Ladies and gentlemen, rev up your ovens. The holiday baking season is in full throttle. The single most important tip for success in baking bears repeating every year: Dry ingredients and liquid ingredients are not measured in the same type of cup.
For dry ingredients, use metal or plastic nesting cups that allow you to spoon in the ingredient, then level it off with a straight edge, such as a ruler or knife. For liquids, use a clear glass or plastic cup with gradations on the side that allow you to view it at eye level to make sure you are hitting the mark (peering down from above gives you a distorted and inaccurate reading).
I was reminded of this last week, when a colleague and I were chatting about Christmas cookies, and it became apparent that she has always used a liquid measuring cup to measure her flour. She spoons it into her clear glass measure, then shakes the cup to level the flour. By doing this, she’s compressing the flour, which means that she’s using more than the recipe developer intended.
I tried her method this morning on a cup of flour and it resulted in a variance of about three tablespoons. That’s the difference between a delicious, buttery cookie, and a dry, floury one.
Of course, all of this would be a moot point if we weighed our ingredients, like the rest of the world. Come on America, let’s make 2012 the year we switch over to using scales!