What is a cup?



I've been browsing the website & notice a number of recipes measure flour in 'cups' which I find confusing.

I have at least four different size cups. How many grams in a 'standard' cup? Is it a heaped cup or a flattened cup?

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farinam's picture
farinam 2017 April 17

Hello HorseBlanket,

Even the 'standard' measuring cups have different volumes in different parts of the world ranging, I think without checking, from 180ml to 250ml.  The cup that you use for your tea and coffee is probably even more variable.  Standard spoon measures have similar problems.

For recipes, the general idea is that you are using a 'standard' cup but that means that you have to be aware of just where the recipe was written.  The standard cup is also a 'levelled' cup.

However, another big variable in how much you get into a levelled standard cup is how the cup is filled.  The recommeded method for flour, in particular, is that you agitate the flour in its canister with a spoon to loosen any settling and compaction that has occured.  You then spoon the loosened flour into the cup until the cup is over-filled and you then scrape off the excess with a straight edge such as the back of a knife, a spatule or a dough scraper.

There are stacks of cup conversion tables out there on the internet for the range of 'standard' cups in the world and thay do not always agree but about 140g of bread flour would be a good starting point.

The problem with volume measures is one good reason to use a kitchen scale.  However, it is eminently possible to bake perfectly well using cups and spoons, it just requires you to be able to visually and manually assess the qualities of the mixture at any given stage and make the minor adjustments needed to get the proportions right.  Even with a scale, you sometimes need to make minor adjustments due to different batches of flour and weather conditions.

Good luck with your projects.


HorseBlanket 2017 April 17

Hi farinam

Thank you for your very clear & comprehensive answer. It is a delight to receive such a response in an environment where one line answers are often the norm.

Searching the Internet for alternative bread recipes I find that many of the initially interesting results often later disapoint me because of the 'cup' measure. It seems that the vast majority of these originate from the USA where weights & measures are at variance with most other countries that have converted to grams & kilometres.
Yes, there are numerous tables available but having to guess whether the cup is levelled, heaped, compressed etc takes me on a whole different route to that of the recipe itself.
Because of this, as soon as I see 'cup' or 'stick of butter!' mentioned in a recipe I tend to go elsewhere & as a result probably deprive myself of the results of an excellent recipe.

I am not a very experienced baker & 'to visually and manually assess the qualities of the mixture'' doesn't come naturally to me. This is probably because I lack experience & have spent my working life in I.T. where exact numbers are important.

I have found that in baking bread there are quite a number of variables that can determine whether a loaf is successful or not & in learning I have attempted to reduce the number of variables as much as possible. To be unsure of weights & quantities at the outset is not, for me, a good starting point.

But thank you for your encouragement.

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