Cups Must Die

Let’s start this blog with a lovely, non-controversial topic that’s guaranteed not to annoy anyone at all with its sweet fluffiness. After all, start as you mean to go on, and all that…

Actually, knackers to that. Let’s swear at an entire country.

Dear America: You are doing recipes wrong. Specifically, you are fucking up measurements. For a change I’m not talking about your irrational attachment to an antiquated and hideous system of measurement that no sane person would use given that the metric system is a thing and base-10 is literally the easiest counting method on the planet (except for people from Glenrothes, or Norfolk).

No, this is about your irrational desire to measure non-liquid ingredients by volume.

It’s… not acceptable, but understandable why you might mistake this for a suitable practice when using fine powders or crystals, where a change in particle alignment will not result in a great change in quantity at the amounts used in most home cooking1. Once you get larger than things like sugar, however, the practice is idiotic.

I have read American recipes—actually in cookbooks, not just by morons on the internet—that call for diced peppers, sliced mushrooms, etc to be measured in cups. Which, for readers who don’t live in a backwards hellhole, is a unit of volume. Yes, even though the fluid ounce and the pint are both also used for volume in the USA (despite their pints being fucking tiny, presumably to charge more for shit-awful beer).

Quite apart making sure everybody in sane locations has to sit around with a conversion chart to find out what actual volume your recipes are dribbling on about, no two cups of chopped vegetables will ever yield the same amount. The particles are too big.

If you’re unable to fathom this basic principle of geometry, might I suggest purchasing a number of wooden blocks. As they are normally sold to parents for the enjoyment of small children, you may find the bright primary colours soothing as I explain something that should be so fucking intuitive that I don’t need to teach it to a goddamn chimp. The blocks won’t just distract you from me calling you every name under the sun, they are a vital teaching aide.

Take eight blocks. Make them into a cube, two blocks on a side. Measure that cube. Now, turn them so they’re arranged in a diamond pattern, touching at the edges only. Measure the resulting cube. Now, balance them carefully (get someone from a grown-up country to help) so that each block only touches the others at the corners. Measure the resulting cube.

See how the measurements are all different? Yet they all contain the same number of blocks. So if you always want eight blocks, you can’t guarantee any of the overall measurements will get you eight blocks, because you can’t predict how they will stack.

And that’s why cups are a hideous measurement for dry ingredients. Just fucking stop, okay?

  1. Though if you bake using anything other than strict weights you are an idiot who deserves the ridiculously variable results. Though given America’s attachment to awful sugary-sweet bread you may not even notice. 

3 Replies to “Cups Must Die”

  1. Really, it’s the GBBO that has convinced me that I need a kitchen scale and to start weighing things. There’s a whole world of baking I don’t know anything about — but in order to get there, I need to be able to weigh ingredients. It takes an imprecise art and makes it quantitative, which is kind of awesome.

    1. It wasn’t until I saw how the Women’s Institute make their Victoria sponges that I realised just how important precision is. They go so far as to weigh the amount of eggs added.

      It turned me on to the idea that cooking may be art, but baking is science.

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