There are only two ways to measure ingredients in the home kitchen: by weight or by volume. It is always preferable to weigh ingredients with a scale (especially flour). Extra care must be exercised if the reader wishes to use cups for measuring flour and water.

Measuring Cups

A basic set comes with the following cup sizes:1/4, 1/3, 1/2. and 1 cup. A complete set includes 1/8, 2/3, 3/4, 1½ and 2 cups. For those without a complete measuring cup set, 1/8 cup is the same as 2 Tablespoons. Cups are used primarily for flour and water, but larger amounts of sugar and dried dairy products can also be measured with cups.


The technique known as “scoop and sweep” is often touted as the best way to measure flour with cups. Getting the flour into the cup is the “scoop” portion. The “sweep” is performed by running a straightedge across the rim of the cup, which removes excess flour and fills the cup evenly. How the flour is loaded into the cup has a large impact on the accuracy of the measurement.

  • Sifting flour into the cup is the preferred method. If the sifter has a conical bottom, then the flour can be deposited directly into the cup. If the sifter is flat-bottomed, then the flour should be sifted onto a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil first. The flour can then be funneled into the cup until it is full.

  • Instead of using a sifter, a sieve can be used to decompress the flour. The sieve openings should be large enough to allow the flour to pass through with gentle shaking.

  • The flour can also be spooned or scooped, then deposited into the cup. It is necessary to “fluff up” the flour with a spoon or other implement before digging into the flour. There will be some compression of the flour when using this method, which results in more flour in the measurement.

  • The measuring cup can be used to scoop the flour and fill the cup in one motion. It is then leveled with a straightedge. This is the fastest and least desirable technique.


Unlike flour, the density of water is fairly constant, making measurement with cups more practical. When using fixed volume cups (like the one pictured at the chapter beginning), care must be taken not to overfill. The surface tension created by water molecules makes it possible for the water level to rise above the rim of the cup. Water can also be measured in a graduated glass or plastic measuring cup. To get an accurate reading, the meniscus must be read properly.

Measuring Spoons

A basic set of measuring spoons has four sizes: 1/4 teaspoon (tsp), 1/2 tsp, 1 tsp, and 1 Tablespoon (Tb). Sometimes a 1/8 teaspoon is included. When using spoons, the measurement should be leveled with a straightedge (a short “sweep” action). Only one ingredient should not be leveled: lecithin granules. For lecithin only, the spooned granules should be slightly “rounded”. Some ingredients (such as sugar, shortening, and dried milk) can be accurately measured with a kitchen scale or with spoons. Other ingredients (such as salt and yeast) must be measured with spoons or on a precision scale. Measuring spoons provide a practical alternative to expensive precision scales. For very small amounts, tiny measuring spoon sets are available. These smaller spoon sets usually come with three sizes:

  • Dash – 1/8 teaspoon

  • Pinch – 1/16 teaspoon

  • Smidgen – 1/32 teaspoon


An accurate scale is the best means by which consistent results can be obtained. Kitchen scales are usually rated by capacity and resolution. Capacity is the maximum weight that can be placed on the scale. Resolution is the smallest increment by which the weight is displayed. As capacity increases, resolution usually decreases. It is possible to maintain high resolution in a high capacity scale, but more sensitive (and expensive) mechanisms are required. All scales can be classified as either analog or digital. The author has used an analog platform scale for many years with consistent results.

Platform Scales

Having a round dial and an indicating needle, these scales are common in restaurants. They are also known as top-loading scales because of the load placement. A combination of calibrated springs in the housing translates platform movement into a weight indication. Because of some slight friction in the mechanism, the load should be tapped slightly to ensure an accurate reading. Look for the following features:

  • Rotating Dial - Enables the weight to be reset (tared). The minimum acceptable diameter is 6 inches (15 cm).

  • Flat Platform - Made of stainless steel, it should be at least 6” x 6” (15 x 15 cm).

  • Capacity - Resolution is greatly reduced as capacity increases. A 32 ounce capacity scale with ¼ oz graduations (metric: 1kg x 5grams) gives good performance. Larger capacity platform scales are not acceptable for use in home baking.

Only commercial platform scales are rugged and accurate enough for use in baking. Most platform scales sold in the retail world are designed for dietary use, so look for commercial scales at restaurant supply houses or on the Internet.

Digital Scales

Digital scales are now widely available in a diverse number of styles. Capacities are high, typically around 5000g. Nearly all such scales have a switch that allows the user to select either English or metric units for display. All digital measuring devices exhibit the phenomenon known as the “staircase effect”. Unlike analog scales, which operate in a continuous manner, digital readouts will “jump” to a new value. The more steps over a given range, the greater the accuracy. Setting a digital scale to read in 1/8 ounce increments results in a much coarser measurement than setting the scale to read in grams. When using a digital kitchen scale, set the scale to “Metric” mode for best performance.

Whichever type of scale the reader chooses, accuracy and capacity are what determines success. It should be noted that the analog platform scale has one distinct advantage over all digital scales: it requires no batteries.

All material Copyright 2013 by R. L. Saussele

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