As fall starts to arrive, many people begin to bake more. If you live in Colorado, you already know baking can be a challenge due to our altitude. If you missed my Cooking Tips on baking at altitude, see this link. Because we start at a bit of a disadvantage, you want to make sure you are not sabotaging your efforts with other variables. In this Cooking Tip, I would like to discuss one of those variables – measuring cups.
When I teach my cooking classes, I am always amazed that many people do not realize that there are different types of cups for measuring liquids and dry items. Liquid measuring cups are those that have a spout with measuring lines for different amounts of liquid. When you look at them, you will see the top line is below the very top of the cup. These are usually clear, which allows you to easily see the meniscus of the liquid to ensure an accurate measurement.
Dry measuring cups are shaped more like a little tub and there are different sized cups for each measurement. The measurement indicated on the handle usually means when the cup is filled to the very top.
The first piece of advice is to use the correct type of measuring cup for the ingredient. When you use a dry measuring cup to measure a cup of flour, you fill it to the top and level off with a flat edge. Trying to use a liquid measuring cup to do this is very difficult. First, it is hard to gauge when you are at a cup since the line is below the top. Also, it is impossible to level it off as you can with a dry cup.
It may be a bit easier to measure liquid in a dry cup but you would need to fill it to the very top to get an accurate measurement and then it is very hard to move without spilling. Cook’s Illustrated did a test where they asked 18 people (cooks & non-cooks) to measure a cup of flour and a cup of water in both wet/dry cups. There was always some variance due to different techniques that people used. However, the variance was even more pronounced when using the wrong type of cup. Trying to measure the flour in a liquid cup led to differences of up to 26%. Measuring liquids in a dry cup resulted in a variance of up to 23%. These inaccuracies can spell disaster for your baking – especially when you are baking at high altitude.
Of course, the best way to measure anything is by weighing it with a food scale. I know that is a step too far for many people. And, most US recipes do not include weight measurements. Accepting that most of you will use measuring cups, you now know how important it is to use the correct type. However, can you just buy any brand and expect it to be accurate?
Unfortunately, the answer is No. A number of food sites have evaluated different brands. Let me summarize for you what they said. If anyone wants links to their actual testing, let me know.
When looking for good measuring cups, you want a number of things. First and foremost, you want accuracy. Other considerations are ease of use and durability. For dry measuring cups, Cook’s Illustrated rated OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel cups the highest. Among liquid cups, Cook’s Illustrated rated Pyrex as the best glass cup and OXO Good Grips Angled cup as the best plastic liquid measuring cups.
Serious Eats felt that Norpro’s Grip-Ez Stainless Steel Measuring Cups were the best dry measuring cups. One nice thing about this set is that it includes a 1/8-cup measure, something that OXO’s set does not. Serious Eats agreed with OXO as the best plastic liquid cup but preferred Anchor Hocking for the glass measuring cups.
A new entry into liquid measuring cups is Euclid. According to the designer, “Euclid is the only measuring cup with a mathematically optimal, tapered design for consistent accuracy across amounts.” Designed by a mathematician, it is an interesting cup that I may just have to try.
While we are at it, what about measuring spoons? Cooks Illustrated found most of the sets they tested were about equal for accuracy but there were differences in ease of use and durability. Their favorite set was Cuisipro Stainless Steel set. For Serious Eats, they found that differences in accuracy to be more of a concern. Their favorite in a rectangular shape was the OXO Good Grips Spice Jar Measuring Spoons. A close runner-up was the RSVP International Endurance Spice Spoon Set. For rounded spoons, they preferred the Amco Advanced Performance Measuring Spoons set. Wirecutter found that Prepworks by Progressive was their choice although their second choice was Cuisipro, Cook’s Illustrated’s favorite.
No matter where you live, if you are a serious home cook, especially a baker, you do want to pay attention to little things such as measuring cups and spoons, which can work against your success. If you live at altitude, there are enough challenges without having to deal with inaccurate measurements. With the recommendations above, I hope you will be one step closer to all of that success in the kitchen!