Weekend Tip — Some Things About Flour

If you don’t have a scale and aren’t weighing your flour, the best method of measuring, in my opinion, is to spoon it in the cup and level the top. However, if you are spooning the flour into the cup and shaking the cup as you go, stop! Shaking is another form of packing.  Spoon the flour so that it heaps over the top of the cup and gently sweep. I have to remind myself this every time, as I have a strong urge to shake the cup. I taught myself to bake 30 years ago and some bad habits die hard.

Here’s something you may not know and something I am just learning.

If you’ve had problems with flat cookies, you may want to try using bleached flour. At least as a test. I know some people hate the idea of bleached flour, but after several experiments and incidences recounted by friends, there’s evidence that unbleached flour, which sometimes has a higher protein content, contributes to flatter cookies. And if you dont’ believe me, here’s a more scientific explanation from RLB…..and she would know.

That doesn’t mean you have to switch to bleached flour, it just means you might want to change brands or use a different recipe for whatever cookie you are having problems with (e.g. The Toll House recipe).

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  1. says

    Just a quick note on the flour – if you are using a recipe from a cookbook (especially a recent one), be sure to check the book to see how that specific author measures their flour. Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours and Martha’s recent Baking Handbook both use the “dip and sweep” method which ends up weighing about 4.8 to 5 ounces per cup.

    It may not seem like much at first, but when you are talking about 2 to 3 cups worth, it can add up pretty quick!

  2. says

    Joe, that’s a good point. Nancy Baggett is also a scooper. She says that spooning and sweeping fluffs the flour up too much. However, if Nancy Baggett came over to my house and tried to do one big scoop with my 1 cup measure, she’d have a hard time because the mouth of my flour container is fairly narrow in comparison with my 1 cup scoop. It’s practically impossible to scoop without compacting the flour. I guess if you were scooping from a big, wide-mouthed container or if you’d dumped or sifted your flour into a giant bowl, then I suppose you could do it all in one giant scoop.

    I’m going to go with Carol Walter who in Great Cookies says “My cardinal rule–which has not changed–is to ALWAYS spoon the flour into the cup. NEVER dip the cup into the flour. Dipping the cup compacts the flour etc. etc.”

    We should all be weighing anyway. So many of my past cakes would have been better had I just weighed the flour rather than scooped it.

  3. mariah says

    Very intresting. I am a scooper. I wonder if this is why a lot of my cookies turn out flatter than some of the pics I see. I chalked a lot of it up to flour replacement, i.e. white whole wheat instead of all purpose….and because of that I have started adding less flour ……intriguing. If I get around to baking this week I may just “spoon and sweep” instead….

  4. says

    In Europe we allways weight things, in fact here it’s even difficult to find mesuring cups and almost all recipes are in kh/gr. It is much more consistent and I can’t understand why there are so many measuring methods, it can be very confusing.
    When I was in the US I brought back home a set of mesuring cups and spoons to do the american recipes I had learned and when I give those recipes away people here get so anoyed with the cup sistem, they just don’t get it! So after a couple of bad experiences from friends what I do now is to convert the recipe in gr before passing them.
    Also the types and strenghs of flours are very diverse from country to country, but that’s a whole new chapter, right? Have a good week! Rita

  5. says

    Thanks for that link to Rose’s post. I had no idea that made any impact! Also, I recently had the revelation that some of the flat cookies and scones I’m getting lately are due to weighing my flour in stead of spooning and leveling. I LOVE weighing–it’s fast and easy, but most american recipes weren’t tested that way, so I’m not using enough flour. When I finally figured this out, it was aggravating, but now I’m going to take the weight of a spooned cup of flour instead of just using the actual weight of one cup (120 g). Joe’s above suggestion is a good one too. Last thing—I just wish all the bakers in this country would start weighing–it would be so much more accurate! Sorry for ranting:)

  6. says

    Thank You! for posting this about the flour.

    I kept meaning to email and ask you about this anyway. Our toll-house cookies just never turn out exactly right for me and we make them all the time. Next time, I’ll try the bleached flour (had a sneaking suspicion that was part of the problem) and the scoop/sweep.

  7. says

    I’m with you – I just wish more cookbook authors would push harder to get weights added to the recipes! I’ve been using (and loving!) my scale for a few years now!

  8. says

    Mariah, if you are scooping and your cookies are coming out flat, then the flatness is probably caused by something else. Scooping, if done with a heavy hand, can compact the flour, which means there would be more flour in the cookies. So I suspect the flatness is happening because of the type of flour your are using (unbleached) or the type of cookie sheet. I use an insulated cookie sheet, which is probably why my cookies bake up a little higher than others.

    Derek, great tip! I will add, and this is directed to anyone who doesn’t have a scale, don’t fret about the price because a scale is a good investment. Along with not having to measure flour by volume, you can measure sticky things (maple syrup, peanut butter) by setting the bowl on the scale, dumping in the ingredients and looking at the number. At first, you will have to memorize the weights of things by looking at the nutrition label. For instance, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter weighs 32 grams, so 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) would weigh 128 grams. So along with measuring more accurately, you’ll be sharpening your math skills.

    It becomes second nature after a while.

    Rita, Amen to everything you said. Good point about the different flours. Now I’m sort of obsessed with the question of whether different wheat has “terroir”. Or maybe it’s just the milling and blending processes that are different.

    Julie, adding a few tablespoons of flour wouldn’t hurt. However, I use the same weight as you do and my cookies are on the fatter side. So again, I think it might be because your are using “unbleached” flour or your cookie sheet. OR you could be over-creaming. There are lots of things contributing to flatness. You might as well experiment :).

    Steph, definitely try the Toll House cookies with bleached and report back!

  9. says

    I love Fuzz’s comment!

    Here’s my thing about weighing. I’m leery about weighing flour, etc., when a recipe isn’t given in ounces. My theory is that you need to use the measuring method used by the creator of the recipe. If you weigh the flour, and the recipe you’re using has been developed by someone who measures using measuring cups, you may use the wrong weight per cup, and that might mess up your results.

    Am I making any sense?

  10. says

    Tracy, I’ll tell Fuzz you noticed her comment 🙂

    About measuring with a scale. I just wrote 10 paragraphs of why it’s better, but I sounded like Bossy-McBoss-A-Lot and erased it.

    In short, For cookies, I use a base-line of 4.5 ounce per unsifted cup and it’s worked well for me. If an author is nice enough to tell me his/her method of measuring up the flour, then I know whether to err on the low side 4.2 or high side 4.8.

    You mentioned feeling “leery” and that is understandable. Maybe start by weighing your cups of four. Once you feel comfortabe that your scale jibes with the cup measure, you shouldn’t need a cup.

  11. says

    Wow, fluffy flour, something I’ve never even thought about before, since I’m a European weigher.

    If you do use European books you’ll find we always round to the nearest 5g so you don’t end up with strange numbers like 128g. And we don’t weigh everything. Liquids in large quantities would be measured in a jug in ml or fluid ounces. Small quantities are done in teaspoons (which is 5ml) or tablespoons (15ml). So if you were measuring out peanut butter or honey or something similar it would be given in tablespoons not grams.

    European books are all in grams or ounces – mostly these days the former. BUT if you buy the US versions you get cups again as I discovered just now when I looked up Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess on Amazon.com. Our version is in grams. So if you do want weights then you are going to have to look for the European version of the more modern popular books. And I don’t think we’re quite as good at baking cookies so there aren’t the books. I don’t know what quantity of European books make it to be sold into North America, and clearly only those that can justify the sales figures will get a whole new print run with converted measures. God this reminds me of my former life publishing engineering books for the US market and converting into Imperial units – and didn’t a rocket crash because of a conversion problem at NASA? Good thing this is only cookies we’re talking about!

    I’d still like someone to explain how you do cups of butter. And for that matter why does my Moosewood cookbook talk about cups of chopped onions? Surely it would be easier to say “chop one small onion”, or two or however many. How do you know how many onions chopped fit into a cup or is that something you learn at your mother’s knee?

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