One of the most important baking tips is how to weigh and measure ingredients properly. Because each ingredient in baking results in a particular action or reaction that's critical to the recipe's success, one misstep could mean the difference between baked goods people pass on to those people can't pass up.
Understanding Measurements in the United States
When following a recipe, know that American recipes use dry and fluid measurements. For the most part, liquid ingredients use volume measures. Dry ingredients (i.e. sugar or flour) are generally measured by volume in North America (i.e. ¾ cup sugar) as well. For small amounts of salt and spices, volume is generally used. In other places in the world, dry ingredients are measured by weight.
Meat products are measured by weight or count (i.e. two chicken legs or two pounds of chicken). Vegetables are also measured this way. If meats or vegetables are cut up, they are measured by volume in North America.
Generally, the United States uses pounds and ounces as weight measures. Bulk solids like flour and sugar are measured by volume (i.e. cups).
Basic Measurement Terms
Recipes sometimes have baking measurements or instructions that require a specific amount of an ingredient but use words like dash or pinch. Even these cooking measures are specific. For example, dash or pinch is considered to be less than 1/8 of a teaspoon.
If a recipe asks for a cup to be firmly packed, you are supposed to tightly press an ingredient like flour into a measuring cup. You can use your hand, a spoon or even a spatula for the job. If a recipe asks for a firmly packed cup of flour, you would pack as much flour into the cup as is possible.
If a recipe asks for a cup to be lightly packed, you would pour the ingredient into the cup but you would not pack it in. If a recipe asks for a measurement to be even or level, you would measure the ingredient and discard any part of the ingredient that lifts above the cup's rim (i.e. you would a use a knife or straight-edge to level the cup).
If a recipe asks for the ingredient to be rounded, you would not flatten the ingredient into the cup. Instead, you would let it stay in a rounded pile. Heaping an ingredient is when you pile as much of it into the measuring device as possible.
Sifting ensures that the ingredient is not pressed together and that there is no other ingredient present. You would use a strainer or sifter for this.
With so many types of flour to choose from, such as spelt flour, soy flour, quinoa flour, rice flour, organic bread flour and even gluten-free flour, your head may begin to spin. If you want your recipe to be a success, you'll need to understand what each type does and whether it's right for your recipe's need.
The word "soufflé" strikes fear in the hearts of both professional chefs and home cooks. Fortunately for anyone who desires to attempt a soufflé, they are not nearly as difficult as many people would have you believe.