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Old 07-15-2005, 02:30 PM   #1
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Measuring Flour

I've been unsuccessful lately in making sourdough starter, so I referred back to Fleischmann's Yeast website to consult the "authority" on the subject. I halved their suggested recipe, using 1 3/4 cups AP flour, 1/2 pkg active dry yeast, and 1 cup warm water, mixed to a smooth cream.

Well, that got me a dought instead of a cream, so I had to add more water. Lots more. Which made me wonder about measuring flour.

I decided to check. Using my little electronic kitchen scale, I found that:

1 cup AP flour dredged directly out of the cannister weighed 5 oz.

1 cup AP flour spooned into the measuring cup weight 4.7 oz.

1 cup AP flour SIFTED into the measuring cup weighed a mere 3 oz.

All were carefully levelled off with a straight knife edge.

Now that's one heck of a spread!

So just what should one do when the recipe simply states "1 cup AP flour"? How much flour are they talking about????

A similar problem exists with, for example, salt. Is that teasp0onful of salt level, rounded, or heaped? It can make one helluva difference!

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Old 07-15-2005, 02:38 PM   #2
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I've struggled with that before, too, oldcoot!

From what I've read, the standard way to measure flour is to spoon the flour into a measuring cup (not placing the measuring cup directly into the flour) and then swiping across the top with a knife to level it.

For salt, baking powder/soda, etc., I've always used level spoonsful unless heaping or scant are called for.
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Old 07-15-2005, 02:57 PM   #3
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PA Baker has it right. No tapping down the flour in the measuring cup. Fill with a spoon and level. However, there's no guarantee that the person who wrote the recipe measured it that way.

Your dilemma supports the effort to measure flour (and other dry ingredients) by weight rather than volume.

All measuting spoons and cups are always a level measure unless otherwise specified.
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Old 07-15-2005, 03:39 PM   #4
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I always stir the flour before spooning it into the measuring cup. I think I read that in my Fine Cooking magazine. I think the only way to get it accurate is by weighing your flour on a scale, but not many recipes tell you how many ounces to use. Doing a search on the internet, you'd probably be able to find out.
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Old 07-15-2005, 05:11 PM   #5
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It's interesting to hear about the problems with differing weights of 'cups' of ingredients.

We never use 'cups' here - only ounces and pounds or grammes and kilos. I think it a more logical way to weigh! But, I suspect that is because of the way we learn as children - cups for you, scales for me!

I can almost tell the age of my recipes by whether I still use lb/oz or kilo/g
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Old 07-15-2005, 08:25 PM   #6
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From what I've read in several cookbooks that discuss it, and remembering the way my grandmothers and aunts did it ... the "standard" way to measure a cup of flour for baking is to use a spoon or scoop and "sprinkle" it into a "dry volume" measuring cup until overflowing and then level it off with a straight edge. No tapping the cup to level it off - that will just compact the flour and increase the actual volume and weight. From what I remember, and I wish the heck I could remember where it was, this became the de facto standard method when first detailed in America's first recipe book quantified in the format the recognize today - The Fanny Farmer Cookbook.

Another method that some people prefer, which should come out close to the same weight, is to shake their cannister of flour to aerate it before scooping out with a spoon.

1 cup of AP flour should run about 4.25 oz - depending on the flour.

It's not foolproof - but here's an easy way to figure out how much a cup of your AP flour should weigh ... look on the side of the bag where it gives the nutritional information. This will give you the serving size (usually 1/4 cup) and an approximate number of servings per bag (usually around 75). And the front of the bag will usually give you the weight in both pounds and ounces. So, for a 5-pound (80-oz) bag of flour with 75 1/4-cup servings ... Total bag OZ / servings = weight per serving. If serving is 1/4-cup then multiply that by 4 to get 1-cup weight:

80 / 75 = 1.06 (oz per 1/4 cup serving) x 4 = 4.26 oz per cup.

As for salt, etc. - unless it says "scant" or "heaping" or "rounded" - always assume a level measurement.
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Old 07-16-2005, 12:43 AM   #7
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Mike, as you mentioned, even the measurements on the bag of flour are approximations. A serving is 1/4 cup. But we aren't told how that flour is treated prior to measuring. And there are "about" 75 servings in a 5 lb bag. If one does not have a scale, it is of little use to know that means a cup should weigh 4+ oz.

It is impossible to know the actual amount of flour the person originating a recipe used (unless measured by weight). So we must understand that variations in results are "built in", no matter how precisely we follow a recipe.

Much is written about the effect of humidity on the flour/water ratio in bread making. I submit each individuals method of measuring the flour has much, much more to do with variations.
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Old 07-16-2005, 09:43 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oldcoot
...Much is written about the effect of humidity on the flour/water ratio in bread making. I submit each individuals method of measuring the flour has much, much more to do with variations.
Oldcoot:

I agree.

As far as the 1/4 cup serving size on a flour bag, the nutrition label will always have a metric weight measurement next to the volume measurement. For example, "Serving Size 1/4 cup (30 g)". This enables you to make a precise calculation every time.

This is true for the nutrition label on all foods.
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Old 07-16-2005, 11:31 PM   #9
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Before you guys break out the rope to hang me ... it's only an approximation that will get you within a ballpark figure. If the recipe you are using is in volume (and you don't know how it was measured) and you want to convert it to weight - it's a start. The only cookbook I've run across that specifically didn't use the Fanny Farmer method of measuring flour is Cookwise by Shirley Corriher.

Now, let's get to the other part of the problem - where did your flour come from, how was it stored before you got it, where was it stored, where do you live and how do you store it, etc ..... in short - what is the moisture content of your flour? Do all of the recipes that you use that go by weight always specify the moisture content of the flour? Do you take the time to determine the moisture content of your flour and make adjustments to the recipe accordingly? Do you know the moisture content of the flour used by the author of your recipe?

Hey - this isn't rocket science. Use the Fanny Farmer method for measuring by volume, assume 12% moisture content if working with weight. It might not be absolute ... but you're not going to be off by too much. And, if you are - make a note for the next time. For the home cook this is generally close enough.
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Old 07-17-2005, 11:37 AM   #10
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Mike, no one is ot to hang you. But you prove my point. There is no way to ensure results will match those of the recipe writer. Just too darned many variables. So I find it silly when a bread recipe calls for "2 cups plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of water"! Granted, I've seen only one that precise, but you get the idea.

So I gave up on bread recipes early in my feeble attempts at baking. I simply judge the texpure of the dough and adjust it depending upon the type of loaf I seek. Anyway, surely everyone has noticed that all white bread recipes are very nearly identical. Minor changes probably due to the very things we've been discussing here - including variations in moisture content.

B/W, my fabulous in-house cook, does much the same when making her great pie crust: strictly by the "feel" of her dough. And nobody - but nobody- makes a flakier AND more flavorful pie crust than does my wife!!! (She uses the Wesson Sir & Roll recipe - I've tried it and always get a fine quality cardboard!)
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Old 07-20-2005, 01:20 AM   #11
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Thanks oldcoot .... was starting to peek around corners and only go out at night!

Yes - flour is probably the biggest problem in recipes. My ex-BIL's mother was a chemist for a large bakery and I know they did a lot of testing of the flour before they mixed up thousands of loaves each day - so they could get everything consistent. She and I talked about what she did once and I was totally amazed. Few recipes, unless they are from a flour mill, specify the flour used in the recipe ... how it was measured .... etc. The best we can do is a crap shoot ... stick with one type of flour consistently and adjust our recipes once we have them worked out. I make the same bread every week here in TX, using different bread and wheat flours than I used in CO, and there is about 1-cup difference in the recipe.

Some things you learn by experience - like you were saying. How are you going to explain that in a recipe?

I don't have the recipe in front of me ... don't remember which book it was in .. but it went something like:

... add enough water to the flour to make a batter the right consistency, neither too thick nor too thin. After allowing the batter to rise for a sufficient time pour out on the table and knead in enough flour to make the dough the right texture - the dough should be neither too tight or too loose.

It's a wonder humans ever survived on bread with recipes like that! How did they ever figure out how to determine if the rock was the right temperature???
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Old 07-21-2005, 06:38 PM   #12
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Oky doky, when you are dealing with yeast breads and that includes sourdough starters, bigas, poulishes etc as well as the finished loaves, you simply can't halve or double the recipe. Breads simply don't work that way successfully. The method to increase or decrease formulae is based upon the percentage relationship between the flour and all other ingredients by WEIGHT.
In short, convert the weight of all ingredients to a percentage of the weight of the flour and then proceed from there. You simply can't use volume measurement successfully.

The KAF website has or had an excellent explaination of the process. It is some times called the baker's formulae or baker's math but regardless of what you call it is an esential tool of anyone who wants to modify recipes.

Depending on a number of variables, a cup of APF is going to weigh 4.25 oz + or - 20%. Regardless of these variables, 4.25 oz of APF will always interact with the other ingredients in the same fashion So the moral of this story is throw out the cups and weigh everything in relation to the flour's weight.

An ounce never changes but a cup sure does.

Come to think of it, that might be a better title for my book.
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Old 07-21-2005, 10:15 PM   #13
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George, you are probably correct, and weighing everthing will surely improve reproducabillity.

But few recipes list weights, and even fewer cooks are inclined to "do the math" - simple tho it is.

I know I'm 'way too lazy to bother with all that. Instead, I'll continue to use recipes as a general guide, and let my interpretation of the desired texture direct my dough-making. And I'll win some and lose some. But that is what makes it fun. If I knew the results for certain each time I baked a loaf of bread, I would quickly lose interest in baking. No challenge, no fun.

Then, just for the sake of discussion, what does one do about some of the other variables, like room temperature and humidity, moisture content of flour in the cannister (which can affect the weight and therefore the percentage!), inaccuracies in oven temperatures, baking time, evaluation of doneness, etc., etc., etc.

While a commercial bakery can employ persons to check all of those variable, and thus come up with highly reproduceable results, the rest of us cannot. Yet there are those among us who unfailingly bake a fine loaf. Hmmmmm.
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Old 07-22-2005, 05:23 AM   #14
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Surprisingly, the variables you ask about are negated when you weigh the recipe components. For example, the weight of flour changes in only a minute percentage when it's humidity changes and this change is almost guaranteed to be within the error factor of a scale. The weight to volume relationship however changes dramatically when using volume measures. The variation in the degree of compaction alone when scooping flour will account for as much as 20% variation and this is far more than enough to throw a bread formulae out of whack.

Oven temperature variation is another measurement error that is easily remedied with an oven thermometer and baking time, if the oven temperature is accurate, will not vary if the dough has been prepared using ingredients that have been weighed.

Baking is often refered to as a "science" because of the delicate balance of relationships between the components need to accurately calculated to ensure consistent repeatability of results.

If repeatability of results isn't an issue and for you that seems to be the case, then there isn't a need to weigh components. For me, if I am going to invest a few hours of my time to produce a specific result then I am more interested in the results than the process.

As for recipes not being produced with weights, that is generally correct only for north american recipes and even that is changing. Over the years I have compiled a chart of the weights of ingredients I use and when using a new recipe for the first time I pencil in beside a volume measurement the corresponding weight measure. Obviously this is only need once unless there is tweeking to recipe based on subsequent results.

If a baker wants to halve, double or tripple a formulae then weighing components is the only way to acceive the desired result with any measure of consistency.
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