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Understanding Baking Ingredients

Updated on March 17, 2010

Lets Break It down!

I know we all at some point often ask ourselves .... Hmmm..... I wonder why I have to use that ingredient in that recipe? I know sometimes it can be a bit confusing on why we have to use certain things for an outcome of whatever we may be baking. I will break down why we have to use this ingredient or that ingredient in our recipes!

Fluffy Flour

Are they all made Equal?

What is Flour? Flour that we use in cakes, cookies and other goodies is mainly made up of wheat although it can be made up of corn, rice and even some vegetables.

There are many kinds of flours to use in our baked goods. They all have higher or lower protein levels so the outcome of each pie or cake you make is going to vary.

Which is better? High Protein or Low Protein? Well lets see... Higher proteins in your flour is more suited for chewy, crusty breads, choosing a higher protein percentage flour in all sense will make your dough stronger and harder. Now, on the lower end. Lower protein flour will make your bake goods more softer and tender , which would be more appropriate for cakes and cookies. Moving on.....

Which flours have more or less protein? Lets take a look!

Higher Protein Flours           Lower Protein Flours

1. High Gluten Flour (14.2%)   1. White Whole Wheat Flour (9.5%)

2. Bread Flour (12.7%)            2. Pastry Flour (9.2%)

3. All Purpose Flour (11%)       3. Cake Flour (8.5%)

So...... We see that if we use different flours that our cakes and cookies, they will come out different every time. That is why it is important to use the right kind of flour for the job.

Fun Fact: Flour can be frozen, so make sure when there is a sale on flour, you stock up on it! You never know when you may feel the need to make those chocolate chip cookie when you have that sweet tooth going on.

Baking Power and Baking Soda

Are they both the Same?

Well lets break down what they both are, and then we will see how they both differ from one another.

What is baking powder and baking soda? Well when add to a recipe they both produce carbon dioxide which will cause your dough (flour) to rise when baking, but what's the difference? Hmm... Maybe we should dig a little deeper here...

Baking Soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. When baking soda is combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient... the chemical reaction produces bubbles of carbon dioxide. When introduced with baking temperatures (high heat) this will cause your baked goods to rise. The reaction also begins immediately when mixing before you hit the oven so when you have a recipe that calls for "baking soda" bake right away or your recipe will not turn out.

Baking Powder contains sodium bicarbonate, but also includes the acidifying ingredient (cream of tarter) as well as starch. Baking powder acts in two different ways. Single acting baking powder and Double acting baking powder. Lets see what the difference is.

Single acting baking powder: This powder activates by moisture. So when mixed as you gather your recipe, this must be used right away!

Double acting baking powder: This powder reacts in 2 different stages.

  • First stage... is when you mix this powder with your dough, which will only release some gas.
  • Second stage... is when majority of the gas is released when baking. So it is okay to let this dough sit for a little bit before using.

Sweet Sugar

Which is better to use?

What is sugar? Sugar is a crystalline carbohydrate used as a sweetener and preservative.

There are many different types of sugars that many of us use for different things. They vary in texture and color. They are all good for different things. It depends on what you are making. So... lets see what different kinds there are and how they better used.

White sugar: This sugar is also known as cane sugar which has been processed and crystallized and is also dried so that the crystals do not clump together.

Brown sugar: This sugar is the same as white sugar but during the process when it was made, it didn't get washed this causing the taste and texture to change. There are two different types of brown sugar, known as light brown sugar and dark brown sugar. Lets take a look at them for a second.

  • Light Brown Sugar: This sugar contains molasses, this is what turns your cookies darker and has more of a delicate flavor.
  • Dark Brown Sugar: This also contains molasses, but dark brown sugar contains more molasses then light, in which turning your cookies more darker than light brown and this sugar also has more of a stronger flavor then light.

So when using brown sugars in your recipe, make sure you check on them often as the brown sugar tends to brown faster.

Powdered Sugar: (Icing Sugar) This sugar is the same as white but is more grounded up and is more superfine. It is more of a powdery substance.

So as we see they all have different uses, but it all boils down to what you prefer to use in your recipe according to your taste buds and what would work better for what you are making.

The Fats!

Butter or Shortening?

What is Butter? This is a dairy product made by churning fresh milk or cream.

Many many recipes call for butter! Hence the cookies "butter cookies". You need butter in almost everything so why is it important? Okay ....... Lets take a seat and grab that popcorn, you'll need butter for this one. hehe

Why is butter important for baking? Butter in baking is mainly needed for flavor. It is important for your dough as you need to cream the sugar and butter together. Tiny bubbles appear during the baking process which expand and create "fluffy" cookies and cakes.

What is Shortening? This is a semi solid fat used in baking. It is generally made from vegetables oils such as soybean. It does not have that flavor that butter gives when baking.

Why is shortening important? Shortening is important to give that crumbly effect to your cookies. Its more bland but when shortening is used in a recipe it makes your cookies and cake the most tender.

So bottom line is when using shortening and butter in your recipes, they both have their effects on the outcome of your recipe. Butter for flavor, Shortening for texture and tender goods.


Eggs and Egg Whites

What are eggs? Eggs are round or oval cell laid by the female of any number of species but generally they come from the hen.

Eggs are important to the recipe as it brings your dry ingredients together. There are many ways you can incorporate your eggs into your recipe either by whisking, beating, or whipping. Always mix your dry ingredients into your wet ( good saying to remember this... you leave the house dry and get wet in the rain) Be extra careful not to get any shells in your food when cracking them. If you do manage to get a little shell in there, just take a spoon and carefully spoon it out.

Some recipes call for the whole egg and sometimes the recipe calls for just the egg whites. It can be become confusing. I know many recipes that call for both the whole egg and whites. So... we may need to break down , the whole "whole egg" vs "egg white" thing!

Whole Egg: When using the whole egg in your recipe, they will make your goods more tender and have a better hold when baking.

Egg White: When removing the yolk, not only do you take out the fat in the egg , but this will make your baked goods less tender.

Quick Note: 1 whole egg = 2 egg whites.

• When using eggs in baking and only need the egg whites, just crack egg on a strainer spoon and let the egg whites fall, as it catches the yolk. That's the easiest way, instead of sliding yolk, from shell to shell.

Flavor and Color!

Why are they important? They are all important to every recipe you make as they add Flavor and color to what you are making.

Extracts: Extracts are needed to enhance your cookies and cakes. There are many kinds of extract that you can buy. Vanilla and Almond are more used. It also depends on what you are making on which extract is better for the job. Here are a list of extracts that will be used in some recipes and what they most are common in.

  1. Vanilla Extract - Cakes, Cookies, Chocolate, Ice Creams.
  2. Almond Extract - Cakes and Confectionery.
  3. Lemon Extract - Puddings, Pies, Candy.
  4. Rose Extract - Used mainly in White Cakes.
  5. Peppermint Extract - Minty cookies, cakes.

Color: Color is great when added to cakes and cookies, it gives detail and adds a little pow into your goodies! Sugar cookies is the # 1 cookie to add food color too! So many different things you can do with color. Food coloring doesn't change any taste to your goods, it pretty much just makes them look pretty! There are 4 different kinds of food coloring liquid, paste, gel and powder. I'll explain a little more about each one.

  1. Liquid Food Color: They are great and mainly come in red, blue, yellow, and green. You can mix of course for different colors, but be careful when baking with them, as red may come out pink, and purple may come out brown. Liquid cannot hold a stronger color when baking.
  2. Paste Food Coloring: They come in many different colors. Paste food coloring gives a vivid color so make sure you use in small amounts.
  3. Gel Food Coloring: They give a strong color and blends easily when mixing into your dough.
  4. Powder Food Color: They are highly concentrated , they contain no water.... and will be best when making cookies, and candy since they will generally give you the color you want.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      hi person good job on the page

    • Sweetkisses9187 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Essex, Maryland

      Your welcome, glad I could help. : )

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks, this site really helped with my science assignment :)

    • Sweetkisses9187 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Essex, Maryland

      Hey Rochelle.. thanks for reading. Baking powder and soda tends to confuse a lot of people, I tried breaking it down easily so that way people can get a better understanding.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      8 years ago from California Gold Country

      This is great-- I have been baking for years and didn't know half of this-- especially the difference between baking powder and baking soda. Thanks


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