How to Cream Butter and Sugar (Video!)

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Scene: {Daybreak} Your kitchen. You’re preparing to bake.

Ready to bake!

You’ve cleaned off that old KitchenAid that you got as a gift. Because you’re You, you even turned it on to make sure that it still works after all this time.

You’ve checked the recipe *generally* to make sure that you have everything that you need.

You’ve gathered your ingredients and prepared your mise en place. Your oven is set, your pans are prepped, and you’re ready to be a TOTAL KITCHEN BOSS.

You’re feeling good. You’re ready to start.

“Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.”

**Record scratch. Freeze frame.**

Beloved, if you have no idea what that means, you’re in the right place today. In this post, we are getting to the nitty gritty of what it truly means to cream butter and sugar using a stand mixer. This term appears constantly in baking recipes, and it’s confusing for so many people.

Creaming butter and sugar is also critical to the success of a recipe, so it’s super important that you get on the good foot with this technique. Otherwise, you can set yourself up to fail before you even start.

Let’s go!

In this Post:

TL;DR: I’m Just Here for the Video

For those of you who are visual learners (or if you’re just in the mood to dance), I cover this subject very briefly in this two-minute video. Feel free to take a look and then come back here to fill in your learning!

For even more specifics, Family, keep reading!

What Does it Mean to Cream Butter and Sugar and Why is it Necessary?

Creaming is simply the act of combining granulated sugar and fat (usually butter, but sometimes cream cheese, shortening, or a mixture of fats) until the mixture is lighter in color, increases in volume, and the granulated sugar crystals are not as grainy. A finished creamed butter should look cloud-like and should feel silky, luscious, and ever so slightly grainy.

As I just mentioned, there are several different types of fat that you can use for creaming. In this post, I’ll discuss butter, but this creaming method can be used interchangeably for each type of fat.

This process is hugely important for baking recipes. You see, when you cream butter and sugar together, you’re manually whipping air into your baked goods. This air works with your leavening to create rise!

If your cakes have a tendency not to rise, dear reader, read on! Proper creaming changes everything and it’s the first recommendation that I make when someone comes to me with this specific problem.

Ingredient Rules

First, and this can’t be overstated: PLEASE DON’T USE COLD FAT. In order for maximum creaming effectiveness, the butter needs to be truly soft. Cold butter won’t combine well with granulated sugar, the sugar won’t blend at all, you will tax your mixer, and you will never arrive at the Texture Town destination that you seek.

You should be able to make an indention in your butter with the side a spatula or your finger.

To soften butter, the best method is to put it on your countertop…and leave it there. How long you leave it there depends on a couple of factors: 1) the room temperature (my kitchen is usually between 72°F and 75°F), 2) the butterfat content of your butter (I typically use Kerrygold or Finlandia); and 3) the size of the butter that you’re working with (I always cube my butter before letting it sit on the countertop to help it soften even faster).

Room temp matters for obvious reasons; the higher the temperature of your kitchen, the faster the melt and the quicker you can get to the fun part. The butterfat content matters because higher butterfat butters will melt faster than lower-butterfat butters. For more on this, check out my post on butter! The size of the butter plays into this as well; the smaller the chunks, the faster it starts to melt.

Under the conditions that I described above, I’m usually ready to get baking in about 45 minutes to an hour (the cubing really moves things along). For low butterfat butters, unless your kitchen is very warm, I would not recommend moving onto the next phase for at least 90 minutes or more.

In order to get baking, you should be able to press a butter knife or the tip of your finger into the butter and make a good indention.

While it might be tempting to speed up this process in a microwave, it’s highly ill-advised because the butter will likely soften unevenly, with some spots that are properly softened and other spots completely melted.

The next thing to consider about your ingredients is that you cannot use confectioner’s sugar for this task. You need the solid sugar granules to create air pockets in the butter and to increase the volume of your butter. Confectioner’s sugar, with the consistency of powder, cannot do this. It’s a good start for buttercream though!

Finally, while some recipes will tell you to “mix on high speed”, that’s truly unnecessary. In a KitchenAid stand mixer with properly prepped ingredients, you’ll have a great creamed butter in 3-5 minutes on medium speed (somewhere between speeds 4 and 5). Don’t tax your mixer for butter and sugar! Save that for the double pizza dough recipes!

Tools Needed

There are three different methods for creaming butter, and they each require different tools:

  • The Stand Mixer Method: You’ll need a stand mixer, the mixing bowl for that mixer (they lock into place so it’s important to have the bowl that’s meant for that specific mixer), your ingredients, and a rubber spatula.
  • The Hand Mixer Method: You’ll need a hand mixer, a mixing bowl, your ingredients, and a rubber spatula.
  • Mixing by Hand: You’ll need a wooden spoon, a fork, a mixing bowl, your ingredients, and, you guessed it, a rubber spatula.

In this specific post, we’ll cover creaming butter and sugar using a stand mixer. The others shall follow shortly!

Technique for Creaming Butter

Once your butter is nice and soft, you’re ready to go. Start by adding just the butter to your stand mixer’s bowl and mix on low/medium speed (between speeds 2-3) for about two minutes. I find that this helps the butter get to a consistent temperature and texture throughout, and makes for a better finished product.

Next, with your mixer on low speed, slowly add the sugar. At this stage, the mixture will have the look and feel of wet sand.

Great. Now I want to go to the beach.

Once the sugar is completely added, you can gradually increase your speed until you reach a medium speed (between speeds 4 & 5 on your mixer). At about the 1-2 minute mark, use your rubber spatula to get all in that bowl and scrape the whole thing. I mean it! Everything! Scrape the mixture off the rim, sides and bottom of the bowl and send it all back to the action.

At this point, the mixture will be a tiny bit smoother and a tiny bit lighter in color. You’re not done yet.

Turn the mixer back on medium speed and let it go for another 1-2 minutes. If you watch the butter and sugar at this stage, you can actually see it start to loosen, grow in volume, and get noticeably lighter in color.

Yes. I have done this.

You’ll notice that it looks like there’s much more of it in the bowl; this isn’t true! You’re still working with the same amount, but this is aeration happening before your very eyes. And it’s amazingly cool.

Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Time to check your work with your rubber spatula.

The Finished Product!

Your finished, creamed butter should be roughly two shades lighter than the butter that you started with, and it should be at least 3-5 times the volume of what you started with. Also, texture-wise, you’ll notice that the grains of sugar aren’t as hard and pronounced as they once were. That’s because they’ve started to dissolve during this process!

The completed, creamed butter should look kind of like this:

If you’re here, great! Time to give your mixing bowl one last good scrape and move on the “incorporating your eggs” part of the festivities. If not, don’t worry. Mix on low/medium speed for one-minute intervals until you’re there. You don’t want to go too long because you could actually end up over-creaming your butter and NOBODY WANTS THAT.

Just FYI: over-creamed butter is white, grainy, and greasy. This makes a good spread for toast or bagels, but it won’t do its job in your baked goods.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoy this tutorial and that it’s helpful for you on your baking journey. Remember, you’ll get better with practice so keep on baking! You’ll develop a feel for all of it, including creaming butter and sugar.

Got any lingering questions? Leave them in the comments section below!

Until next time. — Shani ❤️

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How to Scale Recipes Like a Professional

Home » Featured Recipes » Techniques

Hello BwB Family! Today we’re getting into a more intermediate baking technique. If you’ve read the food scale post and the post about how to measure ingredients, you’re more than ready!

In this post, we’re talking about scaling recipes. Scaling a recipe simply means that you are adjusting the recipe to make more or less than the recipe originally intended. Here, we will mainly discuss scaling recipes up to increase the yield, but there are some great tips for scaling recipes down as well!

Need six dozen cookies for a school bake sale and your chocolate chip cookie recipe only makes two dozen? You’ll scale your recipe up.

Want to make six cupcakes for you and your partner but your recipe yields eighteen? You’ll scale the recipe down.

With the right tools and a little patience, you’ll be scaling recipes like a pro in no time!

Let’s go!

In this Post:

Excited? Me too!

Why Scale a Recipe?

There are LOTS of real-world uses for this baking knowledge. Let’s talk about why I scale recipes in my kitchen.

First, for my custom bakery, I often have to scale recipes to make more than the original yield. For example, I have one red velvet cake recipe and I can make a one-tier cake or a four tier cake with that recipe. For those of you with aspirations of starting your own bakery in the future, the ability to scale recipes will be extremely useful for you.

Next, when I have large family gatherings (pre-COVID Y’all 😳), I have to scale cookie recipes to keep up with the demand and I STILL fail every time. They disappear right from the cooling rack. I still bake massive cookie quantities to keep my skills sharp for the holidays.

And who among us hasn’t received the request for Teacher Appreciation Day muffins the night before (or the morning of)? This skill is extremely useful in that situation.

It’s also useful for small batch baking! If you only need a dozen, there’s no need to waste ingredients making two dozen. For people working with mini stand mixers, it’s sometimes necessary to scale down recipes in order to ensure proper mixing. I’ll explain more in the section entitled “Check your Volume”, below.

Tools Needed to Scale a Recipe

There are really only four things that you need in order to scale a recipe:

1. A Good Recipe (preferably written in Metric units).

If a recipe as written is a winner, then it should be a winner when it’s scaled! Metric units are smaller than Imperial units, which means that recipe proportions are much more exact in Metric measurements. Since ingredient proportions are crucial (not an overstatement) in baking, it’s best to work with the most exact measurement units available when you’re changing ingredient amounts. That’s Metric!

2. A Digital Kitchen Scale.

Family, I beg of you. If you’ve said “I need to get a digital kitchen scale” since you’ve started reading this blog, and you haven’t done it yet, please do it now.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter.

A digital kitchen scale will instantly make you more confident and consistent in your baking. And frankly, a digital kitchen scale is the only way to be able to accurately and confidently scale recipes, since using volume measurements will almost always lead to inconsistent and unintended results. This is true for the original yield of any recipe, but it is even more true for a scaled recipe.

3. Correctly Sized Bowls, Cake Pans, Etc.

Take a good, hard look at that pretty stand mixer on the corner of your countertop. The mixing bowl on that thing has a limit to how much it can hold. One of the many ways that scaling can go wrong is if your mixing bowls cannot accommodate the amount of batter or dough that you are trying to to make. This is particularly important when you’re scaling recipes up (to make more than the original recipe amount). I’ve made this mistake plenty of times, and it’s extremely frustrating.

The point is that there is a limit to how much you can scale recipes up or down, and some of it depends on how large your equipment is. While that sounds slightly inappropriate, it is very true.

4. A Pencil and a Calculator.

Friends, this is a package deal. You see, in order to properly scale a recipe, you need to sit down before you take out ingredients and do the math. I mean, write down on paper exactly how much of each ingredient you need in your scaled recipe, and whether you need to make any adjustments to the procedures of the recipe because of the increased or decreased ingredient amounts.

This few minutes will get your mind right for the bake.

First Step: Math Class

We’re onto the nitty gritty of scaling recipes. Let’s talk about the steps. I’ll use a snickerdoodle cookie recipe that yields two dozen as my reference point here, since those are my favorites and I could frankly talk about those all day.

First, look at the original yield amount of the recipe (in our example, two dozen). Figure out whether the recipe, as written, will suit your needs. In other words, before you even go down this road, it’s best to figure out if you truly need to go down this road. Is there another snickerdoodle recipe that you like that will get you the number of cookies that you need? Or is this recipe your one true snickerdoodle love? If so, and if the recipe as written doesn’t meet your needs, then read on!

Second, figure out exactly how much more (or less) you need proportionally. If the original two dozen in this recipe is not sufficient, and if you know that you need six dozen, then you know that you need to increase the recipe by three times. If the original two dozen in this recipe is too many, and you only want to make eighteen cookies, then you know that you need to decrease the recipe by 25 percent. In the first example, that means that every ingredient in the recipe needs to be multiplied by three. In the second example, that means that every ingredient in the recipe needs to be multiplied by .75.

*Note: Don’t forget to check out the “General Rules for Scaling” section, below. At a certain point, scaling recipes is not advisable. I’ll tell you more about that in that section!*

The last step is to do the math! Literally! I mostly write my scaled recipe amounts right on the original recipe, but a clean sheet of paper works just as well for this task.

My Dad used to always get on my case about double checking my math homework. Same energy here. I catch many math mistakes this way when I’m scaling. I’d rather catch them beforehand than after my cake falls in the center.

Next: onto the mixing!

Check Your Volume!

This has absolutely nothing to do with the volume of your music. Turn UP and have a blast! I firmly believe that you have to be in the right, fun mindset in order for anything to turn out properly anyway.

When I say check your volume, I mean to check the volume of your mixing bowls and bakeware. I covered volume in detail in my post about how to measure ingredients, but to refresh: volume is the amount of space that something takes in a container.

So, in this context, volume means the amount of space that a batter or dough take up in a mixing bowl, or the amount of finished batter in your cake pans and muffin pans. This is particularly important for those of you who are scaling recipes up. That extra batter or dough has to go somewhere and you don’t want that somewhere to be all over your countertop or the bottom of your oven.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

This photo, while beautiful, is an excellent example of “right-sizing” a mixing bowl. At first glance, you’d think that the bowl was too larage for the job. But using this larger bowl gives the artist (yes, bakers are artists) an opportunity to properly mix the dough without risking overspill. This bowl will also give this dough the opporutnity to rise!

My Rules for Mixing Bowls

Mixing bowls come in tons of sizes. In my own kitchen, I have mostly 5-quart bowls for my stand mixer, but I have bowls from 2-cups to 8-quarts. If I’m using my stand mixer, my rule of thumb about scaling a recipe up is that I will scale up to the point where my bowl is 75% full with cake/cupcake/muffin batter, and no more than 50-60% full with cookie or bread dough. If I’m using a hand mixer, a wooden spoon, or a Danish dough hook, my very-unscientific-method is to use the bowl that I think is too ridiculously big for the task.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

The reasons for this are three-fold:

  • As a recipe comes together (particularly one that uses the creaming method), it increases in volume. Making sure that there’s extra empty space at the top of my bowl helps to contain ingredients and avoid splatter;
  • With too much batter or dough in a mixing bowl, you cannot properly mix the ingredients. So you’ll inevitably end up with unmixed butter and sugar in your cake batter or raw, unmixed flour in your bread or cookie dough. This is because every bowl and mixer has a limit for how much batter or dough it can handle. If you exceed that amount, then it becomes impossible to properly mix whatever you’re making; and
  • Too much batter or dough in your mixing bowl will tax your mixer motor. Whether that mixer is a stand mixer, a hand mixer, or your arm, there’s a limit to how much you can expect of the motor. I learned this lesson the very hard way with a KitchenAid stand mixer and cried for DAYS.

There are a few different ways to figure out how much volume your mixing bowl can handle. The first (and easiest) is to check the manual! For stand mixers, you’ll often find the actual volume maximums for a specific mixer model right there!

For example, for KitchenAid in particular, you’ll see how many dozens of cookies a stand mixer can handle, as well as the maximum number of cups/grams of flour each model can handle. This is a great resource because it comes directly from the manufacturer’s testing, and you can rely on those volume measurements when you’re trying to see if your scaled cookie dough will work in your mixer.

Another way to control the volume amount of a batter or dough is to set an absolute cutoff for how much flour you’re willing to put into a specifically-sized mixing bowl. For example, in my 5-quart stand mixer bowl, I’ve established that any recipe involving more than seven cups of all-purpose flour (896 grams) is a no-go. And, honestly, after multiple experiences of wearing flour, I tend not to go above that amount anyway for a single batch.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

The way to figure out your personal volume limits is to practice! The best bakers are those who can have fun with themselves.

Sometimes, messes will be made. For example, I learned after many tries that I cannot double my lemon pound cake recipe in my stand mixer, even though on paper I should easily be able to do so. Despite the fact that the doubled recipe only calls for six cups (768 grams) of flour, all of the other volume-boosting ingredients (creamed butter and sugar, eggs, baking soda) puff that batter up like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and I ALWAYS end up removing it from the stand mixer and finishing it by hand. I learned this by practicing!

My Rules for Bakeware

I’m having a vivid memory of oven overspill from overfilled cake pans. ::shudders:: THE HORROR, Y’ALL…

If you scale a recipe up, it’s very important that you have enough bakeware on hand to handle the additional load. This is particularly important for cake, cupcake and muffin batters. Because the leavening will cause the cake to rise in the oven, it’s still important that the pan only be filled about halfway. So, you need more pans!

Wilton has a super helpful guide for figuring out how many cups of batter can fit into a specific-sized pan. You can find it here! For the ambitious among us, then, the question becomes: do you have enough oven space for all this cake?

General Rules for Scaling

The temptation to scale recipes can be overwhelming. I get it. Why make a two tier cake when you can make four? Why make two dozen cookies when you can make nine? But in addition to the volume issues that could arise (as well as the burned-out mixer motors), here are some other rules of thumb that I’ve developed over the years:

  • It is almost always okay to double a baking recipe. I’ve done this with a number of recipes, with nearly 100% success. You can even sometimes triple a recipe (I usually only do this with cupcake and cookie recipes, but there is one pizza dough recipe that this works for as well–all other bread recipes are a NO). But I draw the line there. Though on paper it should work, quadrupling a recipe is usually fraught with leavening issues that will impact the taste and texture of your finished product. If you need a recipe that produces huge batches, and if your recipe doesn’t yield what you need, it’s best to find another recipe. If you find yourself making huge batches all the time, my all-time-favorite resource is The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry by Bo Friberg. The recipes in that book are scaled for bakery production. You will not encounter leavening issues there and you’ll find professional techniques that will only enhance your baking!
  • The same logic goes for reducing a baking recipe. It’s almost always safe to halve a recipe; you can even usually cut it by 2/3rds. However, once you get the the point where you’re trying to quarter a recipe, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the leavening won’t be enough. Time to find another small batch recipe!
  • I recommend scaling a recipe that you’re already familiar with. If you’ve made it successfully before you scale it, you’ll know exactly what you’re expecting in the finished recipe; if something goes wrong, you’ll be more likely to pinpoint the error. I know that this is not always possible though!
  • You don’t always need to scale a recipe! It is safer (though more time consuming) to bake in batches. So, instead of doubling a recipe, you can always make the recipe once, then clean your workspace and make it again!
  • Scaling a recipe might impact bake time of your baked goods. Check this Wilton chart to see general guidance on recommended bake times, especially if you change the size of your baking pans when you’re scaling.

Go forth and scale! Most importantly, have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously. Baking is a path to discovery, and there will be bumps along the way.

As a visual, I’m including a gallery of recipes I’ve scaled recently! Please enjoy and I’ll see you next time!

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Sunday Session #8: All-In-one Chocolate Cake

Home » Featured Recipes » Techniques

Friends.

Today, I’m going to admit to y’all that I am a complete and utter fool for my husband and children. If I might…

This past Saturday, my husband told me that our dear friend Bernie had a birthday coming up. I was prepping something totally different for my Sunday Session at the time.

Bernie’s birthday was on Monday.

So of course I wanted to bake a cake for Bernie’s birthday. On Monday.

“What kind of cake does he like?” I asked. I got raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders in response.

“What kind of cake would you like to take?” I tried, hoping for something more than raised eyebrows. I got the raised eyebrows and only the raised eyebrows.

“I’m just the delivery guy,” he finally responded.

I adore Bernie, so I decided to follow my spirit on this one. My spirit chose this double chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream, garnished with chocolate chips. I finished it 6:40 on Monday morning.

Want to see some techniques so that you can replicate them in your own kitchen? Let’s go!

Techniques Featured:

  • All-in-One Cake Technique
  • Crumb Coat Technique

In this Post:

The Setup

As usual, I began my baking session by gathering ingredients and prepping my mise en place. If you’re looking for immediate transformation from non-baker to baker, prep your mise en place first! You can read much more about it here, but the TL;DR version is that prepping your ingredients beforehand will make you a more confident, controlled baker in one shot.

Here’s my mise!

For this cake, I modified the technique in Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake Recipe by omitting my stand mixer. I also opted for natural cocoa powder when I made this cake. The original, as written, is an exceptional cake and I highly recommend it for beginning bakers.

While the recipe doesn’t specify whether to use natural cocoa powder or Dutched cocoa powder, I used natural cocoa powder since there is more baking soda than baking powder in the recipe. Want to know the difference between baking powder and baking soda, and why I chose natural cocoa powder for this recipe? Take a look here!

Onto technique!

The All-in-One Technique

“All-in-one” is exactly as it sounds. For this technique, you whisk the combined wet ingredients from one bowl into the combined dry ingredients in another bowl and mix until combined. This technique usually makes a more dense, moist (I know) cake than the creaming method. But, with chocolate cake, dense and rich is it.

For more about the best bowls for a home bakers kitchen, and why I chose glass bowls for this chocolate cake, take a peek here!

The original recipe requires a mixer to get everything combined. But Family, one of my favorite things to do on Sunday morning is mix batters and doughs by hand when possible. The sweet repetition of kneading dough or the simple satisfaction of folding fruit into a muffin batter while I’m listening to Sam Cooke just feels good to me. So, a good all-in-one cake on Sunday makes my heart happy, whether it’s for a friend or my family’s Sunday dinner.

For this recipe, I used my whisk to thoroughly combine the dry ingredients in my biggest glass bowl. Then, in a medium-sized bowl, I thoroughly combined the buttermilk, eggs (you need extra large, or 112 grams of eggs for this recipe), and oil with the same whisk. I then added the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stirred only until I couldn’t see any more streaks of dry ingredients.

Finally, I carefully added the hot coffee and stirred gently until it was just combined. You’ll know when it’s done because it will be a luscious, velvety brown.

Once the batter was done, I prepped two 8″ cake pans and divided the batter evenly, using my digital kitchen scale and a ladle. If you’d like to see how I prep my pans, take a look at this video at the :35 second mark.

The Bake

Once prepped, I popped the two cakes into into a 350° oven. I checked them at the 37-minute mark using an instant read thermometer, and let them bake for about three minutes more. Once they hit 210° in the center, they were ready!

After they were done, I let the cakes sit in their pans for about 30 minutes, and then inverted them onto cooling racks. For more on this technique, check out the “Three Tips for Amazing Cakes” video above at the 3:08 mark. In the meantime, here are the baked cakes, fresh from the oven.

The Crumb Coat

Beloveds, a crumb coat is a thin layer of buttercream that you add while building a cake. The purpose of a a crumb coat is two-fold:

  • Like the name suggests, a crumb coat catches any crumbs that might come loose when you’re frosting. If you want a finished frosting without bits of cake in it, then a crumb coat is key.
  • A crumb coat helps stabilize the structure of your cake (to a point…a thick three-tier still needs help). For normal cakes out of a normal home kitchen, kept at a normal room temperature, a crumb coat helps keep the cake level and prevents the cake layers from sliding around.

I wanted a clean buttercream on the cake, so I froze the cakes overnight and took them out first thing in the morning. When I’m not going to frost a cake right away, I wrap the cake layers in kitchen wrap, freezer paper, and freezer bags and then pop them into the freezer for anywhere from an hour to overnight.

These cakes stayed overnight because I WAS TIRED on Sunday evening and I didn’t want to commit an act of violence against them.

So, I woke up before the rooster on Monday and got right to it.

For a detailed explanation about how to crumb coat a cake, the “Three Tips for Amazing Cake” YouTube video at the 5:11 mark is GOLD. For the one-minute TL;DR version (with music!), take a look at this actual footage of me crumb coating this cake.

Sound on if you want to shimmy with me.

After crumb coating the cake, I popped it into the refrigerator to set for about fifteen minutes. With the buttercream on top, I didn’t worry about the cake drying out. The longer the crumb-coated cake stays in the fridge, the more stable the cake will be. You can leave a crumb-coated cake in the fridge overnight with absolutely no issues. But since I was short on time, the fifteen minute set up was all I could do.

It was enough though!

Finishing Touches

After letting the cake set, I did the final touches. For this cake, that meant another layer of buttercream and a dark chocolate ganache topping.

I honestly could have stopped here, but because this was for Bernie I wanted a finished cake, I pressed on and did some buttercream swirls on top, a border at the bottom, and garnished it with some chocolate chips.

So here’s the final product:

Happy birthday to one of the dearest men we know. Happy birthday, Bernie, and cheers to many more.

I hope you enjoyed this Sunday Session! See you next time and don’t forget to subscribe for the latest and greatest content!

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Baking Basics: How to Measure Ingredients

Home » Featured Recipes » Techniques

Recently, I wrote a post about my favorite kitchen utensil: my digital food scale. If you missed it, you can check it out here!

Y’all. I do love a pretty KitchenAid, but it’s not my most favorite kitchen tool in the whole wide world.

She sure is pretty.

This post is a kind of companion to that post, to continue our walk down the path of baking enlightenment.

This post is for the “I can’t bake because it’s too hard” crowd. I see you and dedicate this one to you.

Want to become a baker in one baking session? Do you have one chance to execute a brand new recipe and need to get it right in order to avoid family ridicule? Then ditch the U.S. Customary Measurement System for measuring ingredients.

To break it down: to get better in one session, the best way to measure ingredients is to use the International System of Units.

Y’all right now:

The Metric System. The International System of Units is just a fancy, upgraded way of saying the Metric System.

I grew up saying the Metric System and that term is still widely used, so I’ll use it in this article. I cannot overstate how much and how quickly the Metric System will change your baking.

Why is this Important for Baking?

Be forewarned: this topic ignites my inner and outer supernerd, so feel free to skip to the section titled How to Measure Using the Metric System in Baking if you’re just here for the nuts and bolts of how to use metric measurement in baking. It’s all here for you!

It’s true that cooking and baking are very different kinds of way to prepare food. It’s also true that baking demands much more precision than cooking, and that that precision starts with how accurately you measure your ingredients. The margin for error is much slimmer for baking than it is with cooking.

If we start there, then we understand that the first best way to become successful with baking is to use tools that help measure ingredients most accurately.

In other words, the system with the smallest uniform measurement units gives the most accurate measurements for baking and leads to an immediate impact on your baking results. That, Friends, is the Metric system.

The demand for accurate measurement is the single biggest thing that frustrates new bakers. Especially people who are good cooks who are used to being able to spontaneously modify a recipe. (This was me.)

If you’re a new baker, you’ll do yourself a favor by letting go of that spontaneity for a bit. It’s humbling but I promise you’ll be able to resume tinkering once you know the basics.

In order to understand which measurement system you should use for baking, it’s useful to understand the differences between the two so that you can make a decision about which one is a more objectively accurate measurement system.

If you’re shook, I understand. When you grow up cooking and baking using U.S. Customary System (like I did), and you think that that system is absolute, it’s a bit of a shock to learn that you’ve been doing it the hard way (and unnecessarily so) your entire life.

Okay here we go.

The U.S. Customary System

The U.S. Customary System is an entire system of measurement that comes from –wait for it– Great Britain. After U.S. Independence, when the U.S. was getting on its feet, the leaders realized that they needed to formally adopt a system of weights and measures, mainly for manufacturing and trade.

Since the English colonists brought the British Imperial System when they originally arrived and colonized the country, that system was already established once the colonists gained their independence from Britain. So they kept it mostly the same and renamed it the “U.S. Customary System”.

That is to say, the U.S. Customary System is a holdover from a time of British rule. And, kicker, even the British left it behind, phasing it out in the mid 1960s.

The U.S. Customary System uses inches, feet, yards and miles to measure length. It uses ounces, pounds and tons to measure weight. And finally, the U.S. Customary System uses fluid ounces, cups, pints, quarts and gallons to measure volume.

For baking, the most common measurements from the U.S. Customary System are cups (volume) and ounces (weight).

What is the Metric System?

The Metric System is a standardized system of measurement that…most of the world uses.

Let me be clear: there are three whole countries on the entire planet that use some form of the British Imperial System.

The Metric System is a system of weights and measures that creates smaller units than the units created by the U.S. Customary System. While the U.S. Customary System uses ounces for weight measurement, the Metric System uses grams. There are about 28.4 grams in one ounce. So, using grams to weigh ingredients will give you a much more precise result.

In addition to using the gram for weight, the Metric System uses the meter for length, and the liter for volume.

Metric is so exact. So oddly comforting. Like a precise, meticulous hug.

Photo by William Warby on Unsplash.com

Most of the metric weight measurements you’ll see in modern recipes use grams. If you ever need a kilogram of an ingredient, you’re “doing the most” as my sister-in-law would say. This can happen easily if you’re scaling recipes to make more servings though!

Weight vs. Volume Baking

Bakers in the United States tend to use weight measurements (ounces, pounds) and volume measurements (cups) more than any other types of measurement. “Weight measurement” just means that you are actually using a digital kitchen scale to weigh the ingredient. “Volume measurement”, on the other hand, means the amount of space that an ingredient takes up in a container.

Volume = Container. Weight = Scale. Photo Credit: @beginwithbutter

When you fill a measuring cup to the top with flour and then put that flour into your recipe, you’re using volume measurement. You’re allowing the shape and size of the vessel (the measuring cup) to determine the amount of the ingredient in the recipe. In other words, you are living on the edge.

Using weight measurements (ounces, pounds, grams) is a more accurate way of measuring ingredients, regardless of whether you choose to use the U.S. Customary System or the Metric System. When you weigh ingredients, you have complete control over how much of an ingredient goes into a recipe. Because the amount of an ingredient and its proportion to other ingredients will always impact the final product, weighing ingredients gives you much more control over the outcome.

Volume measurements are fickle and can leave you twisting in the wind if you don’t know what you’re doing. Shoot, even if you do know what you’re doing, volume measurements can take you down. Whether you’re a non-baker or a veteran baker, there’s just no way to know how much of an ingredient you’re using unless you weigh it.

Even a measuring cup is often not uniform. When you’re making a recipe that calls three cups of flour and you’re scooping flour out of a container, those three “cups” of flour could each vary by 30 grams or more.

Hello frustration. Nice to see you again.

So, long story short: measuring by weight leads to accuracy and consistency. If you want to use the U.S. Customary System, pounds and ounces are your best bet. For the Metric System, grams is your new best friend.

Enough with the history and math lessons. Let’s get to the good stuff.

How to Measure Using the Metric System in Baking

Well, first you need a tool. A handy dandy digital food scale scale is the right one for the job.

For a quick tutorial on how to use a digital kitchen scale when measuring ingredients, check out the video, below. For specifics about what the tare button means, as well as a visual for how to use a kitchen scale in real life, fast forward to about 1:10.

Once you’ve unboxed your scale, you’ll next need a recipe that’s written in metric units. For beginners, this is absolutely the best place to start. I’m noticing a wonderful trend in baking blogs lately; many of them are adding metric measurements to older recipes, which is super helpful for people who are just starting to bake.

For intermediate and advanced bakers who are working with recipes written using the U.S. Customary System, it’s easy to convert the ingredients into metric measurement! Note: conversions can be tricky, so this takes some practice and can require some minor tweaks to the amounts of ingredients to get the recipe just right. It’s well worth it in the end, though, since you’ll end up with a very reliable recipe that you can reproduce over and over again. (Just remember to write down your tweaks!)

For those of you interested in converting recipes from U.S. Customary to Metric measurement, a great resource is King Arthur Baking’s Ingredient Weight Chart. Note: there is some debate in the baking world about how many grams are in a cup of flour (120-130 grams) and a cup of sugar (195-210 grams). If you’re just starting with conversions, I’d ignore that debate completely and follow the guide.

Basically, get comfy with doing conversions first; with practice, you’ll figure out where you land in the bigger discussion.

What to Measure with Metric

Family. We don’t have to measure everything on this digital kitchen scale. But…

BUT…

There are some non-negotiables. If I haven’t been clear so far, let me be clear right now: I always, ALWAYS weigh flour, butter, cocoa powder, and sugar (granulated and confectioner’s) on my digital kitchen scale. These ingredients can be absolute menaces to society and have the greatest ability to cause gremlin mischief in just about any recipe. It’s important to get these amounts correct.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Liquids are a different story, since technically liquids are measured according to volume and not weight (using milliliters). But I sometimes my digital kitchen scale to weigh liquid ingredients as well, especially if all of my liquid measuring cups are dirty.

Hey, baking is still a very messy business and sometimes I just don’t want to stop mid-stream and wash a liquid measuring cup. #RealTalk #BakersLife

Teaspoons and tablespoons are still commonly used worldwide for baking. Just remember to keep them level! Some recipes do measure things like baking powder and baking soda in grams, though. I would recommend following those instructions if the recipe developer wrote it that way.

Why Use Metric Measurement?

Great question. Here are five reasons why I made the switch to Metric weight measurement from U.S. Customary weight measurement:

  • It improves accuracy. When you use metric weight measurement, the units (grams) are the most exact in the measurement game. Grams are more exact than ounces because the increments for grams are smaller. So, the amount of an ingredient that you put into a recipe is literally exactly the amount that the recipe writer intended.
  • You’ll build consistency. When you use metric measurement consistently, you’ll start to see the same great results every time you bake. You’ll learn what to expect from a recipe and you’ll be able to execute it consistently every time. Which leads to my next point…
  • It improves confidence. When you use metric measurement consistently, you’ll gain confidence when you repeatedly start to see beautiful finished products. Like a clean shot in golf or a hot shooting hand in basketball, once you know you can do it, you want to do it over and over again. You can be confident that you’ll get the result that the recipe developer intended (unless you burn it up in the oven…but that doesn’t have anything to do with measuring).
  • It saves money. Left to our own devices, we tend to be very heavy-handed with ingredients. Metric takes the guesswork out of measuring and ensures that you only use what you need and no more. After a time, those extra grams of sugar really add up!
  • It is easy. You just need a kitchen scale and the will to bake good food.

I hope this post leaves you feeling knowledgeable and empowered and looking forward to your next baking project! Don’t forget to subscribe while you’re here so that you can get notified of new posts as soon as they go live!

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Better Baking Basics–Learning About Mise En Place

Home » Featured Recipes » Techniques

Ten minutes of preparation can lead to baking bliss.

This week’s tip is so simple, I honestly debated whether I should give it any attention.

But when I realized just how long it took me to learn this tip, and how horribly I struggled until I learned it, I decided to write this post IMMEDIATELY.

If this post creates an “AHA!” moment for one person, then it will be totally worth it.

See, I was born a menace with flour and sugar. A laughingstock among my family because I could not get it together.

On Sundays, my mother would half-heartedly bake the most flawless creations whilst simultaneously catching up on the week’s gossip with auntie so-and-so on the beige kitchen phone with the extra long cord.

The official phone of the 80s.

I caught myself trying to help. And failing miserably every time.

I remember one time when I interrupted my mother as she was on one of these Sunday calls, and she gave me the stare that could instantly end life. In my defense, I was asking a baking question. But whooooo boy that was a close call.

My incompetence continued even after I started baking in earnest in 2013. By that time, I’d evolved enough to at least check to see if I had all of my ingredients. But it took another year before I realized that one of the biggest impediments to my baking success was the fact that I was not preparing my ingredients before I started.

Mise en place, y’all. It changed me.

Mise en place simply means “everything in its place” in French. It’s the process of preparing your ingredients before you begin cooking or baking, and it can instantly take you from frazzled mess to calm and controlled in the kitchen.

1. First, a Note About What Mise en Place is NOT.

Mise en place is not simply checking to see if you have all of the ingredients. It’s also not this:

While it’s wonderful to take out your ingredients before you begin baking, in order to truly be prepared to bake, those ingredients need to be measured and prepared for their final use in your recipe.

For example, both of these are 227 grams of butter. But only one of them is ready to go into a recipe:

Many recipes call for flour, baking soda/baking powder, and salt to be mixed together and set aside while you mix other ingredients. This means that flour, baking soda/baking powder, and salt need to be measured, placed in a bowl and gently mixed before being put to the side until it’s their time to shine in the recipe.

It does not mean that flour, leavening, and salt sit on the counter in their respective containers until it’s time for dry ingredients to be added to your recipe.

Nope. This isn’t it.

I’m writing this post for younger me, clearly.

2. How to Get Started with Mise en Place

The first step to mise en place actually doesn’t involve a single ingredient, spoon or bowl. The very first step is to read your recipe from beginning to end.

I can see some of y’all right now:

Seriously! By reading your recipe, you’ll understand what ingredients you need, and if you need to do anything with those ingredients before they’re incorporated into your recipe.

Some recipes have what I call “Easter Eggs” in them, and not the cool Stan Lee kind. These eggs are unique and/or time consuming preparation steps that will stop your recipe dead in its tracks if you don’t do them before you start creaming butter and sugar. I honestly used to think that these Easter Eggs were laying in wait to destroy me.

Want to feel anxious during the baking process? Jump into a raisin bread recipe before you read the whole thing. When you get to the “incorporate plumped fruit” part of the recipe…CHAOS. DISASTER. END SCENE.

That’s a touch dramatic, but you’ll probably have to start over. #HelloFoodWaste

For more about Easter Eggs in recipes (and also to learn why you might have to start over!), take a look at the video, below at the 5:00 mark. The only way to avoid surprises in the baking process is to read the whole recipe before you start. It’s ten minutes that will make all the difference. I’ve made this mistake dozens of times so that you don’t have to.

You’re welcome.

3. I’ve Read My Recipe. Now What?

After reading your recipe, it’s time to gather your tools and ingredients! For reference, what you see at the beginning of the video, below, is me (and a soft cast…ugh) at the point where I’ve gathered all of my ingredients.

The reason that I take out all of my ingredients at the same time is simple. I want to know if I have all of the ingredients and tools that I need before I start. This is also an opportunity to check ingredient freshness.

In theory, you have all the time in the world to check the reactivity of your baking soda before you incorporate it with your other dry ingredients.

When your gingerbread is in the oven with five minutes left and it’s clearly dense as a brick? It’s a wee bit late at that point.

Maybe soak that sucker in Irish Cream and pretend like you intended to make drunken gingerbread brownies all along. I dunno.

(I’ll report back after I’ve properly…researched this).

Gathering ingredients is an important step toward completed mise en place, but it’s not the only step.

4. Prep Your Ingredients!

I’m a very visual learner, so for those of you like me, this is where I’ll recommend going to the video at 6:25 and seeing the process for yourself.

Some of you are still here? Okay…

The end goal of mise en place is to have all of your ingredients ready to incorporate into your recipe before you get started mixing your batter or dough. So, the first thing I do (as you’ll see in the video around, say, the 6:25 mark) is to put my ingredients in the same order on my counter as they appear in the recipe.

This is a way for me to double check that I actually have all of my ingredients, and to make sure that I have enough of each ingredient.

Once my ingredients are lined up, I gather my tools (measuring cups, measuring spoons and bowls), and mix and measure, using — you guessed it — my trusty digital kitchen scale. For most of my pastry baking, this process goes something like this:

  • Cut butter into pieces and add butter and sugar directly to mixing bowl;
  • Combine “dry” ingredients (flour, leavening, salt, etc.) in one prep bowl;
  • Crack eggs into another prep bowl or jar;
  • Measure liquids into jars or liquid measuring cups; and
  • Put extracts (lemon, vanilla, etc.) next to the mixer with their respective measuring spoons.
If you’re measuring liquids in milliliters, you can use jars instead of liquid measuring cups. But you’ll need a kitchen scale for this.

Mise en place is a very simple technique with a very fancy name. But it’s a simple technique that can help you build tremendous confidence as a baker and put you squarely in control during the entire process.

Did you find this helpful? Do you still have questions? Let me know in the comments below! And don’t forget to subscribe so that you can get Begin with Butter directly in your inbox!

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