Knowing how to measure ingredients is one of the most important techniques to learn, and learn well. Without proper measurements your recipe will just not work, no matter how many times you try it. An extra tablespoon of flour can make an otherwise perfect cake heavy and dry. An extra teaspoon of liquid can make a frosting runny and impossible to spread. It may seem like a small thing but the attention to this detail is of primary importance.
While the best way to be completely accurate in your measurements is to use a kitchen scale and cook by weight most people in the United States measure by volume using cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons. Most American recipes are written using this method.
Creating successful recipes is not difficult when you start with accurate measures.
Tools for Measuring Ingredients
You will need a few things specifically for measuring ingredients.Measuring cups and spoons are not at all expensive and come in a wide variety of designs, colors, and prices. You will want to choose something that you can use easily and that you are comfortable holding. It’s also a good idea to have two sets of measuring cups and spoons.
You will need the following tools.
- 1 cup
- 3/4 cup
- 2/3 cup
- 1/2 cup
- 1/3 cup
- 1/4 cup
It’s nice to have clear measuring cups with cups and ounces marked on them for measuring liquids along with your set of cups for measuring dry ingredients. It makes it easier to be accurate with liquid measures. If you do a lot of baking of bread and other items that use larger measures it is nice to have a 2 cup measure, too.
- 1 tablespoon
- 1/2 tablespoon
- 1 teaspoon
- 1/2 teaspoon
- 1/4 teaspoon
The following are nice to have but not really necessary
- 1 1/2 tablespoons
- 1/3 teaspoon
- 1/8 teaspoon
You should never measure your ingredients with a teaspoon or tablespoon from your flatware set. These are not standard sizes and will not measure accurately. For the record, recipes use a capital T when they mean tablespoons and a lowercase t when they mean teaspoons.
- 3 t = 3 teaspoons
- 3 tsp = 3 teaspoons
- 3 T = 3 tablespoons
- 3 Tbs = 3 tablespoons
How to Measure Dry Ingredients
When measuring dry ingredients like flour, sugar, spices, and leavening (baking powder, baking soda, etc.) you will want to fill the measuring cup or spoon without packing the ingredient in it and then level it off gently so that it is even with the top of the measuring utensil. Use a butter knife to cut across the top of the measuring cup (or spoon) parallel to the surface. This quick technique will take of any excess and keep the measurement accurate.
For spices, herbs, and other ingredients that come in small containers just pour the item out into a clean bowl and fill your measuring spoon from the bowl. Once you are done use a funnel to put the remainder back in its jar.
You may see this referred to as the “dip and sweep” method because you dip the cup into the flour bin and sweep the excess off the top.
It is very important that you do not pack the ingredients down. This will cause the measurements to be inaccurate. Just lightly spoon the ingredient into the measuring cup and level it off. There are a few exceptions to this. For example, brown sugar should be packed down hard enough into the measuring cup that it holds its shape when turned out into the bowl of ingredients.
Liquid measuring cups are clear and have the measurements marked on the side. Both the cups and the ounces will often be marked. You don’t necessarily need more than one cup for liquid measures – just make sure that the measurements are clearly marked and that there is a spout or dip in the cup for easy pouring. If you are only going to have one liquid measuring cup a two or four cup measure is best.
To measure liquids you will pour the liquid into a clean cup and bring bend down to put it at eye level. Make sure that the surface of the liquid is exactly at the measurement mark that your recipe calls for. By having it at eye level you can easily see if you have a little too much or need to add a little more. Don’t try to hold it up to your eye – your hands will not be steady and you won’t get an accurate measure. Place it on the counter and bring your face down to the cup.
Measure Ingredients Like a Pro
While accurate measurements will not make every recipe a gourmet delight it will ensure that your recipes are successful as long as you follow the other instructions carefully. If your cakes always seem to come out heavy then you may be adding too much flour by inaccurate measurement. Try it one more time with sifted flour and a light hand and see if the results aren’t much better.
image: Marye Audet