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Kitchen Basics: Measuring Dry Ingredients

Susan writes the blog Cardamom Kitchen to share her culinary experiences as an Indian-American rooted in the Midwest. Luckily she's also sharing her experiences with Whole Story readers by demystifing essential cooking skills with step-by-step instructions and her own handsome photos.

When I was nine, my Uncle Matthew gave me a copy of Cricket’s Cookery. Inside the cover, he penned an inscription directing me to help my mom in the kitchen. Over time, she and I established our own fiefdoms. She saw to dishes that could withstand ample experimentation and last minute substitutions. Being one for rules and order, I became the family baker.  

Adding the wrong amount of flour or sugar can really muck up a dessert, as I can attest. With a stretch of holidays on the way in which cutout cookies, pies, and layered cake are often expected, I want to share tips for accurately measuring dry ingredients. 

First, a little bit about the tools you’ll need to bake up sublime desserts:

  • Dry measuring cups are essential to baking. The set I own includes four steel cups sized to measure 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup, and 1 cup. Dry measuring cups are designed to be filled completely and leveled off. A liquid measuring cup, by contrast, will not allow you to level off different measurements. 
  • You’ll definitely need a set of measuring spoons. I prefer steel spoons which keep their shape after years of use. The set I own has a tablespoon, a teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, and 1/4 teaspoon. 
  • A kitchen scale will give you the most accurate measurements and is really helpful for measuring large quantities or odd quantities that result from doubling or cutting down a recipe. A scale is also useful for measuring ingredients in grams. That being said, I have produced many lovely baked goods without ever pulling mine out. Unless you do a lot of baking, I think a scale is optional.

Now, on to the guidelines for measuring dry ingredients. 

To measure flour and other light ingredients such as powdered sugar and cocoa:

Gently stir to loosen any flour that may be compacted.

Slowly spoon the flour into a measuring cup until it forms a dome. Resist the urge to tap the cup on the counter or to shake it to level the flour. That will pack the flour and you’ll end up with more flour than the recipe calls for. 

Remove the excess flour by running the back of a knife over the edge of the measuring cup.

To measure granulated sugar and other weighty, sandy ingredients:

Scoop the sugar with a measuring cup. Spoon in more sugar and level it by slowly tipping the cup to the left and right, or level it with the back of a knife. 

To measure brown sugar:

Spoon the sugar into a measuring cup, pressing it down into the cup. Continue until the cup is full. When you invert the cup, the brown sugar should take the form of the measuring cup.

You can follow the same guidelines to measure dry ingredients with measuring spoons with one possible exception. I don’t think it’s necessary to stir light ingredients such as baking powder, baking soda, or ground spices before measuring them. However, if you’re a stickler for rules, you’ll want to include that step.

I’d love to see your tips for measuring dry ingredients! Share them with your fellow cooks in the comments section below.

All photos by Susan Pachikara.