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Question:

    Can you make a better cookie?

Answer:    

    Yes.

The history behind measuring.

George Washington, in his First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union, External Link January 8, 1790, addressed the importance of accurately weighing goods when he stated: “Uniformity in the currency, weights, and measures of the United States is an object of great importance, and will, I am persuaded, be duly attended to.” While colonists used units of weights and measures recognized in England, this caused confusion in trade. Increasingly, there was concern that people were not always getting what they paid or bargained for. Although numerous reports were issued on the topic of weights and measures, it was not until 1836 when Congress adopted the Joint Resolution of June 14, 1836, directing the Secretary of the Treasury to supply each State with copies of the weights and measures adopted as standards for the customhouses. As one might expect, it became necessary to educate the public. People were encouraged to buy by weight whenever possible in an effort to ensure their protection especially when transacting with merchants and managing their households.

How to make a better cookie. It is recommended that you measure by weight using a digital scale.

As flour is a major ingredient when baking cookies, it is essential to use the proper tools to ensure that consistency in taste is achieved. Just as you would find a tool such as beaker in a chemistry lab, you need to have similar instruments in the kitchen. It is recommended that you follow directions carefully, especially when measuring a dry or liquid element in your recipe. Generally, the manufacturer will provide information on the packaging or on their website that will give you equivalences. For example, one manufacturer may indicate that a cup of their flour measures 4¼ ounces while another may say that a cup of their product weighs 5 ounces. It is important to note that some flours have greater compressibility than others and can yield different weights; and, ‘A cup filled by dipping a cup into a container can weigh as much as 50% more than a cup filled by sifting flour into it!’ External Link When a recipe calls for a tablespoon, use a measuring spoon and not a tablespoon from your usual eating utensils. Wet ingredients are identified as milk, water, eggs, extracts and oils; and, dry ingredients include flour, sugar and salt. While it is possible to use some of these measuring tools interchangeably, it is to be noted that in order to fill a dry ingredient in a liquid measure, it can become problematic to level it off in such a vessel because the cup does not have a flattened top. When filling a cup it is important that you do not ‘press’ your flour or other dry ingredient into the cup except in instances where it is indicated to ‘pack’ the ingredient as in the case of brown sugar. It is best to use a dry cup especially made for this purpose so you can run a knife or bench scraper over the top to level it. It should also be noted that dry ingredients can be dipped, scooped, sifted, or spooned into a measuring cup to avoid compressing the mixture. Measurable variance in mass can occur when using these different methods. When measuring liquids it is essential to be at eye level with your measuring device and to make sure that the liquid is under the line of measurement. Oils can be measured using dry or liquid measuring devices. All things considered, it is best to use a digital scale and weigh all ingredients to ensure that you bake the tastiest cookie.

Interesting Facts:

  • A cup of cake flour weighs 4 ounces; a cup of unbleached all-purpose flour weighs 4¼ ounces.
  • A cup of whole wheat⁄graham flour weighs 5¼ ounces.
  • A cup of rolled oats weighs 3½ ounces.
  • A cup of loose raisins weighs 5¼ ounces; a cup of packed raisins weighs 6 ounces.
  • 1 stick of butter weighs 4 ounces.
  • A cup of chocolate chips weighs 6 ounces; a cup of chocolate chips chopped weighs 6 ounces.
  • A cup of brown sugar, ‘packed’ weighs 8 ounces; a cup of granulated sugar weighs 7 ounces.
  • 1⁄2 cup of vegetable shortening weighs 3¼ ounces.
Standard DisclaimerRelated Web Sites

Library of Congress Web SiteFurther Reading
  • America's test kitchen cooking school cookbook: everything you need to know to become a great cook. By the editors at America's Test Kitchen; photography by Daniel J. van Ackere and Anthony Tieuli. Brookline, MA, America's Test Kitchen, 2013. 822 p.
  • Blocker, Linda, and Julia Hill. Culinary math. 4th ed. Hoboken, NJ, Wiley, 2016. 230 p.
  • The King Arthur Flour cookie companion: the essential cookie cookbook. Woodstock, VT, Countryman Press, c2004. 509 p.
  • López–Alt, J. Kenji. The food lab: better home cooking through science. New York, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015. 958 p.
  • National Conference on Weights and Measures. Specifications, tolerances, and regulations for commercial weights and measures and weighing and measuring devices. 2nd ed. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1955. 196 p.
  • Smith, Ralph Weir. Weights and measures administration. Prepared by the Office of Weights and Measures. Recommended by the National Conference on Weights and Measures. Rev. Washington, U.S. National Bureau of Standards, 1962. 190 p.

SearchFor more print resources...
Search on "cooking––mathematics," "cooking––technique," "cookies," or "weights and measures" in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.


Cookies.
Courtesy of Nanette Gibbs.

 

Black and white photograph of a glass meauring cup, metal measuring spoons, glass baby bottles, and a glass milk bottle.
Substitute materials. Glass utensils. New type glass measuring cups have easy-to-read markings. The quart measuring cup shown here makes simple the job of preparing baby's formula or cooking recipes. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

 

Color photograph of several metal measuring spoons.
Measuring spoons.
Courtesy of Nanette Gibbs.

 

Color photograph of flour on a sheet of wax paper being weighed on a scale.
Weighing flour.
Courtesy of Nanette Gibbs.

 

Color photograph of a measuring cup of flour in a bowl being leveled off.
Leveling flour.
Courtesy of Nanette Gibbs.

 

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 July 31, 2017
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