THE IMPORTANCE OF MEASURING
When we talk about the importance of measuring ingredients, we’re actually talking about the importance of measuring ingredients when you bake. Cooking is much more forgiving than baking. Soup too salty? You can fix it. Curry too spicy? You can fix that, too. But if your bread doesn’t rise or your cake is gummy in the middle, these problems are not easily fixed, if at all. Taking the time to measure ingredients carefully gives consistency to your baking recipes. Here are five tips to help you measure accurately.
Use a Kitchen Scale
For whatever reason, using a scale hasn’t really caught on in North America the way it has in other parts of the world. A dry measuring cup of all-purpose flour can range between 120 grams and 170 grams in weight depending on how it’s measured. (If you own a scale, try it for yourself.) Kitchen scales allow you to weigh ingredients to the gram. Using a scale ensures accuracy and consistency. And because everything is measured directly into the mixing bowl, it also means fewer dishes to wash.
The Best Way to Measure a Cup of Flour without a Scale
If you’re using dry measuring cups, here’s the best way to measure flour. Gently stir the flour with a spoon to aerate it a bit. With your measuring cup in hand, reach into the flour and scoop it up so that the cup is overflowing. Sweep the flat side of a butter knife (or another flat utensil) across the top of the measuring cup to level the flour.
Using this method keeps the flour loosely compacted in the measuring cup, rather than it being packed too tightly. Too much flour in recipes can lead to dry, tough baked goods, and nobody wants that.
Levelling doesn’t apply only to dry cups of flour. When measuring a tablespoon of a dry ingredient such as baking powder, make sure the ingredient is level to the top edge of the measuring spoon. (Use the butter knife sweeping method mentioned above.) When measuring wet ingredients such as vanilla, milk, oil or water, use a jug-style liquid measuring cup set on a flat level surface before pouring.
Measuring Standards Can Be Location Dependent
If you look at North American cookbooks or online recipes, one measured cup of liquid ranges between 236 millilitres (Imperial, United States) to 250 millilitres (metric, Canada). These days, many recipes list millilitres alongside the cup measurements. If you’re unsure as to which kind of measuring cup you own (Imperial or metric), default to the millilitre measurement listed in the recipe. The same goes for dry-cup measures. If you don’t know whether your dry measuring cups are Imperial or metric, use a kitchen scale and go by the listed weight (grams) instead.
Try the Concept of Mise en Place
Mise en place is a French term often used in restaurant kitchens. It translates to “setting up”; however, some people loosely translate it to “everything in its place”. Basically, it’s a method professional chefs use to set up their kitchen stations before opening for service.
If you’ve ever watched a cooking show, you’ve probably seen the host making a recipe using pre-measured ingredients that are usually laid out in an assortment of small bowls and dishes. Having all of the ingredients ready to go in this manner is an example of mise en place. It takes a bit more time and adds a few more dishes to wash; however, pre-measuring the ingredients before you begin reduces the chance of forgotten or incorrectly measured ingredients.
In home kitchens, mise en place should also include a thorough review of the recipe before you begin. This is done both to confirm the list of ingredients, and to fully understand the progression of instructions.
Some say baking is a science – a chemical experiment, if you will. Keeping the above tips in mind can’t guarantee success in your baking efforts, but it certainly can help avoid disasters.
Text and photos by Kelly Neil
Kelly Neil is a food photographer and blog publisher living and working in her home town of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. See more of her work at kellyneil.com.