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

Sneak Peek: Find out if you’ve been measuring flour wrong and why it matters.

Do you know what a “scooper” is? Hint: It has nothing to do with walking a dog.

Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know or you actually are one. I’ll admit to using a measuring cup to reach into the flour canister or bag and directly filling the cup when I’m in a hurry. That’s a “scooper.”

Does it really 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.

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.

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

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!

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 the bread. Usually, it 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.

Reader Testimonial:

I messaged you a while back wondering if you had a “fix” for my bread that kept falling during baking and leaving a well in the loaf.   You had several ideas that could be happening including too much flour being added.  You suggested that I get a kitchen scale to measure the amount of flour I was using.   I purchased one and my problem has been solved!  1 to 2 tablespoons really does make a huge difference.  Beautiful loaf every time now.  I would never have guessed that small amount of flour could make such a big difference.  Thank you so much! Carole HaasFlorida


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

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

Corinne

Wednesday 17th of March 2021

I just bought a new zojurushi virtuoso and the book uses 130 gm per cup bread flour.i read that you use 120. Are your recipes good for a zoj ? There are very few recipes in their book.

Paula

Thursday 18th of March 2021

Hi Corinne,

Yes, my recipes are good for a Zoji. Nearly all of them were developed in a Zoji. Here's the thing about flour measurements. If you "google" flour weight, you will find many different measurements. I decided to use King Arthur's standards since their flour is highly regarded among many of my readers. Also, when I look on the label of ALL the flours available to me, they say 1 cup of flour = 120 grams.

Here's how I apply this in real life. If you are using a recipe that gives weights, use that weight because that is most likely what the author of the recipe used. So use 130 grams when you make recipes from your Zoji manual. I used 120 grams in all my recipes, so that's what you should go by when you use my recipe.

If a bread recipe doesn't include weights, then you'll just have to guess. That's when my trick for making adjustments on the fly is so important.

Cindy

Tuesday 2nd of March 2021

Hi, Paula! Any comments and advise on which digital scale is great for my kitchen baking and cooking. Really enjoy your website!

Paula

Tuesday 2nd of March 2021

Hi Cindy,

Are you a farm girl? Me, too, sorta. I grew up a farm girl, then married a city kid, so I'm a city girl now.

About the digital scale: I love my OXO scale that goes up to 11 lbs. because I can set my bread machine pan (or any big bowl) on top of it and still read the numbers. With smaller scales that don't have a pull-out digital screen, it can be difficult to see what you're doing--the bowl gets in the way. But I just got that one a few months ago. Before that, I used a smaller one and made it work. Can't remember the brand although I'm sure it is in some of my pictures.

Thanks for your kind words. Have a great day.

Gail Sudman

Wednesday 17th of February 2021

I have been trying to make bread in my bread machine. I use gluten free flour and I can't have dairy or eggs. My bread always comes out in weird shapes and very hard. What should I do?

Paula

Thursday 18th of February 2021

Hi Gail,

Unfortunately, I'm not an expert when it comes to gluten-free flour. I have yet to make an edible loaf with gluten-free products, so I've decided to leave it to the experts I see online. I'm sure if you google "gluten-free bread" you will find some.

Anita McDonald

Tuesday 8th of December 2020

My bread recipes are easy to follow. They came with the machine, but when it bakes the end result looks like I piled up dough on the top with a melon baller. What am I doing wrong? Thanks

Paula

Tuesday 8th of December 2020

Hi Anita,

It's quite possible you are doing nothing "wrong." People often end up with weird looking loaves when baking in a bread machine. They may taste perfectly fine, but the appearance and the crust usually leave something to be desired. That's why I only use the DOUGH cycle and let my machine do the hard work of mixing and kneading--nothing does it better. Then I take control after the first rise, shape the dough, and bake it in the oven. That's how you get beautiful bread. Some people don't care how their bread looks or how the crust turns out and that's OK. To each his own.

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,