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5 Things You Should Not Do When Measuring Flour for Bread + Video

Does it matter how you measure flour for a bread recipe?

Yes. Careless measuring often results in a tablespoon or more of flour per cup than needed. If you enjoy low-rising bread that’s too dry, too heavy, and/or too dense, then please ignore this advice.

Measuring flour correctly is especially important when making bread. Read about practices you should avoid and tips for how to measure flour properly with a measuring cup or digital scales. #measuringflour #makingbread #breadsecrets

Is measuring flour for bread any different from measuring flour for a cake or cookies? Not really. The basic principles are the same. However, the ratio of flour to the other ingredients is so much higher for bread that mistakes are magnified to the detriment of texture and taste.

Poor measuring techniques are responsible for many bread fails. Let’s take a closer look at different methods of measuring from a bread baker’s perspective.


5 PRACTICES TO AVOID WHEN MEASURING FLOUR FOR BREAD

1.

Don’t be a “Flour Scooper. “

Using a measuring cup to scoop up the flour in a canister

If you are a flour scooper, don’t feel bad. Sticking a measuring cup down into a bag or canister of flour and then using it to scoop it full of flour comes naturally, especially when you’re in a hurry.

For example

Have you ever watched a little kid bake? The first time I handed my 7 yr. old granddaughter a measuring cup and told her to fill it with flour for some brownies, she pushed the cup into a canister of flour and scooped it up to fill the cup. When it wasn’t quite full on one side and way too full on the other, she used her little fingers to pat it down until it was only slightly uneven.

No-o-o-o-o-o-o!

Her brownies were good even though I didn’t correct her measuring technique. Some cake and cookie recipes are more forgiving than others.

When it comes to bread, as little as one extra tablespoon of flour can made the difference between fabulous and ho-hum bread.

measuring a cup of flour that was incorrectly measured by a "scooper"
This cup of flour was measured using the “scooping with the measuring cup method.” Instead of 120 grams, it weighed 145 grams, nearly two tablespoons too much. Multiply this error times three for the average bread recipe calling for 3 cups of flour. 6 tablespoons is nearly 1/3 cup of extra flour. YIKES!

A Better Way To Measure Flour for Bread:

Using a scoop  to stir flour and then fill a measuring cup

When you’re ready to measure, use a fork (first choice), spoon, or scoop to stir the flour. Then lightly spoon the flour into your measuring cup. After experimenting, I found that using a fork to fill a measuring cup results in the most accurate measurement even if it takes a little longer.

Don’t pat the flour down with your hands, a spatula or a knife. Don’t tap it on the counter to level it. Flour should never be packed.

Instead, use the straight edge of a knife to delicately scrape across the top of the cup to level and make an accurate measure.

a digital scale showing that 1 cup of flour when measured correctly weighs 120 grams or 4-1/4 ounces
According to King Arthur Flour.com, a cup of flour should weigh 120 grams or 4-1/4 ounces.

***Kitchen Secret #1:

Always keep a fork in your flour bag or flour canister. Then when you are ready to measure, you don’t have to go looking for something to fluff or stir up the flour.

***Kitchen Secret #2

A roomy flour canister or a large plastic storage container makes measuring with a cup correctly much easier and neater. It’s less likely you will hit the side of the container as you fill your measuring cup and dump flour all over your counter.

I couldn’t find any plastic canisters like mine (seen above) on Amazon, but they only cost around $5 at a restaurant supply.


2.

Don’t use a coffee mug to measure a cup of flour.

various cups that are not good to measure flour
None of these “cups” actually holds exactly 1 cup when filled to the top and leveled off.

It’s important to use a standard measuring cup designed for dry ingredients when measuring flour for bread. Coffee mugs, rice-cooker measuring cups, liquid measuring cups, espresso cups, plastic drinking cups, etc. do not qualify.

two standard measuring cups
Standard measuring cups: Each holds exactly one cup of flour when filled to the top and leveled with a straight edge.

Measuring cups can be super cheap–especially at the dollar store. I prefer measuring cups with a rounded bottom similar to the red plastic cup shown in the picture above. They are easier to clean when using them for things like honey or shortening.

Metal measuring cups are more durable. I found these metal cups with rounded bottoms that are going on my Christmas list.

I know there are some cultures and some cooks who rarely measure anything. But please hear me on this.

You are more likely to experience success with your bread when you get serious about measuring accurately. A couple glugs of liquid, a dump of flour, and a few pinches of salt, sugar, and yeast may yield an unpleasant surprise.


3.

Don’t downplay the value of a digital kitchen scale.

You may have heard that weighing flour is better when making bread. If you hope to become a good bread maker without years and years of experience, buy yourself a digital kitchen scale.

Besides dependable accuracy, there’s another reason to weigh your flour. It’s convenient! You can place your bread machine pan or bowl on the scales, zero it out, and scoop the flour into the pan without stirring first or using a knife to level anything. (Watch the video to watch this in action.)

measuring flour with the bread machine pan sitting on top of the digital scales.

How can I measure flour accurately without using a measuring cup?

Use a digital scale. There are two methods and neither is difficult.

Before you start, be sure your scales are set to the correct measuring unit specified in the recipe. Some specify grams, others ounces.

  1. Turn on your scale AFTER you set your bowl or bread-machine pan on top of the scales. The scale should read “0” regardless of how many ingredients have already been added to the pan. Start scooping flour in until you reach the number called for in the recipe. (No need to stir first.)
  2. Turn your digital scale on BEFORE you set your bowl on the scales. After you set the pan or bowl onto the scales, hit the TARE button to bring the number in the window back to “0.” (This is what I mean by “zero it out.”) Now add flour until it reads the correct amount needed for your recipe.
digital scales with bread machine sitting on top and display "zeroed out"

4.

Don’t sift the flour before measuring.

sifting flour

We are not making angel food cake here. Stirring with a spoon or fluffing with a fork is sufficient.

Sifting flour before measuring increases volume. This can result in too little flour. In other words, your dough will most likely be too sticky if you sift first.


5.

Don’t wear black when measuring flour.

blog author wearing a black dress with flour on it

I know. Wear an apron. 🙂



FAQ about Measuring Flour

1. What if I want to weigh my flour but only cup measurements are listed in the recipe?

If you want to confuse yourself, search the internet for how much one cup of unbleached all-purpose flour weighs. The variance in answers (from seemingly reputable sources) will blow your mind. Now google whole wheat flour. The differences are even greater.

My recommendation is to decide which source you like or trust the most and stick with it for consistency. Personally, I use the chart from King Arthur Flour. They say that 1 cup of bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour equals 4-1/4 ounces or 120 grams.

Speaking of recipes without flour weights, I am working on revising all of my bread recipes to show weights. Unfortunately, I have a ways to go. Until I finish, you can assume 1 cup in any of my recipes equals 120 grams.


2. What about the “scoop-and-sweep method”?

While doing research for this post, I read in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking cookbook (one of my favorites) how she likes to measure flour.

I measure flour using the scoop-and-sweep method, which I learned from Julia Child. To use this technique, first aerate the flour by tossing it with a fork or a knife, then dip your measuring cup into the flour bin and scoop up enough flour to have it mound over the top. Finally, take a straightedge, such as the back of a knife, and sweep it across the top of the measuring cup to level it. When you scoop and when you sweep, you should not press on the flour and pack it down.
–Dorie Greenspan

I tried this method and could not for the life of me come up with a cup of flour that weighed 120 grams. My results were closer to 130 grams or more.

I’m only bringing this up to illustrate a VERY IMPORTANT POINT. Unless you know exactly how a recipe author measured the flour, a cup measurement without a weight included is only an estimate.

In Dorie’s case, she tells you her method. So check the author’s notes for this information.


3. Does it really matter if I use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour?

Although this is somewhat unrelated to measuring, I get this question so often, I want to address it while we’re talking about flour.

Bread flour contains more protein causing it to rise higher in a bread recipe. It also lends a chewier texture to bread. Usually, it will require slightly more liquid to make the dough perfect.

All-purpose flour will need less liquid and makes a softer dough. All-purpose flour is often specified in recipes for dinner rolls.

Can you substitute one for the other? Yes. The end product will still be good with only minor differences. Watch the dough as it kneads to make sure the liquid proportions are correct. Correct proportions are best illustrated with fully-kneaded dough that sticks to the side of your bread-machine pan and then pulls away cleanly.


Click here to sign up for a FREE 6-day Quick-Start email course: “Make Marvelous Bread with Your Bread Machine.”

Want to read more about making fabulous bread in a bread machine?


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If you have a question or problem you need help with, please write it in the comment section below so I can respond back. You can also email me privately: paula at saladinajar.com.

Thank you for visiting!
Paula

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Martha Roane

Tuesday 6th of October 2020

What can I do my my bread machine doesn't beep when nuts or fruit have to be put in .when do I put them in.

Paula

Wednesday 7th of October 2020

Hi Martha,

Add fruits and nuts about 5 minutes before the kneading portion of the cycle is completed. Another option is to add the fruits or nuts by hand when you are shaping the dough after removing it from the DOUGH cycle. Doing it by hand ensures that the nuts and fruits aren't crushed, which I quite like.

Martha Roane

Tuesday 6th of October 2020

@Martha Roane,

luba

Tuesday 25th of August 2020

Hello Paula I need your help urgently. I do not know why all the time when I put all the ingredients in the machine everything runs well until the dough starts to rise and all the dough is poured into the machine and then everything burns.

Paula

Wednesday 26th of August 2020

Hi luba,

Sounds like you are using a recipe with too much flour or one that rises too high for your machine. You can either: 1. Choose a recipe from your bread machine manual that is designed for your machine 2. Find a recipe with similar amounts of flour and yeast that you see in the bread-machine manual or 3. Only use the DOUGH cycle and remove the dough at the end of the cycle. Shape it yourself, let it rise again, and then bake it in your oven. https://saladinajar.com/recipes/bread/oatmeal-sunflower-bread-recipe-how-to-knead-in-a-bread-machine-but-bake-in-a-conventional-oven/

Caroline

Thursday 20th of August 2020

I followed your recipe for dinner rolls. The mixture was very watery. I reread your recipe and do not think I made any mistakes in measuring. I then consulted my bread machine book and they have the same recipe for every ingredient as yours except it calls for a full 4 cups of flour instead of 3. I am confused!! Thx in advance for your help. Also can I use recipes designated for the other cycles and just pull the dough out before baking time ?

Paula

Friday 21st of August 2020

Hi Caroline,

I'm so glad you wrote. Which bread recipe are you talking about? I have many dinner roll recipes. Once I know which one, I'll be anxious to troubleshoot with you. Give me as many details as you can. I've never seen a "watery" bread dough. Do you mean sticky?

In answer to your second question: If you pull the dough out just before baking, then the dough will fall. You'll have to reshape the dough and let it rise again anyway.(this would mean your bread rises 3 times) Better just to make that recipe (any recipe) on the DOUGH cycle. When it completes, remove the dough, shape it and let it rise again.

Autumn

Saturday 25th of July 2020

I've been trying for years to successfully make a very low sodium/salt free loaf of bread and have had no luck regardless of the many, many recipes and tips that I've found online. What makes it harder is that I can't have white flour so I also need to use whole wheat or some other type(s) of whole-grain flour. I've found that you CAN cut the salt back if using white flour, as long as you cut back on the yeast as well and still make a suitable loaf of bread, but 100% whole wheat/grain bread has enough trouble rising well without tweaking the salt/yeast amounts, cutting back on those 2 ingredients have produced nothing but bricks and door-stops. I've even added extra gluten to help give it a lift, but it didn't help. Sometimes the loaves rise very little and sometimes not at all, sometimes they rise beautifully, only to deflate in the oven.

I love bread, and the only store-bought, salt-free bread that's available in my area is awful. Do you have any ideas or suggestions for making a nice loaf of wheat (or spelt, buckwheat, oat, etc) bread that will rise well and then not sink like the Titanic when the heat of the oven hits it?

Autumn

Friday 7th of August 2020

@Paula, Thanks for responding. It IS tricky, but I know it can be done. I just haven't figured out the secret. The bread that I buy is 100% whole wheat and completely salt free, yet it still has the same loft and texture as regular sandwich bread. Also, I have an Italian recipe for salt free white bread which works, but I don't know why! I love oatmeal bread so I'm going to try your recipe, and see how it does if I cut back the salt by half. Thanks again!

Paula

Sunday 26th of July 2020

Hi Autumn,

You pose a difficult challenge. Salt is such an important ingredient. It works in tandem with the yeast. It would be kinda like driving a car with only a gas pedal and no brakes. The description of your bread describes perfectly what happens when you cut out the salt completely. I know of no way around it. You could experiment with cutting back the amount. Some say Morton Lite will perform decently but it still has salt in it.

!00% whole wheat is a different animal. I was going to mention adding Vital Wheat Gluten for a better rise, but it sounds like you've tried that. I have never experimented with spelt or buckwheat flour so can't advise you on that. I do have a wonderful oatmeal bread recipe but it contains white flour. I'm so sorry I can't be more helpful.

Perhaps a reader will see your request and offer some help. I hope so.