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Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.
Today: Knowing the right way to measure flour is harder than it looks.
If your cakes are leaden and cookies doughy, your flour-measuring technique may need a makeover.
I wish I could simply say, "Get out your scale and weigh the flour!" But until the day comes when all recipes include weights, we are stuck with measuring cups. The problem is that we don’t all use them the exact same way.
The cook who dips the cup into the flour sack or canister and shakes it level can get over 6 ounces of flour into the cup, especially if the flour was compacted or the cook leveled the cup against the inside of the bag (you know who you are out there!). Another cook -- probably a baker -- who stirs the flour in the canister to loosen it slightly and then spoons it lightly into the cup and sweeps it level without shaking or tapping, gets only 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 ounces of flour in her cup. Those two people will produce two entirely different cakes using the very same recipe!
There is no single right answer to the dip-and-sweep versus lightly spoon methods because some of us do it one way and some the other. If you are working from a cookbook, you should check the front of the book to see if the author tells you how he or she measures flour and follow that method for the recipes in that book.
Whether you dip-and-sweep or lightly spoon, here are my three rules to minimize the difference -- or make the issue moot:
1. Store flour in a canister and loosen it gently before you measure.
2. Never shake or tap the cup to settle the flour -- measuring is not a contest to see how much flour you can stuff into your cup -- just sweep it level with a straight edge.
3. If you are a budding or avid baker, get a scale and use it whenever you have recipe that includes weights, as all of our recipes will someday.
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.
Photo by James Ransom