This post came when I was helping a friend bake a cake over Christmas. She lives in another province and doesn’t bake very often, so I told her to call me when she needed help.
As she was going she would send me photos to make sure she was doing everything correctly. When it got to putting the cake in the pan and the oven she sent me a photo.
After seeing this photo I had to call her and ask what she was doing. She has put parchment paper in the cake pan kind of like how you would line a cookie sheet with parchment. Edges hanging over and the parchment not cut in a circle. I’m sure you can all imagine what that looked like.
This got me thinking, baking instructions are not always clear or easy to follow. People who bake have had someone show them what to do so we know, but people that are just starting out or only bake their one favourite thing every couple of months have no clue.
I decided to break down what some of those instructions are and what the difference is between certain things, hopefully, this will help!
Bake until golden brown – this term is great when you are baking something that doesn’t have chocolate in it or is not a light beige, A chocolate cake or gingersnap cookies do not get “golden brown”. The easiest way if it’s a cake is to use a toothpick or cake tester, when it comes out clean the cake is done. For the cookies, I use a fork to lift them and check the bottoms. If the bottoms are still wet (you’ll see a damp mark on the parchment paper) they are not finished yet.
Baking Soda vs Baking Powder (they are not the same) – baking soda and baking powder are not interchangeable; they serve very different, but similar purposes. Baking soda reacts with acidic ingredients (like lemon juice or buttermilk) and emits carbon dioxide to lift your batter. Baking Powder is like baking soda but mixed with acid, so it stays inactive until it’s introduced to moisture or heat. That’s when it bubbles and helps batters rise.
Batter vs dough – the dough is a mixture of stiff enough ingredients to be kneaded or rolled, like bread. Where batter is typically more of a liquid and can be poured, like for cakes.
Beat vs Whip – To beat a batter, you stir rapidly to smooth out a mixture. To whip, you whisk rapidly to incorporate air into a batter and produce volume.
Blind baking – before adding your pie filling, put pie weights or dried beans in the unbaked pie crust and bake it to avoid a soggy crust. The crust will keep its shape, if you don’t use weights or beans the crust will start to shrink, it needs something heavy to keep its shape.
Cream together – Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy and creamy for a light texture.
Cut in – Incorporate a solid fat, like butter, into the flour until it resembles coarse sand. This can be done with two knives, forks, or a pastry cutter.
Fold – gently bring ingredients or batter at the bottom of the bowl to the top, turn the bowl, and repeat until just incorporated. The goal is to avoid deflating a light, fluffy batter.
Just combined – A nice way to say don’t over-mix. Mix your batter until all the dry ingredients are just incorporated and wet, and no more! The mixture can be slightly lumpy. Over-mixing can lead to a dense baked item.
Knead – Use your hands to fold the dough over, press it down, turn it, and then repeat the process. This develops gluten and gives your baked goods a better structure. You can also knead in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment.
Line cake pan with parchment – most people don’t cut parchment paper but you absolutely can. If the pan is round take the scissors and cut the parchment into a circle to line the bottom of the cake pan (or whatever shape the pan is).
Lukewarm – Yeast gets activated by lukewarm water, which should be warm to the touch, but not hot—generally between 98 and 105 F (or 36.5 and 40.5 C). It’s important to get the right temperature for the correct result.
Pastry cutter – A tool with narrow metal wires used to cut butter into the flour. It’s perfect for making flaky pastries, such as pie crust or scones.
Proof – A technique used in lots of bread recipes that refers to a period of rest. This allows the yeast to activate and release carbon dioxide, causing the dough to rise. The reason you cover your dough with a towel or plastic wrap is to avoid forming a hard crust while it sits in a warm place. Typically bread dough will be proofed once or twice to achieve the right flavour, texture, and height.
I hope that this has been helpful, and if there is something that I missed that you want some clarification on let me know.