How to correctly measure a cup of flour (video)

I’m a big baking fan. I like cooking overall, but I love baking.

Chocolate chip cookies are my fav (I use King Arthur’s recipe, it’s to die for – though I add half white-whole-wheat flour, and no one’s the wiser), though I also love gluten-free brownies (my friend David Lebovitz’s recipe), and pumpkin bread (Cook’s recipe, though I replace a good deal of the oil with unsweetened apple sauce, and it’s just as good – I also add chocolate chips to one loaf, and use 100% white-whole-wheat flour, no one can tell).

What I’ve known for a while, but never really practiced, is that the way people typically measure a cup of flour tends to add 20% extra flour to the recipe.

20%.

That’s a lot of extra flour.

If you’re like me, you tend to measure flour by just sticking the measuring cup into the flour, dragging it through, lifting it up, and then slicing it level with a knife.

WRONG.

how-to-measure-a-cup-of-flourYou’re supposed to fluff the flour first, then spoon it into the measuring cup, then level it flat.  The difference?  Doing it the correct way yields around 4.25 ounces. Doing it the wrong way yields around 5.1 ounces of flour.  That’s 20% too much.

And actually, what you’re REALLY supposed to do is simply weigh the flour until you get 4.25 ounces.  But if you can’t weigh it, at least fluff and fill.

Of course, as others have noted in the comments, you’re in a bit of a pickle if you don’t know how the person who wrote the recipe measure their flour.

Here’s a video showing you how to do it, and proving the weight differential:


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I found my solid marble mortar and pestle online. It was quite inexpensive, and it looks good in the kitchen.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    No, but it sounds like a good idea.

  • Clevelandchick

    Love my nutmeg grater, such a huge difference in flavor and you can use a little less. Got mine at Willimans & Sonoma.

  • Clevelandchick

    Exactly.

  • Clevelandchick

    I like Martha Stewart’s icebox cookie recipe for sugar cookies, there is a variety of options for flavoring – chocolate, spice, citrus, etc. I’m not a fan of rolling them out and doing cut outs (if you’re in it for the taste/texture and not the look). I make 2″ diameter logs and cut them so they’re more uniform in size for baking and then decorate with fun sugars…used beautiful silver and gold large sugar crystals for the holidays.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I tend to pack it in all the way.

  • Zorba

    I was lucky enough to visit their location in Grand Central Station, NYC, before it closed a couple of years ago. While I appreciate shopping online, there is nothing like actually going to their store, looking at everything, and talking to the staff. I bought a lot of herbs and spices then that I would never have even thought about, and some I didn’t know about to even search for online.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Saffenburger chocolate!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    good tip!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    And, the Penzy’s recipes with stories attached!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    You can get great value by going to Japan town and buying a mitate,—–sesame grinding bowl and mortar—- very good quality and reasonably priced compared to fancy dancy gourmet shops.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    And it helps to have a translator on hand to understand her cornponisms.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Only after she tried to re-fry herself.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    bingo!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    What? You Mattel oven doesn’t accept it.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Ever dust then while drying with fine grained Maple sugar?

  • Jim

    How hard do you pack it in? I mean the sugar into the cup!! There can be a big difference ther also!

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    I’m willing to bet there’s more at work than a naïve consideration of gluten content might suggest. Possibly a mix of the two flours gives a different and superior texture than merely using a single, medium-gluten flour.

  • Clevelandchick

    Well, I would think Jacques Torres knows a little more about baking than your sour puss arse.

  • Clevelandchick

    Well, I lightly dip it and the cookies spread out to be 5-6″ across, the dark chocolate and the salt is a yummy combo.

  • RobNYNY1957

    That’s not a recipe, it’s an advertisement.
    Mixing cake flour (low gluten) and bread flour (high gluten) is idiotic.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I’ll give away my secrets. Get the Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book and use the recipe for Ethel’s Sugar Cookies. The dough really needs to set in the refrigerator overnight or longer. Since the cookies need to be rolled very thin, use a rolling pin cover and a pastry cloth. Watch them very closely as they bake.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yep I got a kitchen scale a few years ago, that and a real digital meat etc thermometer have been indispensable.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Oh that’s a good idea – it’s not too much salt?

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That is a good question – those are good.

  • Rujax

    Anybody have a great sugar cookie recipe?

  • dave3137

    Duh, you ALWAYS sift first if you actually want accurate measurements. You asked “who knew?” but that’s always seemed pretty obvious to me. (Of course, I learned from good sources…. and STILL have the best recipe for fried green tomatoes!! Fanny Flagg, eat your heart out!)

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    You might try buying a cheap mortar and pestle. Put in the ground spices in and mash away. It gives them new zing.

  • Clevelandchick

    We have an import store at our city market where I can pick up Callebaut feves, so I didn’t have to order the feves from JT, but I can’t stress enough how key they were over chips. And I used my stand mixer for every step, even adding the feves…it whined a bit at the end because that dough is thick but it was much less strenuous than mixing in by hand.

  • Clevelandchick

    Yes, forgot about the sea salt as another key step (though it is in the recipe), I place some Maldon in a bowl and dip the cookie before I place it on the sheet.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I think you’re correct about that.

  • Zorba

    I love Penzeys!

  • Zorba

    Yes, whisking does fluff the flour up, and also does well at mixing in the dry ingredients.
    And you are absolutely correct about freshly grated nutmeg. There is a world of difference between the abominable pre-ground type and the freshly grated.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    But I’m pretty sure you’re always supposed to “pack” brown sugar in the cup, no?

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Oh you didn’t mention the salt. With the king arthur recipe, probably that one too, you sprinkle the raw dough with sea salt – the big crusty kind – before it goes into the oven. Am pretty sure the cookie is intentionally under-salted, adds a wonderful flavor. King Arthur adds 1/4 t almond extract, you can even add a tad less – it’s a surprisingly nice addition, the flavor of the extract is far less intense once the dough does the 36 hours in the fridge.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    The King Arthur recipe is based on his, and yes, fridge time helps as does the french sea salt.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Yes! Anise and semolina!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Thank you! I got so hungry I almost ate the keyboard. :-)

  • http://thebrainpolice.blogspot.com microdot

    I’m getting there with the pizza dough…I start it in the morning and it’s ready around dinner time in the evening. I use semolina to”finish” it. My boyhood friend who lived on the corner by the pizza place I waxed nostalgic about had 2 pizza carry out places in Detroit when he got older. Pizza Boy #1 and #2…I use his sauce recipe….he flavored his sauce with anise.

  • Clevelandchick

    I’ve always measured flour that way, that’s how my grandma taught me.

    But, FYI. The BEST chocolate cookies on the planet are the Jacque Torres cookies. There is no better cookie. Period.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/09/dining/091crex.html?_r=0

    Three key steps.

    Let the dough sit in the fridge for at least 24 hrs, 36 is best so the butter can absorb a lot of the flour.

    Use the feves (round flat disks)…not chips, they create layers of chocolate inside the cookie giving the perfect chocolate to cookie ratio.

    Make them BIG, use an ice cream scooper, no more than 6 cookies a sheet. Any smaller and they’ll be hard.

    You will be rewarded with cookies that basically carmelize in the center…crisp on the outside soft but not chewy in the middle.

    Once I made these and made them right? I will never ever use another recipe.

  • tomtallis

    Sorry, but once you said to fluff the flower, I couldn’t pay attention to the subject at hand any more.

  • AdmNaismith

    Her son’s show, ‘Not My Mama’s Meals’ re-engineers her recipes to be lighter and healthier. Kind of a neat trick to get a whole new show out of refuting previous 10 years of cooking television.

    Not to be confused with ‘Whatever Martha’ where Martha Stewart’s daughter Alexis MST3Ks clips of Martha Stewart.

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    I wouldn’t be surprised. Isn’t (or wasn’t) Paula Deen’s whole gimmick that gourmet cooking is for chumps? She seems almost proud of not knowing how to cook and half her recipes use processed crap out of boxes and cans.

  • nicho

    If you’re putting in a pound of butter, it doesn’t matter how you measure the flour.

  • theophrastvs

    Using your scale give those foolish volumetricals (among us) the variance you can achieve with the same weight unfluffed versus fluffed. i have confidence that you can put that stated 20% to shame. remember: this is for science (so fluff as if one’s life depends upon it)

  • bejammin075

    There’s much more variability in measuring a cup of brown sugar, depending on how much you pack it into the measuring cup. It seems much more compressible than flour.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Oh dear god, she did?

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That’s similar to David Lebovitz’s recipe, but he uses real chocolate and not cocoa (I’m a big fan of real chocolate, so to speak, bars), and he uses just a touch of corn starch instead of flour.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yes, with yeast breads I now know how the bread should “feel”. With other recipes, less so.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I do love my white whole wheat flour, but it’s still very recipe specific as to how well the taste of “wheat” will be hidden. In pumpkin bread, you literally can’t taste the wheat at all. In white bread, you can , I find, if you use half white whole wheat, it’s just enough to taste it. But still, it tastes much less like whole wheat then regular whole wheat flour. Also, you have to use a bit less flour, or a bit more liquid, when replacing regular flour with whole wheat. I was also VERY surprised that using half white whole wheat in my choco chip coookie recipe was imperceptible from just using white.

  • BlueIdaho

    I don’t know. I stopped watching her the day she made bacon-wrapped deep-fried mac and cheese.

  • DonewithDems

    I thought everyone knew how to measure flour correctly! My mother and grandmother taught me that when I was very little. It does explain why some peoples cakes and cookies are so dry.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yep, bought some whole nutmeg a while back, and a grinder, and use it all the time – it’s wonderful, and lasts forever.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Didn’t she clean up her act following some health problem?

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Or home made Vermont Maple syrup B-grade!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Real pizza, like those thin crispy, potato and onion creations of Northern Italy! I drool just remembering them! Pizza and BBQ are two of the better things about Detroit as I recall.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    You can get them for Williams Sonoma, but they are precious expensive. Restaurant suppliers are a better deal.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    A well bread and flouring chef to my mind!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Get a Penzeys catalog ( Online or nearby store). Their products are excellent. It’s amazing how off-spices can affect one. Old cinnamon smells like unkempt old ladies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1526664170 Sara Orel

    A plane grater like you use for lemon rind would work for most of the larger spices (cinnamon and nutmeg) or a coffee grinder just for spices. I have a second coffee grinder I got when it sounded like the one I had since grad school (22 years ago) was giving up the ghost. It hasn’t yet and it has been six years. So I finally gave up last year and took to using the replacement one for spices occasionally. I usually use spices from Penzey’s though, and don’t grind my own (except for nutmeg, which, as you say, tends to taste like funky dirt).

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Say no more—-Zabar’s is my Mecca.

  • BlueIdaho

    I’ve never observed Paula Deen going to these lengths to measure flour, but then I don’t really care for her deep South cooking. :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    My appreciation of nutmeg has been largely ruined by grotty pre-ground stuff. Normally I roll my eyes a bit when cooks (Alton Brown is a particular offender) insist that every spice you ever use must be ground from fresh, whole materials. It’s expensive, I don’t have room for multiple grinders dedicated just to spices, and the quality of pre-ground spices isn’t all that bad for most things. Cheap ground nutmeg, however, has a way of tasting and smelling like dirt.

  • emjayay

    Older cookbooks will tell you to sift flour before measuring. No need to sift unless there are bugs in your flour or something. You can just stir it around with a wire whisk if you want to be sure it’s not compacted, which they didn’t bother to do in the video. Also use the wire whisk or something like that to get the baking powder and salt or whatever dry ingredients are in there well mixed in after they are added to the flour. And use freshly grated nutmeg not preground ever. But you all knew all that already also if your idea of cooking goes beyond slice and bake.

  • emjayay

    In case anyone is wondering, “white whole wheat” flour is available at Trader Joe’s and I suppose other places. Natural food stores may have whole wheat pastry flour and whole wheat bread flour. The pastry flour is a harder wheat and doesn’t develop gluten so much as the softer wheat in bread flour. You can also substitute half or all whole wheat pastry flour for white all purpose flour. But maybe you already knew all that.

    That was all off the top of my head without the benefit of actually looking anything up. Caveat emptor.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Flour is forgiving, lots of other ingredients are not. I find it easier just to weigh everything.

    Eggs can be quite a challenge, they can vary in size quite a bit. Especially from country to country.

    Brick oven pizza was likely cooked on a wood fire and you will find getting the same heat from an electric oven quite a challenge. The big problem being that you lose a lot of heat when you open the oven door. I have a large slab of aluminum an inch thick that I use to provide a thermal ballast. I get that up to temperature and then cook the pizza on in.

    You can also use pizza stones but they are not quite the same.

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    I use a cheap digital postal scale. Both metric and imperial and it has a large capacity so I can just throw a heavy bowl on top, tare the scale and then dump in the ingredient without fear of overloading.

  • http://thebrainpolice.blogspot.com microdot

    I work with flour by feel. In bread making and pastry, amounts can vary…there are so many factors, but usually all recipes are forgiving. You can err by a few grams…Use a digital scale with a tare weight setting if you need the reassurance. I have to admit, I have a lifetime of working with pastry and bread, so it is almost instinctual. But a little experience goes a long way if you are paying attention. I have been trying to recreate the pizza dough of my fantasies for years ( based on the little hole in wall brick oven pizzeria on Kentfield and Schoolcraft in Detroit when I was 14) ….I am getting close. Time has become the most important factor….

  • pappyvet

    You’ve got to stop this John ! My goodie factor is about warp 10.

  • MyrddinWilt

    It isn’t as simple as that.

    If you are using a recipe written by someone who just scooped and leveled then fluffing will give you 5/6ths of what you need.

    Which is why serious cooks measure everything by weight. I have been finding getting a proper weighing scale difficult in the US. The first one I got I had to import from the UK, then I was using a postal scale for a while. But I just got a proper scale designed for baking for $20 from Costco. It does the funky US measures as well as grams and kilos.

  • http://www.facebook.com/monoceros.forth Monoceros Forth

    I admit, I’ve never taken too much trouble over getting the amount of flour exactly right, which might explain some of my failures and variable results especially when making cookies. But in making breads, for example, which is most of the baking I do, you can get away with being sloppy because you’ll be titrating in flour in small amounts until the texture of the dough is correct.

  • S1AMER

    Those of us who ever learned anything about baking (especially) and cooking (I learned this stuff back in the 1950s) found this to be one of the first lessons we learned … right after learning how many different kinds of flour there are.

  • Crazy8

    i agree, a good scale is worth it’s weight in chocolate.

  • http://twitter.com/MetroIssuesLou Metro Issues :: Lou

    It depends on who wrote the recipe and how they measured when creating it.

  • Constant Comment
  • CrankyObserver

    The best, easiest, and fastest way to measure a cup of flour is to use a scale (145 grams).

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