The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is this the diffinitive answer to that age old question, how much does a cup of flour weight?

EvaB's picture
EvaB

Is this the diffinitive answer to that age old question, how much does a cup of flour weight?

Fereek gave the web address of an online Boston Cooking School Cook book with this table of weights and measures in it. I do remember my mother telling me that a sack of flour could be figured out into how many cups of flour in it, (for baking lots of stuff, you could figure the cups in your recipes and buy enough flour for all of them) by multiplying the pounds of flour in the sack by 2 hence a 10 pound sack of flour would have 20 cups, and make aproximately 5 lots of bread (4 loaves per recipe) and a 20 pound sack would be 40 cups of flour etc. Same for sugar.

This explains why some old recipes don't work when converting them to measuring cups of flour an 8 ounce dry measure is not the same as an 8 ounce weight measure, the dry measuring cups are actually fluid measures used for dry goods.

And I do know for a fact that pound cake is pound cake because you use a pound of flour, a pound of sugar and a pound of butter! Hence a pound cake!

So to sum up a cup of flour weighs half a pound! or 8 ounces weight, not 4.5 or 5 or 3.75 but a half a pound!

Mary Clare's picture
Mary Clare

Two cups of pastry flour = one pound?  Whoa, it must have made some hefty baked goods!   : )

EvaB's picture
EvaB

if your ratio of flour, water and so forth is the same then the end result would simply be a larger amount of whatever it was you were baking.

Its interesting to look at the older books, and realize that the cups are different in weight than now, and realize you have to adjust your recipe accordingly since if you get a recipe that says 4 cups of flour and 9 eggs, and 2 cups of water, and you use a 4 or 4.5 cup weight of flour, you are certainly going to have way too much fluid for the recipe to work properly.

Elagins's picture
Elagins

at the Inside the Jewish Bakery website http://www.insidethejewishbakery.com/ingred.php

Stan

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

I use USDA Nutritional Values Database for all of my conversions too. It hasn't lead me astray once, as long as I'm paying attention to the multiple it's using.

I can't say the same for Wolfram Alpha, which recommends some very strange amounts that are often waaaaaaaay, waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many grams of whatever it is I'm trying to covert, like the time it recommended 50 cups of sugar for fresh fig preserves. (Glad I wasn't drinking too much wine at the time and caught the error!)

(Note. I always wondered about the King Arthur value of 120 grams per cup of bread/ap/hi-gluten flour. Most other sources report ~140 grams per cup.)

EvaB's picture
EvaB

very weird measurements for various things, and that is a lot of sugar for anything, but preserves do take much more sugar than jams, I know my mother talked about making strawberry preserves one time when she and Brian's dad (we were half siblings) was looking after her Uncle's farm, he had a huge strawberry patch, and to keep it from going to waste, she made a crock of preserves adding strawberries and sugar as she picked them daily. I think she said you add the sugar to the same weight as the strawberries, so at that rate you should have had 25 pounds of figs!

I think most jam and preserve recipes have too much sugar, and a good old boiled down jam recipe over a certo recipe is my favourite any day, I don't like the amount of sugar you have to have for certo, its not jam its certo and sugar with some fruit flavouring.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

That is.... North American cup recipes converted to grams. 

EvaB's picture
EvaB

and I am looking forward to the book!

But the post after this is an example of the fact that there are several lists (I think I have three printed out in my books off the net, and all with different weights for each item) so difinnitive is in the eye of the beholder really.

The post wasn't to start a war on which conversion is right, but rather to get people to understand that a cup of flour might be one thing to you, and another totally to your grandma who wrote out the recipe you are trying to recreate, as I said in another post reply here, my mother said 2 cups of flour was 1 pound, and she could dip out a pound of flour very accurately, I know because I measured some of her dippings. (this also explains why some of the recipes she wrote down don't work with my cups) She was one of those by eye people, I have to measure or it doesn't work out. My mother was born in 1914, so any recipe that she made for years would have been based on the 2 cups = 1 pound measurement, she had cooked so long and so much that she didn't need a measuring cup, she could simply eyeball the pile of flour and know how much it was, the same with adding water or eggs or whatever, she knew by the look. And that is what I take away from here, the dough feel, and look is more important than the time or the amount of flour and water in the recipe.

Its also a heads up on why that old recipe from your elders doesn't work when you try to make it now, the measurements are different, the eggs might not weigh the same, small, med and large eggs are different weights, but most people by small eggs because of high cholesteral concerns etc, or because they are cheaper, so not having the weight or the fluid measurement of how much egg is needed can be a problem in the recipe. My mother never bought less than large eggs, and usually Xtra large because she said it was more value for the price, so all her recipes are based on a pound of flour weighing 2 cups, and eggs weighing 2.5 ounces at least.

I find most cookbooks (at least most I have) have a weight chart in them, so the recipes in that book are tried out using that weight chart, but they can vary as much as 3 ounces on a cup of flour or more, so when baking out of an older cook book, check the chart first and then figure out the recipe in your cups or whatever.

Maybe what I should have  said is don't assume! And don't throw out that family recipe just because it doesn't work the first time, sit down and think about the person who wrote it out for you, when were they born, when did they cook, can you remember a cookbook they had (you can find it and read the weights and measures chart in it) did they have their own chickens (eggs might not be totally uniform in size and weight) fiddle with it, until you get it to work with your measurments and standard egg sizes etc, and enjoy a family recipe. Just write it down in weights that can be used down the generations and it will still be going when your grandkids have grandkids!

By the way my grandmother raised geese at one time, and goose eggs are larger than chicken, and depending on the chicken variety the eggs vary from one to another in weight. The chickens now, are mono chickens, bread to be a certain weight at a certain age, and produce a certain size of egg etc. So really the more you know about the person who made the recipe the more you can figure the adjustments you might need to make to get it to taste like you remember.

Salilah's picture
Salilah

Nice comments and suggestions Eva - thank you!

You're right re eggs - we tend to get medium if possible (large apparently is not so good for the chickens?) but when I've had eggs home-raised from my sister-in-law, the size variation is amazing!

EvaB's picture
EvaB

yes, and pullet eggs ( just coming into production hens) are tiny, smaller even than small eggs, so when making recipes you simply have to weigh the eggs in the recipe and if it works fine then put the weight of the eggs into the recipe rather than the amount although you can say 2 med eggs that weigh....... because not all eggs weigh exactly the same, the sizes are between so and so much weight is a small, and so much more is a med, and so much more is a large etc.

I've never heard that large eggs are hard on chickens, they generally naturally progress from very small to larger as the chicken ages I don't think they can really tweak that part of production other than feeding better or whatever. I do know that different chickens produce different sized eggs, like bantams produce small eggs, but there will be a varience still in size some larger than others.

The fact that your sister in law had differing sizes is a case in point, obviously some of her hens either were younger and had smaller eggs naturally or they just had different sizes of eggs and produced that size each time.

flournwater's picture
flournwater

This subject has been explored ad nauseum. 

Load a dry ingredient measuring cup with flour (don't pack it, just let it fall into the cup from the flour scoop)

Level the top, dump the contents into a container that rests on the scale with "tare" weight adjusted, and note the weight.

Repeat the process ten times.  Average the weight.  I think you'll find that a pound of flour equals something closer to four cups, rather than two.  But  -  to each his own.

Results will vary slightly depending on the type of flour you're using.

EvaB's picture
EvaB

mine might be different because I use great grandma's pet measuring cup which is larger than yours, or maybe smaller, so I might get 5 cups of flour for a pound.

What I am trying to point out, is everyone thinks a cup of flour is what they think it is, this book says that its a pound, so its a point to start at, and when working with older recipes (which I do on a continious basis) you need to know what they are saying, for instance if you take 2 of your cups to make a pound cake and a pound of sugar and a pound of eggs, the cake will not work at all, and if you figure 9 eggs are a pound and use small or pullet eggs, you won't have a pound of eggs, so you can't just say, a pound is so many eggs, you need to weigh the eggs, I don't like to use anything but xtra large eggs, because usually that is actually what the recipe needs, not a small, medium or large, most recipes don't specify, especially much older ones they figure you know that so many eggs is a pound and if they say 4 eggs, its going to be roughly half a pound etc. so if your eggs are small because its early in the year and the pullets are laying small eggs, you adjust the number of eggs in the recipe to compensate.

Its not a redundant thread, its simply a different xploration of the question, and it does give a standard weight for flour in a cup, don't be so down and as for redundant threads, they abound, the questions on starters, and baking stones being two I can name. I simply skip those if I don't want to read the same old same old!

 

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Just a minute while I rip that page out of that book so I never use it...

(Even after the explanation of fluid measures vs. dry measures, I don't really understand what exactly I should do to "interpret" these old recipes correctly. A "fluid ounce" volume of water weighs approximately an "ounce" [although it may have originally been beer or wine rather than water, or even an accident]. So the two measures should be close enough they still don't really explain the weirdnesses in this cookbook, right?-)

EvaB's picture
EvaB

and actually rather interesting information. The problem with using fluid ounces to measure dry ingredients is the flour is looser and packs differently to water, try measuring boiling water and ice water then wait for the one to cool down and the other to warm up, the measurement is different for each once a median temp has been reached. This was basic physics in grade 9, along with adding weight to a block that was propelled along the floor and noting how much inertia was added to the movement.

The thing is the recipes were written for people who were told a cup was half a pound, so they work best with that in mind, if you note the weight of eggs is there for a pound its not any different to using bakers % which I still have difficulty understanding (never was great at math) so if a recipe says use 4 eggs (about half a pound) and 2 cups of flour, you will get the same result if you used a 4.5 ounce cup and one egg, if the ratio (another thing I don't really understand) is the same in % .

What I am saying is that everyone ignors the fact that these older recipes were written with this credo in mind, and therefore the resulting mix will be off and not work if this isn't taken into account.

By the way scales were an essential part of the cooks equipment long before we got onto the scene, my mother could weigh out 1 pound of anything, and have it be almost exact, I can't I need the scale! She also never actually used measuring cups, she didn't own one, she used the wide tea cup from a box of Quaker Oats, she used a whiskey bottle with the lable removed for a rolling pin, and a piece of waxed butcher paper for a pastry rolling mat.

Families were larger when this book was written, and portions were larger too, so the pound cake made with a pound of each ingredient would have lasted a couple days in a larger family and that would mean the cook would have had to worry about less things and have a routine in place that dealt with making bread, cakes and meals. Most women didn't work out of the house at this time, and most men worked at more physical jobs, so the portions made sense for that particular scenario.

To further confound things American Measurement cups are 2 ounces smaller than British, or Australian, so if you are working with an older recipe from either place you have to take that into account as well. I suspect that a 10 ounce dry measure would come closer to holding the half pound of flour that is noted to be a cup in the above list than an 8 ounce cup, which while accurate in being a half pound measure isn't in volume. I don't get the half pound in a cup dipped and rather packed, and I highly doubt that you can without heaping the cup mightily, the most I can get is around 5 ounces, so even the 10 ounce cup would be a bit short unless you did pack and weigh the flour.

I have a European friend (Dutch) and he says that in Europe they used to go into the shops and ask for half a pound of whatever and since it was measured in metric you got 1000 grams of whatever it was, but the nomenclature was the same, for ounces or grams, half a pound was half a pound not 8 ounces and 1000 grams, he also said the recipes were written using the same thing, so if it asked for half a pound of flour it wasn't around 250 grms it was 1000 grams or half of a kilo, its all semantics. And you do have to understand the era it was written in to understand what goes wrong when you try a pound cake with 2 cups of flour that only weigh around 8 ounces, and use an actual pound of butter, and or sugar, etc, it won't work right. Same with trying to convert an older European recipe which is written in pounds but not explained that their pound means a kilo! (2.2 Standard pounds)

These things are why that recipe that aunt so and so wrote down for you doesn't work right, because she might not have used a "real" measuring cup, or used a very old one that was larger, or simply knew how much of what was the right ratio for the mixture, and she always used large eggs, or what now would be called xtra large, so using the same amount of eggs from a small or medium egg carton will not be enough eggs, its simply something to be aware of, and not blow off as "we've already had this discussion" and a cup is 4 ounces in weight, why do you think that is right if the cup measures 8 ounces? A cup should be a cup whether its a 10 ounce cup, a metric cup, or an American cup, if its in ounces or grams then the weight of anything properly measured in that cup should supposedly weight the same, of course that is not going to happen, but it does explain failures of old family recipes, because your grandma wasn't measuring a 4 ounce cup, she might have been doing an 8 ounce cup, or even a 5.5 ounce cup depending, so cups are something to be aware of the original designations of.

I didn't post this to be contentious, I posted it to make people aware that a cup isn't always a cup and you need to understand that going into a recipe. Even recent recipes the cups are measured differently, so KA Flour recipes from their site use the weight measures for cups that they say flour weighs, you can't state that a cup is only 4.5 ounces, you have to deal with the fact that everyone thinks a cup is different!

For instance did you know that coffee pots consider a cup as being 6 ounces, so when measuring coffee its a tablespoon per cup (6 ounces ) of water, not for 8 ounces, this is why those pots that say 12 cups, don't hold 12 8 ounce cups mine holds barely 4 mugs of coffee, and is marked at 48 ounces, but if I put in coffee for 4 cups, the coffee would be disasterously weak.

Candango's picture
Candango

This was Fanny Farmer's Boston Cooking School.  Her first cookbook, originally done in the 1880's (I think), was probably the one from which the page was taken.  If two cups of flour yield a pound, they were probably packing the flour in and tamping it down.  Like dredging the measuring cup into a large bag of flour (which compresses the flour) and then maybe leveling the top.  I am pretty sure you would get a hefty 8 oz with that kind of measure.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

I suspect the strange measurements aren't just a matter of "packing" or "tamping" at all, but rather that EvaB hit the explanation that it's what a math-head (maybe prompted by a book editor) would produce if they didn't really understand the distinction between "ounces" and "fluid ounces". A pound is 16 ounces, half a pound is 8 ounces, and 8 ounces make one "cup", so a "cup" and a "half pound" are the same thing. (Did you notice the inappropriate switcheroo from "ounces" to "fluid ounces" in that math on the first reading?   ...me neither)

My initial quibble was while all this makes sense of why after-the-fact descriptions might be screwy, I couldn't see how a cook in the kitchen could be misled by this particular mixup: I've never in any antique store or museum seen a measure for a "fluid ounce" of flour:-) But if as EvaB says back then cooks sometimes measured ingredients by weighing them (rather than by volume), then that would explain how all these errors could ooze into the recipes themselves.

Let me try again to restate the OP's point, to see if I've now understood it (my apologies for not "getting it" earlier): given that the confusion of "ounces" and "fluid ounces" was so common it even screwed up a printed book, it's quite likely the confusion of "ounces" and "fluid ounces" seeped into old recipes and baking procedures, so keep that possible confusion in mind (especially when dealing with older recipes).

 

...a cup isn't always a cup and you need to understand that going into a recipe...
...when working with older recipes you need to know what they are saying...

Well said!

 

EvaB's picture
EvaB

my brother was a brewer, and was always annoyed at recipes that said take a gallon of juice, water or whatever, even quarts and pints, since American quarts are based on 8 ounce cups, and Canadian ones on 10 ounce cups, making a big difference on the size of a recipe. 128 to 160 fluid ounces is quite a difference. This is why a gallon of gas is more expensive in Canada, your gallons are smaller than ours, and we charge more per portion of the gallon (litres are even worse for converting) so the gas costs more. Of course we get more miles per gallon unless you convert it to US gallons.

Somewhere down the line, the cups for dry measure got changed to cups for fluid measures and simply leveled off so the measurements don't equate to the original measurements of 2 cups = 1 pound.

Its annoying and some manufacutrer is to blame for all the confusion in the baking field. So the only thing to do is simply weigh all your ingredients and be done with it.BUT you have to be aware of which weight you need for the recipe because like someone said a weight for a cup of high gluten flour one one web site is way off what it is on another, and older books say a cup is half a pound, so you really do need to sort of be a detective when working with an old recipe or recipe book.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

...some manufacutrer is to blame for all the confusion in the baking field...

Given the history of confusing measures goes back hundreds of years before the industrial revolution, I think it might be more fair to say manufacturers get some of the blame for perpetuating the confusion. (Those scales that provide "fluid ounces" as a weighing option seem to me some of the worst offenders:-)

Personally, if I had to pick just one place to lay the blame for today's confusion, it would be the U.S. population for dragging their heels about going metric. A gram is a gram is a gram, anywhere in the world at any time, no confusion.

I saw highway speed limit signs in kilometers-per-hour in Oregon in the 70's! The whole world would already be completely metric if one very large market didn't still insist on old confusing measures. Just last week I had to deal with a bolt whose dimensions were in inches and whose threads were U.S. style and size, yet whose head would only fit a metric sized wrench.

EvaB's picture
EvaB

you got a stmetric bolt! Thats a standard metric, its ok, I had to get bolts from the Toyota dealer years ago to put my sewing machine onto the base, no regular standard, or metric bolt would work! The machine was of course made in Japan as was the Toyotas at that time, so it was standard Japanese metric thread.

I agree, that metric is really good, and that should get us over the problems, but then again, there are 30 ml tablespoons, and 25 ml tablespoons, so one wonders if it will ever go away! Are they grams or ml when it comes to dry measures, and if its grams, then what is the weight of a real tablespoon (providing you can find one) its still there, only now it would be a confusion against ml and litres and grams and kilos, and your dry measuring cup might hold 150 grams of flour and mine 200 or vice versa, its still the fact that the measuring cups are not all standard no matter what one thinks, and you can't just convert to grams and have it work if the measures are in ml.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Yep, "tablespoons" have some of the same problems as "cups". That's why I don't use them at all. For me, grams for everything. (This makes scaling recipes easier too. Bakers' percentages are more convenient; I won't ever be faced with some weird math problem like "three fourths of a tablespoon".)

(When weighing small ingredients like salt or yeast, a scale with one [1.0] gram resolution often doesn't cut it. That's why I often use my second "pocket digital scale" with its finer tenth [0.1] of a gram resolution.)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It is mostly laziness and lack of proper equipment. People tend not to use the exact measurement. Write one thing and imply another. Read one thing and see another. Some of the problems come from lack of education. I also don't like recipes that say 200ml flour because that requires a volume measure for a dry ingredient... easily overlooked when scanning a recipe. Not everyone has a scale, or one that works properly and that problem has existed for a long long time be it lb. or kg.

Fanny Farmer also makes her mark as the inventor of the measuring cup. I'm sure her cups weighed half a pound. I understand she also sold her measuring cups with her cookbook. Somewhere along history the cup sizes got changed to even half her standard size. Cup evolution. That could have happened with competition of perhaps a new cookbook or cooking school inclusive a new cup standard. Her cups were designed using the pound and most likely flour. A way to divide a pound (as scales were not common household tools) was to use cups. A new language was born!

In many 1880 households, If there was money, a scales could be found. Many of the old recipes were not in cups but pounds and made large recipes designed for large households and feeding employees. Even to this day, a ten pound scale is not a common kitchen tool in America. It is easy to see how the cup idea caught on like wild fire because it costs less to the consumer and money was to be made. So a lot of non cooking people were mass producing cups. Still are. Just look at the variety and competition! Cheap enough not to be responsible and because they are mass produced in foreign lands, the risk of product error is greater. I won't even get into the motivation of making error laden cups and who might be interested in distributing such a thing.

EvaB's picture
EvaB

of money and measuring instruments is clearly why so many recipes from our older generations go something like this, take some flour, and sugar and enough eggs and milk to make a thin, (thick, dough)etc, they learned to cook by standing in the kitchen helping their mother's and grandmother's and they didn't have measuring cups and scales and learned simply by seeing how the dough or batter or whatever looked when it was enough.

Then there is the fact that maybe the original measures were made in Britain so there might have been a patriotic backlash against anything British and therefore the American cups were taken over the larger sizes. Who knows why they were manufactured that way, and when it happened. Its not inconceivable that someone shorted the cup size in order to save metal during the first World War, and of course about that time the cups would have been coming into vougue and therefore the size would have gone to a smaller size without being noticed since people didn't have scales. And if they decided in their wisdom that fluid ounces were exactly the same as dry weight ounced (they aren't really due to many things) if the cups were made to 8 fluid ounces then they were half a pound of course! Why have two different sized cup measures in your kitchen, not to mention twice the expense!

Its simply how the recipe works, and the thing to do is if you get a recipe offline, to check and see if the website has a conversion table and says they've tested the recipe. The best thing is to get metric weights for all the ingredients, rather than ml, or other fluid measures and make sure you check the size of eggs etc. and don't be surprised if you have to fiddle with an older recipe from a friends mother, because her recipe could have Xtra large eggs required but since that was all her mother ever bought she never specified that size, and her cups might actually weigh more than the standard you have decided on, so it might just be over hydrated or under hydrated or have too much sugar etc.

So for all of you recipe collectors out there, check the cookbook and see what the standard weight was for a cup measure at the time that book was written, (and if possible check to make sure the above table just wasn't lifted whole and the cups don't really match) and get a scale, they aren't that expensive anymore, some of the better ones are close to a hundred dollars (my baker's % scale was around that with shipping) but you can buy a fairly decent electronic scale at most places including Wal Mart for about $20, it may not weigh very small weights, but for things like spices its not that important to be super accurate, since those are mostly subjective tastes anyway, I don't like cloves and leave out any that are in a recipe and it doesn't really make any difference to the actual recipe. You can use measuring spoons for spices and yeast its not going to make a difference like having a cup that weighs 140 grams, or one that weighs 250 grams one might be under hydrated and one over if the water was measured the same. And of course the larger cups might mean a longer raise would be required to get that tsp of yeast to fully incorporate and release its little gas bubbles!

A lot of times I see people trying to recreate a recipe that their parents or grandparents or even great grandparents used and it doesn't work out, and this is really because their cups probably were a different size, or they guessed at how many cups it was they used, not really measured, because they went by how the mixture looks or behaves when all ingredients are there.

My brother used to tell me about our grandmother making egg noodles for the chicken (he lived with her when he was little) and when I asked him how much flour to how many eggs, he said she just put a pile of flour on the table and added an egg and worked it in until she got the dough right, he stood right there and watched her, but had no recollection of her actually measuring anything, and couldn't tell me how big the egg was, it wasn't a small one is all he said. This is a classic representation of an old recipe, it was just mixed to suit her, and the amounts varied depending on how much she needed. Some people varied the recipe to fit the pans they had, the amount of people they were feeding and so forth, its really a crap shoot trying to get older recipes working, and you do have to have an idea of what the mix should look like before you try the recipe out.

EvaB's picture
EvaB

but the idea behind my post was to have people take note of what the recipes in that book are using for a cup measure, and if you use one, be aware that a cup according to whomever is the authority now, isn't going to be the same weight and the recipe will not work right, even recipes now are not standard as to which cup is the right one, KA Flour has one weight, so their recipes are most likely based on their weight measure, and Stan says he has a chart on his sight, and someone else says 4 ounces, and another says 4.5 so depending on which weight of flour you decide to use, a recipe might have too much liquid or not enough, since a 4.5 ounce cup of flour will take up more water than a 4 ounce cup, and if its a 5 ounce cup then the water is going to be severely short.

I noticed this when making pie crust, one time the crust works out just great, the next it doesn't, and that was using the dip method, once I started spooning the flour into the cup and leveling with a knife the pie crust works better, sometimes still a bit dry or too wet, but more often just right. I will eventually figure out the weight of flour to lard, and try it that way.

3 Olives's picture
3 Olives

KA has 602 grams for 5 cups of flour and it works perfectly.  Other sites are different, but the end product works. My Grammy never weighed anything and she produced perfect bread every time she baked.