WTF is that? A beginner’s guide to decoding baking recipes

Classy Cooking with Cassie

123
Cassie Duncanson/PSU Vanguard

Acronyms

AP All Purpose
t Teaspoon
T Tablespoon
c. Cup
qt. Quart
g. Gallon
oz. Ounces
lb. Pound

Handy conversions
1T = 3t
1/4c. = 4T
4c. = 1qt
1g. = 4qt
16oz. = 1lb

Do the measurements have to be that precise?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is no.

If you are just starting out baking, precisely measured ingredients are crucial to obtaining the correct reaction between fats, liquids, flour et al. Until you have been baking long enough to spot the reactions you are looking for, exact measurements and times are crucial to keep in mind.

When I started out as a baker, mass producing breads and desserts, I had to check the temperature of my loaves to see that their internal temperature was 180. Now that I have made thousands of loaves of bread, I know the look and sound to look out for (hollow).

Can I substitute baking powder for baking soda?

Good god, no.

At this point in my stress/procrastinating baking life, I make sure that I always have both stocked. If you happen to have baking soda and cream of tartar (buy this once, and you’re set for half a decade), combine 1T soda with 2T cream of tartar to give you the same reaction that baking powder yields.

Should I measure ingredients by weight or volume?

If you are looking to improve as a baker, baked goods are more consistent when measured via weight. Do yourself a favor and buy a scale. Bed Bath & Beyond typically has them for under $20, and as Broad City teaches us, BB&B coupons never expire.

Do I need to sift the flour?

Sometimes! Baked goods that are traditionally lighter and more delicate in texture should be made with sifted flour.

Sifting flour gets rid of lumps that can weigh down your batter or dough, even if you are lucky enough to have a KitchenAid or a hand mixer that can beat them out. Everything that comes out of my kitchen is usually mixed with a whisk, fork or by hand, so I tend to sift most of my flour to prevent as many lumps as possible.

However, most flours found in the standard grocery store are refined to the point that you can get away with not sifting in your own kitchen. This is where the scale comes in handy. Whichever you choose to do, a cup of sifted flour and a cup of scooped flour are going to be significantly different weights.

Can I just use AP instead of bread flour?

There is a reason why flours are labeled and sold differently, and it typically has to do with the amount of gluten in each. Bread flour has a high gluten content, and develops a strong protein structure. AP flour’s gluten content isn’t as high. Cake flour has a much lower gluten content.

For many homecooked recipes, AP will still work. However, if a recipe calls for one flour and you’re using another, that change in ingredients is going to change your times. AP will take longer to develop a heartier gluten structure. Ideally, it is best to use the ingredients the recipe calls for.

Should I buy bleached or unbleached flour?

Bleached flour is consistent. Its benefit is that it creates a softer texture. However, if you are making bread, bleached flour destroys the nuance of the original wheat that can develop really lovely, subtle flavors in a loaf of bread.

Can’t I just bake everything at 420?

You’re welcome to try. But enjoy that burnt crust and raw interior.

I found an awesome recipe on this blog. Why didn’t it come out like the pictures?

Unless the recipe has been tested by a professional kitchen, the likelihood of the food coming out exactly like in the pictures is practically none. The conditions of your kitchen and the blogger’s are radically different. Elevation and moisture content of the air impact the times and reactions of baked goods. These are things the blogger might not be taking into consideration.

If you find a recipe you really want to try out, save it and check out a couple of other food blogs that have made the recipe before. See how they create the dish similarly and differently. And this is one time you do want to read the comments.

Should I line the baking sheet with parchment paper?

Save yourself some cleanup/scrubbing time. Yes.

Got a question or a recipe request? Leave us a comment or email [email protected]!

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