Friday, March 5, 2010

How to Measure a Cup of Flour and Why You Shouldn't

One of the oldest cooking clich├ęs in the book is how much chefs hate to measure things. For the most part this is true. When it comes to savory preparations (think soup), exact measurements are not crucial, as the final seasoning/texture is adjusted at the end of procedure anyway.

The closest I've ever come to throwing the remote through the TV screen was the time I saw a well-know Food Network cooking personality (she has dark hair) measure a tablespoon of chopped parsley to sprinkle over the top of some casserole. Really? Come on!

However, when it comes to baking, exact measurements are critical. A perfectly moist cookie recipe made with 2 cups of flour for one cook can be a dry, disappointing experience for another. Why?

As you'll see in this short, but hopefully illuminating video, the amount of flour that will fit in a cup can vary greatly. If at all possible, when baking, use recipes that call for flour by weight and use a small digital scale to portion.

This is not a sponsored post, but I will disclose that the EatSmart scale you see in the clip was sent to me to test out. I've only used it a few times, so I can't comment on its lifespan or durability, but so far, so good, and I
really love the simple design. Here's a link to the Amazon page where it's sold, and received many excellent reviews.

32 comments:

Ryan said...

I do quite a bit of no-knead bread and since I have a large, nice dutch oven, I do a double batch... I converted all my flour measurements to weight. Nothing like having most of your flour in the bowl and forgetting whether you've added 5 cups or 6. It also makes it easier to adjust when I add in other types of flour or grains.

Aileen said...

Thanks for all you great tops, chef ! I'm not a chef but I too try and make food more 'approachable' on my blog. It's a shame how many things people do not make because the don't know a certain technique or do not recognize an ingredient. I love learning and teaching. And your videos are great !

Chef John said...

thanks!

Anonymous said...

It's great advice, but do you use that advice? I can see a lemorange in a cup in the background! Blatantly in your next recipe it'll have

1 cup of lemorange.

You saw it here first.

Chef John said...

I'll do the jokes.

Anonymous said...

I always weigh my flour because it's so much easier. I used to think that it was more accurate, but I wonder. I've seen published weights for 1 cup of flour vary by over an ounce! I have been using 4 1/2 ounces per cup of bread or all purpose flour for a long time. It seems to work fine.
However, I gotta say i've never gone wrong with your methods so maybe I should change. On the other hand, if it ain't broke..........
Jackie

Bill W, NH said...

My girlfriend cooks food like a baker and bakes like a chef.

Chef John said...

ouch!

Chris K. said...

When weighing flour I tare a big, lightweight container on my scale and sift the flour into it with a mesh strainer.

This way I get nice, fluffy flour measured accurately, without making a mess. When the flour is weighed out I can tare the container again, and add whatever else the recipe calls for. So consistent and easy!

I'm really glad you posted this, Chef. Baking was intimidating to me for too long. Learning how to properly measure by mass not only improved my baking, but took some of the fear out of it as well.

Plus, now I can actually tell if my dealer is shorting me or not.

BAM!

Birder said...

How wonderfully practical. The scientist in me loves this. Thanks for the ace tip!

Kalena Michele said...

This was right on time. I was just baking a batch of brownies from a recipe I got from Ina Garten and this time they were particularly fudgey. I didn't pack the flour down like I did last time. Now I know...thanks for the post and vid!

Livia said...

When I first came to the US, I had to spend some time figuring out how to use a cup to measure flour w/o messing up my recipes, which were all in grams, kilograms and dekagrams! Yes, we crazy Hungarians use dekagrams in recipes. Not only that, but we order deciliters of a drink in a restaurant, and decimeters of material (cloth) in a store.
It's good to see that my parents taught me well, and using weights wasn't entirely a waste :-) But then, I so got used to cups, that even if I bought a scale I'm not sure I would switch back now...and, to my husband's great entertainment, I always 'adjust' recipes if I don't like the consistency of a dough or batter anyway :-)

Charlemange said...

I love baking bread and I get many of my recipes from a site called The Fresh Loaf. Many of the recipes there do call for weighing, which I have been converting to cups because it seems like such a hassle. I do have a digital tare scale that I bought for homemade soap making, so it hasn't been used much. Maybe I will give this a try.

blogagog said...

I'm not a baker, but whenever I occasionally try to make cookies, they tend to taste more like a cake than a cookie. Is that from too much flour?

Chef John said...

no probably not. But, no real way to tell from here.

rosemary said...

I prefer recipes with cup measurement because you work faster with a cup than the scale. This is going to help me a lot. You are my culinary hero!!

Jana said...

Thanks for another great video. You are my food hero. Can you tell me where I can find a conversion chart to go from cups, tbsp etc. to weight. I'm sure for example a cup of sugar will weigh more than a cup of flour.

redforever said...

I live in the Calgary, Alberta area of Canada, known for its balmy Chinook winds......and its lack of humidity. In winter, our humidity can be 15%.

That in turn means that our dry goods are REALLY dry... And that in turn means that the flour will absorb more liquid than the recipe calls for....and that means that most baking products will end up very dry unless I adjust the amount of flour. And weighing the flour won't help for my problem.

I always start with a little less flour. I have no problem doing so except sometimes with fussy recipes like perhaps angel food or things of that nature....which I only make once in a blue moon anyhow.

For bread, I start with less flour and then go by the principle my grandmother taught me. It has to "feel right".

For cookies, I always start with less flour and then feel the dough. Normally that does the trick, but if I have compensated too much and the cookies spread too much, then I make a note for the next time I use the recipe.

I have not found altitude (about same as Denver) to be as much of a problem for most things I bake.

Anonymous said...

Bought a similar scale from Amazon.com which I can switch the readings from ounces to grams. Some recipes on line post measurements only in grams. Plus I like to play around with it to see if amount stated is the amount I am getting in lets say, a stick of butter. Do I have too much time on my hands, yes I do. Enjoy your site and have made more than a few of your dishes. Thanks for helping me stay busy.

Kevin said...

Nice way to put your sneaky sneaky amazon referal link ;)

Scott - Boston said...

Actually, I believe this was all covered in Scarface.
My guess is you're next vid involves a Lemorange being pushed out of a helicopter.

Scott - Boston

J. Kenji said...

Great tip, but Where is your data for weight vs. volume coming from? All the sources I've seen agree that 5 ounces of flour is equal to 1 cup.

Do you have a source that says 4.3 ounces?

Thanks!

Chef John said...

King Arthur flour which i use a lot list 4.2, the Book of Yields list 4.2-4.5 depending on type, and many other sources. Those that list 5 oz I believe are assuming a little denser pack. The point is however, use weight when possible.

Chef John said...

Janna, google search "weight volume measurement conversions" and you'll get hundreds of chart options

Chris said...

Thank you so much for that. I try and tell people that weighing is better--they don't believe me. I'm the only baker in my family (all good cooks--all BAD bakers), but I get no respect (I'm the Rodney Dangerfield of baking).

I've been using 4.25 for a cup of flour for a while... it's served me well.

Anonymous said...

Are there a different conversion weights per cup for ap flour vs bread flour vs cake flour?

Without thinking too much about it I'd assume there might be more oz per cup of bread flour and fewer for cake flour?

Laine Moore said...

Great video!! I've always wondering about this, and now I know! :)

rosemary said...

Jana visit http://www.recipes4us.co.uk/us_cups_to_weight.htm
and you will find cup to g or oz conversions for most ingredients.

Chef John said...

yes they are all different, all available online if you search by specific flour

Chef John said...

yes they are all different, all available online if you search by specific flour

Chef John said...

btw, Scott, classic comment!

Pyrofish said...

I sent this video to my wife after she told me she was having trouble with a bread recipe. I asked her if she was weighing the flour, she said no. So I thought this would help. Xmas eve, I put the no-knead beer bread, usually my job, in her hands. She loves it so much, I thought she should know how to make it. She calls me into the kitchen and says something is messed up, one bowl was more liquid than the other... liquid? I asked if she weighed the flour, and she said, sort of. On the side of the 2quart measuring cup, there's a line for 18oz... DOH! She told me she did as your video said, and scooped the flour into the measuring cup. I had her repeat the process as she had before to see how much flour we were short. The 18oz liquid measure for loose flour was about 10 oz of flour. The bowls were roughly 8 oz short. I thought that was a pretty funny mistake, and one I never thought to warn her of. Useful for new bakers/bread bakers anyway. What's funny, is our 15lb 1g accurate scale is always plugged in for weighing the baby, weighing meat, and weighing flour. She just thought that 18oz line was easier :-)