How many recipes have told you to cut squash into ½-inch chunks, or slice potatoes into ¼-inch rounds, or roll sheets of cookie dough to ⅛-inch thick? Even though I cook and bake for a living, I still have trouble estimating these measurements by sight. (It’s hard!) And while our test kitchen and my own kitchen have rulers on deck, the more I cook elsewhere, the more I realize this isn’t a given.
Before I joined the team here at Food52, I worked as a nighttime baker. Which meant a lot of pie dough–rolling, cookie dough–rolling, biscuit dough–rolling...really, just a lot of rolling. After a while, instead of trying to find a ruler every time—as I'm covered in dough, no less—I figured out something about my hands: 1-inch is the distance from the first to second knuckle on my middle finger. And ¼-inch is the thickness of my pinky.
Of course, your body is different. But, whether it’s your middle finger or ring finger or thumb, I’d bet a biscuit that you can find natural 1-inch and ¼-inch markers, which you can use as a rough guide for whatever recipes throw at you. Estimate the halfway point of the 1-inch and you have ½ inch. Do the same with the ¼-inch and you have ⅛-inch.
It may not be quite as precise as a ruler—but it sure is more convenient, and it has yet to let me down.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.