When I developed an interest in baking, one of the many things that confused me was how to measure flour. Instead of weighing the flour, most cookbooks I bought were instructing to measure it with a “cup”. I recall asking myself the inevitable question: Which cup? Was there really an internationally accepted standard for a cup? Turns out there is…
Then I learned that even the way you fill your cup with flour makes a big difference. It is usually the thin line between a cakey and moist brownie. I was frustrated.
Needless to say, the most accurate way is to do it with a digital scale. But if you too have limited countertop space and have your eye on sexier kitchen tools, then you are doing it with measuring cups as well.
So without a scale, here are your options:
Whichever option you wish to follow, you should first loosen the flour in the sack or canister as flour tends to settle on sitting. Just stir very lightly with a whisk and you’re done.
Dip & sweep (also called scoop & level): Dip the cup or measuring spoon into the flour can and without shaking or tapping, sweep of the excess with a spatula or knife. With this method, one cup of flour would equal to 5 ounces or 140 grams.
Spoon & sweep: Spoon the flour lightly into your measuring cup until it heaps above the rim and without shaking or tapping, sweep of the excess with a spatula or knife. With this method, one cup of flour would equal to 4.5 ounces or 126 grams.
Eyeballing: So you’re an adventurous person. No matter how you measure flour, you manage to bake wonderful cookies and brownies one after another. Then just grab the first thing that resembles a measuring cup (child’s toy, ashtray, etc.), fill it with flour, shake it, tap it and dump it into your mixing bowl.
If the last option sounds intriguing, then just stop reading and go buy a Rachael Ray book or something. By the way, did you hear that she is struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome from opening too many cans? Get well soon, Rachael. We love you!
So, which one do I follow? I dip & sweep. So did Julia Child. And so does Rose Levy Beranbaum and Dorie Greenspan. If I’m following a recipe from a cookbook, I check to see which method was used and make a note for it on a sticky for future reference.
As seen from the photos, I store my flour in a huge glass container. A wide container would make your life much easier. Make sure it is wider than your largest measuring cup. This way, while you’re leveling the flour, the excess will go right into your canister.
Happy measuring folks!
By the way, I have to ask, which method do YOU use?
aahhh FINALLY, so a cup is gonna be sthing around 140-126gr? Gees, I always end up avoiding recipes with “cups” bc I never know what the size of their cup is so I always have to look for a recipe with measurements in grams! Plus being in Europe grams-recipes are a lot more common. Now I can pull out all my “cup” recipes then! Yay! Then again ever since I’ve learned that patisserie needs to be ultra-precise, almost like chemistry, and that each and every gram counts, I feel more safe with grams-recipes.
Nonetheless thanks so much for your insightful post! The cup-mystery is now resolved for me!
I love your hot pink digital scale! I learned to measure flour using the ‘spoon and sweep’ method but while living in Europe I bought my first kitchen scale and started measuring by weight. Now I find myself using the ‘dip and sweep’ method most often but it just depends on the recipe 🙂
I rely on my scale; however, when a recipe calls for cups, I always use 130g of flour per needed cup.
Wow thanks a lot for the infos! I usually dip & sweep as i keep my flour in a big container. But I really didn’t even think there could be any difference from dip the cup or just fill it with the spoon!
Thank you so much
have a nice day
i’m more the “ish” gal – i grab the nearest container and get about a cup-ish of flour.
which is why i’m a cooker, not a baker.
I’m a dig and sweep kind of gal, but I think weighing it might be better. I’ll keep it in my mind that 1 cup of flour is around 5 ounces. Thanks for the information.
I’m a dip and sweeper also,but i would like to have a scale for the recipes that you have to weigh out the ingredients for.
I use a spoon to scoop the flour into the measuring cup until the cup is overflowing, then level it with the back of a knife. Sometimes, I just grab one of my Korean stainless steel chopsticks that has 1 side flattened to level the flour off.
Best is using electronic kitchen scale-you will never go wrong with it. Different countries has different measurement system – some countries using Metric and Imperial. So, we have to becareful which measurement the authors/chefs use in books. I prefer Metric still…
My Sweet & Saucy
What a fantastic post! This is such good information for everyone! I always explain the importance of correct measuring to my students when I teach classes…it makes such a difference!
Thanks, Fernando… I won’t use the “eye-meter” measure anymore when working with “cups”. Indeed it is more difficult to use cups in countries where the standards are given in metric system measures.
When I first started reading American recipes, I too was confused by cups! Now I just convert everything to metric but I could just save myself time and buy measuring cups. It’s never really struck me as a silly thing to do until now..
I really love your blog and this post is so helpful. I work with grams myself so when I was inundated with ‘cups’ measurements in American recipes the frustration was immense. After trawling the internet I found that 1 cup is the same at 224 ml. I have ml graduated measuring cups so I use this ml measure, however about 130-140g on a measuring scales is so much easier! I use the scoop and sweep motion, years of growing up watching my yiayia (gran)leveling off flour with the side of a knife/spatula…and its stuck.
I finally broke down and bought a kitchen scale for flour measuring… and if not for anything else, it has alleviated me feeling like I’m getting the amounts wrong in recipes! Though, I must admit, I still use the eye-ball method every once in a while.
i’m a metric. american recipes with no suggestion of gram equivalent really frustrates me & I avoid them.
i always prefer metric measurements due to the cup confusion. This is a really kewl post. A little bit of info really changes everything. love your first action shot , of the leveling up the cup. Awesome !
When I was a kid all the cookbooks we had used cups…so I used either dip/sweep or spoon/sweep. When I discovered that half of the world actually weighed their ingredients it was like someone took the blinders off my eyes! I was liberated…no more washing all those measuring cups for me 😉 Hello weighing scale! Now I prefer to weigh…seems more exact too…
Thanks for the detailed lesson! Much appreciated.
I most often use the dip and sweep too but on the rare occasion I find myself spooning and dipping.
Thanks for this really helpful “how to”! I use the dip/sweep in general.
I usually work without recipes. I have them in my head.
If I chanced upon a new recipe that calls for cups, I usually convert it into grams. For accuracy.
The weight makes a huge difference in small quantities.
And yes, use an electronic scale!
It depends on the recipe. If the recipe specifies (i.e. “spoon flour into measuring cups”), then I’ll follow the writer’s lead. If it’s something quick — like muffins or a quick bread — I’ll dip and sweep. But for cakes, I usually spoon and measure. Clearly what I really need is a digital scale!!
Cenk, how long will we keep measuring the flour? 🙂 I use the famous mothers’ “eye measurement”. But please write something new. Looking forward to new photos with new recipes.
haha, “sexier kitchen tools.” A digi scale can be somewhat sexy, right? OK, this officially got weird…
If a cup measurements were given, I’m definitely a dip & sweep(er). My grandmother eyeballs everything and it bugs me how everything she makes STILL comes out perfect!
I hate that cup-thing. Weigh it or forget it!
i wish i had a sexy digital scale… all these great recipes giving me grams and i have to guess?
anyway, to answer your question, i used to be a “spoon and level” person, very meticulous, but now i’m a “scoop and level/eyeball” person. i scoop into the container so it’s above the rim of my cup, then shake a tiny bit and level off with something, usually the side of my finger. i’ve gotten SO lazy as i’ve aged!
okay now a great big THANK YOU for giving me a backwards way to turn all those gram recipes into cups! you’re the best.
Wow, I’m the opposite of everyone here. When I moved to Turkey I brought a set of American measuring cups and spoons and I use this website http://foodgeeks.com/resources/conversioncharts.phtml to make conversions from weight. It’s silly and I should just buy a scale. It’s not like they take up much space.
Turkish recipes are tricky because they call for things like ‘1 water cup,’ ‘1 teacup,’ or ‘1 dessert spoon.’ It’s fine for food that isn’t exact and can be figured out by instinct, but it doesn’t work for baking. Is that the standard Paşabahçe water cup, or will one from Ikea do? A big teacup or a small one?
Did you start baking in Turkey or the US? Do you find a big difference in basic ingredients like sugar and flour? I was never a super baker to begin with, but it took me ages to figure out new proportions here– for example, if an American recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, I find 3/4 cup of Turkish sugar works better (cane vs. beet sugar, I suppose). Also the flour here seems somehow denser to me…
I just found your blog and I really enjoy your writing. Ellerinize sağlık!
Hi! Thanks for a great tutorial in measuring flour in cups. I used to have a great deal of trouble when the recipes states cup than grams, but I got over it since I bought myself a set of measuring cups and spoons. I usually do the spoon and sweep, but if I have all the time in the world, I usually do the dip and sweep.
I have been baking for 60+ years. I stir the flour, spoon into a cup and level off. Never could figure out why some recipes used phrases like, 4 cups of sifted flour, or another one would say 4 cups of flour sifted, but did learn that there is a difference in the amount you end up with, so which ever way the recipe reads, that is the way I do it.
I come from a long line of home bakers. Just want to post something American and say that recipes with grams frustrate me! Yes, there is an international cup measure, and to master it all you have to do is buy a set of measuring cups and use them. The way you scoop your flour will indeed influence how much ends up in the cup. However, the humidity in your area will also influence how your flour measures out. Sifting also increases the volume of your flour, so read your recipe carefully to see if you’re sifting before or after measuring. Most professional chefs in America recommend using a scale to measure ingredients. However, if you aren’t baking professionally, it doesn’t matter a whole lot whether you scoop or spoon, especially since there’s often no way to tell what the author of the recipe intended. Keep in mind when you convert from American recipes that a cup is a volume measure, so the 130-140 grams only to flour. For example, a cup of flour is lighter than a cup of butter. Also, even when you convert to grams, you have to decide if you’re converting from a scooped or spooned cup! There are lots of baking websites that can help you convert between cups and grams. http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/gram_calc.htm has a quick converter and also an ingredient-specific converter. Happy baking!
Just one question…140 grams includes the weight of the measuring cup? From the picture it seems so.
nyctomilan – No, it does not. I push the weigh button after I put the measuring cup on the scale and it shows zero with it on top so that the scale only measures the flour.
Ahh this one really stump me too!!! I always used to dip and swoop until I read In a cookbook about filling and swooping so then I got confused, head scratch! I am going to check in cookbook now like you said or use dip and swoop cause that’s what is most comforting to me:)
Why do most bakers tell you to “start and end with flour” when you’re adding it alternatively with milk to your cake batter?
Great post, and Cenk, AWESOME ORANGE MEASURING CUP! (Must have it! Please tell me where you got it?)
Chris- I know your question was months ago, but what you are asking about is the “dry, wet, dry, wet, dry” method of mixing cake betters. According to Shuna Fish Lydon (http://eggbeater.typepad.com), “Cakes with liquid ingredients oftentimes employ this as batter can easily break when the emulsion process is tenuous.” A seasoned pro pastry chef (French laundry, yo!) Shuna often uses this method for butter cakes, even when recipes state otherwise, as with her much-blogged Caramel Cake.
To answer the queastion – even though this post is an older one, I always prefer to weigh — it’s more accurate and LESS DISHES TO WASH! :)– but if only volume measurements are given, I use spoon and sweep for anything with a delicate crumb. I might dip and sweep if the recipe specifically calls for it, or if I am baking something less delicate, like a sturdy muffin or banana bread.
Rachel – Thanks a lot for sharing! Why haven’t I heard about Shuna’s Caramel Cake? I’m heading right over to her blog to read about it. By the way, the orange measuring cup is from Crate&Barrel (a friend of mine bought it a few years ago).
Thanks for the measuring info – I am baking a devils food cake and the recipe, form cooks illustrated, tells me to measure my coca using spoon and sweep. One quick google and I not only find out what I came for, I discover your wonderful blog!
BTW, I think we Americans need to start using a scale rather than a measuring cup.
Peggy – You’re welcome. I also think a digital scale is a very wise investment. Thanks for the link to your blog post about Istanbul.
So funny – I have the opposite problem you did! I’m from the US so I’m used to measuring in cups, oz. etc. I’m in pastry arts now in school and I have to try to learn to think and measure with grams and THAT’S very difficult for me. I’m getting my own digital scale to practice with at home. Hopefully it won’t be as difficult as it seems to be now.
I’m from South Africa, and we use a mixture from cups to grams in our recipes. Our cups in SA and I think from the UK measure 250ml, but when I went to USA I bought a set of Kitchen Aid measuring cups, where 1 cup measures 237ml. Weird. I was not aware there was a difference between cup sizes. I prefer my digital scale!
Joanne – Me too!