Breakdown of ingredients. What do they do and why are they important?

Hello friends, and thanks for stopping in. I want to be a source of information as well as recipes for you. I think it’s fun to learn about new things, and today I want to teach you about some of the most common ingredients you’ll see in recipes. I’m going to break down what they do, why their important, and why you should always follow suggested guidelines (i.e. softened butter, room temperature ingredients). Let’s dive in!

Let’s start off with the fats; butter and oil. These fats make up the base of almost all baked goods. When you mix fat together with sugar, and more fat (eggs) you are creating an emulsion. This emulsion carries your baked goods through the entire dough making process and through baking. All fats are not created equal though. Oil is pretty straight forward, no matter canola, vegetable, etc. It helps create moisture and emulsify your batter. Butter has many more layers to what it can do.

Good old butter- one of the most delicious and versatile ingredients in your kitchen. There are many different ways to incorporate butter into a dough or batter. Butter when whipped or paddled, gains volume because of the air you force into it. This air releases during the baking process, helping the rising and texture of your baked goods. Butter is also the main leavening agent in laminated doughs such as croissants or danishes. I will save that topic for a completely different post as it’s very in depth! When you’re creaming your butter with your sugar, you must ensure the butter is softened to room temperature. This helps keep the dough temperature steady through the mixing process, which does in fact affect the baking process, and it’s one of the most important steps in any recipe. Side note: if using vegan butter, treat it as traditional butter and make sure you are using room temp. butter and cream it really well with your sugar. Make sure you’re always following the directions on different temperatures for your butter in your recipes. For a pie, you want your butter to be cold. For a dough or frosting, room temperature is ideal. For batters such as pancakes or waffles, melted is best.

Moving on, let’s talk about sugar. Sugar is hygroscopic, meaning that it extracts moisture and easily bonds with it. Why does this matter? Sugar helps stabilize your emulsion and softens your batter / dough. Without sugar your batter or dough would lack structure and texture especially during the baking process. Sugar also helps not only with the obvious, flavor, but also with the browning of your baked goods. If you try to omit a large percentage of the sugar, chances are you are going to end up with a less than impressive product. So, don’t mess with the sugar!

Eggs, truly an amazing creation. While there are many alternatives to eggs these days, I just want to touch base on what eggs are important for. Eggs help with the rising, color, flavor and texture of baked goods. The reason that many recipes call for room temperature eggs is to help keep the batter / dough at a consistent temperature. If you’ve just spent 5 minutes creaming your butter and sugar, that mixture is going to be room temperature, maybe even a degree or two hotter from the friction. Adding room temperature eggs ensures that your batter / dough can emulsify better and will create a better texture in your final product.

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, decomposes and releases gas during the process of baking. You’ll commonly see one or more acids in recipes that only call for baking soda. These acids helps release the carbon dioxide faster & better which in turn helps with the leavening. Some common acids include: yogurt, sour cream, fruits & fruit juices, buttermilk, vinegar, syrups such as molasses or honey, brown sugar & unsweetened cocoa or natural cocoa. Baking soda also helps with softening and texture your baked goods.

Baking powder will be the main leavening agent in recipes that include it. There are several different types of baking powders on the market. It is made up of baking soda, one or more acids, in the form of acid salts (ex. cream of tartar) and starch as a filler. The acid salts release their acid once they are dissolved in water, so the activation process starts during the mixing phase. Baking powder works when the acids react with one another, producing carbon dioxide which leavens your baked goods. All baking powder is regulated by law to contain certain percentages of each acid – these days, almost all baking powders are double acting. This is an ingredient that is not easily interchangeable. Don’t fret over your baking powder too much, the scientists got you covered. Just make sure your baking powder has not expired before using, and don’t let a batter sit for too long before baking or the baking powder will lose its potency and not rise as well.

Now let’s talk about our heavy hitter – flour. I had to make myself a second cup of coffee for this category. There are endless types of flours, all containing different protein levels, fiber levels, starch levels, etc. I am just going to keep it very streamline in this post. In any given recipe you may see ap flour, cake flour, pastry flour or bread flour. I typically use all purpose flour, mostly because it’s what is cheapest and most readily available in my local grocery stores. All purpose flour has a medium level of protein (9.5-11.5%), and in my opinion, is the most versatile flour. You can make almost all baked goods from all purpose flour, and get a very good product. Pastry & cake flour however, are ideal for cookies & cakes because they contain lower levels of protein, which in turn tend to rise better and develop less gluten naturally. Pastry flour contains 7-9.5% protein and cake flour contains 6-8% protein. They are also softer and finer than all purpose flour. Be mindful, their absorption levels can vary depending on your recipe, and typically are used by professional bakers. I encourage you to play around with pastry & cake flour if you so desire. It’s always great to trial and error with your favorite recipes and see what flour can work best for your preferences. Bread flour contains a high level of protein (11.5-13.5%), which allows gluten to be developed easier and more thoroughly. This flour is pretty straight forward in my opinion and my rule of thumb is – don’t use it unless you’re making bread! Moral of the story: all purpose flour will work just fine for you at home.

Gluten free flour. Gluten free flour is another topic that may require a cup of coffee, there are just so many different types on the market these days. All gluten free flours are made up of a blend of starches and different bonding agents. These starches are sourced from any of the following: rice, potato, nuts, tapioca, sorghum, beans, soy, and corn. The bonding agents can include: xantham gum, guar gum, arrowroot, albumen (egg whites) and whey powder. All gluten free flours are different and can use any percentage of any of these ingredients depending on the brand. So, the absorption level and mixing properties can vary dramatically depending on what brand you chose to use. Something to be mindful when gluten free baking is the starches can become gummy very quickly, and if you overwork a gluten free dough, chances are it will not turn out nicely. The bonding agents can also have some odd effects depending on the recipe. I don’t always prefer these bonding agents in my baked goods, and I like to stick to the same flour whenever I do gluten free baking. Namaste Foods Perfect Flour Blend is my flour of choice. It’s a simple flour blend, with only 6 ingredients, all of which are non allergenic. If you are avid about gluten free baking, I highly recommend this flour!

Alright! I feel like I have covered a lot in this post. Talk about a good Sunday read. I hope you found this informative. Let me know in the comments any questions you may have, or other topics you want me to go more in depth about. Share this with a friend or family member who may find this helpful. Thanks for reading today, I hope you all have a wonderful rest of your day!

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