If some of you are new to baking, you may not be familiar with all the “baking terms” that people, including myself, may use on a regular basis. In this post I decided to go through some popular baking terms and explain exactly what they all mean. If you familiarize yourself with these terms, you’ll find reading recipes to be so much easier, and then, of course, more fun!
Sift We use the term “sifted” all the time. For example, “85 grams organic Dutch cocoa, sifted”. You will see this term used most when talking about powdered sugar, cocoa, and flour. If you don’t have a sifter, it is a great baking tool that you must go out and get, and they are very inexpensive! My favorite kind is the old school hand crank, and a 3 cup sifter is usually perfect for the home baker. If you don’t have one, you could use a mesh strainer in a pinch, as long as you don’t mind getting your hands dirty!
Sifting your dry ingredients helps remove any clumps and it will make your batter or frosting smooth. If you have had powdered sugar or cocoa in your pantry for a little while, it tends to clump easily depending on your climate. Sifting it will help break up all those clumps. This will prevent any clumps of powdered sugar or flour from not incorporating completely into your recipe. Sometimes when you have clumps, you’ll want to keep mixing in order to combine them, but that can make you over mix. That’s why sifting certain dry ingredients is very important. If you don’t have a sifter and you’re going to purchase one, I highly recommend buying the old fashioned kind with the turn and crank option instead of the newer ones that you can click or pinch. I have tried both and found the older models tend to last longer. I have the same sifter at the bake shop that I grew up baking with. Find my favorite sifter on Amazon.
Cream the Butter When a recipe says to “cream the butter” or cream the butter and sugar, that means mix on low until the butter is smooth, slightly lighter in color, and there are no chunks at all. You want to keep mixing (or stirring) on low, and do not turn it up to high because you can over mix it this way. If you are creaming butter for anything, your butter should be soft to begin with. This technique is often used in cookies and cake recipes.
Cube the Butter If you’re making pie dough or certain kinds of shortbread, a recipe may ask to cube cold butter. That just means to cut it in cubes, as small as you can. I like to cut each stick of butter in half, and then in half again. Then cut those long pieces into small tiny squares. And you have cubed butter!
Whip the Butter If a recipe says to whip the butter, that means you will whip it using your stand mixer with paddle attachment or whisk (or even a hand mixer). Start on low and then whip on high so that you add air into the butter and it also creates more volume. You should whip butter for at least 1 minute or until you notice it is very light in color and the texture is almost fluffy. It helps to scrape down the sides of your bowl a few times to get all the butter stuck on the sides so it all gets whipped. Butter will stick to the sides of your bowl and if you don’t scrape down the bowl, that butter won’t be whipped and the other portions will be. This technique is used for making buttercream frosting, that is how it gets so light and airy!
Stiff Peaks If a recipe says to whip until you have stiff peaks, it’s probably talking about egg whites or heavy whipping cream. This means to whisk eggs whites or cream on low and gradually increase speed to high until you have “stiff peaks”. The egg whites are considered stiff when they stick straight up in the bowl and don’t fall over, or if you hold your whisk and they don’t droop or move. Just like the photo below. You will use this technique if you make any of my French macaron recipes, such as my Chocolate Malt French Macarons.
Beat Eggs If a recipe says to beat eggs, that just means to stir them up with a whisk or a fork even so you break the yolks and you have a yellow liquid. Think if you were going to make scrambled eggs, you beat the eggs before adding to the pan.
Double Boiler A double boiler is an actual kitchen tool you can purchase. But, it’s also really easy to just make one by using a pot and bowl. This is what I do all the time, and it works just fine! When creating your own double boiler, you need a pot and a heat proof bowl (such as metal or glass). You fill up the pot about one-third with water, then place the bowl over the top. But, the bowl should not be touching the water, so your pot should only be about a third full. Turn your stove top to high heat and once the water is boiling below, you have a double boiler. This is most common for melting chocolate or making pudding.