Baking Terminology Lesson Overview:
In today’s lesson I want to review some of the most common baking techniques and terminology. I truly believe that proper technique is the most essential part of being a successful baker.
I remember when I first started baking and I would often read a recipe with all of this terminology that I didn’t understand. It was discouraging and frustrating to sort through. And even when I would learn what something like “cut in the fat” meant, I didn’t understand the purpose. So let’s review all of the most common basic baking terminology and techniques and the purpose of each.
Watch the Video Lesson
Common Baking Techniques and Terminology
- Definition of Batter: A batter is an unbaked mixture that is thin enough to pour or scoop, but cannot be rolled out like a dough.
- Baked Goods that are Made with Batters: Muffins, quick loaf breads, cakes, cupcakes, brownies
- Tips for Making a Batter: Take care not to over-mix batters or too much gluten will develop, creating a tough baked good. Mix just until all of the ingredients are incorporated.
- Definition of Caramelize: Caramelization refers to the change sugar goes through when it is heated and allowed to brown. When sugar is heated, it becomes liquid and then begins turning brown in color. This is called caramelization. Caramelization creates a more complex flavor and also becomes much less sweet than pure sugar.
- When it’s Used: Sugar is caramelized for making sugar decorations as well as for dessert sauces and candies.
- Tips for Caramelizing Sugar: Extra caution should be taken when caramelizing sugar due to the extremely high temperatures. (Read more about How to Caramelize Sugar here)
- Definition: When a baking recipe instructs you to “cream together” it is referring to when solid fat (typically butter, but can also be shortening, margarine, or lard) is beaten together with sugar. The process of beating the two together forms a web of air between the fat and sugar which lightens and leavens baked goods.
- When it’s Used: When making cookies, buttercream frosting, and butter based cakes. (Read more about The Creaming Method for Cakes here)
- Tips for Creaming: The fat needs to be at a cool room temperature (around 68-70 F) to be properly creamed with the sugar. If it is too cold or too warm the mixture will separate and will not hold the web of air. Creaming must be done with either a hand mixer or a stand mixer.
- Definition of Cutting In: Cutting in fat refers to when pieces of solid fat, typically butter, shortening, or lard, are worked into flour and other dry ingredients until the fat is starting to coat the flour and the pieces of fat are very small. This process is typically done by working a tool called a pastry cutter or pastry blender through the fat and flour.
- When it’s Used: Fat is cut into flour when making baked goods that result in a very flaky final product, such as for biscuits, scones, and pie crusts. The process of coating the flour in fat protects the proteins from forming too much gluten. This process also disperses small pieces of fat throughout the dough which will melt in the oven creating pockets of steam, aka flakiness.
- Tips for Cutting in Fat: What a recipe calls for fat to be cut into the flour, it is essential that the fat is very cold. This will produce the most flakiness in the oven. (Read more in depth about Cutting in fat here)
- Definition of Crimping: Crimping refers to folding the edges of a dough in a decorative way. It also serves to seal two pieces of dough together to prevent filling from leaking.
- When Crimping is Used: To finish the edges of pie crusts or tarts or when sealing a hand pie or calzone
- Tips for Crimping: If the dough is too sticky, dip your fingers in flour while crimping.
- Definition of Docking: A pie or tart crust is docked, by pricking it all over with a fork, to allow steam to exit while the crust is baking. This helps prevent the crust from puffing up and shrinking.
- When Docking is Used: Docking can be used instead of baking a crust with pie weights. However, it is best used for pies and tarts that will not have a very liquidy filling.
- Tips for Docking: Pick the crust all around the bottom as well as up the sides of the pan.
- Definition of Dough: A dough is a thick unbaked mixture that can be rolled out or shaped by hand. It is thicker than a batter and can be shaped.
- Baked Goods Made with Doughs: Yeast breads, biscuits, scones, cookies, pie and tart crusts
- Definition of Emulsion: An emulsion is a forced mixture of two ingredients that are normally unmixable (for instance, water and fat). When fat and water are emulsified particles from the two substances are suspended within each other instead of quickly separating.
- When it’s Used: Many common baking ingredients are already emulsions. Milk and butter are perfect examples of ingredients that are already emulsified. There are also many instances in baking where it is important not to break these emulsions such as when adding eggs into creamed butter. If the eggs are too cold it can cause the butter to break and the eggs will not emulsify into the butter. An emulsion is also created when making ganache or hollandaise sauce.
- Tips for Creating Emulsions: It is important to slowly incorporate the two liquids together when making an emulsion.
- Definition of Ferment: In baking, fermentation refers to the process of yeast feeding on sugars and starches present in yeast dough. As the yeast feeds, it produces ethanol and carbon dioxide which makes the dough rise. This process is also what develops the distinctive flavor of yeast breads.
- When it’s Used in Baking: When making baked goods utilizing yeast.
- Tips for Fermentation: Yeast likes warm temperatures and the temperature range most favorable for fermentation is 68-81 F (20-27 C).
- Definition of Folding: Folding is a technique used to incorporate two mixtures together in a very delicate way. This technique serves several functions: it reduces gluten development and also prevents whipped egg whites or whipped cream from deflating when being mixed into another component.
- When it’s Used: Folding is used particularly when folding a meringue or whipped cream into a batter or another ingredient.
- How to Properly Execute Folding: When folding, a rubber spatula should be used. The delicate mixture should be added into the heavier mixture. Add about 1/4th of the delicate ingredient into the bowl and stir it in completely to lighten the batter. Then, add about 1/2 of the rest of the delicate mixture and use the spatula to cut down through the two mixtures to the bottom of the bowl, bringing the ingredients at the bottom of the bowl up. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and continue with this motion until the ingredients are incorporated.
- Definition of Gluten: When the proteins found in wheat flour are hydrated they bond together forming what is referred to as gluten. As the hydrated flour is worked more, the gluten strands begin to align, becoming more and more elastic.
- Why Gluten Development Matters: Gluten development is what holds traditional baked goods together and creates the main structure. In tender baked goods, such as cakes and flaky pastries, it is important to limit this process so that you don’t end up with a tough end result. For chewy baked goods, such as a crusty bread, it is important to really develop the gluten structure. (We will go more in depth about what gluten is and why it matters in baking in the What is Gluten lesson)
- Tips for Managing Gluten Development: Different varieties of flour contain varying levels of protein content. Lower protein flours, such as cake flour, are more desirable for delicate baked goods, while higher protein flours, such as bread flour, are more desirable for chewy baked goods. (We will review all of the different flours and their best uses in the Function of Flour in Baking lesson)
- Definition of Kneading: Kneading is the process where dough made with wheat flour is worked together. As the dough is kneaded, the gluten strands align and stretch, building strength and elasticity in the dough.
- When Kneading is Used: This process is most commonly used when making yeast bread.
- Tips for Kneading: Kneading can be done by hand or with a dough hook on a stand mixer.
- Definition of Leavening: In baking the word leaven refers to the process of a baked good rising.
- Types of Leavening: There are three categories of leaveners: Chemical leavener (baking soda and baking powder), Natural leaveners (wild yeast and commercial yeast), and Forced leavener (when air is used in combination with an ingredient to rise a baked good). (We will go in more in depth about leaveners in the How Leaveners Work lesson)
Peaks (Soft, Medium, & Stiff)
- What are Soft, Medium, and Stiff Peaks?: In baking, peaks refer to the stiffness of whipped cream or whipped egg whites. As cream or egg whites are whipped, more air is incorporated and the mixture becomes thicker. Soft peaks barely hold their shape. Medium peaks hold shape but the peaks curl at the tip. Stiff peaks stand straight up and do not curl over.
- When Peaks Matter in Baking: When whipping egg whites or cream.
- Tips for Whipping Cream and Egg Whites: Cream needs to be cold in order to hold a web of air and thicken while egg whites whip up much quicker when they are at room temperature or slightly warm.
- Definition of Proofing: Proofing refers to the final rise a yeast dough goes through before it is baked. Sometimes the word proof is used interchangeably with the word fermentation because it is a continuation of the fermentation process. (Read more about the Basic Process of Making Yeast Bread here)
- When Proofing is Used: What making a yeast bread or pastry.
- Tips for Proofing: When proofing a yeast bread, find a warm spot in your kitchen. Next to a preheating oven can be the perfect spot.
- Definition of Scoring: Scoring refers to shallow cuts made on unbaked dough. Scoring is used to control where bread dough will split as well as to release steam out of filled pastries. It can also be decorative.
- When Scoring is Used: In bread making and some filled pastries like double crust pies or hand pies.
- Tips for Scoring: When scoring bread dough or pastries, a very sharp knife or bread lame is the best tool. This will allow you to cut the dough in clean lines and not tear it.
- Definition of Sifting: Sifting is a process of forcing flour and other dry ingredients through a fine mesh (a sifter or sieve) to break up any lumps and to aerate the ingredients.
- When Sifting is Used: Sifted flour is much lighter and incorporates into batter and dough more easily. Flour and other dry ingredients should be sifted when making light and tender baked goods such as cakes and delicate pastries. Ingredients that tend to clump, like powdered sugar and cocoa powder, should also be sifted.
- Tips for Sifting: Ingredients should always be sifted after it is measured unless otherwise specified by a recipe. After dry ingredients are sifted together, use a whisk to thoroughly combine them.
- Definition of Softened: When a recipe calls for butter to be “softened” the butter should be at a cool room temperature, somewhere between 68-72 F (20-22 C).
- When Softened Butter is Used: Softened butter is used when it will be creamed with sugar in a recipe. The butter needs to be softened so that it will hold a web of air after being beaten with the sugar.
- Tips for Softening Butter: Butter can easily be softened by being left to sit out at room temperature for 30-45 minutes. Butter will soften more quickly if it is cut up into small pieces.
Homework for this Lesson:
As always, the homework is optional but is a good way to practice. For the homework, I’d love for you to think about one new thing you learned that stood out the most to you in this lesson! If you’re anything like me, gaining a deeper understanding of baking techniques and terminology gets you all giddy and excited!
The day I learned what the word gluten really meant and how it is related to the proteins in flour was such an exciting day for me! What is your favorite new thing you’ve learned this far?!
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