Cooking Terms Explained
A blend of hard and soft wheat flours (such as bread and cake flour respectively) with a protein content of 9.5 to 11.5%. It is widely used in home kitchens as it can be used in numerous baked goods.
A double boiler used to slowly, evenly cook items over indirect heat to keep them from overcooking. This is as simple as placing a large metal or glass bowl over a pot of simmering water.
Baker’s Percentage is a formula for understanding the ratio of ingredients in a recipe, built around the amount of flour used. The amount of flour used in a recipe is always 100%. The rest of the ingredients are written as a percentage of the flour’s mass. So if a recipe contains 16 ounces flour and 8 ounces sugar, then the ratio is 100% flour, 50% sugar. Recipes using the Baker’s The total sum of the baker’s percentagse will always equal a number higher than 100%; that number is called the Formula Percentage. With Baker’s Percentage, each ingredient must be measured in the exact same way – I suggest weighing ingredients as it is the most precise. The Baker’s Percentage is a very precise method that is great for when you want to execute a recipe.
A leavening agent for baking. It is made with baking soda, and an acid so it can be used in baked goods with neutral flavors. Baking powder also rises twice, once when mixed with moisture and once when baking, so you can delay baking with baking powder.
A leavening agent made solely from sodium bicarbonate and thus requires an acid and moisture when baking to work. Baking soda also starts working as soon as it is mixed with a liquid so it is best to bake right away. Baking soda must be baked with an acid such as buttermilk, chocolate, citrus juice, brown sugar, honey or molasses.
Baking sheets are used for baking and some in both shiny and dark varieties. Shiny pans will heat and brown foods evenly. Dark sheet pans absorb heat, causing the bottom of baked goods to darken and have a crisper crust.
Bittersweet chocolate is processed with a small amount of sugar to produce a sharp chocolate flavor. Bittersweet chocolate contains approximately 70% chocolate liquor. I will frequently label bittersweet chocolate as 70% chocolate.
The process used to bake a pie or tart shell before filling it. To keep the dough’s shape the dough is lined with parchment paper or foil then filled with weights (dry beans, pie weights, or other heat resistant items). Halfway through baking the beans and paper are removed to allow the crust to brown.
Bread flour is a hard wheat flour with a protein content between 11 and 13%. It is best for products which require a good-quality gluten formation such as breads and rolls. It can be mixed with cake flour to create a custom all-purpose flour. Bread flour produces a chewy, firm bite.
Cold butter is used in doughs and batters that require the butter to retain its shape without being blended completely into the flour. Keeping the butter in chunks and cold will cause it to steam during baking, creating pockets and giving a baked good a flaky texture.
Butter, room temperature
Butter at room temperature is used in batters and doughs where the butter is evenly dispersed throughout the batter. To ensue the butter properly mixes it must be completely soft and at room temperature. Trying microwaving the butter 20 seconds at a lower power to soften it quickly.
A sweet and tangy milk with a thick texture. You can substitute buttermilk with a vinegar-milk mixture. Mix 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice into 1 cup of whole milk and let sit five minutes.
Brown sugar comes in two varieties, light and dark. Both contain molasses (the part that makes the sugar brown); dark brown sugar has more molasses than light brown sugar.
Cake flour is a soft bleached flour that has a protein content of 7 to 8%. It is typically used in cakes and biscuits. It can be mixed with bread flour to create a custom all purpose flour.Cake flour produces a soft, cakey bite.
Castor sugar is a superfine sugar that is finer than granulated sugar and coarser than confectioner’s sugar. Castor sugar is used when you need a sugar to dissolve very quickly.
A method of baking a cake using whipped egg whites baking powder to incorporate air, making a spongey cake in between a pound cake and an angel food cake, similar to a sponge cake. Chiffon cake is typically made with vegetable oil to give it extra moistness.
Chocolate comes in various forms for baking. Chocolate is determined by the amount of cocoa liquor in the bar, determined by a percentage. Milk chocolate (10%), Sweet (50%), Semisweet (60%), Bittersweet (70%) and pure chocolate (100%) allow for varying chocolate flavors in cooking and baking applications. Chocolate, like butter and flours, can greatly affect the flavor of your dish so care should be taken to use good chocolate. The chocolate should be rich in color without any grey or streaking and with a smooth surface. It should smell strong and chocolaty that is pleasant. Chocolate should snap when it is broken. Chocolate should taste creamy and smooth without being gritty, waxy, or greasy and the aftertaste should linger pleasantly. It is best to buy pure chocolate bars versus chocolate chips as the chips typically have additives to keep their shape, affecting the flavor.
Choux is another name for pate a choux, a roux like dough used to make profiteroles, eclairs and other light, airy baked goods. Choux is piped into its shape and baked until it is golden brown and hollow inside.
Cocoa powder is made from the cocoa that remains when cocoa butter is extracted from chocolate liquor. It is a drier (like flour it absorbs liquid) so when converting a recipe from vanilla to chocolate you should substitute equal weights flour with cocoa powder instead of just adding it.
Among making this foodie hyper and happy, coffee has a similar profile to chocolate and is often used in baked goods to bring out the dominant chocolate flavor.
Confectioners’ sugar or powdered sugar is sugar that has been ground into powder. It also contains cornstarch to absorb moisture and prevent clumping. It is used in making icings because it isn’t grainy.
Convection ovens contain a fan that evenly spreads the heat in an oven. Because of this convection ovens cook quicker than conventional ovens. It is suggested to lower the temperature by 25° when using a convection oven. I also suggest checking the item a minute or two before the expected finishing time.
Cornstarch is a thickening agent that remains translucent when baked. It has twice the thickening power than flour. Cornstarch becomes its thickest at the boiling point and can sustain boiling for 30 seconds. Anything beyond this point will cause the cornstarch to breakdown. In addition to thickening, cornstarch can be used in baked goods as a replacement for flour to create a very tender, fine-textured baked good; avoid all of the flour unless a recipe calls for it.
To cream means to beat fat and sugar together until the mixture is smooth and creamy, typically light and fluffy. The color will lighten and the mixture will expand slightly. Eggs are then added one and the liquids are added alternately with the dry ingredients. Creaming is used for cakes, cookies and sometimes muffins and quickbreads.
Crumb is used to describe the interior of cakes and breads. High moisture breads like focaccia have a large crumb structure where as a pound cake has a dense crumb.
To dredge something means to coat a product in flour, cornmeal or crumbs before frying or sauteing. A product can also be dredged in a liquid such as an egg mixture or both.
An egg wash is a mixture of either whole egg, egg yolk, egg white or egg and a little water or milk. It is used to enrich browning, add shine and or act as a moisture barrier. When baking above 400°F you’ll want to avoid using yolk in the egg wash as it can over brown.
An emulsifier is an additive used to achieve a permanent uniform suspension of two liquids (egg yolks typically act as an emulsifier). An emulsion is a uniform mixture of two unmixable liquids (think oil and water). A temporary emulsifier will only stay suspended for a limited period of time (like a vinaigrette) or permanently via using an egg yolk as an emulsifier (like mayonnaise).
This is the process in which yeast breaks down the sugars and coverts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is the most important stage in the formation of bread because it provides leavening and flavor.
Flaxseed is a small nutritious seed, containing lots of dietary fiber, lignans, nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids. The body cannot process whole flaxseed so you’ll want to be sure to not to use whole flaxseed. If you can’t find broken or ground flaxseed – or if you only have whole flaxseed – you can place the seeds in the blender or food processor and process until they begin to break up. Also, once flaxseed is broken it goes rancid very quickly, so only grind only what you need when you need it. Ground flaxseed mixed with a liquid forms a gelatinous mixture that may be substituted for eggs in baked goods – though it will not provide the same leavening ability.
To gently (keyword here) combine light airy ingredients into heavier ingredients with the purpose of loosing as little air as possible. The best tool here is a spatula. The best method to fold is to slide the spatula through the mixture in the center of the bowl, along the bottom and up the side keeping the thinnest side of the spatula moving though the mixture, rotating the bowl a little each time you move the spatula through the mixture.
To cook food in hot fat using a shallow frying pan. Deep frying requires a deep pot. To ensure your pot and the fat is hot enough, the food should sizzle once it hits the pan. If the product does not sizzle, the pan is not hot enough.
Graham flour is like whole wheat flour in which the bran, germ and endosperm are used. Graham flour has a coarse texture and a delicious wheat taste. It is the flour used in graham crackers and can be used in breads, cookies and other baked goods.
Griddles are large flat surfaces used to cook products with little or no fat. Griddles are perfect for pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches and eggs.
Grills are the reason the summer was invented. I think you probably know what to do with them.
Ground nuts, like pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews and more make an excellent replacement for a portion of a recipe’s flour when you’re looking for a nutty, earthy flavor and texture. If you can’t find preground nuts you can easily make them yourself by tossing nuts of your choice into a food processor. Pulse until they are chopped into as fine of a mixture as you can get without letting the mixture begin to cake. Also be careful not to mix too long or you’ll end up with nut butter.
Half and Half
Half and half, that magic stuff so many of us put in our coffee, is an equal mixture of cream and milk and is used in a lot of baking and ice creams. If you’re out of half and half just mix equal parts cream and milk together.
Lard is a key ingredient in making a flaky pie crust and I use it in my pie crust recipe along with butter. It is rendered from pork fat and thus is not only not vegan, but it is not vegetarian. When buying lard look for a high quality, leaf lard that way it will not taste like pork.
Any substance that raises or lightens a dough or batter by incorporating air, steam or gas. This can include yeast, baking powder or baking soda or steam which can come from numerous sources. This item is key in successful baking and understand how a particular leavening agent works can be a valuable tool.
Macerate means to soak a product, typically fruit or vegetables, in a flavored liquid to soften and infuse it with flavor. Macerate also means to place a product in sugar or salt to draw flavor out. Alcohol, herbs, zest and other items can be added.
To soak a food item, typically meats, in a liquid for the purpose of infusing the flavor of the marinade. Marinating can also soften and tenderize meat.
To very finely chop something.
There are numerous types of mixers available. Most home cooks will have either a stand mixer or hand mixer. I use a stand mixer (KitchenAid Professional 600 with a 6qt bowl) for most of my mixing as it makes easy work of whipping egg whites or cream, creaming butter and eggs, mixing heavy batters and kneading dough. While a mixer is not necessary it can often make baking and cooking a much simpler process. Every technique can be done by hand (I use to whip egg whites and cream to stiff peaks by hand before I got my stand mixer) but will take much more time and can result in very sore arms. Hand mixers work well for creaming, whipping and mixing but will not be able to knead doughs.You also have to stand over the bowl with a hand mixer where as with a stand mixer you can leave it to do it’s job while you tend to other tasks.
Most mixers will come with three types of attachments, a dough hook, paddle and whisk or whip.
The dough hook will look like a J, hook or spiral and is used for mixing and kneading bread doughs, which are significantly tougher than most batters.
The paddle is a flat frame with various spokes running through the paddle-shaped frame. Paddles are used to cream ingredients and mix batters. The paddle should be used when you want to avoid incorporating air into a batter, though at high speed the paddle can still add air. The paddle will be the most used attachment and should be your go to tool incase you are unsure which to use.
The whip or whisk is just that, a large whisk-like object used to whip air into ingredients. The whisk can be used at very high speeds to whip egg whites or cream and at high speeds to incorporate air into batters. They are a bitch to clean.
Mixing speed vary depending on your manufacturer but this can be used as a basic guideline for what speeds you use when mixing different materials. The numbers in parenthesis included are for KitchenAid stand mixers. The italicized term will be the term I use in my recipe to direct you to a specific mixing speed.
- Very Low (Stir/1) – Stir/Gently Mix – For slow stirring, combining, mushing and mixing. Use this speed when adding dry ingredients to keep from turning your kitchen into a cloud of dust.
- Low (2/3) – Slowly Mix – For slow mixing and kneading doughs. Use this speed when mixing heavy batters or candies and when kneading yeast doughs.
- Low-Medium(4/5) – Mix/Beat – For mixing semi-heavy batters. You can use this speed for mixing cookies, cake batters and other batters.
- Medium (6) – Beat/Cream – For medium fast beating and creaming. Use to cream butter and sugar together, or mixing other batters that need to be completely incorporated/blended.
- Medium-Fast (7) – Beat Fast – For fast beating. Use this for lighter batters or trouble batters that are inclined not to mix.
- Fast (8/9) – Whip – Use this speed to whip cream, egg whites and other products in which air needs to be incorporated.
- Very Fast (9/10) – Whip Fast – Use this speed to whip small amounts of cream or eggs. I typically whip eggs and cream, no matter the amount, at this speed as it brings materials to a soft of stiff peak very quick. Watch carefully though as you can over whip egg whites quickly at this speed.
- Angel food: Egg whites and sugar are whipped to soft peeks and then the dry ingredients (sifted together). The angel food method is used for angel food cake.
- Biscuit: Fat is cut into the dry ingredients (sifted together) and the liquid is then added slowly and mixed until just combined. The biscuit method is used for biscuits, scones, and pie dough.
- Chiffon: Egg yolks, oil and some sugar are combined; dry ingredients (sifted together) are mixed into the yolk mixture; egg whites are whipped to soft peaks with the remaining sugar and then folded into the mixture. Chiffon method is used for chiffon cakes
- Creaming: To cream means to beat fat and sugar together until the mixture is smooth and creamy, typically light and fluffy. The color will lighten and the mixture will expand slightly. Eggs are then added one and the liquids are added alternately with the dry ingredients (sifted together). Creaming is used for cakes, cookies and sometimes muffins and quickbreads.
- One-Stage: All of the ingredients are added in one step.
- Sponge (cakes/cookies): Whole eggs or egg yolks are mixed and warmed with the sugar to the ribbon stage. The sifted dry ingredients are then folded in. Egg whites are whipped and folded in as well. Sometimes melted butter is folded in, in the end. The Sponge method is used for sponge cake, genoise, and ladyfingers.
- Sponge (bread/yeast doughs): A sponge is made with most or all of the liquid, some flour and yeast and left to ferment before being added into the dough. The rest of the ingredients are then added and kneaded together to form a bread dough.The sponge method for breads is used for most breads as it yields the best flavor.
- Straight dough: All ingredients are added at once and kneaded together until smooth. The straight dough method is used for some doughs.
- Two-Stage: The fat is cut into the dry ingredients (sifted together). The liquids are then added in two stages with the eggs and sugar being added in the second stage. The mixture is then whipped for aeration. The two-stage method is used for high-ration cakes such as the pound cake.
The grossest thing a foodie can read. Avoid these products at all cost!
Nutmeg is a seed that comes from a tropical pine tree and is used as a spice. It can be purchased whole or ground though whole nutmeg has a far superior flavor when ground as needed. I suggest only buying whole nutmeg.
You will see this word in nearly every baking recipe. Parchment paper is a nonstick paper used to line baking pans. Parchment paper not only makes baking on stick and nonstick surfaces easier but it makes clean up a cinch–often you can just put the pan back in its home w/o cleaning. I keep 4 rolls of the stuff in my kitchen at any given time. Baking paper and parchment paper can be interchanged in meaning and use.
A pastry bag is typically a handheld cone made of parchment paper with a small opening and often a piping tip at the bottom used to pipe icing, batters and other items onto surfaces. Pastry bags can also be purchased in multi-use canvas, nylon or plastic.
Trick: Take a large freezer bag and cut a tiny hole in one corner (about 1/2 the size of the piping tip you plan to use. Force the tip into the hole until it is taught. Fill the bag with the product you plan to pipe and pipe away. This is much easier than making them from parchment paper and much cheaper than buying more expensive multi-use bags.
Pectin is a natural gelling agent present in some fruits. It is used in making jams. You can either buy pectin or use the pectin already present in the fruit you are jamming. Fruits high in pectin are apples, blueberries, lemons, limes, plums and cranberries. This fruit can be jammed with little or no addition of pectin. Fruits low in pectin are cherries, strawberries, pineapple, peaches, nectarines, figs and grapes. Pectin, when mixed with acid and high amounts of sugar produces a clear jell and give jam, jelly, and preserves it’s distinctive texture.
Pie Weights are used in blind baking to keep a pie or tart shell in place and help hold it’s shape. They are typically ceramic or metal pellets and incredibly overpriced. Buy a bag of dry beans and use them instead; they will cost 1/20th what traditional pie-weights cost and serve the same purpose.
Poaching is to cook food gently in a simmering liquid. Fruit is often poached in syrup with other ingredients to infuse flavor. Be careful to avoid boiling.
Proofing is the final fermentation or rising period in baking bread. This is done after shaping the bread just before baking. Whereas in rising the dough should rise to twice its initial volume, the dough should rise to just under twice it’s volume (about 85%) in proofing period to account for extra rising in the oven. It is best to proof dough at 80 degrees.
To grind or mash food until it is completely smooth in a food processor, blender or with an immersion blender.
Pumpkin puree can be bought in the can or made from scratch. I always suggest making pumpkin puree from scratch. To do this I suggest buying a pie pumpkin- they are much smaller than the jack-o-lantern variety and have a fuller, sweeter flavor. To make the puree, cut the pie pumpkin in half and scoop out all the seeds and stringy stuff. Remove the stem and place the halves cut side down on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in an oven preheated at 375°F and roast for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick easily pierces the skin. Juices will begin to run form the pumpkin and portions may sag. Scoop the meat from the skin and place in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Store extra in the refrigerator.
Pumpkin Seeds, Roasted
Pumpkin seeds can be eaten with or without the shell and are a good source of protein, iron, zinc, magnese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and potassium. To roast pumpkin seeds, remove them from the pumpkin taking care to remove all the pumpkin bits. Rinse the seeds under water then dry. Place the seeds on a lightly oiled baking sheet – sprinkle with salt if you wish – and bake in an oven at 325°F for 20 to 25 minutes until they begin to brown just slightly.
A term referring to the thickness of a whipped/cooked batter (typically with eggs). When the batter is lifted it should fall in ribbons or smooth sheets that will hold their shape momentarily before falling into the batter.
To cook a food item quickly, over direct hot heat (medium to medium high) with a small amount of oil or fat in the pan. An item should sizzle when it is placed in the pan otherwise the pan is not hot enough. Before adding things like onion or chopped vegies try adding one to see if it makes that sizzling sound. If not wait until it gets hotter. If using butter it should begin to bubble before you add anything but beware as butter and olive oils can begin to burn at this temperature.
A scale is the most important tool you can use in baking. You’ve probably heard that baking is a science and because of that a scale is the best way to ensure you are using the right amount of ingredients you should weigh them, not use volumetric measurements.
Semolina four is a coarsely ground durum wheat with a slightly yellow appearance. Semolina flour is used in pasta and sometimes breads, and italian puddings. I typically only use semolina flour when I make pasta from scratch.
A term used for the torturous process when you have to wait for a gelatin-based dessert to firm up. This step can never be skipped unfortunately.
Sifting is the process of running a product through a sieve of some sort to aerate products and break up clumps. I have a bad habit of skipping this step and this is one of those times when I suggest to do as I say and not as I do.
To cook food gently in a liquid below the boiling point. A simmer can range from a very slow simmer where bubbles only break the surface every minute or so (best for stocks and some soups) to a faster simmer where small bubbles break the surface constantly, but slowly unlike a boil.
The point at which a fat or oil breaks down and begins to smoke. If you oil or fat is smoking in a pan the heat is too high. This will begin to negatively affect the flavor. Fats like butter and oils like olive oil have low smoke points are are not best for high-heat applications. Oils like peanut, corn and safflower oils have a high smoke point and are better suited for high heat applications.
The unlucky non-foodie who is closest to you while cooking that get’s wrangled in to helping you with all the extra, typically menial skills such as chopping, stirring, grabbing bowls and fetching ingredients.
A pre-ferment mixture in bread baking that is a loose mixture of most or all of the liquid, yeast and a small portion of the dry ingredients. This mixture ferments anywhere from an hour to a few hours before the rest of the dough is mixed together. This stage is vital for adding extra flavor.
To soak dry ingredients in a liquid until the flavor is infused. Typically the liquid is brought to a simmer and then removed from the heat. Boiling liquids can result in harsh flavors.
To cook items, typically vegetables, in a small amount of fat over low heat in a covered pot or pan. Sweating pulls out the flavors of the vegetables and keeps them from browning. Sweating is used for some soups, stews, braises or other cooking methods.
Temper is a process of heating eggs without cooking them typically by very slowly introducing a hot liquid in cold/room temp. eggs as they are being mixed or whipped at high speeds. The liquid is typically just below the simmering point and is added a few drops at a time initially then slowly increased to a slow steady stream while mixing the egg mixture constantly. Only 1/3 of the hot liquid needs to be added to the eggs before the egg mixture can be added back to the liquid. This process is where having a stand mixer of extra hand comes in handy.
Tomatoes come in all shapes (well mostly one shape), sizes and colors. While numerous attributes can affect flavor, different color tomatoes typically have different flavor profiles. Yellow tomatoes, while sweet and flavorful like a red tomato, are far less acidic and more mellow than the standard red. Orange is similar to yellow tomatoes though will contain a little more of the bold acidic tomato flavor. Some heirlooms and dark red tomatoes will be stronger and bolder than the typical red.
True Percentage is a formula used to understand the ratio of ingredients in a recipe, where the total sum of each ingredient equals 100%. To build this formula you have to know the weight of each ingredient, not just the weight of the flour. This technique is great for visualizing the amount of ingredients that makes up a recipe and for comparing it to other ratios to see what kind of effect particular ingredients has.
The only butter you should ever use in baking. You want to make sure you are in complete control of all the contents in a baked good including the salt content. Using salted butter can throw off a recipe’s taste. I typically have 5 pounds of unsalted butter and maybe 1/2 a pound of salted butter in my fridge at any given time.
This may be the most used ingredient in baking. Its sole purpose is for flavor. This is one ingredient where you shouldn’t skimp and never, ever buy imitation extract. I suggest buying a brand like Nielsen-Massey Vanillas.
Vanilla Beans are the best way you can flavor a dish when looking for a vanilla flavor. Unfortunately they can only be used easily in recipes with a significant amount of liquid–they are perfect for ice creams, custards and cremes. After flavoring a dish with a vanilla bean you can use the spent pod to create vanilla sugar: Rinse it and let it dry completely. Then place it in an airtight container with a few cups of sugar. Agitate daily and within a week or two you will have vanilla sugar. The smaller the ratio between sugar to vanilla bean(s), the stronger the vanilla flavor in the sugar.
Vanilla Bean Paste
Vanilla bean paste, like extract, is used to flavor a dish. It also adds the black seeds commonly associated with using a whole vanilla bean. Equal amounts vanilla bean paste can be substituted for vanilla extract. Again, don’t skimp on this product and never buy imitation.
A container that holds water around another dish containing a baked item. A water bath ensures even baking and helps prevent overcooking. Water should typically be filled to half way up the baking dish unless otherwise specified in a recipe.
Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
Whole wheat pastry flour is whole ground flour ground from soft white wheat. You can substitute it with all purpose white flour or a mix of all purpose and whole wheat flour – avoid substituting all whole wheat flour as it could inhibit the baked good’s ability to rise.
A living organism responsible for the beautiful world that is bread. Yeast is finicky and the biggest reason for bread baking gone awry. Below 40°F and the yeast is dormant; above 145°F and the yeast dies. Between those temperatures is an even small window where yeast will grow and multiply, the step necessary for dough to rise. Yeast, and the dough it is in, must be between 85° and 95°F to grow properly. Yeast also needs sugar to grow (it breaks down sugar and starches into alcohol and Carbon dioxide). Yeast can be retarded or killed by salt though so it is important not to let yeast come in direct contact with salt.
There are several types of yeast available but I always use Active Dry because it is easy to find and easy to use. All my recipes will call for Active Dry yeast. Active dry yeast must be dissolved in warm (105° to 115°F) water to rehydrate it before mixing it into the dough.
The colored outer skin of the rind of a citrus fruit. It can be removed with a zester or grater. Care should be taken only to use the colored part and not the white part underneath as it is very bitter and can adversely affect the flavor of your dish.