We've said this many times, and we'll say it a million more: baking is more of a science than an art. In cooking, you can often create delicious recipes with a handful of this and couple shakes of that, but in baking, imprecise measurements can be a disaster. A failed souffle could be due to something as small as a half teaspoon mismeasurement, so while you begin your baking journey, it is important to familiarize yourself with all the most common baking measurements and methods. This will help you build a good foundation for the rest of your baking career, and teach you how to convert recipes without being off by one tiny grain of flour! Keep reading to learn about some of the most common baking measurements, easy conversions, and tips for getting it right every time.
How to Measure Ingredients
No matter how many conversion charts you memorize, you'll still be a little off if you don't learn the proper ways to measure out your baking ingredients. Measuring for baking is definitely different than measuring for cooking, and it is important that you do it properly to avoid lumpy batters or unstructured pastries. The most important thing is to use a scale to weigh out your ingredients instead of measuring them with measuring cups every time. This will create greater accuracy and consistency in your measurements, as measurements can vary slightly over time. Invest in a good baking scale, and work on converting all of your favorite recipes to weight using the metric system. A lot of good baking recipes are written using the metric system, so you won't have to convert each and every recipe. To convert your ingredients to weight, simply measure them out three to five times each, and take the average weight of all of the times. Then note the weight measurement on your recipe and use that from now on. Remember to re-zero your scale after you add the bowl or plate that you put the ingredients in, as you do not want to account for the weight of that portion. You should also use a new cup or bowl every time, or thoroughly wash out the container, so that you do not have any pesky particles hanging around from the last ingredient.
Using the Right Container
If you are in the process of converting, try to use the right containers for measuring whenever possible. Dry ingredients like flour and sugar should be measured with dry ingredient cups, whereas liquids like milk and water should be measured with liquid measuring cups. For liquids, the line you want to measure is the bottom of the “meniscus,” which is where the bowl-shape of the liquid is at its lowest peak. The meniscus should rest on top of the line you measure to! For sticky ingredients like honey, a common problem is measuring the correct amount and then losing half of it in the pour, as it tends to stick to the measuring cup. Spray the inside of your measuring cup with a nonstick spray or oil to prevent this from happening. That way, you will get all that delicious gooey honey into your mixing bowl!
For flour, it is important not to scoop the flour directly into the measuring cup from the bag. This method can result in up to 50% more flour than you actually intended. The correct way to measure out flour is by spooning it into the measuring cup, without packing it down at all, and then using the flat side of a knife to scrape it level with the top of the measuring cup. Pay attention to special ingredient instructions as well. For instance, with flour, a recipe may call for “one cup sifted flour,” which is different from “one cup of flour, sifted.” In the first instruction, the recipe suggests that you need to sift the flour and then measure out one cup of it. On the other hand, the second direction calls for one cup of flour to measured out and then sifted. Mistaking things like this can leave you with way more or less of an ingredient than you need, especially in the case of flour, which will be your most common resource in baking. If you are alternating or substituting different types of flour, make sure you read up on the correct substitutions. Not all flours are created equal and not all flours react similarly in every recipe, so you will not be able to make some flour substitutions, and others you may need special instructions to execute successfully.
You may also encounter what is called a “baker’s percentage,” which is mostly used in bread making. The baker’s percentage means how much of a certain ingredient is used in comparison to the amount of flour. Using baker’s percentages allows you to scale your recipe up or down without losing the key ratio of ingredients that make it work. Baker’s percentages are not necessary by any means, but you can use them to make your bread recipes specifically more flexible!
The Metric System
We recommended earlier that you convert all of your units to the metric system. Of course, this only really applies if you live in the United States, or are sourcing recipes from the United States. The metric system is better for bakers because you can source ingredients from around the world, and conversions are typically a little easier in metric than in the American system. The metric system includes one base unit of measurement for each type of measurement (volume, length, distance, and weight, for instance), and that base unit is modified by prefixes in levels of 10. So 100 centimeters make up a meter, and 1,000 grams make up a kilogram. In theory, you can get more consistent measurements with the metric system than the American system as well, and many baking scales are already calibrated to the metric system. Thus, if you can familiarize yourself with these measurements, you can make following baking recipes quick and easy!
Pay Attention to Units
As we have demonstrated, small mistakes can produce big errors when baking. If you are cooking stir fry and misread a tablespoon as a teaspoon, you likely will not notice too much of a difference in the final dish--or, it will be easy to compensate by adding more of the other ingredients. In baking, things are completely different, because timing and ratios are so important. So pay special attention to the units that your recipe calls for, as they may be different from ingredient to ingredient. A couple that you should pay special attention to are listed below.
Teaspoons and Tablespoons:
This one seems as simple as pie, but in fact, it can lead to a totally screwed up pie! The two words are so similar that your eyes can definitely play tricks on you, especially when abbreviated. A teaspoon can be abbreviated as tsp or lowercase t, whereas Tablespoon can be abbreviated as Tbsp or uppercase T (like that is not confusing!). So if you are unsure of a measurement, just take a second to look it up--trust us, it can save your pie!
Ounces and Fluid Ounces:
Ounces and fluid ounces can be confusing, because, well, they both have the word ounce in them. However, ounces are a measurement of weight, meaning that an ounce measures a solid substance’s weight on a scale. On the other hand, fluid ounces are a measure of volume, so they measure how much of a cup is filled up by the liquid. Making this conversion can be a difficult calculation of density and other factors, so we recommend paying special attention to which type of ounce your ingredient calls for!
Celsius and Fahrenheit:
This is another example of the metric system and American systems confusing us way too much! We always recommend converting your measurements into the metric system for consistency, but temperatures are a little different. If you live in the United States, you most likely have an oven that is measured in Fahrenheit, so it is best to keep your recipes on that temperature scale to avoid any confusion. However, if you download new recipes in the metric system, sometimes you can forget to do the conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit, and let me tell you, that is a mistake you will not want to make twice!
No matter where you are on your baking journey, the measurement part is undoubtedly one of the most important steps for any recipe you are making! The interactions of the ingredients and their ratios should be as precise as possible to maintain consistent, delicious results. If you come across an unfamiliar term in cooking, sometimes you can ignore it (not me, of course not! I would never), but in baking, you will thank yourself later if you take the time to look it up and carefully convert it to the right units. Let us know what your favorite baking measurements tools are in the comments below!