Confession: I stole a set of measuring cups as a kid.
I wanted to be just like Mommy, flipping pancakes and baking chocolate chip cookies, so when she left the old tan set sitting on the counter, I slipped in, stood on my tippy-toes, and snuck off before anyone saw me. And despite banging them around my Fisher Price Kitchen for all of preschool, it took me another 13 years to finally figure out how to use them properly.
But I completely forgot to share those secrets with you!
So today, we’re going back to the basics. Many of you may know these tips and tricks already, but skim through them anyway—every one of them will convert you from a beginner into a baking pro!
- Read through the recipe completely before beginning. I know, I know… You’re probably rolling your eyes at me. But raise your hand if you’ve ever dove straight into creaming butter or mixing muffin batter after only reading the ingredients list. (Both of my hands are high up in the air!) It only takes an extra minute or two, but reading through every step will save you time, flour, and lots of burned cookies.
- Watch out for commas! It’s a subtle point, but how the ingredients are written dictates how you prepare and measure them. For example, “1 cup sifted all-purpose flour” means sift the flour before measuring, whereas with “1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted,” you would measure first and sift after. Perform any tasks on the ingredients in the order that they’re written: anything that comes after the comma is done second.
- Understand the language. Sliced, diced, chopped, cut, broken, beaten… Each word means something slightly different, so if you aren’t familiar with any of the terms in a recipe, look them up!
A quick tip before we dive in… I highly recommend investing in a kitchen scale, especially for measuring dry ingredients! This is the one I own. It’s really affordable, and I’ve used it almost every day for 4+ years. It’s my #1 secret for making sure that my recipes turn out with the perfect taste and texture every time I make them!
- Flours. All-purpose, whole wheat, gluten-free, peanut, almond, coconut, cocoa powder, and even oats are all the same. Use a fork to “scoop” up flour (or whatever you’re measuring!) from the container, and lightly shake the fork back and forth over the top of your measuring cup to transfer the flour into it (like you’d do with a hair drier!). Once there’s a small mound of flour extending above the rim of the measuring cup, then place the flat backside of a knife against the top of the measuring cup, and gently scrape it across the top to get rid of the excess flour. Never “pat” the flour down with the knife or fork, and never shake the measuring cup either. Also, do NOT scoop the flours, cocoa powder, or oats directly out of the container with the measuring cup or pack them in. This results in 1.5 times more than is required in a recipe, which dries out your baked goods and turns them crumbly. Not good! However, this fork method acts like a sifter (without dirtying another dish!) and guarantees you’ll add the correct amount of flour to your recipe!
- Leaveners. With baking powder and baking soda, lightly fluff the leavener with a measuring spoon before scooping it out and leveling with a knife. Some containers have a flat edge built in—that works too!
- Sugars. For white sugar, use the same technique described for flours, except use a spoon instead of a fork. With brown sugar, lightly pack it into the measuring cup using a fork or spoon until the cup is completely filled and level (unless the recipe states otherwise). When you invert the measuring cup, the brown sugar should be packed tightly enough to hold its shape.
- Salt and spices. Treat them like the leaveners: fluff, scoop, level.
- Butter and margarine. Most stick-style butters and margarines are wrapped in a label with tablespoons marked on the side. Count out how much you need, and cut through the stick with a sharp knife. You should avoid using a butter knife because the blade is duller and you won’t carve off as accurate of an amount. With tub-style butter, margarine, and shortening, press the necessary quantity into a measuring spoon or cup, and level with a knife.
- Liquids. Milk, oil, juice, honey, syrup, and extracts are a little tricky. Place the measuring cup on the counter, pour in the liquid, and get down at eye level. The liquid at the edges tends to stick to the sides of the cup, while the liquid in the center sinks down a touch. (In science-speak, it’s called a meniscus!) You want to make sure the center of the liquid is even with the rim of the cup for the most accurate measurement. You can also use a clear measuring cup and the markings on its side instead. For teaspoons and tablespoons, fill them to the brim but not overflowing or bulging out the top. And be careful when pouring the liquids into the mixing bowl! (Also, never use a kitchen scale to measure liquids! The “ounces” option on kitchen scales is for dry ounces, not liquid ounces!)
I may add to this post as new things come up in the future. But for now, it’s time to bake something sweet! Which of these recipes are you going to try next? I can’t wait to hear!! ♡
Lisa in Las Vegas, NV, USA says...
If I measure the flour on the scale first, then put it in a sifter, I don’t have to do the fork scoop/shake method, right?
Also, will sifting the flour after weighing it make any difference in the outcome of the recipe, like fluffier, etc.?
That’s correct! If you’re using a kitchen scale and sift after, then you don’t need to use the fork method. The gram weight of the flour will be the same, both before and after sifting. If your flour is super clumpy, then yes! Sifting it will help improve the texture of your baked goods. 🙂
I’m truly sorry I’m just now getting back to all of your lovely comments; I had to take a lot more time off than I anticipated to take care of some family things. I really appreciate your patience — as well as your interest in my recipes! ♡
Marie Lippman says...
I’ve been baking most my life, and I had no idea how wrong I was doing some measurements! But my question is about your Eggnog cookie recipe. You have white flour, white sugar and brown sugar. Can the white flour be cha changed to, say white whole wheat flour, and exchanging the sugars to Stevia and Coconut sugar? I make alot of your recipes alot and I was taken for a loop when i saw bad stuff in your recipe!
Thanks a bunch Amy!
Yes, in my eggnog snickerdoodles recipe, you can substitute white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour and coconut sugar for the granulated and brown sugars (just remember it’ll make them much darker in color!). I don’t recommend substituting stevia; the cookie dough will be much too dry and crumbly.
I’m so sorry I’m just now getting back to you; I had to take a lot more time off than I anticipated to take care of some family things. But if you do end up making them, I’d love to hear what you think of the snickerdoodles!
You ask for white whole wheat flour in many of your recipes. I live in Canada and do not know what this ingredient is.
I do not see it on store shelves. We have unbleached white flour. Would 1/2 white and 1/2 whole wheat do for a recipe?
I really appreciate your interest in my recipes, Wendy! White whole wheat flour is made from white wheat, whereas “regular” whole wheat flour (here in the US!) is made from red wheat. Since the majority of wheat grown in the US is red wheat, flour companies make added “white” to the product name to distinguish between the two since they do have slightly different appearances, tastes, and textures. In other countries, the majority of wheat that’s grown is actually white wheat, so their “whole wheat flour” is our US equivalent of white whole wheat flour. I tried to research whether Canada was one of those countries, and I couldn’t find anything conclusive.
However, if you look at the packages of whole wheat flour at the grocery store, they’ll sometimes say whether the flour was milled from red wheat or white wheat in the ingredients list or nutrition label. If you find whole wheat flour that’s made from white wheat, that’s the same thing as what I use when I call for white whole wheat flour in my recipes!
If you can find whole wheat pastry flour, that almost always works perfectly as a 1-for-1 substitute for white whole wheat flour in my recipes.
If you can only find whole wheat flour made from red wheat, then half whole wheat and half all-purpose will work. However, in many of my recipes, it’s also fine to substitute regular whole wheat flour for the white whole wheat flour. I try to include that detail in the Notes section of the recipe (located directly underneath the Instructions!). I know it can be easy to miss though!
Do you use wet or dry measuring cups for yogurt? I’m seeing mixed messages online.
Happy to help, Kelly! I’ve found dry measuring cups are better for yogurt. However… I actually use a kitchen scale because it’s most accurate and results in fewer dishes to wash. 😉 But if you don’t have a kitchen scale, then dry measuring cups are generally easier to use for yogurt!
I use my kitchen scale for flour but recipes are typically in volume, not weight. Do you have a reference for how much a cup of something should weigh?
I’m honored that you’d ask for advice! Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one size fits all” conversion chart for cups to grams. This is because weight (grams) is based off of density, rather than volume (cups). If you measured out 1 cup of cotton balls versus 1 cup of sand, they’d take up the same amount of space (volume)… But the cup cotton balls would definitely weigh less than the cup of sand! Or if you measured out 1 pound of cotton balls versus 1 pound of sand, you’d end up with a small handful of sand… And a pillowcase or two full of cotton balls! Same weight, different volume.
The same thing applies to different ingredients. 1 cup of flour weighs 120g, 1 cup of oats weighs 100g, 1 cup of cocoa powder weighs 80g, and 1 cup of butter weighs 224g. So although these ingredients take up the same amount of space (volume), they’ll have different weights because of their different densities.
Does that make sense?
However, if you’re just asking about flour (all-purpose, whole wheat, white whole wheat, or whole wheat pastry), then those are all 120g per cup. 🙂
Oh my. I understand physics and the difference btw mass and volume. My question was more a general reference like: a cup of sugar weighs X gms, baking powder is Y gm per tsp.
Marie Stanger says...
I find that using my non- digital scale is easier since there is a stainless steel “ bowl” on which you place the ingredient. I adjust for tare weight by bringing the scale to 0 with the bowl on so if I weigh cut up apples etc. I just place them on the bowl.
I find that my digital flat top scale is trickier. If you are measuring flour or a liquid do you first weigh the container each time then adjust accordingly?
I hope I have expressed myself clearly enough????
It’s my pleasure, Marie! I’m happy to help. 🙂
To start, I do not use a scale to measure liquids. Kitchen scales can’t actually measure liquid ingredients (ie those given in mL or fluid ounces). I know many of them say they can, but it’s not true… And it drives me nuts. 😉 Scales can only measure weights, not volumes! This is because the weight of liquids like milk, honey, maple syrup, etc depends on their density, and every liquid’s density is different. There’s no way to program every different density into a kitchen scale, so that’s why it doesn’t work for measuring liquids. (The one exception is water! That’s because its density is exactly 1g/mL. 🙂 ) So for liquids, I use regular measuring cups and measuring spoons.
When using my digital scale for dry ingredients or somewhat solid ingredients (ie those given in grams in my recipes!), I place my mixing bowl onto the scale and then tare that in between adding each ingredient. (Just like you described doing for your non-digital scale!) If you prefer, you could measure the container instead, but I’ve found it’s faster and easier to use the mixing bowl method.
Let me know if you have any other questions — like I mentioned, I’m happy to help!
Carol Heidmann says...
Just wondering about measuring GF flours for your recipes. Can I use a scale for an all purpose GF flour, and if so would the number of grams be the same as for whole wheat flour? I generally use Cup4cup. Thanks,
Yes, absolutely! You can use a kitchen scale for measuring gluten-free flours. I haven’t worked with Cup4Cup before, so I can’t personally vouch for the results or what grams per cup to use. However, 30g per ¼ cup (or 120g per cup) is usually a good starting point! According to the Cup4Cup nutrition label, they say it’s 32g per ¼ cup (or 128g per cup), so my first recommendation would be to use the 30g per ¼ cup ratio and then add a touch more if the batter or dough seems too wet. Does that make sense? 🙂
I’m excited to hear which recipe of mine you pick to try next, Carol!
It would help if instead of “cups”, you used the actual measurement (ml/g)
Kay Negash says...
I tried to find your “healthy carrot cake breakfast cookies” actual recipe with no luck. I watched the video with no amounts for ingredients or baking times or temperatures. I registered with you. I have been searching your website for at least a 1/2 hour. I find this very time-consuming and annoying.
Thank you for all your recipes and tips! I’ve been baking for years but never knew about weighing flour or the fork method which makes sense because sometimes my recipes don’t turn out quite right, especially cookies. Can’t wait to try your recipes!
It’s my pleasure, Karen! I’m so glad you found these tips useful. Thanks for taking the time to let me know too — it means a lot! 🙂 I’m really looking forward to hearing which recipe you pick to try first!
Hi. I thought I would just mention something to help those bakers who said they have trouble with getting flour all over the counter. I just always measure things on a piece of wax paper which I keep in the container where I keep my ingredient. After I’m done measuring it is easy to pour the excess of the ingredient back into its container with a fold in the wax paper. Then I fold the wax paper back up and stick it in the canister cover or ziploc bag for that ingredient! Easy-peasy!
Stacey @ Amy's Healthy Baking says...
What a great tip! Thank you so much for sharing, Sarah! 🙂