your dry measure until heaping, then sweep off the excess. This cup of flour will weigh about 4 ounces.

The weights I’ve given above apply to all-purpose flour. Many whole-grain flours are denser and will weigh more per cup. That’s why using a scale rather than a cup leaves no doubts about the amount.

Happy baking!

Subscribe
Comments
There is 1 comment on this item
Add a comment
1. by Marni on Apr 4, 2008 at 2:25 PM PDT

This is such an interesting topic! I took a King Arthur Flour bread baking class about a year ago and they talked about this very issue. Imagine all the cookies people are making with possibly 30% too much flour because they have not been properly informed how to measure flour! We’ve been eating cookie “bricks” all these years... :-)

Add a comment

Think before you type

Culinate welcomes comments that are on-topic, clean, and courteous. For the benefit of the community we reserve the right to delete comments that contain advertising, personal attacks, profanity, or which are thinly disguised attempts to promote another website.

Please enter your comment

Format: Bare URLs are automatically linked; use this style: [http://www.example.com "place text to be linked here"] for prettier links. You may specify *bold* or _italic_ text. No HTML please.

Please identify yourself

Not a member? Sign up!

Please prove that you’re not a computer


Advertisement
Culinate 8

Kale in the raw

Eight versions of kale salad

Eight ways to spin everyone’s favorite salad.

Subscribe
Graze: Bites from the Site
First Person

The secret sharer

A father’s legacy

The Culinate Interview

Mollie Katzen

The vegetarian-cooking pioneer

Reviews

Down South

Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more

Local Flavors

A winter romesco sauce

Good on everything

Editor’s Choice