This Is the Proper Way to Measure Flour
Two wise words from the test kitchen: scoop and sweep!
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Measuring flour might seem super basic, but you'd be surprised by how many people get the technique wrong, especially since flour is undoubtedly the most important ingredient in baking. The majority of home bakers measure by volume, but if you're simply dipping your measuring cup into a bag of flour, you won't get the recipe's intended results. This increases the amount of flour in the cup and can cause your baked goods, from cakes and cookies to breads and pastries, to be dry, dense, and crumbly.
To avoid adding excess flour, the test kitchen uses a spoon-and-sweep method to measure flour precisely. Assistant editor Lindsay Strand says, "A good experiment for anyone who has a cooking scale is to compare how much a cup of flour weighs spooned and leveled vs. scooped-it's crazy to see how much of a difference it can make!" The food editors start with measuring cups that are designed for dry ingredients and have their rims intact (any chips or cracks will affect the volume). Lindsay also fluffs up the flour with a measuring cup before proceeding. Meanwhile, deputy editor Greg Lofts skips the fluffing step: "I don't keep flour in the original bag, where it is compacted. I decant into a jar, which fluffs up the flour, so there's no need to do it again." Now it's time to spoon and sweep!
Instead of dipping the measuring cup into the container of flour, use a spoon to scoop the flour into the measuring cup, piling it slightly over the top. This prevents the flour from being packed so firmly in the cup that you would have more flour than the recipe calls for. It also ensures that the cup is completely filled with flour, without any gaps on the sides, so you don't end up using too little flour.
Once the cup is generously filled with flour, gently run the straight edge of a knife over the rim of the cup to level the flour, sweeping the excess back into the original canister. This avoids waste and guarantees that you measure exactly the amount of flour called for. Greg likes to use a regular dinner knife to level, while Lindsay is partial to a butter knife or small offset spatula, but all three work equally well. While we can't promise all of your baking projects will be successful, using the spoon-and-sweep method will certainly help!
Watch food director Sarah Carey demonstrate this essential way to measure flour: