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I'm looking at a recipe that lists the following as an ingredient:

1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)

What exactly does this mean? Is this literal - i.e. spoon it into the measuring cup and level off? If so, why does it matter if it's "spooned" or not?

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This is why you should weigh ingredients for baking :) –  sarge_smith Mar 7 '11 at 11:47
    
related: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/2321/… –  Joe Sep 15 '12 at 16:38
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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The easiest way to measure a cup of flour is of course to take the measuring cup, plunge it into your bag of flour and just lift up a spoonful. The problem with that is that the plunging and lifting will compress the flour inside the cup and actually get you more flour than you wanted. If you spoon the flour into the measuring cup you minimize the compression and will get a more accurate measurement.

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It's not necessarily more accurate if the recipe calls for some other measuring method; I'd say it's more consistent, and therefore can be more precise. Accuracy and precision are related, but not the same thing. –  Joe Mar 7 '11 at 12:52
    
@Joe. Ok. I am not sure I understand what you are saying here. Obviously, if a recipe calls for "a pinch of salt", or "650 grams of lemon juice", the method I described would be pretty dumb. –  Henrik Söderlund Mar 8 '11 at 11:19
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Okay ... so spooning flour will give more consistent weights for the same volume, so it's more precise ... but if the person writing the recipe used dip-and-sweep or dip-and-shake as their measurement style, you're going to be consistently inaccurate. So I only had issue with your use of the term 'accurate' when it should've been 'precise'. (sorry, I work with a bunch of scientists ... it's an issue when they claim that they have +/- 0.0001 precision, yet they have no clue what the accuracy is, so it might be +/- 10) –  Joe Mar 8 '11 at 13:09
    
Yeah, ok, I see what you mean. You are right, the only thing that the "spoon and level" method will actually do is make the measurement more precise/consistent. Anyway, volumetric measurements for dry ingredients should be permanently banned from all recipes. Weighing stuff is the way to go. :) –  Henrik Söderlund Mar 8 '11 at 14:05
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I would recommend getting a gram accurate scale and using the weight listed on the side of your bag of flour. If you are baking then you really should be weighing your ingredients. If you aren't baking, then you can probably get by with the "scoop and sweep" approach since accuracy is actually not required.

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You're exactly right, it means to spoon the flour in and then level it off.

If you scoop the flour, meaning you dip the measuring cup into the canister and scoop a large amount out, the pressure compacts more flour into the measuring cup. When you spoon it into the measuring cup instead, the flour is less compact (so there is less of it in the same 1 cup measure). Subtle differences like this can mean a big difference in the end result when baking.

If you were to measure 1 sifted cup, 1 spooned cup, and 1 scooped cup on a food scale you would get three different results (from lightest to heaviest). This is why I'm a big fan of recipes which use weight measurements for the ingredients.

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So the term spooned is used to tell you not to scoop - but there would be no difference if I "spooned" it in or "poured" it in? –  clueless Mar 7 '11 at 9:05
    
Well @clueless, pouring it in is probably going to weigh down the flour as it impacts into what you're pouring it into. Unless you're pouring real slow and gentle-like. –  JakeParis Mar 7 '11 at 16:32
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