A Measure of Cups

May 19, 2012 by

Not all cups are the same

It came to me suddenly; late one Friday night – cups?  Why do Americans use cups to measure? It’s daft if you think about it.  A cup is a cup – is a cup – if it’s not a mug right?

A cup, anything from a tiny espresso cup to a big clunky mug – the type my mother refuses to drink out of….

Tea tastes nicer drunk from a china cup.  Espresso must be drunk from a pfaffy little cup that invariably you can’t lift without burning your hand.  Builders favour mugs.

How can you bake using a cup?

But then if you really think about it – it’s all proportional – except when you want to make a cake for 10 and end up with one for 2.  Should the recipe not include a definition of a cup?  I mean are you to use an espresso cup or a big, ignorant mug?  Is there some covert definition of a cup that us Europeans are not privy to?  I immediately come out in a cold sweat when I try to follow an American recipe.  Even the ingredients have strange names – cornstarch and Graham crackers for heaven sake. 

We also measure bust size in cups.  Do big cups mean more milk?  Who thought of cups as a measurement and why?  Had to be men though because let’s face it babies not the best at articulation.

So cups for butter, flour and sugar.  Cups for tea and coffee.  Cups for when you have no glasses and cups for boobs.

Next I am going to write a recipe for making a cake using a bra cup.  And It will be left to the imagination which cup to use, depending on how greedy you are………..

Cup Measures   American Measures  Imperial Measurement  Metric Measurement

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  1. Aren't they mad? And The Nicholas Mosse cups compliment them perfectly! Who would have thought?

  2. Brilliant post and absolutely love the photo! What colourful cups you have my dear!


  3. Avril

    Drives me mad too!! I am constantly converting my receipes for American friends, Most don't own a scales.

  4. Problem is even when you search the conversion every one is different and a cup of flour weighs differently from a cup of sugar. Don't even start about a stick of butter.

  5. Totally agree with all your comments here, M. Have so many books and magazines with the "cups" & sticks (for butter). No European explanation given in metric or imperial for either!! Maddening!!

  6. Thank you so much for this. It's just for a very impatient cook like me, it's easier to just look for a recipe with grams but then sometimes when I can only find an American recipe for the likes of my White Cake post, then I have no choice and I will refer to your comment. Cheers.

  7. Anonymous

    I can explain cups and butter. Every American kitchen will have at least 1 liquid measuring cup, a set of dry measuring cups and a set of measuring spoons. They were standardized in the 1890ies.

    The liquid one for wet ingredients like milk. The dry measure cup is for things like flour. The both are the same volume but the dry measure ones are made to handle dry stuff (i.e. made of metal or plastic with a flat top that you take a knife or other straight edge across to level.) and are a set. The liquid one is glass or usually clear plastic with a spot and they usually have markings in fl, ml as well as cups.

    It is history that we use volume instead of weight for home cooking(scales were expensive and difficult to carry. Cups/Spoons were much easier to standardize upon for pioneers and immigrants). Cooking by weight is used only in restaurants or catering or industry. Cups work fine and are probably faster than weighing for small batches but as you can imagine 20 cups of flour would both be a pain and inaccurate in a large batch. Amateur bakers who cook bread sometimes go by weight but not your typical home cook.

    As for butter, butter comes in a standard package that is one pound. It is made up of 4 individually wrapped sticks. Each stick is 1/2 a cup of butter and on the wrapper there are marks where you can cut the butter to yield tablespoons and since the butter is ½ of a cup there are 8 tablespoons per stick. For an American half a pound of butter, 2 sticks of butter, 16 table spoons of butter, and 1 cup of butter all mean the same thing(i.e. get two sticks of butter out the package).

    One method old fashioned method of measuring butter(or fats) if you don’t have butter nicely marked out for you is the displacement method where you fill a large measuring cup with water and put the fat in it using the displacement to measuring the amount. Or you just get the butter or fat soft and pull your measuring cup through it. If I were you I would just convert to grams and be done with it.

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