The Best Vanilla Glaze

One of the best things about pound cake is that final glaze. No matter the flavor, when I see that glaze fall over the side of that cake, it just makes me so happy.

But glaze can be tricky. And one of the top questions I’ve been getting lately is “how do I keep my glaze from getting too thin”?

It’s a good question. And I have the answer for you today! It will be especially useful for you with the cakes in the Twelve Days of Pound Cake Holiday Event! There’s a modified version of this glaze on the Snickerdoodle Pound Cake that I posted earlier!

The Answer

Glaze is completely dependent on the proper ratio of confectioner’s sugar to liquid. Too much liquid thins it out in a hurry.

But most glazes take a minute to really come together. At the outset, it can look to your naked eye like you have way too much confectioner’s sugar in the bowl.

But you have to keep stirring. What seems like way too much sugar will blend in beautifully, and your glaze will be thick and pourable and ready to go.

Here’s a quick video to show you how it’s done!

Oh, and I have a little trick too. Because of course I do. And that trick is heavy cream.

Want the recipe for the best vanilla glaze ever? Here you go!

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The Best Vanilla Glaze


  • Author: Shani

Description

This vanilla glaze is easily customizable to fit any pound cake!  This basic glaze is thick, sets up beautifully, and serves as a great base for pound cake toppings like sprinkles, nuts, toasted coconut, and many more!


Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 120 g confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/8 tsp fine salt
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 1/2 tbsp heavy cream

Instructions

  1. Add the confectioner’s sugar and salt to a medium sized bowl.
  2. Add vanilla and two tablespoons of whole milk to the bowl.  Stir with a small spoon or whisk until the mixture is somewhat lumpy but all of the confectioner’s sugar is incorporated.  Don’t add any more milk at this point.  Just keep stirring!
  3. Once the confectioner’s sugar is incorporated and the mixture is lumpy, add the heavy cream.  Stir until the mixture is thick but pourable.  The mixture should have the texture of very thick honey.  If it is too thick to pour, add whole milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until it is just pourable.
  4. Using a spouted liquid measuring cup, a spoon, or a squeeze bottle, add the glaze to your cake.  If the glaze sits for a while before you use it, give it a quick stir and it will be ready to use!

Notes

  • Resist the urge to add more than two tablespoons of milk at the outset.  Just keep stirring!
  • This recipe can be doubled.  I often use double this recipe for my cakes because I like a lot of glaze.

I hope this quick post helps you with this technique, and that this becomes your go-to glaze recipe! Feel free to tag me on Instagram @beginwithbutter if you try it and love it!


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Introducing My Kids to Apple Fritters! (Updated with Recipe!)

Home » Featured Recipes » baking101

We are a donut family.

Doughnut. Donut. Does not matter. We love fried yeast donuts in this house. Especially the ones with a good sticky glaze that adheres to our fingers and faces.

My children ask for donuts almost every weekend, but I constantly avoid making them because they’re always gone in sixty seconds when I do make them. My mom guilt won’t allow me to make them on a regular basis.

This past Sunday, I decided to surprise them with donuts.

But not just any donuts.

I made my absolute-favorite-donut-of-all-time, the glorious apple fritter. I found this great recipe from Seasons and Suppers, adapted it, and got to work in the wee hours of the morning so that I could surprise my kiddos when they woke up.

This apple fritter is a spiced donut with a hardened glaze and a yummy, chunky, sugary apple filling. It’s rustic and messy and delicious. If you’re up for cheat day, and you want to make it absolutely worth it (but then get right back to it, of course), then an apple fritter is it. It is IT!

Want to see how mine turned out? Keep reading!

In This Post:

The Prep

This recipe starts with a basic enriched dough. Family, an enriched dough is simply a yeast dough that contains fat. In this enriched dough, the fat comes from eggs and shortening. The shortening gives these donuts the delicious, light but chewy texture that makes this donut worth the cheat.

As you can see from the beautiful, bubbly brown mess in my measuring cup, above, I started by proofing my yeast before starting a recipe. It’s one simple step at the beginning of a recipe that can help you avoid unrecoverable disaster after your first rise.

You see, if you’re working with dead yeast, and you dump it in with your dry ingredients without first activating it in warm liquid, you likely won’t know that it’s dead until you remove the tea towel after the first rise an hour later. I’d hate to see that happen to you, so I always recommend taking 8-10 minutes to proof yeast before you do anything else, regardless of what kind of yeast you’re using.

Cheat code: you can proof yeast while you double check all of your equipment and ingredients!

Not sure how to prep for a great bake? Check my mise en place post here!

By the time you have everything else gathered, you’ll know whether you’re working with viable yeast or not.

You’re welcome!

In the Mix

I started these apple fritters by adding the yeast mixture, egg and shortening to my stand mixer and mixing it together with my paddle attachment on low speed for about thirty seconds.

Next, I added about half of the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and mixed on low speed, just until the flour was absorbed by the liquid.

As you can see, it’s a shaggy, lumpy mess. But that’s okay! It’s supposed to look like that!

Time for the dough hook and the rest of the flour! I mixed the rest of the flour and let my mixer go on low speed (never exceeding level 2 on my mixer) for about four minutes.

I don’t add additional flour until I’ve mixed with the dough hook for at least 2-3 minutes, because I’ve found that the longer the dough hook works, the more that gluten bonds form on their own, and the less flour I ultimately have to add.

Beloveds, the kneading process is what causes flour, water, salt and yeast to become bread. You’ll be surprised at how much it will come together on its own, without extra flour. Your patience will pay off!

If you begin adding flour too soon during the kneading process, the dough gets over-floured in a hurry and you’ll have to do that “add some liquid, now add some flour, now add some liquid” dance that is…not my favorite.

In the video, below, I hadn’t added any flour other than what the recipe called for. You can see that, after about four minutes of mixing, it is already clearing the sides of the bowl.

At this point, I began adding flour one tablespoon at a time and letting it mix for at least 30-45 seconds. After another three tablespoons, it was ready to go! The dough was smooth and tacky, but not sticky to the touch.

Once the dough was done, I shaped it into a ball and let it rest for an hour.

Fill ‘Er Up

While the dough did its first rest, I prepped the apple filling. The ingredients are SO EASY:

I know the granny smith is the “It” apple for baking, y’all, but my sweet tooth demands that it be mixed with something just s touch less tart. So I threw a honeycrisp in there to shake things up.

Anyway, onto the filling! It’s a cooked filling, so I got to work immediately after the dough started its first rest period by peeling and dicing the apples. Once this step was done, I added the apples, sugar, and a pinch of salt to a saucepan and and cooked until absolutely no liquid remained. I removed the mix from the heat because I didn’t want the filling to be too hot when I put it on the dough.

Once the dough finished resting, I rolled it into a “rough” square.

Fam, don’t make fun of my square. I did my best and it was very early!

I added the apple filling to the bottom half of the rolled dough, then sprinkled cinnamon and more flour on top. The flour helps absorb any remaining moisture that might remain after cooking. Fruit can be tricky like that.

Taking Shape

A quick foldover and the apples, cinnamon and flour disappeared under the second half of the dough.

Poof

Then I got to slicing…

And dicing…

And roughly shaping into something resembling a log. I know it looks a mess. You don’t have to tell me.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of worried at this point. But I pressed on, determined to have this batch ready in time for my children’s arrival downstairs.

No really. I literally cut the log into what I thought were 12 pieces and pressed each one between my palms. It…was eleven pieces.

The Make

The “shaped” fritters rested for another 40 minutes while I heated vegetable oil to 360 degrees Fahrenheit in my deepest cast iron pan and made the final glaze. My oil got a little hot so the first one got a little burnt. #ItHappens

Family, I love you, so I’m going to ask that you never ever leave your kitchen while you have oil on the stove. Hot oil can quickly become a fiery menace and can cause irreparable harm to a kitchen. Also, when deep frying, you want a heavy, deep pot. I love fried dough, but I love kitchen safety even more.

I cooked each fritter for about a minute and fifteen seconds per side, then flipped to the other side. You’re looking for a deep, deep golden brown. It’s the color right before burnt.

I ate the burnt one though. It wasn’t that bad.

The Fritters

Once the fritters are out of the oil, they quickly go into the glaze. Like, as soon as you’re comfortable touching them, they should be glazed and set on a cooling rack so that the glaze can harden.

I might have slightly scorched my fingers during this process.

Et voilà!

My son took one look at these fritters and started to run for the hills. But then, his angel of a sister said she’d try one bite. This story ends with me snatching the tray of still-warm fritters from them before they each took a third one!

As usual, the fritters slowly dwindled during the day when I wasn’t watching, and there were loud complaints when I took two of them next door. TWO. I’ve added these adapted fritters to my family’s donut menu and I am looking forward to making them again!

With the recipe below, now you can make them too!

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The Best Apple Fritters EVER


  • Author: Shani
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Rise Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours
  • Yield: 12 servings 1x

Description

Fall calls for slower mornings, hot coffee, and these fritters that I adapted from Seasons and Suppers!  


Ingredients

Units Scale

For the Dough:

  • 1 tbsp yeast (active dry or fast-acting)
  • 125 g warm water (110°F-115°F)
  • 1 tsp sugar (I prefer Sugar in the Raw for this step, but granulated is fine)
  • 256 g bread flour, plus more for kneading
  • 50 g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp shortening
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

For the Apple Mixture:

  • 3 medium sweet-tart apples, peeled, cored and diced into 1/4 inch pieces (see very important note)
  • 50 g granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp salt

To Fill the Pastry:

  • 1 tbsp bread flour
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon

For the Final Glaze:

  • 300 g confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp maple extract (not mandatory, but really, really good)
  • 80 g whole milk or heavy cream, plus more if needed

Vegetable oil for deep frying


Instructions

Make the Dough with a Stand Mixer:

  • Combine the warm water, yeast, and 1 tsp of sugar in a 2-cup measuring cup and stir with a 9″ whisk until thoroughly combined.  Set aside for 8-10 minutes, or until yeast has bloomed.  (See note.)
  • Combine the bread flour, sugar, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  • After the yeast has bloomed, add yeast mixture, shortening, egg and vanilla to the bowl of your stand mixer.  
  • Using the paddle attachment, mix on lowest speed for about 20-30 seconds, or until the shortening is broken into smaller pieces.
  • Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook.  Add half of the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and knead with the dough hook until the flour is fully incorporated.
  • Add the second half of the flour mixture and knead with the dough hook for at least five minutes before adding additional flour.
  • If the dough is still sticky after five minutes of kneading, add flour in 1-tablespoon increments.  Only add more flour after the prior addition is fully incorporated.
  • The dough is complete when it is smooth and tacky, but not sticky to the touch.  It might not fully clear the bottom of the bowl.  Mine usually does not.
  • Spray your clean hands and a large clean bowl with cooking spray.  Gather dough into a ball and place into the clean bowl.  Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap (do not seal the sides) in an area that is free of drafts until dough is roughly doubled in size, about an hour.

Make the Dough by Hand:

  • Combine the warm water, yeast, and 1 tsp of sugar in a 2-cup measuring cup and stir with a 9″ whisk until thoroughly combined.  Set aside for 8-10 minutes, or until yeast has bloomed.  (See note.)
  • Combine the bread flour, sugar, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  • After the yeast has bloomed, add yeast mixture, shortening, egg and vanilla to a large mixing bowl.  
  • Using a 9” whisk, break up the shortening and stir the mixture for about a minute, or until the shortening is broken into small, uniform pieces.
  • Add half of the flour to the bowl and stir with a large wooden spoon or Danish dough hook until the flour is completely incorporated.  (1 minute)
  • Add the second half of the flour to the bowl and continue to stir until it is too difficult to use the tool.  (1-2 minutes)
  • If the dough is very sticky, use clean hands to add one tablespoon at a time and knead the dough inside the bowl until the dough is less lumpy and begins to come together in a rough ball.  (1-3 minutes)
  • Lightly flour a clean countertop and roll the dough out on the counter.  Sprinkle a tablespoon of flour onto the surface of the dough and knead until the flour is completely combined and the dough gets too sticky to handle.  Add flour, one tablespoon at a time, and repeat until the dough is smooth and tacky, but not sticky to the touch. (5-15 minutes.)
  • Spray your hands and a large clean bowl with cooking spray.  Gather dough into a ball and place into the clean bowl.  Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap (do not seal the sides) until dough is roughly doubled in size, about an hour.

Make the Apple Filling:

  • While the dough rises, make the apples.
  • Place diced apples, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a medium saucepan over high heat.
  • Cook apples, stirring frequently, until all of the liquid has disappeared. (5-10 minutes)
  • Remove apples from heat and place into a clean bowl.  Set aside until completely cooled.  If using a metal or tempered glass bowl, you can set the bowl in the refrigerator to assist with cooling.

Shape the Fritters:

  • After the dough has doubled in size, lightly flour a countertop or silicone baking mat.
  • Turn out the dough onto the work surface and lightly flour the top of the dough.  Roll the dough into a roughly 12”x10” rectangle.  (See photo above.)
  • Pour apples onto the bottom half of the dough, leaving 1/2” border.  (See photo above.)
  • Sprinkle the flour evenly over the apple mixture.  Repeat with cinnamon. (See photo above.)
  • Fold the empty dough half over the half with the apples.  Gently pinch the seam shut.  The seam might not fully seal but that’s okay.  
  • Cut the dough lengthwise into 1” strips.  (See photo above.). Repeat widthwise. (See photo above.)
  • Shape the dough into a 12” log on the work surface and cut the log into 12 pieces.  
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place each of the pieces, flat side down, on the parchment paper.
  • Cover with loose plastic wrap and allow the shaped fritters to rise for 45 minutes, or until the shaped fritters have doubled in size.
  • Twenty minutes into the second rise time, place 3” of vegetable oil in a dutch oven or very deep cast iron skillet.  Place the pot on the stove over medium-high heat. 

Make the Glaze:

  • As the fritters are rising, add the confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, salt, vanilla extract, maple extract, and heavy cream or whole milk in a medium-sized bowl. 
  • Mix with a whisk until completely combined, adding one teaspoon of heavy cream or milk at a time if the glaze is too thick.  The completed glaze should have the consistency of very thick honey.

Cook the Fritters:

  • When the temperature of your oil is between 370°F (minimum) and 380°F (maximum), place a test fritter in the oil.  If the oil bubbles aggressively, remove the fritter immediately and reduce the temperature.  
  • If the oil bubbles are uniform, cook the fritter for about 1 minute and 15 seconds on each side.  The fritter should be very dark, but not burnt on each side.  
  • Remove the fritter to a baking sheet that has a cooling rack over paper towels. 
  • Repeat with the remaining fritters, careful to make only 2-3 (preferably 2) at a time.  If there are too many fritters in the oil, the temperature will drop and the fritters won’t cook thoroughly.
  • Allow the fritters to cool for about a minute before dipping them in the glaze.  If they are too hot to handle after one minute, please wait until you are able to touch them without burning yourself!  They should be warm to go into the glaze but it’s not worth risking your fingertips.
  • Return the fritters to the cooling rack to allow the glaze to set up (harden).  These are best enjoyed warm, but they taste delicious when they are cool as well.

Notes

  • For the apples, I usually use a mixture of Honeycrisp, Fuji, and Granny Smith.  Also, when I say “medium” apples, I mean ~180 grams before peeling and dicing.
  • If you’re unsure what your yeast should look like after 8-10 minutes, this BwB resource on yeast basics is a huge help!  And this BwB resource will help you troubleshoot yeast problems.
  • Category: Breakfast

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UPDATED! How to Cream Butter and Sugar (With New Video!)

Guys! It’s here! Check out my new, FREE e-book, the “Buying Guide for Beginning Bakers”! It’s got all of the gadgets that you truly need to start baking! Want the download? Enter your email below!

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

Ready to bake!

You’ve cleaned off that old KitchenAid stand mixer that you got as a gift, or you’ve unboxed that brand new KitchenAid hand mixer that the Amazon delivery person left just this morning. Because you’re You, you even turned on your equipment on to make sure that it works before you get started.

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 both a stand mixer and a hand 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 Videos

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 these video shorts; one is dedicated to the stand mixer, and the other–you guessed it–is dedicated to the hand mixer. Feel free to take a look and then come back here to fill in your learning!

Here’s the video for how to cream butter with a stand mixer:

And here’s a video for how to cream butter and sugar with a hand mixer:

They’re both really good, short videos to show you how to properly cream butter and sugar in each machine. 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 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). While a hand mixer will take a few minutes longer, you still don’t need to use the highest speed setting. Don’t tax your mixers for butter and sugar! Save that for the double pizza dough recipes!

Or don’t. You really shouldn’t tax your mixers, or you could end up in a sad place, like I did here.

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 techniques that are done with stand and hand mixers. The method of creaming butter and sugar by hand is super nostalgic and and fun and I’ll cover it another time!

Technique for Creaming Butter

Once your butter is nice and soft, you’re ready to go. Start by adding just the butter to your mixing bowl and mix on low/medium speed (stand mixer: between speeds 2-3; hand mixer: between speeds 1-2) 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 still on low speed, slowly add the sugar. At this stage, the mixture will have the look and feel of wet sand. The hand mixer video will show you what this looks like with that tool!

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 (stand mixer: between speeds 4-5; hand mixer: between speeds 3-4). At about the 2 minute mark, use your silicone 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. This is a messy business and ingredients are expensive! 😊

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. With a stand mixer, I’m usually done with creaming by the end of the second mix. Typically, with my hand mixer, it needs one more good mix before it’s ready to move onto the next step.

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 2-3 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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Three Tips for Amazing Home Cooks Who Want to Be Amazing Bakers!

Before I started my baking journey in 2014, I said this all the time about baking:

“I can cook but I can’t bake. It’s too hard.”

Does this describe you? Well, today I have three tips to help you overcome this belief and become an amazing baker, even if you’ve never tried to make a cupcake in your life.

I was lying to myself.

If you want to bake, you can bake. Today I’ll help you get to the root of that frustration and help you figure out how to get on the good foot with this beautiful science.

In this Post:

The Fundamental Truth: Cooking and Baking are the Same, but Different

Cooking, Friend, is the process of taking raw ingredients and transforming them into a completed dish. This could include those black eyed peas that you had for Sunday dinner, or those blueberry muffins that you made yesterday.

Yes, Friend. Baking is a form of cooking. It’s true! Cooking is anything that involves transforming raw ingredients. Baking, as we commonly know it, is transforming raw ingredients into pastries, cakes, or bread.

In fact, according to this very scientific definition from The Spruce Eats, baking is “fully cooking food in an oven.” This could easily refer to any number of chicken or beef dishes. However, as the same article points out, when most us refer to “baking”, we are referring to pastries and breads, not those yummy Thursday night crispy chicken thighs.

That is where the difference comes. Baking (by its common definition) requires a very scientific approach in order to reach a desired result, and the margin for error is narrow. With cooking, there is much more flexibility, as there are usually many opportunities to taste and adjust something before serving, and it’s a much more hands-on technique (with stirring, seasoning as you go, etc.).

Tip #1: Start with the understanding that while baking is a form of cooking, it follows its own set of rules.

Cooks are Artists: Baking Activates a Cook’s Scientific Mind

The biggest obstacle that I had to overcome in the early days was my belief that cooking and baking followed the same rules.

The way I laugh when I think about that now…

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but cooking and baking do not follow the same rules. And this is the fundamental truth that frustrates good cooks.

They don’t follow the same rules. At all!

If you’re used to pinching and dashing over a pot of something, tasting to adjust, then pinching and dashing again, that action becomes a part of you. Your identity as a home chef depends on your ability to season, taste, and season some more. It’s an instinct. An art form. You know your palette. You know what you’re trying to achieve. And you know that you can take baby steps to get there. Even after a dish is complete, there’s an opportunity to alter the flavor with some salt and pepper or a splash of lime juice.

Cooking allows flexibility on the issue of substitutions as well. Don’t have cilantro? You can get by with parsley. No dry white wine in the house? White wine vinegar could work just as well.

Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash

Baking is NOT THAT; successful baking relies on scientific principles as much as artistic ones. To make baked goods that taste good, bakers understand that their recipes have to rely on certain fundamental principles of chemistry and physics. For example, certain ingredients, when combined with heat, cause the Maillard reaction (browning) on the top of your cakes, cookies and breads. Leavening, combined with liquid, creates carbon dioxide and alcohol which is responsible for rise when trapped by a gluten structure. Oh, and the strength of the gluten structure depends on the protein content that’s often found in your flour and eggs.

Bakers know these rules before they take out a single bowl or spatula. Knowing these rules means that bakers have a very good idea of what to expect when they open their ovens at the end of a bake. They know exactly what to expect if they reduce the sugar by 1/2 cup or add an extra egg.

While you don’t need a chemistry degree to be a good baker, it’s important to understand that there’s no “winging it” without some basic scientific knowledge about how it all works. There are lots of opportunities for things to go wrong if we insist upon being creative without learning the basics. Without a strong understanding about ingredient properties and baking techniques, it’s simply not possible to create consistent baking recipes that will work.

These scientific requirements are so frustrating for good cooks because they can feel constricting and lacking in imagination. This is especially true for those imaginative cooks who love to tweak their dishes on the fly. If this is you, Dear Reader, take heart. Once you read through the next section, you’ll know that you can get to that imaginative place again with baking, if you just give it a little bit of time and approach it with a beginner’s mind.

Tip #2: Understand that baking uses a different, science-based skillset and that that skillset is different than general cooking.

The Key to Becoming a Great Baker: Adopt a Beginner’s Mind

Before the mediocre baking attempt in 2014 that ultimately led to the blog you’re reading today, I had been a failed baker for my entire life.

In other words, before 2014, I couldn’t bake a potato to save my life.

The proud look on my daughter’s face as she took those mediocre sugar cookies to her class jump-started the nerd in me, so I decided to take a deep breath and start from the beginning with baking. Zen Buddhists call this a “beginner’s mind”; it involves humbling oneself and actively accepting where you are. Because you can learn how to do anything when your mind is truly open.

black and white stones on brown wooden table
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

For me, this meant that I had embrace the fact that I didn’t know the first thing about baking, even though I’d been a proficient home cook since the 1980s. Not accept it begrudgingly. But embrace every part of the journey.

Approaching baking with a beginner’s mind meant that I didn’t attach any preconceived notions about what I should know or feel any shame about not knowing. It simply meant that I made myself available to learn how to bake, without judgment or expectation. It also meant that when questions arose about why and how to bake, I was able to target my study organically and learn the answers over time.

Don’t get me wrong, proficiency and creativity came with practice and study. But by adopting a beginner’s mind, I was able to take my ego out of the equation so that I could truly learn something. And that lesson, dear friend, has been invaluable. This blog is a compilation of what I have learned organically (and concepts that I continue to learn organically), wrapped up in one place for you.

Tip #3: A beginner’s mind is key to becoming a baker. This is especially true if you’re already a great cook.

Conclusion

I still approach baking with a beginner’s mind. There’s always so much to learn in this space and being curious has helped me grow from a non-baker, to a new baker, to a good baker, to a consistent and proficient baker, to someone who is confident enough in my baking ability to create my own recipes and sell baked goods to the people in my community through my custom bakery. There’s literally no downside to admitting that you’re always a beginner on some level.

If you think about it, great cooks, we all had a beginner’s mind at some point. We weren’t born with a knowledge of flavor profiles or salt and acid levels. We learned that over time; some from parents, others from grandparents, and others still from culinary schools or chefs. Baking is its own discipline that deserves the same respect. If you give it that respect, the dividends will be more than you could ever imagine.

Home chefs, the best advice I can offer about baking is to adopt the beginner’s mind. The science and technique will come with time. Be kind to yourself during the learning process and embrace where you are. And for goodness sake, laugh at yourself sometimes! There are mistakes to be made during the learning process and that is okay. Sometimes those mistakes are delicious.

Until next time!


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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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