Following a recipe to the letter can bring you from raw ingredients to a delicious, perfectly-balanced final product–but only as long as you’re measuring ingredients properly. Adding a bit too much flour can keep your bread from rising. Adding too little fat can make your roast dry. Proper measurement begins with the proper tools, and you’ll need to use those tools as they were designed.
Measuring Cup Basics
The measuring cup was designed to measure dry ingredients, such as flour, cornmeal, sugar or rice. Measuring cups typically come in sets that consist of 1-cup, 1/2-cup, 1/4-cup and 1/8-cup measurements. Measuring cups measure the volume of ingredients, not the weight of those ingredients. To measure dry ingredients, follow these steps:
- Determine how much of the ingredient you need and choose the proper measuring cup.
- Fill the cup heaping spoonful by spoonful. Brown sugar should be firmly packed into the cups. Do not shake or tamp down any other ingredients–they should be loosely packed.
- Level the top of the cup with a knife to remove excess.
Sifting ingredients removes clumps and loosens texture to ensure an even measurement. If your recipe calls for sifted ingredients, your measurement must be adjusted slightly. Sift the ingredient onto a plate or into a bowl, and heap your measuring cup from the sifted pile of ingredients. Once again, do not tamp down the ingredients.
Measuring cups can also be used to measure fats, such as peanut butter, lard and margarine. Fats are measured in a similar way to dry ingredients; use a spoon to fill the measuring cup and level the measurement with a knife. As these ingredients tend to stick, be sure to remove as much as possible from the cup.
Thick liquids such as honey, molasses and syrup can be measured properly in measuring cups, rather than in liquid measuring cups. Thick liquids can be measured in the same way as fats and dry ingredients are measured; tip the cup upside-down over your mixing bowl for several minutes to empty the cup of sticky ingredients (you can also use a small spatula to clean the sides of the measuring cup).
Measuring Ingredients with Spoons
Measuring spoons are not the same as the spoons you use to set the table. Measuring spoons are designed to measure a precise, small amount of dry ingredients. As with measuring cups, measuring spoons typically come in sets of four, containing 1-tablespoon, 1-teaspoon, 1/2-teaspoon and 1/4-teaspoon measurements. (Some sets contain a 1/8-teaspoon measurement, as well.)
Once again, measuring spoons are measuring volume, not weight. Since the amounts you’re measuring are often small, you can pour ingredients into the spoon or dip the spoon into the ingredient to fill. Use a knife to remove excess. A few tips on using measuring spoons:
- If your recipe calls for a “pinch” of an ingredient, no measuring spoon is required. Use only a scant amount of the ingredient, just enough to pinch between your fingers.
- If your recipe calls for a “heaping” measurement, allow the ingredient to fill the spoon and do not use a knife to remove excess.
- A “T” listed in a recipe stands for “tablespoon” (also abbreviated “Tbsp”). A lowercase “t” stands for “teaspoon” (or “tsp”). Read measurements closely as you follow a recipe–it’s easier than you think to mistake the two if you’re skimming the page.
Liquid Measuring Cups
A liquid measuring cup takes a measurement of the volume of the liquid. This can sometimes be confusing: If your recipe calls for eight ounces of chocolate, you may be tempted to look at your liquid measuring cup and determine that eight ounces of chocolate equals one cup. In fact, one cup of chocolate weighs 10 ounces. Don’t be tempted to use your liquid measuring cup to help you convert volume to weight. Use your liquid measuring cup only to measure the volume of a liquid. Liquid measuring cups are typically made of glass or plastic, with measurements marked along the side for easy viewing.
To measure liquids in a liquid measuring cup, pour the liquid into the cup while it is sitting on a level surface. Bend down so your eyes are level with the measuring cup to ensure that the liquid comes to the proper measurement. Do not pick the cup up to determine the fluid level, as you may inadvertently tilt the cup and take an improper measurement.
Using a Scale to Measure Weight
If a recipe requires you to measure ingredients by weight rather than by volume, you must use a scale. Many cookbooks published outside the U.S. use weight rather than volume for measuring ingredients. Weight measurements are often more accurate than volume measurements (this degree of accuracy is particularly important if you are baking something from scratch). For example, a cup of flour can shift in weight depending on the type of flour used and how much humidity the flour has absorbed.
Choose a scale that displays weights in both English and metric measurements. This will allow you to use any cookbook easily without resorting to conversion tools.
If you do not have a scale, this list of common ingredients and their approximate weights may help:
- 1 cup flour weighs about 4 ounces.
- 1 cup granulated sugar weighs about 8 ounces.
- 1 cup butter weighs about 9 ounces.
- 1 cup cheese weighs about 3 3/4 ounces.
- 1 cup dried beans weighs about 7 ounces.
- 1 cup milk weighs about 8 1/4 ounces.
When using metric-based cookbooks, you will be required to change the measurement to weight rather than volume, and then convert the metric measurement to the standard counterpart. For new cooks, this can be a time-consuming and difficult process and leaves you open to measurement errors that can ruin the easiest recipe. It’s best to skip the math and purchase a metric scale to use for all of your measurements if you need to weigh ingredients with a great deal of accuracy.
At times, you may be required to double or reduce the size of a recipe. Knowing measurement conversions can make this easy and keep you from making mistakes that can ruin your meal. Simple measurement conversions are as follows:
- 3 teaspoons are equal to 1 tablespoon.
- 16 tablespoons are equal to 1 cup.
- 2 cups are equal to 1 pint.
- 2 pints are equal to 1 quart.
- 4 quarts are equal to 1 gallon.