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Cooking 101: Measuring Ingredients

I want to start this post with one of the funniest cooking stories I have ever heard. One night a friend of mine and her husband, who were not very experienced cooks, decided that they wanted to cook a really special meal. So they went through all of their cookbooks, found the recipe they wanted to make, wrote down all of the ingredients, and set off for Whole Foods. It took them a while to find all of the ingredients, going up and down every aisle multiple times, and in the end there was still one ingredient that they just couldn’t find anywhere. They looked in the spice section, the dairy section, everywhere. Finally they went to customer service and asked where the “minus” (which they pronounced “meenus”) could be found. The man behind the desk had no idea what “minus” was, so he looked it up on the computer with no luck. They were irate. Here they were, trying to cook, trying to make a nice meal, they had come all the way to the “fancy” grocery store only to find it didn’t carry an essential ingredient?! Unacceptable! Finally they decided to just try the recipe without the “minus” since they only needed two tablespoons of it anyway. As they left Whole Foods with their groceries, though, they were still grumbling about what kind of grocery store doesn’t have an ingredient like “minus”?! When they got home and looked at the recipe again they realized that the recipe had called for “1 cup of flour, minus 2 tablespoons” but it just so happened that the “minus 2 tablespoons” was on the next line in the ingredient list.

When I heard this story I couldn’t stop laughing, but I also realized that this was an amazing example of how confused and flustered we can feel when we are looking at a new recipe, especially a relatively complicated one. For a lot of cooking, I find that measurements can be relatively approximate, but when we are trying a new recipe or if we are relatively new to cooking, having things be precise can be reassuring and helpful so I wanted to share some tips on measuring and also some equivalencies that can be really helpful to know for those times when you run out of clean measuring cups and spoons.

measuring cups

Tips for Measuring Dry Ingredients:

  • Scoop, then scrape. When measuring things like flour the best way to get the most accurate measurement is to scoop up the ingredient until it is just a bit overfull and then use the back of a knife to gently scrape the excess back into the container. This will prevent over-packing a measuring cup.
  • Use scraping edges when provided. If your baking soda or baking powder containers offer a flat edge near the top of the container, that is for scraping the measuring spoon to be level.
  • Use measuring cups for dry ingredients whenever possible. While you can use liquid measuring cups, it is much easier to scrape the excess off using a dry measuring cup.

liquid measuring cup

Tips for Measuring Wet Ingredients:

  • Use a liquid measuring cup whenever possible. While you can use a dry measuring cup, you will need to fill it all the way to the very top and risk spilling, whereas a liquid measuring cup gives you room at the top.
  • Put your liquid measuring cup on a level surface and squat down to make sure that the measurement is accurate. Looking from above can distort your view.
  • Make sure the top of the liquid meets the measurement line. If it is just under the line, then it is not enough.

Measurement Equivalents:
I can’t even tell you how many times I have gone to get a measuring cup or spoon of a certain size only to find that the one I need is dirty. It took me years to memorize these equivalencies and I still have a cheat sheet posted on the inside of my cabinet that holds my baking supplies…

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