Ingredient Temperature Guidelines for Baking Lesson Overview:
Today we are diving into the topic of ingredient temperatures in baking and reviewing some general guidelines about those temperatures. It is probably no surprise to you by now that paying attention to details in baking is important and ingredient temperatures are no exception.
If a recipe is written properly, it should specify when ingredients should be at room temperature or when they should be cold, but today we will review the reasons for the two and the general guidelines for when each is used.
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Temperatures of Ingredients in Baking
One of the most common questions I get is the question of if it really matters if ingredients are at room temperature or not. The simple answer to this is yes. Baking is a science and details do matter, including the temperature of your ingredients.
The thing to know about ingredient temperatures in baking is that it does matter more in certain circumstances than it does in others. Some baked goods, like muffins and quick breads, are very forgiving and aren’t going to be ruined by using cold ingredients (though the texture will be better if you allow the ingredients to come to room temperature). While other recipes, like a perfect pound cake, are more finicky and will not turn out well if you use cold ingredients.
All of this is to say that if you want to absolute best results from you baking then you do want to pay attention to ingredient temperatures. My biggest tip for following this is to consult the recipe. If a recipe is written properly then it should state whether ingredients should be cold or room temperature. But sometimes it isn’t stated, and I prefer to understand the reasoning even if it is stated, so let’s review some general guidelines and why it is important.
Ingredients Where Temperature Matters
When we are discussing ingredient temperatures for baking the only ingredients that we are talking about are the ones that are typically kept in the refrigerator. This includes things like butter, eggs, milk, cream, cream cheese, and sour cream. Dry ingredients like sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt are always going to be used at room temperature.
When You Should Use Cold Ingredients in Baking
As a general rule of thumb, you want to use cold ingredients for any kind of baked good with a flaky final texture. Examples of this are pie and tart crusts, biscuits, scones, puff pastry, and other laminated doughs.
For all of these examples it is important that the fat remains solid before the baked good goes into the oven. The small pieces of solid fat that are studded throughout the dough will melt in the oven creating little pockets, aka flakiness. For these recipes you want to make sure your butter, eggs, cream, etc. are cold before making the dough.
When You Should Use Room Temperature Ingredients
If you are making something with a cohesive dough or batter, or anything that won’t have a flaky final texture, then you want your ingredients to be at room temperature. This is going to be the bulk of your baking. There are a few reasons why it matters to bring ingredients to room temperature before baking.
Butter is an emulsion and when it is creamed with sugar, air and sugar are being beaten into the emulsion. If the butter were too cold or too warm it could easily break the emulsion resulting in a batter than is curdled. This means that the creaming process wasn’t successful and the end result of your baked good won’t be desirable.
Furthermore, you want eggs and dairy products to be at room temperature when they are being added into a mixture that contains creamed butter and sugar. Cold ingredients could also break this emulsion.
You will also notice that ingredients are more readily absorbed into batters and doughs when they are at room temperature. This leads to a more cohesive mixture and a nicer final texture.
What Does Room Temperature Mean in Baking?
When you are bringing ingredients to room temperature you want them to be around 70 F (21 C). This is the temperature at which butter is soft but is not starting to look greasy or glossy yet. Once butter gets to the point where it is greasy looking or starting to melt it is too warm and you should pop it back in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
How to Bring Ingredients to Room Temperature
The best way to bring ingredients to room temperature is to plan ahead. Leave butter, eggs, milk, sour cream, and cream cheese out on your counter for 30-60 minutes before starting your recipe depending on how warm your kitchen is.
If you are in a rush you can bring your ingredients to room temperature more quickly using these techniques:
- Butter & Cream Cheese: Butter and cream cheese can come to room temperature quickly but cutting them up into small pieces and spreading them out. The smaller the pieces are, the quicker they will come to room temperature. I can get my butter to room temperature in about 5 minutes after it is cut into small pieces. I do not recommend microwaving butter to bring it to room temperature because it can easily become too warm.
- Eggs: Eggs will come to room temperature quickly by placing uncracked eggs in a bowl and cover with warm (not hot) water, and letting them sit for about 5 minutes to come to room temperature.
- Milk & Cream: Milk and cream can be brought to room temperature quickly by microwaving them for about 15-20 seconds to take the chill off.
Other Instances When Ingredient Temperatures Matter in Baking
There are two other instances where it is very important to be aware of ingredient temperatures and that is when making whipped cream and when whipping air into egg whites. Cream needs to be very cold in order to thicken and trap the web of air. In contrast, egg whites will whip up to their highest volume from room temperature.
Homework for this Lesson
Now that you understand why ingredient temperatures matter in baking you are ready for your last homework assignment! As always, the homework is optional but is a good way to practice. For this lesson I want you to tackle a recipe that feels challenging and one that you have never tried before. I know I constantly have a list of baked goods that feel intimidating but that I want to try. Choose something off of your list!
When you utilize all of the skills and knowledge you have gained in this class I know that this will feel more approachable! If it doesn’t turn out exactly as you hoped this time, I know you have the skills to assess what may have gone wrong so you can have more success next time!