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Wednesday, September 15

Baking 101 - Measuring

When you bake cookies, cakes, breads, pie crusts, and candies, measuring accurately is really critical to the success of the recipe. When you are cooking casseroles, soups, stir fries, and meats, you can vary amounts more and the end result will still be good.

Measuring accurately is probably the most important cooking skill in the kitchen. Home Economists in test kitchens spend many hours testing recipes with varying measurements in a process called 'tolerance testing'. A recipe must perform well even though the ingredient amounts are changed; if the recipe fails tolerance testing, it is not published. Even though the recipes in cookbooks are quite 'tolerant', the cook still has to follow basic rules of measuring.

To begin, make sure that you have actual commercial measuring utensils. Nested (graduated) measuring cups are used for dry ingredients. Measuring spoons are also needed...your stainless coffee spoon just isn't the correct tool! For liquid ingredients, you need a clear glass or plastic cup with a pouring spout.

Graduated measuring cups are made in 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup, 1 cup, and 2 cup sizes. Liquid measuring cups are usually either 2 cup or 4 cup.  Measuring spoons usually range from 1/8 teapoon, 1/4 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, and 1 tablespoon.  It's possible to find other more esoteric utensils including 1/8 cup, 2/3 cup, and very small spoons.  I have a set that measures "a pinch", "a smidgen", and "a dash" that I found in my local Walmart, and come in REALLY handy.
Here's a basic guide to measuring common ingredients.

  • Flour
    Stir flour in the storage container or bag. Using a large spoon, lightly spoon flour from the container into the measuring cup. Do not shake the cup and do not pack the flour. Using the back of a knife or flat blade spatula, level off the flour even with the top edge of the measuring cup. Don't use the measuring cup to scoop the flour out of the container. You can end up with 150% of the correct measurement if you do this! One cup of correctly measured flour should weigh about 112 grams (3.95 oz) .

  • Baking powder and Baking Soda
    Stir in the container. Using the measuring spoon, lightly scoop out of the container. Use that knife to level off even with the top edge of the measuring spoon.

  • Sugar
    Sugar is measured by scooping the cup or measuring spoon into the container or bag until it is overflowing, then leveling off with the back of a knife.

  • Brown Sugar
    This needs to be packed into the measuring cup. The sugar should retain the shape of the cup when it is dropped into the other ingredients.

  • Powdered Sugar
    Powdered sugar usually needs to be sifted to remove small lumps. It is measured by spooning the sugar into the measuring cup from the container, then leveling off with the back of a knife.

  • Liquid Ingredients
    Liquids need to be measured at eye level. Using the
    liquid measuring cup, pour the liquid into the cup. Then bend over so you are on the same level with the measuring marks. The liquid should be right at the mark, not above or below.

  • Semi-Liquid Ingredients
    Ingredients like sour cream, peanut butter, and yogurt are measured using dry measuring cups because they are too thick to be accurately measured in the liquid cups. Level off sour cream and peanut butter with the back of a knife.
  • Shortening and Solid Fats
    Butter and margarine have measuring amounts marked on the sides of the paper wrapping. One quarter pound stick of butter or margarine equals 1/2 cup. Solid shortening is measured by packing it into a cup so there are no air spaces, then leveling off with the knife. To easily remove fats from baking cups, spray them with a nonstick cooking spray before measuring. You can also use the liquid displacement method for measuring solid fats. For instance, if you want 1/2 cup of shortening, fill a liquid measuring cup with 1/2 cup of cold water. Then add shortening until the water level reaches 1 cup when you look at it at eye level. Pour out the water and use the shortening. Oil is measured as a liquid. One note...this is a TRICKY method, and probably not for your average beginner.
  • Liquid Ingredients in Spoons
    Make sure that you don't measure small amounts of liquid ingredients over the mixing bowl. It's just too easy to spill, and you don't want 2 teaspoons of almond extract when the recipe only calls for 1 teaspoon!
  • Dry Ingredients in Spoons
    Ingredients measured in these small amounts still have to be measured carefully. Overfill the measuring spoons and level off using the back of a knife for the most accurate amounts. Accurate amounts of ingredients like baking soda and powder are critical to the success of any baked product.
  • Chopped Ingredients
    Pay close attention to whether or not an ingredient is to be chopped, diced or minced, and whether they are measured before chopping or after. Then the foods are placed in the measuring cup so the top is level with the surface.
Using these rules and tips, you can be confident that any recipe you tackle will be a success.  ENJOY!!

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