Being a good baker means being at least a little (or a lot) uptight. The vast, vast (did I say vast?) majority of baking errors are a direct result of bad measurement. Either via a lack of willingness, or a lack of proper tools. If it’s the former, you might as well just drop this whole pretense to baking now (anyway, there’ll always be work for you as a line cook). If it’s the latter, drop what you’re doing and head to the grocery store for some standard cup measures, pyrex graduated pitchers and measuring spoons. Notice I said the grocery store. The reason, because grocery stores generally stock the cheap old-school stuff, the kind that actually measures accurately. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been burned by ultra-cool measuring devices made for looks rather than accuracy. Measuring spoons are the worst culprits in this regard. I’ve received probably a dozen different sets as gifts over the years, some of which have been off by as much as 30%. That may not be a big deal if you’re measuring chopped chives for salad, but it’s a HUGE deal when you’re measuring out yeast, baking powder or baking soda.
About the only thing I use my cup measures for are things like honey (considered a dry ingredient in baking), chopped nuts, raisins, chopped olives or other sundried bakery additives. Being off a little on those won’t get you into much trouble. But for everything else that’s dry, and I mean everything, get yourself a good digital scale. You’ll be amazed at what a difference it’ll make, even in your next batch of chocolate chip cookies. “Oh, so that’s what those Nestle guys meant!”
If you don’t have a guide for how much, say, a cup of cake flour weighs, there’s a convenient reference document just over there to the right called What Things Weigh. Though not exhaustive, it’s got weights listed for most common baking ingredients. For wet ingredients, the standard pyrex pitchers your mom has work great (steal them early on a Sunday while the folks are still at church). For volumes under two cups, this thing is fantastic. Plus it’s cheap, unbreakable and drops right in the dishwasher.
And in case you’re stifling a chuckle, the answer is yes, I am uptight. There’s no need to ask the wife in secret, I’ll admit to it. But you’d benefit from being a touch tightly wound yourself the next time you set out to make a batch of brownies. The great technical virtue of baking is that the formulas are constant. The same corn muffin recipe that works for feeding your three kids will also work for 300 imprisoned junk bond traders (or, you know…whoever). For any given recipe you can make a full batch, three-quarters of a batch, a triple batch, or a quadruple and seven-sixteenths batch. Provided you measured accurately, it’ll come out the same every time. Very cool (as well as being deep consolation for the obsessive-compulsive). Let some hot shot fast and loose line cook try that with veal medallions!