Why a Ruler Belongs in Your Kitchen

April 28, 2014

Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Alice tells us just how much rulers rule when it comes to baking.

Why a Ruler Belongs in Your Kitchen from Food52

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Do you get fewer cookies than the recipe says you will? Do you wonder why cookies take longer to bake, or why they come out tougher than you expected? Are your cakes and brownies thinner than they are in the cookbook photo and drier than they should be?

I keep a ruler in my kitchen to avoid these problems, and I think everyone should do the same. Mine happens to be plastic (thus washable), 18 inches long, and with a grid printed on it. I bought it in an art supply store and I keep in my utensil crock. I also have a 6-inch metal bench scraper that's marked like a ruler. When a recipe directs me to slice cookie dough 1/4-inch thick, or roll pastry 1/8-inch thick, or bake something in an 8-inch pan, I measure first. When I create recipes for publication, I measure what I do so I can communicate to my readers. I don’t guess about the measurement any more than I would guess about how long it takes to bake a particular cake.

Why a Ruler Belongs in Your Kitchen from Food52

Too finicky? I don't think so.

Cookies sliced 1/2-inch thick from a log of dough instead of 1/4-inch thick take longer to bake and may have a completely different texture than was intended. Depending on the type of cookie, they might turn out hard and tough instead of delicately crispy and tender. And you might think it's just a bad recipe!

It may seem like a 9-inch cake pan is close enough to an 8-inch pan to substitute one for the other. But the former is more than 25% bigger. If you use it instead of the 8-inch pan, your cake or brownies will be considerably thinner than you expect, and probably over-baked and dry by the time you check for doneness.

These are just a few of the multitude of details that make baking so very fascinating to me. Every detail makes some kind of difference! If you want to taste the cookie, pastry, cake, or brownie that the creator (and I mean the chef, not God!) intended, measurements can help you achieve that goal.

Alice's new book, Seriously Bitter Sweet, is a complete revision of her IACP award-winning Bittersweet, updated for the 54%, 61%, and 72% (and beyond) bars available today. It's packed with tricks, techniques, and answers to every chocolate question, plus 150 seriously delicious recipes -- both savory and sweet. 


Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • arcane54
  • Mr_Vittles
  • Uncle Jess
    Uncle Jess
  • Gibson2011
  • BakerRB
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


arcane54 April 29, 2014
I often use my kitchen ruler. What I'm challenged by is measuring thickness as in rolling out dough. I haven't quite figured that one out... any suggestions?
BakerRB April 29, 2014
Craft stores sell square or rectangular cross section balsa/bass wood sticks in various thicknesses. The long sticks can be cut down into a couple shorter lengths to act as guides when rolling.
Mr_Vittles April 29, 2014
I probably will never use a ruler simply because I never have on on hand in kitchen. Generally, cutting things in halves until I get the number I want or using a disher works fine. I can't really think of the last time my food was worse because I did not have a ruler.
Uncle J. April 28, 2014
Another useful technique is to note where handy reference measurements may be found on your body. No really! For instance, the nail on my index finger is one half in wide and the miidle joint is one inch wide. Always handy and useful.
Gibson2011 April 28, 2014
I always have a few rulers in a kitchen drawer. You're right - so incredibly handy!