Measuring Cups or Scales? Please can we be more measured

‘I hate cups!‘ is how I began this post in a fit of frustration. I was trying to follow a recipe from the Cook’s Cook which had provided their cup measurements and the volume so had written 59ml (1/4 cup) of flour. Who weighs out 59ml of flour? What would have been more helpful would have been to write it as 1/4 cup (30g) of flour. Either they don’t understand the concept of measuring scales or they were trying to add precision to using cups.

Before I start explaining my irritation with cups, however, I’d like to be more measured (pun very much intended 😉) and state that I do see the value in using cups.  When I’m measuring out rice, I like using the cup measure that comes with the rice cooker because it’s quicker and much more convenient.  The same goes with other dried grains and pulses, such as lentils and barley.  Furthermore, as cups measure by volume, I don’t mind using them to measure out liquids.  It’s worth noting here that US cups measure 240ml whereas Australian, Canadian and South African cups measure 250ml. This is something that Caroline, one of my Australian friends highlighted to me.

In addition, say a recipe asks for a tablespoon or three of flour or sugar, it doesn’t bother me much either. Normally it seems to appear more in cooking recipes rather than baking. Thus, even though the same inaccuracies will happen, I have less of an aversion to some measurements in tablespoons and teaspoons, apart from butter! Sticks of butter didn’t make any sense to me until I baked in America and saw how butter is packaged into sticks and each stick is divided into tablespoons. By the way, one stick of butter is 4oz/113g/8tbsp.

From that experience, I also realised that many households may not own kitchen scales and therefore use cups. For most of the years that I lived in Cambodia it was difficult to buy kitchen scales to measure smaller measurements, although the big ones that market sellers used to sell their produce were abundant. Thus once again, cups were used. Forewarned, I packed kitchen scales with me when I moved out there. I knowingly admit that growing up, in the UK, using scales influences my views on the cups vs measuring scales debate. I hate measurements in cups in baking because there are such disparities in the measurements in a matter that does require consistency and a level of precision.

My heart sinks when I see recipes with a list of the ingredients in cups because inevitably I will look up various conversion tables to adapt the recipe into grams and revisit that familiar feeling of resentment and annoyance when the web throws up differing measurements.  Look let me give you an example of the inconsistencies on the web when it comes to volume and weight conversions.  In the UK Doves Farm website they say that 1 cup of brown sugar is 180g whereas in the US King Arthur baking website they state it is 213g.  At this point, I probably trust a US website to translate it from cups to grams for me because in the King Arthur table they know to specify that this is packed brown sugar and thus displays their greater experience of baking using volume rather than weights. But do you see the difference? ‘So what?’ perhaps you’re asking, ‘what is in 33g?’ Okay, so what? Well, let’s multiply this number when a recipe asks for 2 or 3 cups of brown sugar. I’ve illustrated the difference in a table below:

No. of cupsDoves FlourKing ArthurDifference
in weight
2 cups360g426g66g
3 cups540g639g99g

66g or almost 100g makes a big difference in the taste and texture of what you’re baking and it can be the difference of whether you have enough of an ingredient when nearing the bottom of a bag. At this point, to be fair, I’d also be questioning why there needs to such a high amount of sugar and whether I’ll reduce it to prevent future me from developing type 2 diabetes. So, why am I quibbling about it?

Well my second point is about wanting clarity and precision, particularly when trying out a new recipe. I know that there is a knack to using cups with flour and sugar to do with a little shake to let the flour settle and using a knife to run over the top to level it.  Even when I do that, I find it irritatingly inconsistent.  Clearly I am not a pro at it. To add an added element of difficulty, different cooks measure their cups differently and how am I to know what a cup of flour weighs for them? It’s a bit of a lottery whether I’ll guess it correctly. Here’s the proof. At Lunar New Year, I was trying to make steamed buns and I decided to follow Maangchi’s jjinbang recipe and method which asks for 3.5 cups of flour and 1.5 cups of milk. Using both the Doves Farm and King Arthur tables, which agreed with each other, I converted that into 420g. However, it turned into such a wet, sticky dough, reminiscent of a ciabatta dough, and nothing like the photos of her dough, that I decided that there was no way I’d be able to shape it into buns with cute ox faces on them and then steam them. So then I added some more flour to make it a firmer dough but either that is never a remedy or I didn’t add enough. In the end, I relinquished that dough to bake into a tasty focaccia style bread, turned to What to Cook Today’s Year of the Ox steamed bun recipe and started a new dough. She also specifies a total of 2 cups plus 11 tablespoons of flours and 2/3 cup of milk but I didn’t get irritated because she also gives the weight in grams. A smooth, pliable dough formed and I made steamed baozi buns for the first time. I’ve posted the photos of the end result of both doughs at the end of this post.

Interestingly I came across this golden nugget of information in Maangchi’s Hotteok filled with vegetables video beginning at 3mins 11secs onwards when she weighs her cup of flour and it is 5oz or 156g. I will keep this in mind when I use her recipes. By the way, King Arthur and Doves Farm Flour weigh 1 cup of flour as 120g. So I guess then going back her jjimbang recipe that her 3.5 cups of flour = 546g, and not 420g. *Big sigh* Now we’re back to my rant about big discrepancies.

Sidenote: I’m considering blogging a monthly post with my cooking/baking failures, mistakes and disasters that happened that month. Would you be up for that?

Published by

Han-Na Cha

English Language Teacher, Academic and Personal Development Skills Trainer, Baker.

2 thoughts on “Measuring Cups or Scales? Please can we be more measured”

  1. Hi Han-Na – loved the article – glad its not just me that gets annoyed at cups as a measurement for ingredients. I also used the internet to convert a few recipes and found the weights to be different, I had to make an apple cake made in a bundt tin twice as I used an incorrect cup conversion for brown sugar…many thanks

    1. You’re welcome. It can make such a difference to a recipe. If it’s an online recipe I often end up trying to find how the author measures it. Last week, the recipe I tried measured 1 cup of flour as 140g so that’s what I went with.

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