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Question about measuring flour...

l
laylag May 11, 2007 07:02 AM

I just read something about measuring flour and they advised something I do not do. I'd like to hear what you chowhound cooks, particularly the bakers, do and advise.

The article said to weigh flour not use cup measures but I don't actually have a food scale. Is there much difference? Most recipes I have don't have flour weights so if I bought a scale would 1 cup of flour be 8oz on the scale?

It also said to always sift flour before measuring. I do not do this. I measure then sift. Thoughts?

It then advised to spoon the sifted flour into the measuring cup and fill it loosely - do not pack it down. I've always filled it solidly and skimmed the top of a well packed measuring cup. Is this bad/wrong?

In sum, I'm becoming a pretty decent baker (more of a cook) and have been following scratch cake recipes with success. Should I change to the above instructions? Will my results be significantly different - ie, lighter, fluffier? What?

Thanks!

  1. flourgirl May 11, 2007 11:20 AM

    I do have a scale, and I know that weighing is more accurate then spooning/sweeping. But I have a few hundred baking books, and very few of them include weight measurements.

    My feeling on this is while it is true that weighing is the more accurate method of measuring flour, my experience has been that this is much less of an issue for the small amounts called for in recipes written for home bakers. Weighing becomes a much more important issue when preparing the large scale recipes that professionals usually use.

    That said, I always aerate the flour in the cannister with a wire whisk before measuring. I check to see if the author of the recipe specifies a measuring technique. If not, than I use my fall back method which is to spoon the flour into the cup and use a dough scraper to level it off.

    1. k
      Kelli2006 May 11, 2007 10:40 AM

      Laylag,
      A scale is very nice to have but unless you bake a lot of light baked goods you can get very good results with proper technique. I have baked professionally in the past and still do wedding cakes and help a friend with her catering business.
      I have a inexpensive ($30) Salton scale at home, and I use it about 75% of the time when I bake. Granted, I don't use recipes many times because I know the recipe by heart, but the key to proper baking is about fastidious, almost anal retentive. technique.

      1 cup is almost always 125 grams (I love metric). This is a gold standard in baking, it is the same as 1 pint of water based liquids is a pound.

      Recipes will usually tell you to sift before or after measuring and that should always be followed. Sifting before you measure will usually result in a smaller amount.

      DO NOT pack flour into the cup. I tend to use the scoop and sweep method or I fill the cup from above with a large scoop, but NEVER pack flour into the cup as you would brown sugar. You will add between 1-2 Tbl per cup by packing it in.

      Laylag, if you are serious about improving you baking skills, I would suggest that you read "Cookwise" by Shirley Coohier (she has a "Bakewise" book coming out in late summer that will be mandatory reading)

      I love Bo Freiberg's baking tome, but $60 might be a bit steep for most people. You can find in cheaper used and many large library have a copy.

      Harold McGee's book on food science is also time well spent.

      Nick Malgheris baking book is very good and will not intimidate anyone.

      Both of the King Arthur's baking books have fantastic recipes, and those books are a gold standard in any good baking repertoire.

      Rose Levy Bearnbaums books are quite good and she is fastidious on proper technique.

      If you have a scientific/technical background , "Cooking For Engineers" might be a good read. My daughter had problems learning how to cook, but those books struck a chord with her. She is studying civil engineering with plans to study architecture in grad school.

      I was taught by my maternal grandparents, who had a bakery in Alcaase France, and I also learned from a neighbor lady who took me in as a apprentice. They both were very picky about proper technique and I doubt my knuckles will never be the same because of it.

      Baking is about chemistry and proper technique is critical for success. I still don't expect the recipes to turn out right the first time but proper technique and ingredients will go a long way to insure consistency.

      1. j
        jwn May 11, 2007 09:25 AM

        i took a baking class once and the instructor advised that we take a scoopful of flour, NEVER shaking it (so that none of the flour settles in, leaving it aerated, not packed). then we were advised to take an index finger and level the top of the cup. then sift it.

        1. a
          AnnaEA May 11, 2007 09:23 AM

          I scoop and level for most of my baking -- in breads, there's leeway once you know how your dough is supposed to feel.

          When I am cake baking, especially if I am making a birthday or special occasion cake, I weigh my ingredients. I find that my cakes come out lighter and better texture when I am careful about the measuring.

          If you bought a scale, one cup of flour should weigh about 4 oz (I don't get into fractional oz, but you can if you like - Lixer covered that). A neat experiment to do is to try measuring a cup of flour the various ways, and then weighing it to see how much it weighs --- we did this at a KA baker's class I took years ago, and 1 cup as measured by the different students weighed anywhere from 3 to five ounces.

          The reason this is important is water. Flour absorbs and releases water as it sits around the kitchen, and that differing degree of moisture/dryness can affect how baked goods come out -- particularly delicate things likes cakes. 4 oz of flour is always 4 oz of flour, but one cup of flour might be dry (3 oz) one day and need more hydration, or wet ( 4.5 oz) another day and need less.

          Now, for most around the house daily baking -- I don't bother. The occasional less then flaky pie crust or tough cake doesn't bother me.

          EDIT: I pulled out my tome o baking to read up on this, and it gives the standard of flour weight as 4.5 oz per cup -- this is not what I learned, nor what I use in my personal baking, but it's still best to be precise. The above paragraphs reflect my personal kitchen standard and experience.

          1. b
            bakergal May 11, 2007 08:39 AM

            I always weigh flour, and I resent recipes that don't give flour in weights. }:-[

            It's very important to know how the cookbook author weighs flour. The difference between King Arthur Flour's method and Ina Garten's could make for a baking disaster, lol. If the author doesn't say, then email the publisher. I do that all the time, and have always gotten a nice reply. If enough people do it, maybe the editors will catch on. I've also sent requests to Gourmet and Sunset to please include weights. You can see how successful I've been! In Europe, weights are always given, even in magazines, so I don't know what the problem is.

            If you want consistency in baking, weighing is the answer. And with a tare function on your scale, you'll save a whole lot of time. Okay, thanks for letting me rant. Afraid I've had a little too much coffee already today, lol!

            1. l
              Lixer May 11, 2007 07:54 AM

              Actually, 1 cup of all purpose flour should weigh about 4 3/8 oz or 125 grams. Different types of flour will have different weights as well.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Lixer
                chowser May 11, 2007 08:28 AM

                What would you do if the recipe called for 2 cups of flour and you were using half white and half whole wheat? Would you use 250 grams of flour, which would be less than two cups or 125 grams of white and less of the whole wheat to make it one cup? Or, is that being too picky, though, when I make bread, I can use 8 cups of flour so that can make a big difference.

                1. re: chowser
                  a
                  AnnaEA May 11, 2007 09:31 AM

                  I don't usually worry about the weight differences between types of wheat flours - a quick look at the weight chart in my BBA shows that the variation is about a quarter of an ounce between white and whole wheat flour.

                  When I want to adapt a recipe that is measured to weighed, I start with the presumption that if the recipes calls for one cup of flour, I should use 4 oz, and then work from there. It usually works pretty well, though I've encountered a few recipes where I ended up need rather more or rather less flour --- probably due to the kinds of differences in weight that can accrue when you measure different ways.

                2. re: Lixer
                  yayadave May 11, 2007 09:59 AM

                  I think that's really the problem here. I don't think there is any universally excepted standard. If there were, we could just convert cups to grams and be on our way. If you look at the introductions to baking books where each author tells you what their standards are, some dip, some spoon, some sift before, some sift after, and some don't bother. Where did you get your "should"? If you're saying that "should" be the standard, I'm all for it. I'm not trying to get on your back, I'm just pointing out what I think is the real problem.

                  1. re: yayadave
                    a
                    AnnaEA May 11, 2007 11:00 AM

                    I think it depends on what you mean when you talk about "universal standard". The US is really the odd man out when it comes to measuring stuff -- we use a fairly old fashioned volume measurement system which doesn't convert easily from measure to measure internally, much less across systems.

                    Now, if you turn to commercial baking in the US, you will find a universal standard -- weight. It's consistent and reliable, and it allows for easy changing of recipes up or down in quantity (assuming chemistry allows - cakes get tricky).

                    Talking about cups to grams is just off base though -- cups are volume, grams are mass and there is no direct conversion because things have different densities.

                    The problem with flour is that it's a powder, and that it makes it real easy to compact in a volume measure. That's why cookbook authors who use volume measurements are so thorough in telling you how to measure - because volume measurement isn't real accurate for powders.

                    Now where the common conversion of 1 C of flour = 4.5 oz = 125 grams came from, I'm not really sure..... but it is the common conversion, and also about as close to a "universal standard" as your going to get.

                3. lupaglupa May 11, 2007 07:14 AM

                  I think people get way too nuts about this, but then I don't aim for perfect, just tasty. I scoop with a half cup measure and never use a knife to even the top (horrors!). I never sift - before or after measuring - just whisk the flour with the leavening in the bowl.

                  Yes, if your flour is weighed (assuming you are using a recipe which gives you weights instead of volume measures - it would be hard to convert) you will get a more accurate amount than using a cup measure. But having the perfect amount of flour is only one factor in a recipe. Fixing that won't fix everything. Each time you bake there are so many variables to figure in (percentage of butter fat in the butter, oven temperature, ambient room temperature, age of eggs, age of baking soda or powder etc. etc.) that you always have something 'off.' Just do your best and enjoy the results!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: lupaglupa
                    b
                    Buckethead May 11, 2007 07:30 AM

                    That doesn't make much sense. It's true that accurate measurement is not the only factor in successful baking, but it's a big factor, and one that you can control. If you can measure things more accurately, why not do so? This is especially true for things like flour, which can vary so much in volume. I wish every recipe had the ingredients listed by weight as well as volume.

                    1. re: Buckethead
                      n
                      nyfoodjoe May 11, 2007 07:36 AM

                      I invested in a small digital scale and weigh it whenever possible....it is the only way to go. Many recipes do not give weight measures, so I follow the advice given in the above posts about measuring flour. Scale comes in handy for measuring chocolate, nuts and stuff like that that are costly.

                      1. re: Buckethead
                        l
                        laylag May 11, 2007 07:37 AM

                        Buckethead, I'd greatly appreciate your opinion on my OP. Aside from measuring, if one doesn't have a scale, what do you think about the other issues.

                        1. re: laylag
                          b
                          Buckethead May 11, 2007 08:34 AM

                          I'd think about getting a digital scale, they're really essential for baking. The actual amount of flour in a cup of flour can vary tremendously depending on how compacted the flour is in the container, your measuring method, the type of flour, etc. Weighing it removes any uncertainty.

                          Cook's Illustrated tested sifting vs. not sifting flour and found that a cup of sifted cake flour weighs 25% less than a cup of unsifted cake flour. So if the recipe calls for sifted flour and you don't sift it, you're using 25% more flour than the recipe calls for! That will result in a cake that's much more dry than it should be. I usually follow MMRuth's guideline for sifting and measuring (do it in the order the recipe calls for), though measuring by weight eliminates this problem too since 400 grams of flour weighs the same whether it's sifted or not. I usually 'sift' with a whisk, like lupaglupa does.

                    2. MMRuth May 11, 2007 07:07 AM

                      I have also read that it is better to weigh the flour, but unless a recipe specifically calls for me to do so, I don't.

                      When I sift is a function of what the recipes says - sometimes it says "1 cup sifted flour" while other times it calls for "1 cup flour, sifted."

                      I don't nec. spoon the flour into the cup, but certainly I think you should not fill it solidly in a well packed measuring cup - you'll have more flour than is actually called for - so I think you would get even better results!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: MMRuth
                        ChefJune May 11, 2007 07:41 AM

                        Measuring flour correctly is an important step in successful baking! and it's just as easy to do it the right way and ensure great results. Scoop the flour with a cup or scoop and drop it into the cup. I also was taught to aerate the flour in the canister before scooping. It's important to use the flat side of a knife to even off the top of the cup.

                        I don't understand why anyone would want to bake haphazardly. What's the point?

                        1. re: ChefJune
                          chowser May 11, 2007 08:26 AM

                          This is what I do, too. Rather than dropping flour from a scoop to a cup, I hold the measuring cup in the constainer above the flour and roll the cannister so the flour fills it, then I use the flat edge of the knife to flatten. I don't sift but I do whisk the dry ingredients together. I'm seriously considering buying a scale.

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