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Why a Ruler Belongs in Your Kitchen. Now.

Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 — with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Alice tells us just how much rulers rule when it comes to baking.

Why a Ruler Belongs in Your Kitchen. Now.

Do you get fewer cookies than the recipe says you will? Do you wonder why cookies take longer to bake, or why they come out tougher than you expected? Are your cakes and brownies thinner than they are in the cookbook photo and drier than they should be?

I keep a ruler in my kitchen to avoid these problems, and I think everyone should do the same. Mine happens to be plastic (thus washable), 18 inches long, and with a grid printed on it. I bought it in an art supply store and I keep in my utensil crock. I also have a 6-inch metal bench scraper that’s marked like a ruler. When a recipe directs me to slice cookie dough 1/4-inch thick, or roll pastry 1/8-inch thick, or bake something in an 8-inch pan, I measure first. When I create recipes for publication, I measure what I do so I can communicate to my readers. I don’t guess about the measurement any more than I would guess about how long it takes to bake a particular cake.

Why a Ruler Belongs in Your Kitchen from Food52

Too finicky? I don’t think so.

Cookies sliced 1/2-inch thick from a log of dough instead of 1/4-inch thick take longer to bake and may have a completely different texture than was intended. Depending on the type of cookie, they might turn out hard and tough instead of delicately crispy and tender. And you might think it’s just a bad recipe!

It may seem like a 9-inch cake pan is close enough to an 8-inch pan to substitute one for the other. But the former is more than 25% bigger. If you use it instead of the 8-inch pan, your cake or brownies will be considerably thinner than you expect, and probably over-baked and dry by the time you check for doneness.

These are just a few of the multitude of details that make baking so very fascinating to me. Every detail makes some kind of difference! If you want to taste the cookie, pastry, cake, or brownie that the creator (and I mean the chef, not God!) intended, measurements can help you achieve that goal.

Alice’s new book, Seriously Bitter Sweet, is a complete revision of her IACP award-winning Bittersweet, updated for the 54%, 61%, and 72% (and beyond) bars available today. It’s packed with tricks, techniques, and answers to every chocolate question, plus 150 seriously delicious recipes — both savory and sweet. 

Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies 

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (unsifted, measured by stirring briefly, spooning into the measuring cup until it’s heaped above the rim, then leveling it with a straight-edged knife or spatula — it should weigh nearly 2.5 ounces)
2/3 cups walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
  2. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.
  3. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
  4. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.
  5. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

Save and print the recipe on Food52

Photos by James Ransom

This article originally appeared on Food52.com: Why a Ruler Belongs in Your Kitchen