The Role of Eggs in Your Baked Goods!

Today, in our Ingredient Series, we’re taking on eggs! We’ve already talked about flour, sugar, butter, yeast, baking powder, and baking soda, so it’s time that the humble egg has its day.

Not to be dramatic (😉), but eggs are transformative. When combined with flour, they add to the structure and texture of cakes, cookies, and breads. Egg wash is the secret ingredient for beautifully caramelized pie crusts and challah; it can even be used as a kind of edible glue for slivered almonds or sesame seeds.

Eggs can also be reduced to their parts: fatty egg yolks are a natural emulsifier that give a rich, luscious and creamy texture to lemon curds, while egg whites can morph into a natural leavening agent when whipped to stiff peaks.

Let’s get started, shall we?

In this Post:

The Composition of Eggs

Eggs are composed of two seemingly inconsistent parts: the egg yolk and the egg white.

The egg white is made of a tangled network of protein. Protein is the literal building block for baked goods, in that it creates the physical structure for leavening (e.g., baking powder, baking soda, or yeast) to do its work. The combination of structure and leavening is what gives baked goods their rise. The more eggs that are added, the stronger the physical protein bonds will be.

While the yolk also contains some protein, it’s more famous for its fattiness. Egg yolks give a smooth, velvety texture to whatever they’re added to, whether it’s a cake batter or my favorite luscious lemon curd from Bakes by Brown Sugar. The egg yolk is also known for adding beautiful color, both on the interior and exterior of your baked goods.

The Default Egg for Baking (With a Cheat Code!)

When I was first learning to bake, I truly believed that my baking endeavor had to come to a full stop if I didn’t have large chicken eggs. Like, I would give up and save the baking for another day if I only had medium or extra-large eggs in the house.

You see, large chicken eggs are the gold standard for baking recipes. They are so commonly used for baking that many recipe authors don’t specify the size and type of eggs to be used in a recipe. They simply say: two eggs.

Translation: two large chicken eggs, or ~114 grams of eggs.

Friend, if you don’t have large chicken eggs in your home, please don’t fret. If you have chicken eggs and a food scale, you’ll be perfectly fine.

To measure eggs using a food scale, simply crack a little more than you need, scramble gently, and remove the excess once it’s just starting to combine. You don’t want perfectly scrambled eggs here. You want slightly combined; the objective is to try and maintain the white/yolk ratio in your batter or dough.

Of course I would crack a double-yolked egg for this demo. The objective is to slightly combine the eggs for this technique, and not to completely combine them.

For example, if your recipe calls for two large eggs (~114 grams) and you only have medium eggs, crack three medium eggs (about 150 grams) and scramble gently. Remove the excess grams of egg and you’re good to go!

The Impact of Eggs on Structure

In my post about flour, I talked about how flour creates the structure for cakes, cookies, muffins, and all manner of baked goods. The protein percentage of your flour impacts the strength of that structure (higher protein content=stronger structure=more chew).

Both egg whites and yolks contain protein. When eggs and flour are combined in a recipe, the egg adds an additional protein layer to the flour and creates a stronger gluten network that traps more gases from your leavening and gives your baked goods even more lift!

Egg whites can play dual roles in the texture your baked goods! Have you ever tried whipping egg whites to stiff peaks? The reason that that happens is because the whipping action actually separates the proteins from one another, reducing the strength of the protein network in the egg white and transforming it into pockets of air that can be used for leavening. That’s why, when egg whites are overbeaten, they crumple and become useless. It’s because the proteins have separated from one one another and expanded until they’ve popped.

Eggs can also thicken desserts like custards. It’s amazing really. When heated, the proteins in the egg whites coagulate (bind) into a gel-like structure to help create a cohesive custard instead of a milky mess when heated. That velvety mouth feel comes from the fatty yolks.

I personally love the glazed texture that an amazing egg wash gives to baked goods. Like this!

That sheen? That’s from scrambling a whole egg and a teaspoon of water and brushing it across the entire challah before baking. The egg promotes both the beautiful browning and a glazed texture to the finished product.

The Impact of Eggs on Color

Both parts of the egg contribute to color in your baked goods. The egg white helps cakes (in particular angel food cake and white cake) retain their characteristic white color. Egg whites are also used in Swiss and Italian meringue buttercream recipes and they help those buttercreams retain their beautiful, glossy white color.

The yolk, on the other hand, does double duty. The fatty yolk helps contribute to the Maillard reaction (that’s just a fancy word for browning) on the top of your baked goods, and also adds to the beautiful, slightly yellow color that we’ve come to see in sliced yellow cake and pound cake, and also in all manner of cookies. Additionally, the yolks add color and fatty decadence to French buttercream recipes.

I clearly need to work on a buttercream tutorial. ::adds to list::

Conclusion

When it comes to baking, every ingredient plays an important role. Understanding the properties of each ingredient and the role that they play in your baked goods will help you become a better baker.

The humble egg doesn’t demand as much attention as its counterparts flour, sugar and butter, but it’s just as important! I hope you enjoyed reading about one of my favorite ingredients, and that this ingredient series is helping to deepen your knowledge about baking so that you too can understand what you’re baking and why it works.

Until next time!


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The Science of Sugar (And My Favorite Sugars for Baking!)

Home » Featured Recipes » Ingredients

Hi Friends! Have you ever looked at sugar–I mean, really looked at it–and wondered what it is? Have you ever wondered why you need to use so much of it in your baked goods, if its only purpose is to make things sweet?

Spoiler alert: it’s not just there to make things sweet!

Want to know more? Read on!

In This Post:

Where Do We Get Sugar?

I bet that many of you are familiar with the fact that sugar comes from sugarcane. Sugarcane is a type of thick, fibrous grass that grows up to 20 feet tall. The inside of that fibrous grass contains sucrose, which is the essential element for any kind of sugar, from granulated sugar to natural sugar to sanding sugar.

Sugar cane. Photo by mbpogue form PxHere

In the United States, sugarcane is typically grown in parts of Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and Hawaii.

Some of you might also know that sugar can also come from sugar beets! As in, beets the vegetable.

So, sugar is a vegetable. You’re welcome.

{Sadly, sugar is not a vegetable}

Sugar beets are grown in parts of Wyoming, California, Colorado, Montana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Minnesota.

Cane sugar and beet sugar are nearly identical in their makeup, and there’s no difference in taste or texture. In fact, depending on which brand you buy, you might already be using them interchangeably in your kitchen! Popular brands of cane sugar are Domino, C&H, and Sugar in the Raw. Popular brands of beet sugar are GW and Pioneer.

Both sugar beets and sugarcane are inedible when they’re raw (although sucking on sugarcane is a popular pasttime). Sugar from both of these sources has to be refined into its final form. By the time they reach that final form, one is indistinguishable from the other!

Sugar’s Impact on Baking: It’s Not Just About the Sweetness!

It’s common to believe that sugar only impacts the sweetness level in your baked goods.

While that’s a common belief, it’s not quite accurate. It is true that sugar impacts the sweetness level of your baked goods, but it also impacts so much more! For instance:

  • Sugar helps baked goods retain moisture. This happens because sugar bonds with liquid in the recipe and retains that liquid. That bond helps keep baked good more moist (I know) for a longer period of time, increasing the shelf life of your baked goods! You can also brush simple syrup (sugar + water) on cakes to help with this as well!
  • Sugar keeps your baked goods from getting too tough. Remember when we talked about how gluten bonds form when flour meets water? Well, sugar weakens that bond just a bit and gives your baked goods a more tender crumb (texture). So, instead of a cake that has the structure of a loaf of bread, sugar helps you make cake that has the structure of…cake.
Photo Credit: Begin with Butter
  • Sugar + fat = air! Sugar aids in the leavening process for baked goods that use the creaming method. When you combine sugar and fat (usually butter or vegetable shortening) at high speed for about 3-5 minutes, the friction creates little pockets of air for your leavening to get nice and cozy in. Without sugar, this reaction cannot happen.
  • Sugar carmelizes and helps your baked goods brown. The amount of sugar impacts how beautifully golden brown your baked goods will get. This is a matter of taste, but if you like your pound cakes to be a deep golden color, then sugar is going to play a huge part!
Photo Credit: Begin with Butter
  • Sugar helps stabilize egg whites. Whipping egg whites for pancakes? Need them to stay stiff for a few more minutes? Add a little bit of sugar to help keep those egg whites stable and firm so that they don’t flop while you’re starting breakfast bacon. To do this, add a couple of teaspoons of superfine sugar to two egg whites after about a minute of beating. The result will be a more glossy, stable egg white! Note: this is the technique (but not the recipe) for making meringue! So look at you and your fancy skills!
  • Sugar feeds yeast. In your bread recipes, yeast needs sugar and liquid to activate. Without sugar, yeast cannot reach its full potential. And don’t we want our ingredients to flourish?
  • Sugar slows things down. Have you ever wondered why the eggs in your custards and curds don’t immediately scramble when you add them? The sugar in those custards and curds slows down the cooking (or “coagulation”) process of those eggs, allowing them to blend slowly and avoid scrambling. You still have to add those eggs slowly though! It’s all about the “temper”ament! (Couldn’t help myself.)

Common Types of Sugar for Home Baking

Friends. There are so many types of sugar. It’s not just about granulated sugar any more! Keep in mind, these are the sugars that I keep in my kitchen. As you go on your baking journey, you’ll find your own favorites!

White Sugars

First, there is granulated sugar. It’s the most common form of sugar that’s used in home baking recipes. If a recipe doesn’t specifically say to use another sugar, then granulated sugar is the way to go. When a recipe calls for you to cream butter and sugar together, granulated sugar mixes into the butter and actually increases the volume of the butter. Hello there, air!

There’s also confectioner’s sugar (also known as powdered sugar or icing sugar), which is common in the United States for buttercream (frosting) and dusting.

You might know that confectioner’s sugar is finer than granulated sugar and mixed with a kiss of corn starch, but did you know that there are levels of confectioner’s sugar?

I know. It’s mind blowing.

Confectioner’s sugar comes in 6x, 10x, and 12x versions. The most common form of confectioner’s sugar that’s on grocery store shelves is 10x sugar. The others can be hard to come by unless you’re a commercial baker (or you have a hookup at a restaurant supply store).

Don’t worry! For home baking, 10x sugar is perfect!

The last kind of white sugar that I keep on hand in my kitchen is sanding sugar. This is a decorating sugar that adds crunchy texture and a touch of shine to whatever you’re baking. Whether it’s extra crunch on the top of a cupcake or a finishing touch for a pie or some cookies, this sugar adds that professional-looking pop that makes your treats a treat to look at.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

::Brown Sugars Have Entered The Chat::

My absolute favorite sugars on earth are the ones that have a bit of molasses left in them. I say “left in” because molasses is a naturally-occurring part of sugar that is stripped during the production process.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

That’s right; molasses is a byproduct! For granulated sugar, it’s stripped completely from the product. For turbinado (or demerara sugar), a tiny bit of molasses remains.

For light brown sugar and dark brown sugar, the molasses is partially stripped and then added back. For muscovado sugar, it’s not stripped at all. The more molasses you find in the sugar, the higher the moisture content in your baked goods and the more rich molasses flavor you’ll get.

Why do I care about molasses? Molasses adds moisture to baked goods, which gives that extra chewy texture to your chocolate chip cookies and gingerbread. And, of course, there’s that rich molasses flavor…and the smell…

::blissful eye roll::

Wrap Up

Sugar impacts so much more than just the sweetness of your baked goods. As you gain confidence in the kitchen and start developing your own recipes, you’ll want to take advantage of every benefit that sugar has to offer when you create your own showstopping desserts. Now you have the know-how to do just that!

I hope you found this helpful and look forward to seeing your beautiful creations!

Epilogue: A Note About the History of Sugarcane

Sugarcane grows in the more tropical regions of the United States, South America, and the Caribbean. It requires back-breaking labor for planting, harvesting, and production.

In the antebellum world, much of this dangerous labor was performed by enslaved people under oppressive and dangerous conditions. Even after chattel slavery ended, people of African descent were disproportionately represented among sugarcane laborers.

As a black woman and a baker, the history of sugar production saddens me. I still feel a deep connection the the souls in my own family who toiled for cotton, soybeans, and tobacco in Virginia; I would never discount the experiences of those who toiled and died on sugarcane plantations for this crop by ignoring this history.

It is a present thought in my mind all the time; I can only hope that those ancestors are resting peacefully and that they are proud of the freedom we have now. I hope my choice–to live in this space and honor their recipes in a new way–makes them proud. I hope that I am making the most of the freedom that they longed for, and that I am showing honor for their sacrifice by shedding light on the truth.

✌🏾 ❤️ 🍞 🧁

Until next time!


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Yeast Basics for Beginning Bread Bakers

Home » Featured Recipes » Ingredients

One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is to make bread. There’s something just so satisfying about taking flour, water, salt and yeast and making the most scrumptious artisan bread, or achieving the perfect, tacky-but-not-sticky texture for apple fritter dough.

…or challah

In my home bakery, I’m most at peace than when my apron’s covered in flour and I’m kneading bread by hand. Something about the repetitiveness of the motion, the fresh, yeasty smell, the smooth firmness of a shaped boule before its final rise…just gets to me. I swear that time slows down when I’m working with bread.

It was not always that way though. When I purchased my first (several) tiny packets of active dry yeast at the grocery store, I promptly ruined whatever I made with them. Promptly.

For those of you who confided your fear of yeast to me over the years, this post is for YOU. Today, we conquer your fear of this wonderfully simply yet perfectly complex ingredient.

Let’s go.

In this post:

  • What is Yeast?
  • Different Types of Yeast
  • How to Proof Yeast Properly
  • When Your Yeast Doesn’t Bubble
  • Storing Yeast
  • Conclusion

What is Yeast?

Like its cousins baking powder and baking soda, yeast is a leavening agent for baked goods. Unlike its chemical cousins, though, yeast is a living microorganism that needs warm liquid (but not too warm) and food (sugar) in order to activate.

Once the yeast hits the warm water and sugar, it wakes up and begins to transform. This is what recipes refer to as the proofing or proving stage, and it looks like this:

This process takes place over aout 8-10 minutes.

In this time lapse video, the warm liquid gently wakes up the yeast, and the sugar encourages the yeast to transform into its final phase.

As the yeast proofs, it creates byproducts of carbon dioxide and alcohol. Those byproducts cause the yeast to expand and create beautiful bubbles on top of the liquid.

Once this yeast mixture (also known as activated yeast) is added to wheat flour, it expands the dough. For more about gluten networks, take a quick look at this section of my post about flour.

The holes….❤️

As a quick refresher, though, when flour and water mix, they create a honeycomb-like structure called the gluten network. The gluten network is like a bunch of flat, interconnected honeycombs that need gas to expand, or create “rise”, in your baked goods. The carbon dioxide byproduct from yeast is that gas!

It looks like this!

Different Types of Yeast

There are three types of yeast most commonly used in baking: fresh yeast (cake yeast), active dry yeast, and instant yeast. There is also brewer’s yeast, but that’s…not for bread.

As the name implies, brewer’s yeast is for beer and wine.

Fresh Yeast (Cake Yeast)

Baking yeast in its purest form is fresh yeast. Also known as cake yeast, this is a highly perishable form of yeast that’s mostly used by advanced and commercial bakers. Fresh yeast can be difficult to find in regular grocery stores.

A block of fresh yeast.

Fresh yeast is sold in solid blocks. It should break cleanly, and then crumble into small pieces when broken from the block.

Some professionals prefer fresh yeast because many professionals generally prefer to use the most unadulterated products available; some also claim that fresh yeast gives bread more of that trademark, yeasty aroma. There are also additives in dry yeast products that sometimes make them undesirable to some professionals. But those additives make baking yeast more shelf stable and less perishable, so it’s really a value judgement for the individual baker.

Fresh yeast should have a neutral tan color, a crumbly texture and should break cleanly when you use it. If it stinks or is brown, it’s past its prime. This is not an ingredient to play with. If it’s clearly gone off, throw it out.

Fresh yeast can last about two weeks in your refrigerator, but it can go bad before that. Best to check it every time you bake so that you know if it’s viable or not.

If you’re substituting fresh yeast in a recipe that calls for dry yeast, use double the amount of fresh yeast.

Active Dry Yeast

If you’ve purchased “yeast” at your local market, you’ve probably purchased three tiny packets of active dry yeast for an exorbitant amount of money.

Seriously. It’s criminal how much they charge for those three little packets of yeast. But I digress.

Active dry yeast is still live yeast! It’s been dehydrated from its fresh state, which gives it a texture that’s more like dried grits.

Great. Now I want grits. Without sugar please.

Active dry yeast has to be proofed before using, and any bread made with active dry yeast needs a longer rise time than bread made with instant yeast. Some say that the longer rise time helps flavor develop in your bread more, but that’s honestly a matter of personal preference.

Instant Yeast

Like active dry yeast, instant yeast is still live yeast that’s been dehydrated from its fresh state. The texture of instant yeast is even finer than active dry yeast, though, which means that you *can* add it directly to your dough without proofing.

I NEVER EVER do this. Instant yeast can be dead too. Plus, the proofing process is so short that it honestly doesn’t make sense to me to skip this step. Why not figure out if your yeast is alive?

I actually use SAF instant yeast more often than any other type of yeast. And the only time that I don’t proof yeast to put into a recipe is when I’m making this five minute artisan bread. To be completely transparent, though, I do separately proof just a *tiny bit* of yeast (1/2 tsp of yeast in 1/2 cup/125g of 110°F/43°C water) for 5-10 minutes before making five-minute artisan bread. I just don’t add that proofed yeast to my dough.

My personal favorite.

Making bread dough that actually rises will make you a much more confident kitchen boss. Proofing yeast before you start is one small tip that will increase your confidence exponentially when you’re making bread. As you practice with yeast more and more, you’ll develop your favorite type and brand of yeast too!

How to Proof Yeast

There are two main reasons for proofing/proving yeast before you begin baking. First, this is the best way to figure out early in your baking session whether your yeast is alive or dead. Second, for fresh and active dry yeast, the yeast cannot begin to do its leavening job until it’s been awakened from its dormant state.

This step is actually quite easy. To proof, you just need warm liquid (usually water or milk) and a touch of sugar.

I begin by warming the liquid to somewhere between 110°F/43°C and 115°F/46°C in a container that’s twice the size of what I need. Because yeast expands, and we want to catch all of it in our recipe. Not clean it off our countertops.

I add all of the yeast into the warm liquid, along with anywhere from 1/4 tsp to 1 tsp of natural sugar (depending on the amount of yeast in the recipe). The yeast doesn’t need a lot of sugar to activate, and too much sugar will actually kill the yeast, so it’s important not to go crazy with the sugar at this step.

Once the yeast and sugar are in the liquid, I give them a vigorous whisk in the container to combine, making sure to capture the yeast that always creeps up the side of the bowl. Crusty yeast on the side of the container would be useless in your recipe, so I recommend incorporating ALL of the good stuff in the liquid so that you can get the biggest bang for your buck from this ingredient!

Next, wait 5-10 minutes for the magical transformation. When ready, live yeast should be a bubbly, foamy dome in your container. If this doesn’t happen right at the five minute mark, it’s okay. Sometimes, especially with milk, it takes a few more minutes to really get going.

The bubbles are carbon dioxide and alcohol.

If your yeast hasn’t done anything at the 7-8 minute mark, it’s safe to say that it’s not going to do anything. Better to start over at this point than to add this batch to your dough.

When Your Yeast Doesn’t Bubble, or When Your Yeast Overproofs

If your yeast doesn’t bubble during proofing, it doesn’t always mean that started with dead yeast! Other things can kill your yeast as well. These things include water that’s too hot (above 115°F/46°C is pressing your luck, but above 130° and you can pretty much expect to kill it), adding too much sugar to the yeast, or adding salt directly to the yeast.

If there’s even a faint possibility that one of those things happened, I’d recommend trying again with the same yeast and seeing if you get a different result.

I KNOW that this is the very definition of insanity, Family. But I hate food waste so I still recommending double checking to make sure that the yeast is actually dead before throwing it out. You might surprise yourself!

The flip side of yeast that doesn’t proof is yeast that overproofs. Overproofed yeast is yeast that sits too long and then loses its leavening power. You’ll know that your yeast is overproofed yeast if the yeast foams into a perfect dome, then deflates and goes flat. With overproofed yeast, you’ll need to start again.

Storing Yeast

All yeast is eventually perishable. Fresh yeast, like the name implies, is the most perishable of the bunch. It can safely be stored in a refrigerator for about two weeks at a temperature south of 45°F/7°C. It’s prohibitively expensive for the occasional baker, so some people like to freeze it.

To freeze fresh yeast, separate it into individual serving sizes (because you can only thaw each piece once!), wrap it in one layer of freezer paper, one layer of foil, and another layer of freezer paper. Place it in a freezer bag and remove all of the air from the freezer bag. Put the freezer-ready yeast in a part of your freezer that’s not constantly being disturbed (so, away from the frozen waffles that you’re using every morning).

To use, figure out how much of your yeast you need for a recipe, then thaw exactly that amount in your refrigerator overnight. This ingredient is extremely fickle, so thawing it too quickly on the countertop could lead it to spoil and ruin all of your hard work.

Don’t forget to proof your fresh yeast before using!

Both active dry and instant yeast can be stored in either the refrigerator or freezer. With refrigerating and freezing, unless you’re working with single-serve packets, I recommend putting your yeast in an airtight container. I use this container to store my yeast in a freezer, since I buy it in large quantities and I don’t want it to go bad.

For me, freezing instant yeast has been the best solution. Dry yeast can be stored for a very long time in a freezer without losing potency, and you don’t have to stress yourself out going to the store for one ingredient if you wake up with a sudden desire to make bread.

I don’t thaw instant yeast once I take it out of the freezer. Unless, by “thawing”, you mean that I scoop the yeast that I need directly from the airtight container to its warm spa bath with its sugar snack.

Conclusion

Yeast has a truly bum rap as a difficult ingredient, but that isn’tthe case! With these few tips, you can work confidently, competently, and consistenly with yeast from here on out.

Feeling better about bread? Don’t forget to tag @beginwithbutter on Instagram and show me your amazing creations!

Until next time!


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The Five Flours I Keep Handy in my Kitchen

Home » Featured Recipes » Ingredients

Friends. When I say I’ve been waiting for this day.

Today we’re getting into flour.

Well, not literally getting into flour. That would truly be messy and awful, since flour is more invasive than sand. But we’re going to talk about flour.

First, I’m going to do just the teeniest tiniest discussion about the science of flour, and then I’m going to tell you about the five (yes, FIVE!) types of flour that I keep in my kitchen at all times. For ease of reference, I’ll even hyperlink to specific sections in this article, in case there’s specific information that you seek!

person using brown wooden rolling pin
Photo by Malidate Van on Pexels.com

In this Post:

Let’s get busy.

*quick note: I’m going to mention specific brands of flour that I use in my kitchen. I’m not paid to mention them: I just think their products are the bees’ knees.*

What Does Flour Do?

Think of the cake you’re baking as a house.

Hear me out. This will end up making a lot of sense.

Like I said, the cake that you’re baking is a house. The flour isn’t the bricks and mortar, it’s the invisible, interior wooden framing that keeps everything upright. Flour is the thing inside your cake that gives it shape and structure, much like the wooden framing creates the internal structure for your home.

Photo by Kristiana Pinne on Unsplash

Without framing, your home would collapse inward because there’s nothing inside to give it structure. Flour does the same thing. Except, you know, in cake. And cupcakes. And bread. And pizza.

You get the point.

What is Gluten?

When flour meets its best friend, liquid, the combination of the two begins to make a gluey, sticky mess. That mess is the beginning of gluten development. It’s the foundation of your cake or bread.

Gluten development simply means that combination of flour and liquid have begun to form a honeycomb-like structure in your batter or dough. The purpose of that structure is to create tiny cellular “walls” to trap the carbon dioxide that’s been created by your leavening. The gas forces the honeycomb to open, which is what causes baked goods to rise.

Once the delicious pastry or bread in the oven reaches a certain internal temperature, the gas…goes away. It just evaporates. But the inflated holes created by the gas remain.

For information about carbon dioxide and why it’s LITERALLY NO BIG DEAL in your baking, click here to learn about leavening.

TL;DR version: leavening creates gas that fills the gluten honeycomb and makes your baked goods rise. This gas is not nefarious. It is your friend.

Protein (Not the Lean Meat Kind)

The strength of the gluten network (or honeycomb, because I like that foodie visual), is determined by the protein content in your flour. That, in a nutshell, is why there are different types of flour for different types of baked goods.

Flour with a higher protein content is created from “hard wheat” (in the U.S., this is typically grown in the Midwest) and creates a stronger gluten network, which allows for a higher rise in your baked goods. However, a stronger gluten network means a more chewy finished product. That’s why high protein flour is typically used for things like bread and pizza dough.

Higher protein flour encourages gorgeous, huge holes that you see in your favorite artisan bread because the strong gluten network holds onto the leavening (yeast or starter) longer, so the leavening can do more work and create more rise in the dough. The stronger gluten network that’s created by the high protein flour also creates a beautiful chew for your breads and pizza doughs. Typically, high protein flour has a protein content of anywhere between 12 and 15 percent.

Photo by laura adai on Unsplash

Low protein flours do the exact opposite. Low protein flour is created from “soft wheat” (in the U.S., this is typically grown in the South). This type of flour creates a more delicate, crumbly texture for whatever it is that you are baking. For this reason, low protein flours are the choice for cakes, pie crusts, and pastry; these have a protein content of anywhere between 5 and 9 percent.

Middle-of-the-road protein content flours can play both above and below their weight class. Which is to say, they can make good bread and also good cakes, and are good for “all” purposes (see what I did there?). The versatility of all purpose flour is the reason why it is so popular; because flour is a perishable ingredient, it’s not always practical to stock your kitchen with multiple types of flour, unless you bake very frequently and are want to make every product the absolute best it could ever be.

It truly is. But it’s still not cost-effective.

All purpose flours typically have a protein content between 9 to 12 percent.

Onto the fun part! Next, we’ll look at the five types of flour that are always present in my kitchen.

Flour #1: Cake Flour

Cake flour is just delightful. Coming in at the lowest protein content (usually 5 to 8 %), it makes the most spectacularly delicate cakes and cupcakes. Some people even use it for cookies, although I haven’t tried that yet.

{runs to Begin with Butter “Bits and Bobs” notebook to write down experiment idea}

Anyway…

Things made with cake flour have the most delightful, light crumb. That gluten network is not strong, which leads to the most tender crumb of the bunch and the cake won’t rise as high. For a yellow cake or lemon pound cake that’s just a little more special, or that divine coconut meringue cake of your dreams, cake flour is your best friend.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

I currently use King Arthur Baking’s Cake Flour (coming in a little higher at 10% protein content), and I’ve been super happy with it!

Cake flour is an expensive ingredient, and it might not be worth the purchase if you’re only going to use it once and forget about it. But it’s a luxurious treat every once in a while, even if you’re just making a mug cake (please don’t judge me; sometimes I just NEED cake).

Flour #2: Pastry Flour

Some people like perfume and jewelry.

Give me a croissant that shatters and makes a mess. Seriously.

Pastry flour is typically a very low protein flour (between 8 and 9 percent). Because of the lower protein amount, the gluten bonds that form are not as strong. This means that the pastry will be much more tender and much much less chewy. It also means that you won’t get as high of a rise from it either, since the weaker gluten network won’t be able to contain the gas from the leavening as well.

I use pastry flour for pie crusts mostly, but this stuff is THE BOSS for croissants and most French pastry.

Photo by Kavita Joshi Rai on Unsplash

I equally love King Arthur Baking’s Pastry Flour (8% protein content) and Bob’s Red Mill White Fine Flour (8-9% protein content). Bob’s is easier to find on store shelves in my area, so I tend to use it more. They both do an exceptional job when I’m making pie crust.

Flour #3: All Purpose Flour

All purpose flour might not have the star power of the other flours, but it is the most solid performer of the bunch. If I am out of a specialty flour and I need a substitute, I can use it for just about anything.

Even here, in this blog post, it’s literally…in the middle of the flours.

It really is amazing when you think about it. A good all-purpose flour could make a very good bread or a very good cake. It’s the best sixth man in the business.

All purpose flour creates a stronger gluten network (the honeycomb) than cake flour and pastry flour, so baked goods made with all purpose flour will be a touch more chewy than baked goods made with cake flour and pastry flour. Again, though, it won’t be enough for most people to notice the difference!

And I’ll take a homemade cake with all purpose flour over any stale thing on a store shelf with cake flour. #RealTalk.

I am an unrepentant King Arthur Baking All Purpose Flour fanatic. Because I also own a cottage bakery, I have also used King Arthur Baking’s Sir Galahad Flour.

Family. While I agree that “Sir Galahad” is a fancy name, I have it on good authority (the good people at the King Arthur Baking’s very official Baker’s Hotline) that these flours are the same, except for the fact that the Sir Galahad flour is enriched and that it comes off of a commercial line that’s designed to make 50-pound bags of flour instead of 5-pound bags of flour.

Both the All-Purpose and the Sir Galahad flours have an 11.7% protein content. Despite being on the very high end of the all-purpose scale, they both make surprisingly delicate pie crusts and sponge cakes. With a protein content that high, you can imagine that they make very good bread as well. For fans of The Gloria Bakery, all purpose flour is actually my favorite for my famous milk and honey rolls.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

There it is. The first and only trade secret from The Gloria Bakery that I will ever share.

Yay for all purpose!

Flour #4: Bread Flour

I talk about cake and cookies a lot, but I have an equal crush on bread. There’s something both very primal and loving about making bread for people that you love.

Bread flour is a staple in my kitchen because I make a LOT of bread and pizza dough. The King Arthur Baking Unbleached Bread Flour that I use is just…*chef’s kiss*.

I love love love a good chewy pizza crust on Friday night and a sturdy artisan boule on Saturday with giant holes in the middle to dip in soups, stews, and sautéed mushrooms in butter. Bread flour, with its wonderfully high protein content, will help you achieve both of those things. And bonus: bread made with bread flour holds its texture extremely well in those soups, stews, and sautéed mushrooms. So sop away!

Photo by Vicky Ng on Unsplash

One caveat: when using bread flour, be sure to be careful about how much you add during the kneading process. There’s a very thin line between delightfully chewy and inedibly tough. Bread is a time investment and I’d hate to see you get frustrated!

No worries, Saints! We will be talking bread techniques soon.

Flour #5: White Whole Wheat Flour

Though I don’t tend to use it all that often, white whole wheat flour is an amazing addition to my flour lineup. It’s a nice middleman between bread flour and whole wheat flour, which I cannot cajole threaten beg encourage my children to eat.

White whole wheat flour is a whole wheat flour, but it’s made from a different, milder type of wheat than traditional whole wheat flour. The difference is a milder taste; it’s more earthy than all purpose flour, but definitely less hearty than a whole wheat flour.

I use King Arthur Baking’s White Whole Wheat flour, and it’s been an amazing addition to my repertoire. It comes in at 12.2% protein, so I wouldn’t bake anything but bread or pizza crust with this one.

What kind of flour do you keep in your kitchen and what are you making? I’d love to know!

I hope you found this tutorial useful. If you love what you see, feel free to subscribe so that you don’t miss a “beet”!

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The Basics of Butter

Home » Featured Recipes » Ingredients

Friends. I am the bona fide owner of a site called Begin with Butter, and I haven’t discussed butter. At all.

Let’s go ahead and chalk that up to being a rookie mistake. But it’s a rookie mistake that’s going to get fixed tuh-day.

Time for a deep dive into butter.

That actually sounds fun and delicious.

Isn’t it Just Butter? Why is This Important?

Excuse me while I curl into a fetal position and sob.

Butter is one of the most important elements in all of baking! It is one of the primary ingredients in almost all conventional pastry baking (and also in a huge number of savory baking recipes). It has an enormous ability to impact flavor, texture, and color in almost anything you bake.

If flavor, texture and color don’t matter to you, then I guess this isn’t for you (but I…have questions). If you want to improve those three elements of your baking, think of this post as your entrée into the rare air of exceptional home bakers and professionals the world over.

But no big deal. Totally your choice.

What, Exactly, is Butter?

Well, to start, butter is a fat. But it is SO. MUCH. MORE.

It’s commonly known that butter is a fat that adds a whole lot of flavor to whatever dish you’re making. But, in the baking world, butter is actually dissected all the way to its bare elements in order to decide which kind of butter is best for a specific recipe.

I can hear you now. “Sorry Shani, what?!”

Here’s the thing. Not all butter is created equal for baking use. Whether you’re making a flaky pie crust or a luscious lemon pound cake, the components of your butter make an enormous difference in your final product. Sometimes the butter itself is as important as any technique.

Let me say that again: there are times when an ingredient (in this case, the butter) is as important as any technique that you’re using in a recipe. In other words, you really want to have both of them in order to help a recipe reach its maximum potential.

So, what is butter? It’s a semi-solid emulsion, made from milk or cream, that contains butterfat, water, and some milk solids.

Saints. Saying that butter is an “semi-solid emulsion” is just a fancy way of saying that butter is not quite liquid and not quite solid. It’s somewhere in between and it’s composed of fat and liquid that can be separated from one another.

The fat content is key in butter. In the U.S., in order to even qualify as “butter”, a product has to have at least 80% butterfat.

TL;DR version: Butter is a fat. So it contains a lot of fat.

American Butter and European/ “European-Style” Butter.

American butter is most commonly known as “sweet cream butter” or “unsalted butter”, and most American butters weigh in right at that 80% butterfat mark. Land O’ Lakes, a name that is synonymous with butter in the United States, sits exactly at 80%. Land O’ Lakes is the standard bearer of American butters; it’s actually the one that my mother used when I was growing up.

European or “European-style” butters typically range from 82-83% butterfat, which leads to a much more distinct buttery flavor.

**note: when I say “European-style”, that just means that these are butters with at least 82% butterfat content that are not actually produced in Europe. A couple of examples of “European-style” butters are Plugra (American) or Vermont Creamery (American).**

Some European/European-style butters can get as high as 86% butterfat. This next-level butterfat content leads to the glorious, gluttonous holy grail of butters that’s meant to be slathered on warm, fresh artisan bread. This butter can be extremely hard to come by, but it’s worth the exorbitant price tag for a special occasion.

The true distinction between American and European/European-style butter, though, is that European/European-style butter is usually “cultured”. This does not mean that European/European-style butter has better manners and observes afternoon tea. This does mean that the milk or cream is infused with active cultures (bacteria) and left to ferment before churning, leading to a distinctly tangy flavor in the finished product.

Chile. That tang is IT.

Butterfat?

Yes! Butterfat!

When milk or cream are churned, they separate into two main parts. Butterfat is the semi-solid element that separates from the liquid and is the main component in any butter.

The total difference between 80% butterfat Land O’ Lakes and 82% butterfat Kerrygold Irish butter is actually much more than you’d think. Yes, baked goods with an 82% butterfat butter will be noticeably more buttery.

In addition, butter with a 2% higher butterfat content creates a softer texture for your cakes and adds a very noticeable golden color to your cookies (this is especially true for my boo thang Kerrygold, which is an Irish butter that is known for its gorgeous golden hue).

Butter with a higher butterfat content also comes to room temperature more quickly for baking, since higher butterfat content means less water and that equals faster melt (this is a blessing for cakes and an absolute, soul-crushing, demoralizing curse for pies; you can overcome this with practice though.)

This is some delicious 82% butterfat butter in a blueberry pie crust. This…is an experience.

In short, when baking, less water and 82% butterfat takes your baked goods to the next level.

What is Cultured Butter?

Two major types of butter are sweet cream butter and cultured butter. Sweet cream butter is butter made from milk or cream and churned shortly after milking. Cultured butter is still butter from milk or cream, but with one distinctive difference: active cultures and time.

Active cultures are live bacteria that are added to milk and allowed to sit, or ferment, for a period of time (typically 12-36 hours or so). After that fermentation is done, then the milk is churned into butter. Since cultured butter is usually European/European-style butter, it’s typically churned longer than American butter in order to separate more fat from the water and achieve that higher butterfat content, in addition to that tangy je ne sais quois from the fermentation process.

My mouth is watering.

Salted vs. Unsalted?

To salt or not to salt…THAT, friends, is the question.

Salted butter is butter that has salt added during the churning process. The salt adds a bit of flavor and also serves as a preservative for the butter.

“Preservative” just means that natural salt helps butter last longer in the refrigerator case of your local grocer and in your refrigerator, y’all. I’m not talking about those preservatives that none of us can spell or say.

Unsalted butter is…butter without salt. Because it lacks salt, it doesn’t last as long on store shelves or in your refrigerator. Butter can be frozen in its original packaging, though, so if you find yourself doing bulk butter shopping, you won’t have to worry about this as much.

I cannot be the only person who does bulk butter shopping.

Which One Should I Use for Baking?

Like many things with baking, which butter you use is a personal preference. It’s my opinion that baked goods made with cultured, higher-butterfat butter taste noticeably better than baked goods made with sweet cream butter.

These are some examples.

BUT

If the only thing available is sweet cream butter, by all means use it! I would never encourage someone to avoid the experience of baking because they didn’t have the right butter. That’s neither the purpose of this post nor is it the purpose of this blog. There are so many beautiful experiences that you can have during the baking process; I would never discourage anyone from baking because they didn’t have cultured European butter at their disposal.

We don’t do elitism here.

Plus, anything you make at home is going to taste much, much better than just about anything you can buy. I believe in you.

My Favorite Things.

This is the point where I get to wax poetic about my journey to my favorite butter.

I’ve tried a bunch of them since I really got started in 2013. Of course I began with what I knew (Land O’ Lakes), and then bounced around with some other brands before I discovered cultured European-style butter.

I have never looked back. I tried Plugra first, since my sister recommended it.

BUT THEN…

I stumbled onto Trader Joe’s “Trader Jacques” brand and Saints I was changed. Trader Jacques doesn’t get the credit it deserves but that’s only because of the fact that it’s not widely available at other stores. If you are in Trader Joe’s and you have the opportunity to stock up on their butter, BUY IT ALL.

Unless, you know, they tell you that you can’t. Otherwise this is a strong buy. The looks from other patrons at checkout would totally be them appreciating your knowledge of fine French butter.

Trader Joe’s is pretty far from me, and I wanted something more accessible for my Cupcakes and Cocktails birthday party a few years ago (or at least something that could be delivered so I could avoid looking like a butter creep in the store). So, I went on a search to find another perfect butter.

After lots of internet research and a couple of trials, I found Kerrygold and folks I CANNOT. I am at a total loss for words about how much I love this butter. It delivers a perfect crumb every single time. The color is so vibrant that it can actually look filtered in pictures. When I cut into a lemon pound cake, I get the most luscious and perfect aroma of butter.

I can actually smell butter right now.

Currently, I prefer salted Kerrygold butter. In my experience, cultured and salted butter adds an unidentifiable umami to baking when it’s done correctly. It’s what my kids and I used in our first Sunday Session, and it performed unbelievably well on the cookies that we made. This does take trial and error, though, so if you’re new to baking, I would recommend using an unsalted, cultured butter until you have developed your baking taste.

Baking with salted butter can be very rewarding, but it can quickly go wrong if you don’t remember to adjust the amount of salt in your recipe to accommodate for the salt in your butter. For beginners, this can be a lot to remember and a very frustrating experience.

Whatever butter you choose, may you have incredible baking experiences and may you form many memories of laughing, hugging, and baking with your loved ones.

I hope you’ve found this post interesting! Don’t forget to subscribe while you’re here so that you can get notified with more helpful baking science tips!

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