how to measure flour

It hit me in the middle of the day yesterday with an odd feeling of surprise. I’m talking about November. It seemed to tip toe in, and I appreciate the calm greeting. I hope it brings more peace than October. The leaves are defiantly clinging to the trees here upstate, showing off their shades of red, orange and gold with the fanfare of a peacock. I know how they feel, in a way. Letting go isn’t easy. Paying attention to the season changes is an important reminder that life is about loss and renewal; it’s a never ending cycle.

As we settle in for what is perhaps the busiest baking season, I wanted to share something that’s been on my mind for a while now. I’m going to geek out here for a moment, but please stick with me. I promise it’ll make for a better baking experience the next couple of months, in fact for the rest of your life.

Every time I measure out some flour, I wonder to myself “do more people scoop and sweep” or “spoon and sweep”? In the first method, you dip your measuring cup into the flour, scoop it out, and use an offset spatula, or the back of a butter knife, to sweep away the excess flour (this is called “leveling” your flour). The latter method is when you use a spoon to pour flour into a measuring cup, and then level it off. The last way to measure flour, the one that is most accurate and how pastry chefs work, is to simply weigh them on a scale. This is the way I prefer to bake, and why all my recipes also include metric measurements.

Using measuring cups poses problems because not all sets are created equal. I have three different sets, and they all record a different weight when I take the contents and check them on my scale. The same goes for spoon measurements—one tablespoon can vary widely.

The other problem with using a device, other than a scale, to measure flour lies in the scoop and sweep vs. spoon and sweep methods. Scooping flour into a measuring cup results in a heavier yield (more flour) compared to spooning it in (where you get less flour). Keep in mind that all measuring cups are not created equal, and the difference can be 25 grams (1/6 cup) or more for all-purpose white flour. This is but one reason baking recipes can go from fun to failure.

I don’t want to scare you out of the kitchen. My whole career is based on the exact opposite premise. I want everyone to love cooking, and baking, as much as I do. The kitchen is my happy place, and I want it to be yours, too. So, how do we get past this measurement conundrum? Well, my short answer, the easiest answer, is go buy a scale.  If you’re still not convinced, or are working with a recipe that doesn’t have metric measurements, as is the case with many American cookbooks, then read the first few introductory chapters to see if the author mentions their measuring method (scoop and sweep, or spoon and sweep). I want to stick a fork in my eye that I forgot to mention this very important note in my own cookbook.

For years, I used to spoon and sweep. As time went on, and I observed more people in their home kitchens, I realized I was outnumbered by the scoop and sweepers of the world. If you’re using my recipes pre-2010, then be prepared to spoon and sweep. The last few years, I’ve gone to the dark side, and become a scooper, but above all I’m a metric gal. In fact, when I develop new recipes, I always work in metric first, and then convert them to the U.S. system.

Is it just me, or all of you doing mental lunges, with an 80s-esque aerobic “scoop and sweep” and “spoon and sweep” soundtrack in your head? I think it’s time I step away from the measuring cups, and go enjoy the rest of this brisk autumn day while there are still some leaves to enjoy.

Music Pairing: Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds

Baking, Recipes, Technique, upstate

Comments

  • Clare: this is a fab post Jennie! I am based in the UK and we always use scales over here. I do have one recipe that uses cups but everything else is dependant on scales. I could never get my head around how butter could be measured in cups or sticks.

    Using scales is definitely the way to produce the best cakes and bakes.

    Hope you are well :)

  • laning: Nice post Jen.. thank you for taking the time to write this.. I myself prefer to weigh flours but sometimes recipes do not specify weights then i normally sift the flour first then spoon them in.

  • Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.): I’m definitely metric as much as possible! I’ve even started teaching my cooking club boys to weigh ingredients (and I am looking for recipes that call for weight over volume too!). Such a great skill!

  • Laura: I am a scooper, but I always fluff up the flour first with the knife I’m going to use to scrape the top. That way it’s not so compacted. I read that advice in some cookbook…seemed like a good middle ground.

  • Debbi: Great post! I’m a beginning baker, and scale user. I find it hard to remember how much a cup of flour or sugar should weigh when the recipe calls for cups and not grams. Is there an easy way?

  • Jamie Rippy (@MamaMommyMom): I am a “scoop and sweep” girl. It’s how I learned and it would probably take a miracle to train myself to do it any other way.

  • Jennifer Perillo: Hi Debbie,

    In my experience, based on my measuring cups for both all purpose flour and whole wheat pastry, one cup “scoop & sweep” is 150 grams. Using “spoon & sweep” one cup weighs around 125 grams. The type of flour does make a difference in the weight, too. Whole wheat flour, rye flou, oat flour, etc., all have different weights. Granulated sugar is pretty standard, at one cup equals 200 grams.

    Cheers,
    JP

  • Stephanie: Excellent! I only buy cookbooks that give the metric system measurements. Especially for pastries and anything with flour.

  • Paige Phillips: I have always been a scoop and sweeper. LOL…and I haven’t even actually thought about it until I read your post today!

  • Stephanie: My whole life, I was a “scoop and sweep” girl, like my mother before me. Until recently, when my favorite food bloggers taught me otherwise. Now, I either weigh (cakes and new recipes) or fluff the flour with a knife before spooning and sweeping (my weekly challah dough, whose dough I know well enough to adjust on sight if need be.)

  • Linda: I’m somewhere in the middle? I fluff then scoop then sweep so the flour is never packed when I scoop.

  • MissG: I do the scoop & sweep…but once I was watching Ina, & realized that she dumps, scoops & sweeps…like you pick up a cup of flour out of the canister, then dump it back in…do that a few times and after a few times dumping, go in for a final scoop & sweep. I think she equated it an easier version of sifting. But that’s what I do now, too.

  • Leah: I’m with Linda, I fluff, scoop, and sweep. The main reason being many of my recipes come from Cooks Illustrated and that is what they use. I’d always prefer to use weights, but that isn’t always an option. If we don’t have weighted measurements, the best advice is to know what the recipe creator uses and do the same.

  • Jennifer Perillo: The fluff, scoop, and sweep method seems to be very popular, too. As mentioned, it’s always best to follow the recipe developers method, but unfortunately that isn’t always available. It’s the reason I wanted to address it for my recipes, and something I think every food and blog and website should mention to help readers. Thanks for chiming in!
    -JP

  • Trudy: Can you recommend a scale? Does it come with a bowl and is it digital?
    Thanks

  • Melody Gustafson: When I started cooking in Home Ec. we were instructed to sift the flour, then measure it out. Now you probably can guess how long ago that was because I took Home Ec., not Family and Consumer Science (FACS). As years went on, I just scooped it out.

    Nowadays, I spoon the flour into a measuring cup and then level it. I think I have Judith Fertig to thank for the change from scoop and level method.

  • Megan: I scoop & sweep…after dipping the measuring cup in the flour & fluffing it up. For me, the scale is a bother & mine just sits in a cabinet unused.
    In all my years of baking, I haven’t had a problem & didn’t notice a difference in pastry, cakes, breads or cookies from when I weighed the flour or just scooped & leveled it off in the cup.
    Maybe new bakers would embrace using a scale. It’s just not for me.

  • Food News Tuesday, November 5 – Food News Journal : Food News Journal: […] Eat Junk Food: Does That Make Me a Hypocrite? - Obesity Panacea how to measure flour - In Jennie’s Kitchen Pumpkin Pecan Scones with Maple Glaze - Cookie + Kate What goes well […]

  • Jennifer Perillo: Hi Trudy,

    I love my OXO Good Grips scale; I own the 11-pound one, and purchased it myself (meaning it wasn’t a review product). It doesn’t come with a bowl, but I actually prefer it that way. I just put my own mixing bowl on top BEFORE turning on the scale. You need to do that so when you turn the scale on it registers zero. I then measure my ingredients directly into the bowl, so there’s no need for multiple bowls or measuring cups. Hope that helps.

    Cheers,
    Jennie

  • Amber: Great information! Thanks! I’m a scooper and spooner, just depends on how much flour I need! A spooner for larger amounts of flour.

    A good follow up would be “Does Sifting Really Make a Difference…” that’s something I would like to know! :)

    I have most of your posts printed out in a binder because your words have resonated with me greatly in my own grief the last year and half. And I feel exactly the same way about the change of seasons. Best wishes!

  • Cass: This is off topic so delete it if you prefer. I came by to see how you are doing with the loss of Mikey. I found out about your blog when you did your peanut butter pie post and my heart broke for you and your children. Last week my boyfriend of 14 years suddenly passed away. I am completely unable to cope. What’s worse is we did not live together, and his family cleared out his apartment before I knew it. I don’t care about the things but I would trade everything for one of his shirts that smells like him. I am broken.

    I see you still hurt and ache and think about all the things you want to talk to him about. I cannot imagine feeling the way I feel forever.

    I just wanted to say, reading your blog helps me feel not so alone in this. But I do hope you will find a way to get out of the pain (or perhaps you have) because it is just so awful.

  • Jennifer Perillo: Cass,

    Thanks for leaving me your note. What I can say about my journey, so far, is that you will never stop missing him. It is a painful truth, but one you must accept, and once you do that, you can then accept that you have to face each new day without him. People say it gets easier with time, but I’ve not simply found that true. If anything, my life feels like it’s on two parallel paths—one of healing, and one of missing my Mikey with an ache that feels deep as the Grand Canyon. The pain, and sadness, of our losses will never go away. They are now part of our emotional DNA. As I explain it to my older daughter, who witnessed my husband’s collapse, there will come a time in our lives when the amount of happiness once again outweighs the amount of sadness.

    I totally understand what you mean about the shirts. I found myself rubbing my nose into my husband’s shirts after he passed away. The scent made me feel like he was still with me. You know where to find me, so please know you are always welcome here, too.

    Love,
    Jennie

  • Cass: thank you.

    in tears and hopefully someday healing,
    Cass

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