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

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Acronyms

all-purpose AP
t Teaspoon
Tablespoon
vs. Chopped off
qt. Liter
g. Gallon
oz. Ounces
book book

Convenient conversions
1T=3t
1/4c. = 4T
4c. = 1 pint
1g. = 4 pints
16 oz. = 1 lb

Do the measurements have to be so precise?

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

If you’re new to baking, precisely measured ingredients are key to getting the right reaction between fats, liquids, flour, etc. Until you’ve cooked long enough to spot the reactions you’re looking for, it’s essential to keep exact measurements and times 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’ve baked thousands of loaves, I know the look and sound to look for (hollow).

Can I replace the baking powder with baking soda?

Good God, no.

At this point in my stressed and procrastinated life as a baker, I make sure I always have both in stock. If you happen to have baking soda and cream of tartar (buy it once, and you’re set for half a decade), combine 1T baking soda with 2T cream of tartar for give you the same reaction as baking powder.

Should I measure ingredients by weight or volume?

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

Should I sift the flour?

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

Sifting the flour removes lumps that can weigh down your batter or batter, even if you’re lucky enough to have a KitchenAid or hand mixer that can beat them. Anything 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 avoid as many lumps as possible.

However, most flours found in the standard grocery store are refined to the point that you can get by without sifting in your own kitchen. This is where the scale comes in handy. Whatever you choose to do, a cup of sifted flour and a cup of scooped flour will have very different weights.

Can I just use AP instead of bread flour?

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

For many home recipes, AP will still work. However, if a recipe calls for one flour and you use another, this change in ingredients will change your time. AP will take longer to develop a more consistent gluten structure. Ideally, it is best to use the ingredients called for by the recipe.

Should I buy bleached or unbleached flour?

Bleached flour is homogeneous. Its advantage is that it creates a softer texture. However, if you are making bread, the bleached flour destroys the nuance of the original wheat which can develop very nice subtle flavors in a loaf of bread.

I can’t cook everything at 420?

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

I found a great 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 as pictured is virtually nil. The conditions of your kitchen and that of the blogger are radically different. Altitude and moisture content of the air impact times and reactions of baked goods. These are things that the blogger may not consider.

If you find a recipe you really want to try, save it and check out a few other food blogs that have made the recipe before. See how they create the dish in similar and different ways. And that’s once you want to read the comments.

Should I line the baking sheet with parchment paper?

Save cleaning/scrubbing time. Yes.

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

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