A handy guide to baking equipment, techniques, and ingredients.
A white flour, generally a combination of soft and hard wheats, or medium-protein wheats. It works well for all types of baked products, including yeast breads, cakes, cookies, and quick breads. All-purpose flour usually is sold presifted. It is available bleached and unbleached. Either is suitable for home baking and can be used interchangeably.
A creamy mixture made of ground blanched almonds and sugar. For the best baking results, use an almond paste without syrup or liquid glucose. Almond paste is used as a filling in pastries, cakes, and confections.
A coverless glass or ceramic vessel used for cooking in the oven. A baking dish can be substituted for a metal baking pan of the same size. For baked items, such as breads and cakes, the oven temperature will need to be lowered 25 degrees to prevent overbrowning of the food.
A coverless metal vessel used for cooking in the oven. Baking pans vary in size and may be round, square, rectangular, or a special shape, such as a heart. The sides of the pan are 3/4 inch high or more.
A heavy, thick plate of beige or brown stone that can be placed in the oven to replicate the baking qualities of brick-floored commercial bread ovens. Baking stones can be round or rectangular and can be left in the oven when not in use.
A cereal grain, has a mild, starchy flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Pearl barley, the most popular form used for cooking, has the outer hull removed and has been polished or "pearled." It is sold in regular and quick-cooking forms. Store barley in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.
A mixture usually made with flour and a liquid, such as milk or fruit juice. It also may include egg, sugar, butter, shortening, cooking oil, leavening, or flavorings. Batters can vary in consistency from thin enough to pour to thick enough to drop from a spoon.
To make a mixture smooth by briskly whipping or stirring it with a spoon, fork, wire whisk, rotary beater, or electric mixer.
To combine two or more ingredients until smooth and uniform in texture, flavor, and color; done by hand or with an electric blender or mixer.
To cook food in liquid at a temperature that causes bubbles to form in the liquid and rise in a steady pattern, breaking on the surface. A rolling boil is when liquid is boiling so vigorously the bubbles can't be stirred down.
The type of flour recommended for bread recipes, made from hard wheat. It has a higher gluten content than all-purpose flour. Gluten, a protein, provides structure and height to breads, making bread flour well suited for the task. Store bread flour in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 5 months, or freeze it for up to a year.
A parched, cracked wheat product, made by soaking, cooking, and drying whole wheat kernels. Part of the bran is removed and what remains of the hard kernels is cracked into small pieces. Bulgur has a delicate, nutty flavor. Store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months, or freeze it for up to a year.
Cake flour is made from soft wheat and produces a tender, delicate crumb. Many bakers use it for angel food and chiffon cakes.
To substitute cake flour for all-purpose flour: Use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of cake flour per 1 cup all-purpose flour. Sift cake flour before measuring to lighten it to avoid adding too much.
To heat and stir sugar until it melts and browns. Caramelized, or burnt, sugar is used in dessert recipes such as flan, candy-coated nuts, and burnt-sugar cake and frosting.
To cut foods with a knife, cleaver, or food processor into smaller pieces.
The large, oval, husk-covered fruit of the coconut palm. Its market forms include canned and packaged coconut that is processed and sold shredded, flaked, or grated in sweetened and unsweetened forms. Flaked coconut is finer than shredded. Fresh and dried coconut pieces also are available.
A finely ground corn product made from dried yellow, white, or blue corn kernels. Cornmeal labeled "stone ground" is slightly coarser than regular cornmeal. Store cornmeal in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to six months, or freeze it for up to one year.
To beat a fat, such as butter or shortening, either alone or with sugar, to a light and fluffy consistency. This process incorporates air into the fat so baked products have a lighter texture and better volume.
A dairy product made from whipping cream and a bacterial culture. The culture causes the whipping cream to thicken and develop a sharp, tangy flavor. Creme fraiche is similar to sour cream but is softer and has a milder flavor. Popular in French cooking, creme fraiche is often spooned over fresh fruit or used in recipes like sour cream. It is available at specialty food stores. If you can't find it in your area, you can make a substitute by combining 1/2 cup whipping cream and 1/2 cup dairy sour cream. Cover the mixture and let it stand at room temperature for 2 to 5 hours or until it thickens. Refrigerate for up to a week.
To pinch or press pastry dough together using your fingers, a fork, or another utensil. Usually done for a piecrust edge.
To work a solid fat, such as shortening or butter, into dry ingredients, usually with a pastry blender or two knives.
A measure equal to 1/16 teaspoon. Can be measured by filling a 1/4-teaspoon measuring spoon one-fourth full.
A specialty of Devonshire, England, this extra-thick cream is made by heating unpasteurized whole milk until a semisolid layer of cream forms on the surface. After cooling, the Devonshire, or clotted, cream traditionally is served atop scones with jam.
To stir a solid food and a liquid food together to form a mixture in which none of the solid remains.
A mixture of flour and liquid to which other ingredients, such as sweeteners, shortening, butter, egg, or a leavening agent, may be added. A dough is thick and can't be poured; some doughs can be kneaded. Soft doughs have more liquid and generally are used for biscuits, breads, and drop cookies. Stiff doughs are firm enough to be rolled out easily and are used to make items such as piecrusts and cutout cookies.
Dried egg whites
Dried egg whites can be used where egg white is needed (but not meringue powder, which has added sugar). Dried egg whites also are safer than raw egg whites. One handy use for them is in making egg white glazes for baked goods (no yolk is wasted). Dried egg whites are found in powdered form in the baking aisle of many grocery stores.
Fruit that has been depleted of more than half its water content by exposure to the sun or by mechanical heating methods. Dried fruit is chewy and very sweet due to the concentration of sugars during the drying process.
To randomly pour a liquid, such as powdered sugar icing, in a thin stream over food.
To lightly coat or sprinkle a food with a dry ingredient, such as flour or powdered sugar, either before or after cooking.
Extract and oil
Products based on the aromatic essential oils of plant materials that are distilled by various means. In extracts, the highly concentrated oils usually are suspended in alcohol to make them easier to combine with other foods in cooking and baking. Almond, anise, lemon, mint, orange, peppermint, and vanilla are some of the extracts available.
An imitation extract made of chemical compounds. Unlike an extract or oil, a flavoring often does not contain any of the original food it resembles. Some common imitation flavorings available are banana, black walnut, brandy, cherry, chocolate, coconut, maple, pineapple, raspberry, rum, strawberry, and vanilla.
To make a scalloped, decorative pattern or impression in food, usually a piecrust.
A method of gently mixing ingredients, usually delicate or whipped ingredients that cannot withstand stirring or beating. To fold, use a rubber spatula to cut down through the mixture, move across the bottom of the bowl, and come back up, bringing some of the mixture from the bottom up to the surface.
Either liquid, paste, or powdered edible dyes used to tint foods.
To apply a sweet cooked or uncooked topping to a cake, cupcakes, or cookies. Frosting is soft enough to spread but stiff enough to hold its shape.
A rich chocolate icing made of bittersweet chocolate and whipping cream that's heated and stirred together until the chocolate melts. The mixture is cooled until lukewarm and poured over a cake or torte for a satiny finish.
To add visual appeal to a finished dish by decorating it with small pieces of food or edible flowers. The term also refers to the items used for decoration.
A semitropical plant whose root is used as a pungent spice. Ginger has a slightly hot flavor and nippy aroma. Ginger comes fresh as gingerroot, dried in powdered form, and in candied or crystallized form.
A thin, glossy coating on a food. There are numerous types of glazes. A mixture of powdered sugar and milk can be drizzled on cookies, cakes, or breads for a glaze.
An elastic protein present in flour, especially wheat flour, that provides most of the structure of baked products.
Sometimes called wheat gluten, made by removing most of the starch from high-protein, hard-wheat flour. If you can't find gluten flour at your supermarket, look for it at a health-food store. Store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to five months, or freeze it for up to one year.
To rub food -- especially hard cheeses, vegetables, and whole nutmeg and ginger -- across a grating surface to make very fine pieces. A food processor may also be used.
To coat a vessel, such as a baking pan or skillet, with a thin layer of fat or oil.
To mechanically cut a food into small pieces, usually with a food grinder or food processor.
To drizzle or spread baked goods with a thin frosting.
To extract the natural liquid contained in fruits or vegetables. This can be done with a juicer or -- in the case of citrus fruits -- simply by squeezing wedges of fruit over a measuring cup to catch the juice.
To work dough with the heels of your hands in a pressing and folding motion until the dough becomes smooth and elastic; an essential step in developing the gluten in many yeast breads.
Leavening agents add lightness to baked goods by causing them to rise. Common leaveners used in desserts include baking powder and baking soda, which produce carbon dioxide. Double-acting baking powder produces gasses in two stages: when liquids are added and during baking.
To gently swirl one food into another; usually done with light and dark batters for cakes or cookies.
A very rich cream cheese made primarily of cream.
To press or beat a food to remove lumps and make a smooth mixture. This can be done with a fork, potato masher, food mill, food ricer, or an electric mixer.
Sweetened, stiffly beaten egg whites used for desserts. There are two basic types of meringues. Soft meringues are moist and tender and are used for topping pies and other desserts. Hard meringues are sweeter than soft meringues and are baked to form crisp, dry dessert shells or cookies, such as macaroons. Meringue shells often are filled with fresh fruit or pudding.
Milk and milk products
Milk and milk products provide moisture, flavor, and color in baked goods, and they activate the leavening agents. Because whole, reduced-fat, and fat-free milk vary only in fat content, you can use them interchangeably in baking. However, whole milk may result in a richer flavor than fat-free milk.
Whipping cream contains 30 to 45 percent fat and can be beaten to form peaks that retain their shape. Half-and-half, a mixture of milk and cream, can be used instead of light cream in most recipes.
A cereal grain with tiny, round yellow kernels that tastes slightly nutty and has a chewy texture. Store millet in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to two years.
The cereal grain produced by the cereal grass of the same name. Whole oats minus the hulls are called groats. Oats have a nutty flavor and a chewy texture. Store oats in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to six months, or freeze for up to one year. Two popular forms include old-fashioned and quick-cooking oats.
Old-fashioned rolled oats
Oat groats that have been steamed then flattened by steel rollers.
The skin or outer covering of a vegetable or fruit; also called the rind. Also refers to removing the covering.
To force a semisoft food, such as whipped cream, frosting, or mashed potatoes, through a hole in a bag to decorate a food.
To allow a food, such as raisins or dried cherries, to soak in a liquid.
To allow a yeast dough to rise before baking. Also a term that indicates the amount of alcohol in a distilled liquor.
To change a solid food into a liquid or heavy paste, usually by using a food processor, blender, or food mill. Also refers to the resulting mixture.
Quick-cooking rolled oats
Oat groats that have been cut into small pieces -- to shorten the cooking time -- then flattened.
A fresh, moist white cheese that is very mild and semisweet. It has a soft, slightly grainy texture. It is available in whole milk, part-skim milk, or fat-free varieties: the whole milk cheese has a creamier consistency and fuller flavor than the lower-fat types.
To form a food into a shape. Dough, for instance, can be rolled into ropes or balls. The phrase "roll out" refers to mechanically flattening a food -- usually a dough or pastry -- with a rolling pin.
Made from finely ground rye, a cereal grain that has dark brown kernels and a distinctive, robust flavor. Light rye flour is sifted and contains less bran than dark rye flour. Store rye flour in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to five months, or freeze for up to one year.
A pulpy segment of citrus fruit with the membrane removed. Also refers to the process of removing those segments.
Shortening is a solid fat made from vegetable oils. It is often used to create tender, flaky piecrusts and biscuit toppers. It comes packaged in sticks marked with tablespoon and cup measurements and in canisters.
To put one or more dry ingredients, especially flour or powdered sugar, through a sifter or sieve to remove lumps and incorporate air.
To cook a food in liquid that is kept below the boiling point; a few bubbles will form slowly and burst before they reach the surface.
To cut food, often fresh herbs or dried fruit, with kitchen scissors into very small, uniform pieces, using short, quick strokes.
A batterlike mixture of yeast, flour, and liquid used in some bread recipes. The mixture is set aside until it bubbles and becomes foamy, which can be several hours or overnight. During this time, the sponge develops a tangy flavor; the remaining ingredients are added to the sponge, and the dough is kneaded and baked as usual.
To cook a food in the vapor given off by boiling water.
Sweeteners are essential for adding flavor, tenderness, and browning to baked desserts. They may either be granular, as in granulated white and brown sugars, or liquid, as in honey, corn syrup, and molasses.
Powdered (or confectioners') sugar, another sweetener, is granulated sugar that has been milled to a fine powder, then mixed with cornstarch to prevent lumping. It's best to sift powdered sugar before using to remix the sugar and cornstarch.
The pod of an orchid plant that is dried and cured. During curing, the pod turns a dark brown color and shrivels to the size of a pencil.
A condition in which liquid separates out of a solid food, such as jellies, custards, and meringues.
The embryo or sprouting portion of the wheat kernel, sold both raw and toasted. It is extremely perishable. Once opened, store in the refrigerator no more than three months.
To beat a food lightly and rapidly using a wire whisk, rotary beater, or electric mixer to incorporate air into the mixture and increase its volume.
A kitchen utensil made of a group of looped wires held together by a long handle. Whisks are used in baking for whipping ingredients such as eggs and cream to incorporate air into them. Also refers to the process of whipping ingredients together.
Whole wheat flour
Unlike all-purpose and bread flours, whole wheat flour is ground from the complete wheat berry and contains the wheat germ as well as the wheat bran. It is coarser in texture and does not rise as well as all-purpose and bread flours. Store whole wheat flour in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to five months, or freeze for up to one year.
A tiny organism that feeds on sugar in dough (often bread dough) to make small carbon dioxide bubbles that get trapped in the dough and make it rise. It works slowly and helps to develop flavorful dough.
The colored outer portion of a citrus fruit peel. It is rich in fruit oils and often used as a seasoning. To remove the zest, use a grater, fruit zester, or vegetable peeler; be careful to avoid the bitter white membrane beneath the peel.