Baking Basics – Measuring Properly is KEY to Success
My cooking methodology is a lot like my clothes washing system. Throw everything into a single pile, fire up the heat and machine, put it on extra long cycle and voila’! Clean clothes and great food! Cooking on a stove top, microwave or over a campfire can be fairly creative. A pinch of this, a drizzle of that, some kitchen sink, some lube oil, all good!
Baking, however, is quite different. Creativity still abounds, but the key things that make our mouths water when baking go beyond ‘getting it close’. Our expectations go to the anticipation of flavor, texture and crust as well, which, as Ralph says, are the key to ‘making the carrier. ‘ Yes, he refers to the things we bake as ’carriers’ – as in biscuits are the carrier for honey and butter, cake is the carrier for icing… Anything can be the carrier for honey and butter and icing, even steel plate! The point is that the carrier makes a HUGE difference, and to get the carrier right we have to measure properly and consistently. so remember this:
Baking is an art with a scientific foundation.
Use a measuring cup that is transparent enough to see through. Place it on a level surface and get your Mark-II Eyeballs down to the level of the line you want to fill to. Fill with liquid until at the line. When you look at the liquid from the side it forms sort of a bowl, with the lips riding up the wall of the container. The bottom of that ‘bowl’ is called the meniscus. When the bottom of the meniscus is at the proper line you have the right liquid level.
Measuring flour and dry ingredients-
Use a different set of measuring tools for dry ingredients. These tools are always the type that measure the “exact” amount that you need for your recipe and so they have a flat top or rim upon which you can slide something flat to level off the dry ingredient. This includes measuring spoons and cups.
Weighing vs. Measuring-
There are those (even very famous ‘those’) that claim that weighing dry ingredients is the only way to ensure accuracy. Good for them. They cook in test kitchens and laboratories. Or they are selling ingredients by the bulk load in which case the packaging plant likely does have climate control. What I do not hear them say is that when they weigh things the humidity is always the same in their dry ingredients.
Humidity is moisture in the air, and believe me, it gets into the ingredients. Dry ingredients tend to suck it up like a sponge. So humidity makes a difference in baking when both weighing dry ingredients and when adding liquids. On the Gulf Coast, you know you aren’t going to need as much liquid as you will in the deserts and central valley of Central California. This can account for as much as a tablespoon of water or 1/4 cup of butter or flour to make the dough finish properly. It’s a matter of experience.