How to Measure Baking Ingredients Properly

A picture of freshly baked cookies. Ingredients including chocolate chunks and flaky salt are highlighted.

Baking is pretty much a series of chemical reactions. Thankfully, the stakes of these reactions going awry are not earth-shatteringly high. So experiments with different inputs and techniques can yield delicious, perhaps earth-shatteringly delicious, treats. 

I mean, who doesn’t like watching a pile of gooey batter magically (ahem, scientifically) transform into a sweet-smelling cake? But what if the gooey batter stays...well, gooey? If the experiment literally falls flat? Or turns into something that resembles...dried mud flakes?

The most common reason a recipe fails is: nonchalance about measuring ingredients. Since baking is a science (no, it’s not just a thing people say), the way you measure ingredients could make or break your experiment. Achieving the right balance between flours, fats, liquids, and leavening agents is critical to the chemistry of baking. 

A tiny bit of extra baking soda could potentially wreck your perfect cookie. And an excess of flour can leave your muffins dry and bland.

Eyeballing, estimations, and imprecise measurements will work for soup, but not for a perfectly-baked batch of brownies. Sorry! 

So fetch your measuring tools and polish your reading glasses. Let’s do this right!

What tools will you need?

Depending on your recipe, you’ll need a set of graded measuring cups, spoons (no, don’t deploy your soup spoons), a glass or liquid measuring cup, and perhaps a digital or mechanical kitchen scale.

Measuring dry ingredients

Dry baking ingredients including flour

To measure most dry ingredients, such as flour, cocoa powder, or breadcrumbs, spoon the ingredient lightly into a measuring cup, until it’s overflowing the cup, forming a small mounded top. Don’t shake the cup to level out. Instead, carefully slide the back of a knife or spatula over the cup’s rim to level.

Do not scoop the ingredient directly using the measuring cup. 

Spoon and level, spoon and level, spoon and level!

Only if the recipe specifies a heaping cup, skip the leveling. Depending on the ingredient, a heaping cup has about 1-2 tablespoons of additional ingredient compared to a leveled cup.

Flour and oats

Spoon and level! Otherwise, run the risk of ending up with possibly 1.5 times the amount of flour required, yielding dry, brittle, or flavorless desserts. Also, don’t pack down the floor or tap the measuring cup while measuring. Just pile and level.

If the recipe calls for “sifted flour,” sift the flour before measuring. If the recipe calls for “flour, sifted,” sift the flour after measuring. Neat, right?

Baking powder and baking soda

Baking powder and baking soda have the tendency clump up over time. So shake, or stir, and then lightly scoop with the correct measuring spoon. Level off. 

Side note: don’t use baking powder and baking soda interchangeably!

Granulated sugar

For white granulated sugar, you can spoon the sugar into the measuring cup or even scoop directly, but be sure to level with the back of a knife. Extra sugar is more forgiving in recipes than other ingredients, especially if you have a serious case of sweet-tooth.

But sugar crystals catalyze the breakdown of other ingredients, in addition to providing structure and stability, so it’s best to precisely measure what the recipe suggests.

Brown sugar

A recipe might call for “lightly” packed brown sugar. This is usually to avoid big air pockets formed by bulkier ingredients, such as brown sugar or molasses, when the ingredient is spooned and leveled traditionally.

In this case, spoon the ingredient into the measuring cup, then apply gentle pressure to get rid of large air pockets. Be careful not to crush or pack in the ingredient too tightly! Then, level off!

Icing sugar, powdered sugar, cocoa powder

Apply the traditional spoon and level method which we employed for measuring flour. The same notes for sifting apply. Beware of clumps!


Chopped nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, and other toppings don’t need to be as meticulously measured because they aren’t typically used to make up the structure of a baked good.

Spoon into a measuring cup and pack down lightly. 

But note: a cup of “nuts, chopped finely” and a cup of “finely chopped nuts” can yield significantly different sized portions of the same nuts. For the former, measure first and then chop, and for the latter, chop first and measure second.

Measuring semi-liquids

Semi-liquid measuring ingredients, such as butter and melted chocolate

To measure heavy cream, nut butter, mashed banana, yogurt, butter, and other semi-liquids, spoon the ingredient into a measuring cup and level, just like with flour. You might want to use a rubber spatula to free the ingredient from the cup. 

Many fats, such as butter and margarine, are sold as pre-measured sticks, where one stick usually equals half a cup, or eight tablespoons. Before unwrapping the paper, carve out the portion you need with a sharp knife. Simple! 

Even cream cheese is sometimes sold in 8-ounce sticks, making it easy and quick to measure. 

Again, if the recipe calls for “butter, melted,” melt the butter after you’re done measuring. But if “melted butter” is specified, melt the butter first, and pour into a glass measuring cup for an accurate reading.

Measuring liquids

Liquid measuring cup

Whip out your glass or liquid measuring cup for liquids, such as milk, water, oil, etc. Place the cup on a flat surface. Slowly, pour the liquid into the cup until it reaches the exact level specified in the recipe. Measure at eye level.

Use a measuring spoon for vanilla extract, lavender extract, etc. Pour till the brim and maybe don’t hold the spoon above your mixing bowl in case it overflows and spills over. 

Liquid sweeteners

Honey, molasses, agave, corn syrup and other liquid sweeteners should be measured using dry measuring cups. Spray the inside of your measuring cup with nonstick spray to nimbly release the ingredient from the cup.

Measuring by weight

Using a kitchen scale

Metric weights, such as grams or ounces, are the most accurate units of measurement when it comes to baking. Weight is consistent, regardless of whether the ingredient is packed, melted, chopped, or clumpy! 

We test different versions of our recipes using a measuring scale for precise results. If you’re weighing your ingredients, feel free not to spoon and level, but it might make the task of scooping the right amount on the scale quicker. 

Place your measuring cup or a bowl on the scale, zero the reading out, and add your ingredient until you have the stipulated amount. Ta-da!

Final thoughts

Although one of the less glamorous tasks of baking, measuring accurately is a prerequisite for consistently successful experiments. Accurate measurements can transform and revamp baked goods by enhancing their texture, flavor, stability, and structure. 

Happy baking!


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