Pastry chefs and recipe developers typically weigh ingredients to get an accurate measurement. But since most American cookbooks aren't written by weight, and not all home cooks own scales, it's not fair to just tell you to weigh everything. So how do you get it right?
We've watched even seasoned home cooks fail to accurately measure flour, then be disappointed with results. The most common way of measuring - spooning ingredients into a dry measuring cup - can lead you to vastly under measure by as much as 40%.
Too much flour can obviously make a cake crumbly and dry. But err on the other side, and too wet a batter will create an unappetizing gummy texture.
Like most recipe writers, we use the dip and sweep method, and think it creates the most accurate results.
First, ensure that the flour isn't compacted by stirring it a few times with your measuring cup. Then, dip it into the flour, overfilling the cup. Lastly, use a knife or a spatula to sweep the excess off the top, creating a perfectly level cup of flour.
Two more tips on sifting flour: If the recipe calls for "1 cup of flour, sifted," use the dip and sweep method to measure, then pour the flour into a sifter. If, on the other hand, the recipe says "1 cup of sifted flour," sift directly into the measuring cup until slightly overfull, then use a knife to sweep away the excess.