When is a Cup not a Cup?

Quick Tips, Tools | December 6, 2016 | By

Have you ever baked something and it didn’t come out quite right? Was it either too dry or didn’t rise? Have you thought, “well I don’t like that cookbook” because of it?

I have to admit I’ve been a victim of this situation more than once. So, after being asked by several different people, I decided to find out what could be the problem.

Firstly, cooking and baking are completely different. The best why to describe the difference is by comparing them with another subject. Cooking is like painting a picture. You add a dash of this and splash of that and there you have it. Recipes are really guidelines that can be tweaked depending on whether you have a particular ingredient or not.

Baking, on the other hand, is really chemistry. The measurements need to be exact so that the recipe turns out correctly. Sure, you can change the flavorings and some of the ingredients, but the foundation of the recipe really needs to stay the same otherwise you’ll have an unpleasant surprise with the outcome.

So when a recipe calls for a cup of something when cooking, it’s okay if it isn’t exact. But it’s the direct opposite when you are baking – exact is the only way to go.

So, you say to me, “but I used the exact ingredients and the recipe still didn’t come out right”. Well, the problem could be what sized cups you used for the recipe because unfortunately, everyone doesn’t use the same measuring system. 

When someone develops a recipe, they use particular measuring cups, jugs and spoons. Many times the author will have a statement at the front or the back of the book telling you what measurements they’ve used for the recipe. Where things become a bit muddy is when you are using a recipe off the Internet or an international book or magazine. The recipes can be from anywhere and unfortunately, the same measuring system isn’t used throughout the world.

So, you know where the recipe is from and you know what measurements have been used in the recipe and you’re still having problems. By this time you’re probably thinking that you should shelve that recipe and maybe even steer clear of baking. Well, there is one more thing for you to check and this is where it does start to get complicated. 

Different countries use different measurements. Australians use a different measurement to the United Kingdom and the USA is different again – so where are your measuring spoons and cups manufactured? To further add to the confusion, in some countries, for example, the US, both the original imperial cups are available as well as metric cups. Unfortunately, many of them do not specify which they are – the only way to really know is by checking the milliliter equivalent if they have one written on it.

The best way to get around this situation is to use all one kind of measuring cup or spoon when you’re baking but one step further is to choose recipes that use weights and fluid measurements rather than cups.
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