Written by Lisa Lin & Diann Leo-Omine. Photos & Video by Lisa Lin.
As a food blogger, I test my recipes many times. When I first started developing recipes for my blog, I would take a measuring cup, dip it into a bag of flour, and try to pack in as much flour as possible. Over time, I started noticing that the consistency of certain recipes would be different between test batches. That’s when I started suspecting that my method of measuring flour wasn’t yielding consistent results.
I decided to measure a 1/2 cup of flour several times and weigh them each time. This little experiment confirmed my suspicions: the weight of the flours were all over the board. It depended on how heavy handed I was in packing flour into the measuring cup. Not only that, I also discovered that my different sets of dry measuring cups held slightly different capacities!
Since then, I decided to use my kitchen scale for cooking and developing recipes. Weighing your flour is the most accurate way to measure flour. However, I know that not everyone owns a scale. That’s why I am writing this post to describe the spoon-and-sweep method of measuring flour. I found that the spoon-and-sweep method tends to yield more consistent results when measuring flour by volume.
Is There a Difference Between Dry and Liquid Measuring Cups?
Yes, there is a difference between dry and liquid measuring cups. Dry measuring cups generally come in sets that include cups of various sizes (usually 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, and 1/4 cup). The edge of dry measuring cups are flat, which allow you to level them off at the top. Liquid measuring cups are usually see-through and come with a handle and a spout for easy pouring. They’re also generally larger than dry measuring cups.
If you measure flour in a liquid measuring cup, you will have difficulty leveling off the extra flour. You’ll likely use a spoon to smooth off the top, and you might end up packing down more flour than is needed. Again, using a scale yields more consistent results.
How to Measure Flour With a Scale
The most accurate way to measure flour is to use a scale. Digital scales are relatively inexpensive. To measure flour with a digital scale, all you have to do is turn on your scale, place your container on top, and press “tare” to subtract the weight of the container out. As a bonus, you don’t have to fuss with washing different measuring cups and bowls! Here are two scales that I use regularly:
How to Measure Flour By Volume
There are different schools of thought on how to measure flour by volume.
The first method is known as the dip-and-sweep method. First, you use a fork to fluff up the flour inside the bag (or container you use for flour). Take your measuring cup and scoop the flour directly from the bag or container of flour. Finally, level off any excess flour with a flat edge. This this the method that Cooks’ Illustrated uses when measuring flour by volume (they also recommend weighing flour for accuracy). However, I found that there’s quite a bit of variance when I measure the flour this way.
The other common method is the spoon-and-sweep method. First, you fluff up the flour with a fork. Then, lay the measuring cup on your counter. Take a spoon and gradually spoon flour into the measuring cup. Do not tap the measuring cup on the counter to try to fit in more flour. Make sure to spoon enough flour so that it’s heaping at the top. Level off the flour with the flat edge of a knife or a bench scraper. Technically, you can spoon flour into a measuring cup directly over the flour bag or container. However, if your bag or container is small, you’ll create a big mess.
You are bound to make a big mess measuring flour this way. I learned a tip from a gluten-free cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen where you lay the measuring cup over a paper towel before you start spooning flour into the measuring cup. The paper towel catches the excess flour that spills over during the measuring process. Once you’re done measuring the flour, just take the paper towel and transfer all loose flour back into the flour bag or container.
Why Does Measuring Flour by Weight or Volume Make a Difference?
When you dip or spoon flour into a measuring cup, you might be packing in more or less air. Furthermore, tapping a measuring cup or compressing flour into a measuring cup can make a big difference.
Because the results can be so varied, I always recommend that people use a scale when cooking from my recipes. If you are cooking someone else’s recipes, try to check which method the recipe writers used when developing the recipe. This information isn’t always available, but make note of it when the recipe writer mentions a flour measuring method.
Recipes Using Flour
- Pineapple Buns
- The Ultimate Guide on How to Make Milk Bread
- Baked Scallion Bread
- Black Sesame & Almond Cookies
- Flaky Scallion Pancakes
- How to Make Dumpling Wrappers
- Gluten-Free Crystal Dumplings
How to Measure Flour
- 1 measuring cup
- 1 piece paper towel
- butter knife or bench scraper
- Fluff up the flour with a fork.
- Lay a paper towel on your counter. Place the measuring cup over the paper towel. The paper towel catches the excess flour that spills over during the measuring process.
- Take a spoon and gradually spoon flour into the measuring cup. Do not tap the measuring cup on the counter to try to fit in more flour. Make sure to spoon enough flour so that the flour is heaping at the top.
- Level off the flour with the flat edge of a knife or a bench scraper.
- Once you’re done measuring the flour, just take the paper towel and transfer all loose flour back into the flour bag or container.
- Fluff up the flour with a fork.
- Take your measuring cup and scoop the flour directly from the bag or container of flour.
- Level off excess flour with a flat edge. (Note: This is not my preferred method of measuring flour by volume. Sometimes, I'm more heavy handed in the way I dip my measuring cup into the flour container. However, some recipe writers use this method, so I wanted to add it here.)