Your Top Baking Questions Answered

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We’ve all been there: standing in the middle of the kitchen wondering whether or not the baking powder that’s been in the pantry for months is still good for use. Or perhaps you forgot to pick up an ingredient and thought: “Can’t I just substitute it?”

It’s safe to say that we’ve all ran into baking issues and dealt with unfamiliar ingredients that left us stumped with no where else to turn but the Internet. In light of that, I hope this post can help resolve some of that baking drama and get you on your way to being the fabulous baker that you are. Her’s answers to some of the top baking questions surfacing on the web.

Q: Can I substitute oil for butter in a recipe? How?

Sorry oil, but butter takes the cake on this one. Although you can try substituting three tablespoons of oil for every four tablespoons of butter, it’s best to stick with the type of fat that a recipe calls for because butter and oil have different properties. For example, when you beat together butter and sugar the result is a creamy and fluffy substance. But when you beat together oil and sugar you get a wet and thick sugar mixture. This is because butter pockets small air bubbles in its folds while oil does not. Not only that, but butter lends to a greater flavor in baking (no one compliments a cake for tasting oily).

Q: What’s the difference between cake flour, all-purpose flour and bread flour?

The main difference between these three flours is their gluten, or protein, content which contributes to the texture of the cake after baking. The higher the content, the chewier the texture. Cake flour has a low protein content at 6 to 8 percent resulting in light and fluffy cakes like angel food cake. Bread flour, on the other hand, has a high protein content of about 12 to 14 percent which makes it uncommon in the cake baking arena. But I have used bread flour in some cupcake recipes and the results just yielded a thicker, more dense cake. An example would be this chocolate cupcake recipe from the Brown Eyed Baker. Finally,  we have all-purpose flour which falls right between the others with a protein content of about 10 to 12 percent. This is the flour that you see in most cupcake and cake recipes. The main reason why is because the texture resulting from this flour keeps the cake from crumbling too easily (cake flour). That makes it perfect for holding heavy decorations (e.g. frosting, fondant, candy, etc.) without you feeling like you have a bagel in your mouth (bread flour).

Q:  Does baking powder or baking soda expire?

If you haven’t baked in a while and the baking powder or soda in your pantry has been sitting there for months, there’s a chance that it might not be as effect as it used to be. Baking powder and soda are the main agents that cause a cake to rise, so if the powdery substance fails to do its job then…well, you know what happens. A great way to find out if these items are still good for use is to test them with these simple methods.

  • Baking Powder: To see if your baking powder is still good, add 1 teaspoon of baking powder to one-third a cup of hot water. If it bubbles then you are good to go!
  • Baking Soda: To test baking soda add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 2 tablespoons of vinegar. If the concoction fizzles immediately, it’s good!

Q: If a recipe calls for unsalted butter, can regular butter be used instead?

The answer to this question is yes, but using unsalted butter gives you more control over the salt content of your recipe. If you are going to use regular butter, leave out the salt that the recipe calls for.

Q: Why would a cake or cupcake cave-in the middle or lose its fluff after baking?

This question has been on the mind of many bakers out there. The answer can be one or a combination of two factors. One, goes back to the issue of whether or not the baking powder or soda that you used is still fresh. Try testing them and see for yourself. The other factor, deals with the issue of a caving cake. If you find this happening to you then it might the temperature that you are baking your cake in. If the temperature is off then your cake might rise too far up and then deflate. Be sure to that the oven preheats fully before inserting your batch and stick a toothpick in the centermost cupcake to and others around it to be sure that the caked thoroughly.

Mind you this is just a some of the questions around the web that I found to me most common. I’m sure that there are a plethora of issues people encounter while in regards to baking. Some general, like the ones above, and even more common, some unique to specific baking situations. That being said, here are some links that provide answers to plenty of your baking inquiries.

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