All your baking questions answered!

All your baking questions answered!

There are home baking questions that I ask, see and hear time and time again. I thought it would be a good idea to bring them all together in a single, informative blog post.

Some of the queries are to do with the difference between UK and US terms. All-purpose flour in America is known as plain flour over here. Their baking soda, is our bicarb. They use cups to measure, and we use either ounces or grams.

If you have any kitchen questions that we haven’t listed below, just ask!

Baking ingredients with sticks of butter

How much does a stick of butter weigh?

A stick of butter is a US measure. It’s the equivalent of 113g or 4oz.

Bread flour and dough

What is bread flour?

Bread flour or ‘strong’ flour has a higher protein content (about 12-14%) than regular, plain flour. This means that the dough produces more gluten when kneaded and gives the loaf a good rise and firm crumb.

Flour with two eggs

What is cake flour?

Again, it’s all about the protein content. Cake flour is around 6-8% protein. This produces less gluten, making the sponge consistency more fluffy and tender.

Can I use plain flour instead of self-raising?

If a recipe includes self-raising flour, but you don’t have any or enough, it’s acceptable to use plain flour with the addition of baking powder. For example, if a recipe calls for 100g self-raising flour, use 100g of plain flour with a teaspoon of baking powder. If you want measurements to be absolutely precise, remove a teaspoon of flour before adding the teaspoon of baking powder. To scale this quantity up or down, you need a mixture of 5% baking powder to 95% plain flour. Just remember to sieve the flour and baking powder together before use.

What does cream of tartar do?

Cream of tartar is a white, acidic powder. It acts to stabilise whisked egg whites and whipped cream. You’ll often see cream of tartar as an ingredient in meringues and sponge cakes, where you want to add volume and airiness. The recommended ratio is ¼ tsp of cream of tartar to every egg white.

Cream of tartar also prevents sugars from crystallising and becoming grainy. It can be used in making fudge and honeycomb.

It’s often one of the components of baking powder.

Jar of bicarbonate of soda

What’s the difference between baking powder and bicarbonate of soda?

Baking powder and bicarbonate of soda are used together and separately as tools to help cakes, bread and pastry to rise. Baking powder, as mentioned above, often contains cream of tartar – which is an acid. Baking powder also contains an alkaline powder, such as ammonium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate. The latter is better known as… bicarbonate of soda. In the US, bicarbonate of soda is better known as baking soda.

Container of Kingsford's corn starch

What is corn starch?

Corn starch is the same product as cornflour. It’s used to thicken gravies, soups and sauces. It’s an ingredient in custard powder and is often found in shortbread recipes.

Wooden spoon of salt grains

What is kosher salt?

Kosher salt is a coarse salt used primarily for cooking (rather than as a condiment at the table). It doesn’t contain additives such as iodine or fluoride that could affect the flavour of the food being cooked. It can be substituted with coarse sea or rock salt (such as pink Himalayan).

Dragon fruit moulded jelly

Is there a vegetarian alternative to gelatine?

Gelatine (derived from animal collagen) is one of those often ‘hidden’ ingredients when you’re buying pre-made foods; marshmallows, sweets, biscuits, cakes and desserts can contain it. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, it comes as second nature to scan the ingredient list on the packaging. Many popular make-at-home recipes regularly contain gelatine for its setting properties; trifles, jellies, cheesecake. But what can you use to make a veggie version of these desserts?

Personally, I use agar-agar – derived from algae. It’s available in powder form or in sheets, much like gelatine, but the method of incorporating it into a dish differs. Agar needs to be boiled in water (or other liquid such as fruit juice, milk or cream) and stirred until fully dissolved. Gelatine needs to be soaked in cold water before being added to the hot liquid… which then shouldn’t be brought back up to a boil, or it will fail to set.

Sifting powdered sugar over a cake

What is powdered sugar?

Powdered sugar is exactly the same as icing sugar or confectioners’ sugar. It’s used for making icing/frosting, marzipan and sifting over sweet, baked goods.

Bowl of eggs

Should I keep eggs in the fridge?

In general, eggs should be kept at room temperature on the counter-top or cupboard. Many recipes (especially cake) work better if all your ingredients are around the same temperature. If you live in a really hot country, or your kitchen is regularly sweltering, and you prefer to keep your eggs refrigerated, take them out an hour or so before you’re due to start preparing your dish.

What’s an alternative to corn syrup?

Golden syrup can be substituted – like-for-like – in any recipe that calls for corn syrup. Honey or maple syrup can also be used; however, the latter is quite a lot thinner in consistency than corn syrup, so adjustments may need to be made. At a push, a syrup mixture made with a ratio of 4 parts sugar to 1 part water can be used.

Dried cocoa

What is Dutch processed and un-Dutched cocoa?

‘Dutching’ is the process whereby the acid is removed from cocoa powder, making it generally more palatable. The alkalising procedure also lowers the caffeine content and changes the colour of the product, rendering it darker. Natural, un-dutched cocoa is the preferred version for recipes such as red velvet cake.

Sainsbury's fresh cultured buttermilk

What can I use instead of buttermilk?

Buttermilk can be hard to get hold of in many supermarket chains. To make your own buttermilk substitute, you can add lemon juice or white wine/cider vinegar to regular, room-temperature milk. Use the ratio of 250ml of milk to 1 tablespoon of lemon juice/vinegar. Alternatively, you could use a half-and-half mixture of Greek yoghurt and milk.

Bottle of organic vanilla extract

What’s the difference between vanilla essence and vanilla extract?

Vanilla extract is the better quality, natural ingredient – it’s derived from vanilla pods that are combined with ethanol and water. Vanilla essence, on the other hand, doesn’t even need to contain real vanilla – making it a cheaper product – much like something that is described as vanilla ‘flavoured’.

Bowl of golden raisins

What’s the difference between raisins, currants and sultanas?

  • Raisins: Any dried grape
  • Currants: Dried Black Corinth / seedless grape
  • Sultanas: Dried green Sultana or Sultanina seedless grape

Have your baking questions been answered above? If not, leave a comment – we’d be happy to help!

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