The Ingredients I NEVER Use in Baking
The idea to write this article came about when chatting with a friend who doesn’t bake from scratch often.
She was sharing with me some of her baking challenges and I realized she was using ingredients and equipment I would never use. And they were setting her up for failure and frustration.
So I thought I’d round up some of the ingredients I avoid in my baking and the reasons WHY to give you simple and maybe unexpected insights into the sweet science of baking.
I kind of hate shortening.
It’s butter’s greasy, bland, and weird manufactured cousin.
Shortening’s lack of flavor and high melting point is what steers me away from using it 90% of the time.
Butter is so wonderful because of its incredible taste. Part of the reason it’s so enjoyable to eat something with a lot of butter is because its melting point is around human body temperature (95°F). It gives literal meaning to the idea of something “melting in your mouth.”
Shortening, on the other hand, has a higher melting point at about 120°F. This can leave behind what feels like a greasy film or residue on your palette.
Yes, it can also make shortening easier to work with in pastry applications since the dough won’t warm up as quickly. But it also doesn’t offer the same benefits of butter in SO many other ways. Just take a look at the examples below to get a quick insight.
Bottom line? Butter all the way.
Simply put? DIY Buttermilk made by combining milk with an acid (vinegar or lemon juice usually) is *not* the same thing as actual buttermilk. The taste and texture this substitute offers usually falls very short of the real thing.
This is especially true in recipes where buttermilk plays a starring role, such as biscuits or pancakes. I can’t remember the last time I used a DIY buttermilk substitution instead of just adding buttermilk to my shopping list.
DIY Cake Flour *or* Unbleached Cake Flour
This is really two different ingredients but I’m categorizing it into one to keep things simple.
DIY Cake Flour, in my opinion, is one of the biggest scams of all baking substitutions. It’s not even close to the real thing and since flour is literally the structural backbone of whatever you’re baking, it truly matters.
Real cake flour is harvested from a very specific type of wheat variety and processed in a very specific way.
Adding cornstarch and sifting all-purpose flour does not get you the same result:
So if you’re following a recipe that uses cake flour, I always insist you use the real thing.
But that opens another question… Do you use bleached or unbleached cake flour?
The answer is BLEACHED.
Now I know that may not sound particularly appealing in a food product (but in reality it’s not that different from the processes used to filter your bottled water).
This one factor in this one ingredient makes a world of difference in the science of your baking. If you’ve ever had a cake, particularly a delicate one like angel food cake, come out flat and wrong, it may be because you made the mistake of using unbleached cake flour.
The bleaching process further weakens the proteins in cake flour (which are already weak due to the variety of wheat used) which prohibits gluten formation. This leads to a more soft and tender texture. Bleached flours generally soak up more water and produce thicker batters to allow cakes to rise taller and more evenly.
Farmer’s Market Eggs
I love the farmer’s market. I go almost every weekend.
I love to cook breakfast with fresh eggs from the local farms.
But I never use farmer’s market eggs or local ungraded eggs in my baking. Unless I weigh them first.
Why? The size of your egg can make a huge impact in your baking.
TIP: when it comes to brown eggs vs. white eggs, there’s virtually no difference.
In most modern recipes large eggs are called for. Whatever size egg the recipe calls for, use that specific size.
The difference between small eggs and extra large eggs can be a 50% difference! So if you use farmer’s market eggs or eggs from your chicken coop without weighing them first to see what USDA size they fall under, the entire structure and chemistry of your recipe could be negatively affected.
I only ever use unsalted butter in my baking.
The primary reason? There’s no federal mandate about how much salt brands put in salted butter. Some brands can be nearly twice as salty as others, giving you no control over the final salt content in a recipe.
There are other reasons, which you can read about in my post on Salted vs. Unsalted butter here.
Iodized table salt
When I’m baking, I like to use fine sea salt. It dissolves into a batter or dough nicely (unlike kosher salt) and has a pleasant taste.
Iodized table salt tastes awful. If you don’t believe, do a side-by-side taste test… then toss your iodized table salt and use fine sea salt instead.
Sugar does a lot more than simply sweeten foods. It’s responsible for a number of chemical reactions in baking and actually helps contribute moisture to baked goods.
Replacing the sugar called for in a recipe with something like honey or maple syrup will completely alter the moisture level of the batter or dough… among other things.
Low cal sugar substitutes (like Truvia), on the other hand, often lend dry, crumbly, hard, textures and off flavors. King Arthur Flour recently posted a great article comparing sugar alternatives here.
I firmly believe dessert should be an indulgence, which is why I almost exclusively use real butter, sugar, and flour.
Obviously some people have food allergies or medical diagnoses to contend with, and for those people my website is simply not the right place because there’s so many other bloggers creating amazing content for those needs.
“Natural” Peanut Butter
When I say “natural,” I’m referring to peanut butter products that just contain roasted ground peanuts (and maybe salt). Basically any peanut butter that doesn’t contain added palm or hydrogenated oil.
These natural peanut butter products simply don’t work well in baking. The naturally occurring oil in the peanut separates from the mix and makes it difficult to use in a recipe. It also creates a more dry and crumbly texture in baking without that additional fat.
Conventional peanut butter is the only kind I use inside a recipe.
KEY TAKEAWAY? INGREDIENTS MATTER!
At the end of the day, baking truly is a science. And that knowledge can be empowering instead of intimidating. Because if you take the time and attention to go one step further than a lot of people when the bake from scratch, your results will be consistently more amazing.
This is exactly why I hate baking substitutions and have recently enacted a “no sub” policy here at Handle the Heat.
You can do whatever you want with my recipes, but I create them using specific ingredients for very specific reasons. It’s often a painstaking process to develop a new recipe and when changes are made to my recipes, I simply can’t guarantee the results will be as good.
Now I’m curious to hear from you… what ingredients do you avoid in baking??
I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)
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