Measuring Flour for Muffins

Recipes often caution us to measure flour correctly. “If you must use a measuring cup, spoon and level! Never scoop!” But how much of a difference do two more utensils make? To find out, I made muffins using flour that was measured with a scale, spooned and leveled into a measuring cup, and scooped from the bag.

Experiment Overview

Goal: To see and taste differences in structure and texture in muffins made with flour that was measured with three different methods
Recipe: Best Ever Muffins from AllRecipes
Method: Mix and divide the dry ingredients except for flour. Weigh, spoon and level, or scoop flour into each portion and combine. Add the wet ingredients to each batch of dry ingredients. Bake, cool, and taste.
Results: As inaccuracy and flour content increased, we noticed
– Thicker batter
– More batter
– Bigger muffin with rougher surface
– Drier, denser, chewier texture
– Less sweetness
Conclusions: Mass is the most accurate way to measure flour. If you must use a measuring cup, be sure to spoon and level!

Testing Method

Ingredients and Equipment

  • 2 c (342g) Baker’s Corner bleached all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 Tbsp Baker’s Corner double-acting baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp Stonemill iodized salt
  • 3/4 c (150g) sugar
  • 1 c (238g) water
  • 1 Goldhen large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 c (61g) Carlini vegetable oil
  • Whisk
  • Rubber spatula
  • 12-cup muffin pan lined with cupcake liners

Baking the muffins

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Whisk the baking powder, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl (162g total). Divide into three portions (54g each). To each portion, add 83g, 2/3 c spooned and leveled (84g), or 2/3 c scooped (125g) flour and whisk well.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the milk, egg, and vegetable oil together (350g total). Pour one-third (117g) of the wet ingredients into each portion of dry ingredients. Fold the wet and dry ingredients together until just combined.
  4. Divide each portion of batter into three muffin cups. Muffins from each condition each weigh 63, 63, and 79g, respectively.
  5. Bake for 22 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove muffins from pan to cool completely.

Results

To better understand some of these results, I suggest reading through the last few posts about measurement and reviewing the role of gluten in baked goods.

Converting cups to grams

The original muffin recipe was written in volume only, but I prefer to measure in mass. Thus, my first step in planning the experiment was to determine how much flour I needed in grams. Using The Baker’s Appendix, which told me that 1 cup of flour was 125 grams, I calculated that 2 cups of flour equaled 250 grams. (You can also find this information online with a quick Google search.) Since I was dividing the recipe into three conditions, I divided 2 cups and 250 grams by three to find that I’d need 2/3 cup, or about 83 grams, of flour per condition.

Greater inaccuracy and more flour

After I measured out each portion of flour, I weighed it to see how much I had. As we’ve discussed in the last couple posts, mass is the most accurate way to measure powders like flour because it doesn’t matter how tightly it’s compacted.

For the weighed flour, I used 83 grams, the amount the recipe called for. 2/3 cup of spooned and leveled flour was 84 grams, which is only a 1% difference, but 2/3 cup of scooped flour weighed 125 grams. That’s 51% more than the weighed flour, and it’s actually one whole cup of accurately measured flour! By scooping, I’d inadvertently added one cup of flour to the batter instead of the 2/3 cup the recipe called for.

Granted, when I scooped for these muffins, I tried to pack the flour into the cup as hard as I could. Even when I tried to keep it loose, though, I got 94 grams of flour, which is about 3/4 cup of flour, a 13% increase. I didn’t bake any muffins using this flour, but I imagine the result would be somewhere between the spooned and the scooped muffins.

Thicker batter

Because flour absorbs liquid, it wasn’t surprising that the scooped flour batter, which had much more flour, was thicker than the other two. The more flour we add to the batter, the more proteins and starches soak up the water, the less water is left in the batter, the thicker it is.

The scooped batter, which contained more flour, was thicker than the other two.

More batter

The additional flour in the scooped batter contributed mass. When I divided the batter evenly among four muffin cups, each scooped muffin weighed 79 grams while the other muffins only weighed 63 grams. Interestingly, as you can see above, this didn’t lead to a significant increase in volume, presumably because the flour absorbed a lot of the water.

Experimental error in the weighed muffins

After baking, each batch of muffins looked different. Most surprisingly, the weighed muffins looked pale and flat compared to the spooned and leveled ones. Given that the difference in flour between the two conditions was only one gram, it seemed like something had gone wrong with the weighed muffins. When I sliced the muffins open, I noticed that the weighed muffins were full of tunnels. Since those are a symptom of overmixing, I removed them from further analysis. The spooned and leveled muffins only contained 1% more flour anyway, so they could serve as a representation of the original recipe.

The weighed muffins had tunnels, suggesting that something had gone wrong with the batter.

Bigger muffin with rougher surface

As you can see below, the scooped muffins were bigger and craggier, more like scones than muffins. It’s likely that the extra flour helped give these muffins extra volume, but the flour also added structural molecules that resulted in these differences. As we discussed previously, gluten from flour traps air inside the muffin. As the air expands in the heat of the oven, the muffin rises with it. You can see more large air pockets in the scooped muffins as a result of the extra gluten. Furthermore, because the flour contributed extra structure molecules, the exteriors of the scooped muffins set earlier, then split open as the interiors continued to expand, leading to dramatic cracking. This is similar to what happens in low-sugar muffins, which don’t have enough sugar to prevent the muffin from setting too early. And because there’s more flour in the scooped muffin, it doesn’t quite mix evenly into the liquid to form a smooth, even surface like in the scooped and leveled muffins. As a result, the scooped muffins are a little lumpier.

The scooped muffins were larger, had a rougher appearance, and had a denser texture.

Drier, denser, chewier texture

The extra structural molecules were also evident in the texture of the scooped muffins. They were drier because the extra flour absorbed water, leaving less in the baked muffin. The flour also added more structural molecules like gluten. As we’ve discussed before, a large developed gluten network makes baked goods dense and tough, which is undesirable for muffins. Think of the difference between a single cooked spaghetti strand and a clump of cooked spaghetti that’s stuck together. The single strand, sparse like minimally developed gluten, is thin and easily broken. The clump, on the other hand, has more bite to it, like the thick, developed gluten. In the scooped muffins, extra structural molecules clumped together and made a denser baked good.

Less sweetness

The scooped muffins also tasted less sweet. The extra flour in these muffins diluted the sugar and its sweetness across the muffin.

Conclusions

Flour is critical for structure texture in muffins. The perfect amount balances with the other ingredients to create a soft, fluffy muffin., while an excess of flour gives the muffin a dry, dense texture. Thus, it is important to measure flour accurately. Weighing it out with a scale is the best way, but if you must use measuring cups, be sure to gently spoon and level the flour. Whenever you measure flour by volume, be mindful—flour compacts easily, which makes it easy to use too much, even though it fits in the cup!



References

Corriher, S. O. Bakewise; Scribner: New York, 2008.

Figoni, P. How Baking Works, 3rd ed.; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, 2011.

Reed, J. The Baker’s Appendix, 1st ed.; Clarkson Potter/Publishers: New York, 2017.

2 thoughts on “Measuring Flour for Muffins

  1. Wow, this was very insightful. I love cooking since cooking involves a sprinkle of this & a dash of that. But with baking it as all so precise I struggle. I am guilty of not spooning and leveling and now I get why! Thank you for this!! ~Shreya aka @ahungryhippony

    1. Thanks for reading and leaving your thoughts, Shreya! I’m the opposite in that I am comfortable with precision but struggle with the freedom of cooking. I hope this helps your future bakes!

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