What You NEED to Know about Measuring

How accurate are your measuring spoons?

We were developing frosting recipes in the test kitchen.  We focused on flavors and spices.  But we wanted them precise, and the amount of water or milk we were using changed from trial to trial when it shouldn’t.  What was going on?

We grabbed a scale.  Measuring is both more accurate—it’s easier to get the right amount—and more precise—it’s easier to get the same amount each time.  A cup of water weighs eight ounces.  A tablespoon of water weighs a half ounce.

We had two different brands of tablespoons that we were using.  When we repeatedly weighed the amount of water in each, we found that one brand was 10% over the right amount and the other was 20% under.  We grabbed a third brand.  It was 20% over.

That means that when we measured a tablespoon of baking powder or a spice, we were 20% over or 20% under depending on which tablespoon we used.  No wonder results vary.

Teaspoons are no more accurate; they tend to be 20% off too.

Which measuring spoons are most accurate?

We sell measuring sets in our store, so we picked one of each off the shelf and weighed water in them.   Surprisingly, “The Serious Cook’s Measuring Set” was the most accurate.  I say “surprisingly” because it is less expensive, and is made of plastic, not metal.  (I love this measuring set because it includes a 2/3 cup and 3/4 cup, so I only have to measure once for these amounts, not twice.)

With the Serious Cooks Set, the tablespoon is dead on, and the teaspoon was only over by 10%.

What’s the difference between dry and liquid measuring cups?

As you know, there are two types of measuring cups, those intended for measuring dry ingredients like flour and those intended for wet ingredients.

For dry ingredients, you fill the measuring cup and use a straight edge like the back of a knife to scrape the flour (or other ingredient) off so that it is level.

For wet ingredients, you fill the measuring cup to a mark.  Usually a wet measuring cup is made of clear plastic or glass.  Set the glass on the counter and bend over with your eye level to the glass to see that the liquid comes precisely to the mark.  At home, I set the glass on the window sill for measuring so that I don’t have to bend over.

How accurate are your liquid measuring cups?

Chances are, your liquid measuring cups are not very accurate.  We gathered up about a dozen measuring cups and started weighing water.  Holy cow!  Most of them were way off, up to 20%.

Some time ago we did this exercise.  The Anchor Hocking two cup glass measure is dead on at two cups but not at one cup.  The Pyrex one cup glass measure is dead on at one cup.  Those are the only two liquid measuring cups that we use.

How accurate are your dry measuring cups?

That’s the wrong question.  Dry ingredients compress, so there is no way to reliably measure most dry ingredients accurately.  If you open a bag of flour and scoop out a cup of flour, chances are it will be at least 20% heavier than freshly sifted flour.  Flour is compacted in the bag, and when you scoop it that tends to compact it more.  Your cup of flour will weigh 5 to 5 ½ ounces.  Yet one of my text books states that a cup of flour weighs 4 ounces.  To get that little flour in a cup, you will have to whisk it or sift it to break it up and incorporate some air.

When we open a bag of flour, we routinely pour it into a large canister for use and whisk it to break it up and make it lighter.  When we do that, the flour tends to weigh at about 5 ounces per cup.

Why you need a scale

We nearly always use a scale for flour when we’re doing serious baking.  Baking is a science, and precision is important.  It takes a scale to be precise and consistent.

You’ll be surprised how often you use a scale.  The other day we were making frostings from a recipe, but they were consistently coming out too dry.  We grabbed a scale and found we weren’t using enough water.  The powdered sugar was compacting in the measuring cup.  So we had too little water and too much powdered sugar.

No wonder the frosting was dry.

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