It always surprises me that many experienced cooks are unaware of the difference between obtaining an accurate dry measurement and a liquid one. Of course, liquids are easy to measure in a glass cup since they pour and settle at the correct measurement line. Having said this, it’s best to bend down, as you pour, so that you can see the actual measurement at eye level. Without doing this, it’s easy to misinterpret your measured amount of liquid.
Measuring dry ingredients is quite different. In order to have real success with most baking recipes, it is essential to measure ingredients like flour, sugar, baking powder and spices with the “dip, scoop and sweep” method using specifically designed dry measuring cups. Nested in sets, these cups are made of either plastic or stainless steel, which I prefer since they latter since they are more durable. The standard set consists of cups with capacities of 1/8, 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 and 1 cup; there is also a very handy 2-cup measure which usually must be purchased separately. Although measuring spoons are used to measure accurately small amounts of sugar, spices and leavenings, the technique is the same.
For measuring flour or sugar, make sure that your canisters have a mouth that’s wide enough to allow you easy access with a loaded 2-cup dry measuring cup. Also, before dipping your cup into flour, it’s best to give the flour a good swish with a whisk to lighten it and break up any lumps. Dip the cup or measuring spoon into your dry ingredient and scoop it up so it mounds at the top. Don’t shake off any excess which condenses the ingredient and creates and inaccurate measurement. Instead, slide the straight blunt edge of a knife twice across the top of the cup or spoon so excess falls back into the canister and the ingredient is perfectly level with the rim. This procedure is applicable to all dry ingredients when a specific measurement is required in a recipe.
For measuring other dry ingredients like salt, leavening agents, spices, etc., use the same technique as above, to get a level measurement in your nested measuring spoons.
To measure semi solids (i.e. shortening): Either fill the dry measure with shortening, using a rubber spatula or scoop the shortening up, by inserting the inverted measure into the can of shortening. Either way, the shortening should, at first, be mounded over the top. Give the bottom of the measure a good rap on the counter to help the shortening settle in and to remove any air pockets. Then, take a straight edge utensil and level off the top. Use a rubber spatula or your finger to release the shortening from the measure.
To measure soft sugars (i.e. dark and light brown sugars): Pack the sugar into the dry measuring cup so that it’s firmly embedded within and meets the top rim. If done correctly, after inverting the cup and tapping it out, the shape of the cup should be retained in the sugar.