Kitchen Tip: Measuring Flour

How do you measure flour? Do you dip and sweep? Dip and shake? How about spoon and sweep? You may not think it matters how you measure flour, but let me assure you it does.

Far and away, the best method for success to get those cookies to spread perfectly, bread to be soft instead of stiff, cakes to be moist instead of dry, is to weigh your flour (and other ingredients). To do this, you need to either possess weird superhuman powers or possess a kitchen scale. I have a simple kitchen scale (a Salter version that isn’t sold anymore) that I’ve been using for years and it does the job quite well. You don’t need to pay out a lot of money to get a great, functional kitchen scale.

Scales are fantastic if a) you have one and b) the recipe you are using gives you a weight measure along with a cup measure.

However, if you don’t own a kitchen scale and your recipe doesn’t give a weight measure, then the next best thing is to make sure you are measuring flour correctly. That’s why I’m here! I took it upon myself to conduct a little experiment in my kitchen today. I became half scientist just for you.

Follow me.

I weighed a cup of flour using three different techniques:

Dip and Shake
Gently scoop the cup into the flour.

Scoop it deep so the flour is piled high.

Then shake the cup until it is level.

Dip and Sweep
Again, dip the cup into the flour so that it piles high. Don’t slam it into the flour and overpack – just gently scoop the cup through the flour to fill the cup.

And then level it off with a flat edge.

Spoon and Sweep
Spoon the flour into the cup until it is just slightly over the top of the cup.

Level the flour off.

Here are the results:
The Dip and Shake method produced a cup of flour that weighed 6 ounces.
The Dip and Sweep method produced a cup of flour that weighed 5 1/4 ounces.
The Spoon and Sweep method produced a cup of flour that weighed about 4 ounces.

To make the results mean something, here’s the following piece of information – most recipes I’ve seen written with weight measures have a cup of all-purpose flour weighing in at right around 5 ounces, give or take a little (cake flour, bread flour, and whole wheat flour vary in weight but since I used all-purpose flour for my highly scientific experiment today, we’ll dwell on it for now). You can see from the above results that the dip and sweep method came the closest to the 5 ounces a cup of all-purpose flour should weigh.

An ounce or two difference in flour is a huge, and I mean huge, variable in the outcome of baked goods. Cookies with even slightly too much flour won’t flatten but with too little flour, they’ll spread into a pancake. Bread with a tad too much flour can be dry or have issues rising. Cakes with too little flour can sink or flatten and too much flour? Dry again.

So what’s a home chef to do with this information?

Here are my recommendations:
1) If at all possible, invest in a kitchen scale. If a recipe gives you a weight measure. Use it. You’ll get the best results using a kitchen scale whenever possible.

2) For all the recipes that do not have weight measures listed (or if you do not have a kitchen scale), use the Dip and Sweep method (this same method is also recommended by Cook’s Illustrated – I’m so glad they agree with me). It should comfort your flour-measuring soul to know that I always use the dip and sweep method when a recipe doesn’t give a weight – so all of the baked good recipes posted here without a weight measure have been tested, baked and deemed worthy using this flour measuring method. You’ll get the best results on my baked good recipes by dipping and sweeping (and of course, weighing when you can).

As a sidenote: when it comes to yeast doughs, I never use the flour measurement as a hard, fast rule. Instead I go by the feel and look of the dough (you can read more about working with yeast here).

Because I think it is that important to use a kitchen scale (and to bless you for sticking with me this far!), I’m giving away five kitchen scales to five of you! Click here to enter the giveaway (so we don’t muddy the waters of this comment section with entries, especially for those who may have additional questions).

Thanks for sticking with me through my science experiment. I’m proud to be a dip-and-sweeper-slash-weigher-of-flour and hope you’ll become one, too, if you aren’t already!

Added Disclaimer: Ok, after the email and comment onslaught, I just have to state this for posterity’s sake – if you use a flour measuring method other than the one I recommended and your baked goods always turn out perfectly, well then, don’t feel pressure to change! This is my recommendation only and I know there are many of you out there who are better bakers than I that may employ the dip-twirl-shake-spoon-level–hula flouring method and it works great every time. Just sayin’ – do what gets you the best results but keep in mind that my very, extremely, highly scientific research (and other creditable sources) point to the dip-and-sweep as a preferred method. Over and out.