MEASUREMENTS…The first thing that comes to mind is a sequence of these three numbers…36-24-36.
It was the dream of an American girl decades ago to have those picture-perfect measurements. Movie magazines lauded starlets whose bust, waist, and hips measured those highly sought after numbers. Numbers like that could spell the road to success on the silver screen or the newly invented television. Nope, the tape measure never revealed that kind of future in my life. I could only hope for some other success from numbers.
But I discovered that there was more to a measurement than what a tape measure revealed. Well-used tin measuring cups and measuring spoons and good old Pyrex glass measuring cups from mom’s top cupboard shelf would be the instruments I would use to help me gain stardom in our kitchen.
According to historic gastronomist, Sarah, in her blog Four Pounds Flour (www.fourpoundsflour.com), it was way back in 1896 that Fannie Farmer, cooking school teacher and cookbook author, introduced the modern recipe in which ingredients were listed first, the instructions were in order, and the measurements were precise. “Correct measurements are absolutely necessary to insure the best results. Good judgment, with experience, has taught some to measure by sight; but the majority need definite guides.”
A few recipes handed down to me from previous generations have instructed to “use a tea cup” to measure flour. And how about these ingredient measurement terms: lard “the size of an egg,” salt “to your taste,” and sugar “a good amount”? Bakers were so attuned to the performance of their recipes with these instructions that precision measuring was not necessary. But if Aunt Sarah asked Aunt Mina for her gingerbread recipe, would Aunt Sarah’s gingerbread turn out to be as good? Maybe Aunt Sarah envisioned lard to be the size of a duck egg whereas Aunt Mina used lard the size of a chicken egg. This difference could have a gigantic impact on the total outcome of that highly sought-after gingerbread!
I, for one, am very thankful Fannie Farmer was watching over the potential success of all future bakers. I am not a “scoop and dump” baker. I am a careful baker using dry measuring cups made of either metal or plastic for dry ingredients and liquid measuring cups made from glass or plastic for those liquids needed in a recipe.
Mom used accurate measuring techniques to produce excellent baked products. She taught me to do the same. As I recall, one of the first baking lessons taught in our farm kitchen was how to spoon dry ingredients into a measuring cup and sweep off the excess by using the straight edge of the handle of a spoon or knife which was held vertical/perpendicular to the horizontal plane of the cup top so that the ingredients would not be packed in the process. I have graduated to using a narrow metal spatula for this sweeping technique.
Liquid ingredients were always measured in the Pyrex measuring cups. Mom would say, “Now crouch down so that your eye is at the same level as the liquid in the cup.” And so I did.
This beginning tutorial on ingredient measuring has indeed served me well in the decades I have tested recipes for my own use and for competition. Otherwise, if I were not accurate in my measurements, how would I be assured that the recipe would turn out the same the next time I made it?
Ahh, then there is always a wise-guy ingredient in the mix that might be quite difficult to measure. You might ask, “How do I measure brown sugar?” Use the required size of dry measuring cup and pack the brown sugar into it. By pressing down on the brown sugar with the bottom of a smaller measuring cup, all of the extra air is removed. Level the top with a straight edge, and ,”Voila,” brown sugar measuring problem is solved!
How about you? Do you measure in approximations or exacts? Are you a scoop and dump kind of baker?
The next time you bake, try putting accuracy in your measuring techniques. You might be quite surprised at the stardom gained in the kitchen when your baked products turn out worthy of the bright lights of Hollywood! And just think, you won’t have to think about those 36-24-36 picture-perfect measurements!