Ever notice the different procedures when baking cookies, muffins, and biscuits? Even cakes have their own particular method. Why do I cream the butter with the sugar when making cookie dough? Why should not I completely mix the muffin batter until it's smooth and creamy? Why must this be so difficult !? WHY?
Ok, so I'm overreacting a bit. Just a little.
There are reasons for the madness and I'm here to explain a few things. I'll even share a few tips on how to make your cookies and cakes taste even better.
First off, baking is a process and takes patience. This is why many chefs do not like to bake. They do not have the patience to measure out the ingredients and to mix things properly. It actually matters, especially when it comes to cookies, muffins, quick breads, and cakes. I'm one of those rare chefs that loves to bake, which is probably a reason there are so many baking recipes stacked a mile high in my kitchen.
Cream the butter and sugars together. Sift the dry ingredients together. Add eggs one at at time. This process evenly distributes the ingredients. With cookies, you do not worry too much about rising or having an "airy" cookie.
Sift together the dry ingredients (including sugar). Mix together the wet ingredients. Mixing the two together until just mixed (slightly lumpy batter). Over mixing causes tunneling. What's tunneling? Glad you asked. If you over mix the batter, holes and spaces are created in the muffin. That's tunneling. A good muffin will have a slightly raised dome, nice and round, not pointed. Use this method for making pancakes and they will turn out light and fluffy.
This depends on the cake you are making. Angel food is different than baking a white cake. Suffice it to say, what you are achieving in baking a cake is getting air incorporated in the batter giving it a delicious texture. A basic yellow cake is mixed according to the "2 stage" method. This means the liquids are added in 2 different stages. First you cream the fat and sugar together; then add the eggs. Next you add the dry ingredients (separated together) alternately with the milk. Depending on the cake, sometimes the eggs are added in the 2nd stage with the milk. When making an Angel food cake, egg whites are folded in at the end.
Cold butter / fat and liquid. Cut in the fat into the dry ingredients. Moisten the mixture with liquid until wet enough to form a dough. Do not over mix in order for the butter to stay as small lumps through the dough causing it to steam and forcing the dough to rise.
- When baking cookies, muffins, and cakes, make sure the butter and eggs are at room temperature. Recipes typically specify the butter to be softened (room temp) but rarely the eggs. Making sure the eggs are at room temperature will produce a better result. Cold eggs hitting warm butter causes the butter to cononal no matter how fast you mix it. It produces a greasy product – not exactly what you want.
- Separate eggs when they are cold. Whip egg whites when they are at room temperature.
- Use unsalted butter only. You never know how much salt goes into the salted butter.
- Preheat the oven. Be patient. Allow it come up to temperature. And – do not open the door all the time to check on your yummy baked goods, either. You're letting warmth out! Patience.
- Remove muffins and cookies from the pans within the first 5 minutes after removing from oven. This prevails sogginess. Using racks to place the cookies or muffins (or cakes) will allow for even cooling.
- To sift or not to sift: I admit to not always sifting, but rather whisking the dry ingredients together. This is fine when it's cookies or muffins and you are not in some competition. However, when it comes to tender cakes, sift the flour. It will air the flour and help it to mix into the batter better.
- Does size matter? Yes. I'm talking about the eggs, of course. Get your head out of the gutter. Geez. Large eggs work the best in most recipes. Use the extra large, jumbo, or small for making omelets or scrambled eggs.
- Scoop and sweep method for flour. Scoop the flour into the measuring cup and sweep the top the back of a knife.
- Packed method for brown sugar.
- The most accurate way to measure dry ingredients is to weigh them. Professional bakers use scales. A cup of flour and a cup of sugar do not weigh 8 ounces nor do they weigh the same amount. The only two ingredients that weight the same as their volume are butter and water. 1 cup of butter weighs 8 ounces. Just so you know. Most recipes are written for the home cook.
- Always measure wet ingredients in a wet measuring cup. Dry ingredients get measured in standard measuring cups. Easier and more accurate.
With these tips, your cakes, cookies, and muffins will turn out great. Care to share some with rest of us?