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What To Know About Ingredients

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Here are some helpful tips for key ingredients.

Flour:  Primary ingredient in breads, cakes, cookies, and quick breads.

  • All-Purpose Flour: Selected wheats blended for all kinds of baking.  Available both bleached and unbleached.
  • Bread Flour: Made from wheat higher in gluten-forming protein, which gives more structure and volume to bread, than all-purpose flour.  It’s the best choice for making yeast breads and bread-machine breads.  It isn’t recommended for cakes, cookies, pastries or quick breads.
  • Cake Flour: Milled from soft wheat, it makes tender, fine-textured cakes.
  • Quick-Mixing Flour: Enriched, all-purpose flour that’s granular and processed to blend easily with liquid to make gravies and sauces.
  • Rye Flour: Milled from rye grain and low in gluten-forming protein, it is usually combined with wheat flour to increase gluten-forming capabilities.
  • Self-Rising Flour: Made from a blend of hard and soft wheats that includes baking powder and salt.  For best results, don’t substitute self-rising flour for other kinds, unless directed in a recipe because the leavening and salt proportions will be out of balance.
  • Whole Wheat Flour: Ground from the entire wheat kernel, whole wheat flour gives breads and other bakes goods a nutty flavor and dense texture.
  • White whole wheat flour is made with the whole grain and has the same nutritional benefits as whole wheat flour.  Whole wheat flour is made with red wheat, which is darker in color and has a stronger, nuttier flavor.  White whole wheat flour is made from an albino variety of wheat, which is lighter in color and has a sweeter, milder flavor.
  • Stone-ground whole wheat flour has a coarser texture than roller-milled whole wheat flour.
  • Graham flour is a slightly different grind of whole wheat flour but can be used interchangeably with whole wheat flour.  Store whole wheat flour in the freezer or refrigerator to keep the fat in the wheat germ from becoming rancid.  Always bring flour to room temperature before using.

Sweeteners: In addition to adding sweetness to baked goods, sweeteners also help brown and add tenderness.  Moist recipes call for granulated sugar, brown sugar or both, but other types of sweeteners like honey and maple syrup are called for in specific recipes.

  • Artificial Sweeteners: Also called sugar substitutes, are used instead of sucrose (table sugar) to sweeten foods and beverages.  Many are not recommended for baking so check the label carefully.
  • Honey: Natural sweetener produced by bees.  Honey is safe for persons one year of age and older.  Store honey at room temperature.
  • Maple Syrup: Golden brown to amber-colored sweetener made by boiling down the sap of sugar maple trees.  Refrigerate after opening.  Maple-flavored syrup usually is corn syrup combined with a little pure maple syrup.
  • Molasses:  Dark thick syrup from the sugar-refining process.  Molasses is available in light (mild flavor) and dark (full flavor) varieties.
  • Sugar:  Sweetener produced from sugar beets or can sugar.  Available in several forms.
  • Brown sugar is made by mixing white sugar with molasses.  Available in light and dark varieties; dark brown sugar has more molasses added and a stronger flavor.  If brown sugar hardens, store it in a closed container with a slice of apple of a slice of fresh bread for one to two days to soften.
  • Granulated sugar is white, granular sugar that should be used when recipes calls for just “sugar.”  It’s available in boxes and bags, as well as in cubes.
  • Powdered (confectioners’) sugar is granulated sugar that has been processed to a fine powder.

Milk:  Generally refers to cow’s milk in recipes.

  • Buttermilk: Thick, smooth liquid made by culturing skim or part-skim milk with lactic acid bacteria.
  • Evaporated Milk:  Whole milk with more than half of the water removed before the mixture is homogenized.  Evaporated milk is a little thick that whole milk and has a slightly “cooked” taste.  Do not use it as a substitute for sweetened condensed milk in recipes.
  • Fat-Free (Skim) Milk: Contains virtually no fat.
  • One Percent Low-Fat Milk: Has 99 percent of milk fat removed.
  • Two Percent Reduced-Fat Milk:  Has 98 percent of milk fat removed.
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk: Made when about half of the water is removed from whole milk and sweetened is added.  Do not substitute it in recipes calling for evaporated milk.
  • Whole or Regular Milk: Has at least 3.5 percent milk fat.

Organic:  Foods are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides of chemical fertilizers.  The USDA organic standards also prohibit the use of antibiotics, artificial (or synthetic) flavors, hormones, preservatives, synthetic colors, as well as ingredients that are irradiated or genetically engineered.

Spices: Come from various parts of plants and trees: the bark, buds, fruits, roots, seeds and stems.  Available grated, ground, powdered, in stick form or whole.

Vinegar: Made from fermented liquids, such as wine, beer or cider, that have been converted by a bacterial activity to a weak solution of acetic acid.

  • Apple Cider Vinegar: From fermented apple cider and is milder than white vinegar. 
  • Balsamic Vinegar: From Trebbiano grape juice and gets its dark color and pungent sweet flavor from aging in wooden barrels over a period of years.
  • Distilled White Vinegar: Made from grain-alcohol.
  • Herb Vinegars: Made by steeping herbs, such as basil, tarragon, and dill, in vinegar.
  • Rice Vinegar: Made from fermented rice.
  • Wine Vinegar: Made from red or white wine and is pleasantly pungent.

Yeast:  Leavening used in all yeast doughs.  The combination of warmth, food (suagr) and liquid causes yeast to release carbon dioxide bubbles that cause dough to rise.  Yeast is very sensitive; too much heat will kill it, and cold will prevent it from growing.  Always use yeast before its expiration date.

  • Bread Machine Yeast: A finely granulated strain of yeast that works exceptionally well in bread machines.
  • Compressed Fresh (Cake) Yeast: A small square of fresh, moist yeast found in the dairy refrigerator.  Highly perishable, store in the refrigerator and use within two weeks or by the expiration date.  One cake of yeast is equal to one envelope of dry yeast.  This yeast isn’t as popular as dry yeast so is more difficult to find.
  • Quick Active Dry Yeast: Dehydrated yeast that allows dough to rise in less time than regular yeast.
  • Regular Active Dry Yeast: Dehydrated yeast that is used in most yeast dough recipes.  It is available in moisture-proof packets or jars.  Each packet contains 2¼ teaspoons yeast.

Heavy Whipping Cream: The richest cream and contains 36 to 40 percent butterfat.  It doubles in volume when whipped.

Light Whipping Cream: The most common form contains 30 to 36 percent butterfat.  It doubles in volume when whipped.

Cream of Tartar:  Acids left in wine barrels after wine is made are processed into cream of tartar.  Add cream of tartar to egg whites before beating for more stability and volume.  Also added as an acid ingredient to most baking powder.

Eggs:  Used as ingredient in cakes and breads as a leavener, and adds structure to other baked goods.  An egg with a brown or white shell has the same flavor and nutritional value.

Eggs, Pasteurized:  Also called fat-free egg product, is liquid eggs, found in cartons in the refrigeration section.  The white and yolks are mixed together and then pasteurized at a heat level that kills any bacteria without cooking the eggs.  Pasteurized eggs are used as an ingredient in recipes when the mixture will not be cooked or baked.

Fats and Oils:  Add richness and flavor to food, aid in browning, help bind ingredients together, tenderize baked goods and are used for frying.

  • Butter: Saturated fat made from cream that must be at least 80 percent butterfat by USDA standards.  It is high in flavor and has a melt-in-your-mouth texture.  Butter is sold in lightly salted and unsalted (also known as sweet butter) sticks, whipped in tubs and as butter-flavored granules.
  • Butter-Margarine Blends: Available in sticks and tubs, blends usually are a combination of 60 percent margarine and 40 percent butter and are interchangeable with butter or margarine.
  • Lard: A saturated fat made from rendered and refined pork fat, lard is not as much now as in the past.  Lard makes very tender, flaky biscuits and pastry.
  • Margarine: An unsaturated butter substitute made with at least 80 percent fat by weight and flavoring from dairy products.  Most margarine uses vegetable oils made from soybeans, cottonseed and corn.  It’s sold in sticks and soft spreads in tubs.  Soft spread margarine in tubs is not recommended for baking because it has more water and less fat.
  • Oils: Liquid fats used for baking and cooking.
    • Baking Spray with Flour: For baking, combines unflavored cooking oil with real flour and is used for spraying baking pans.
    • Cooking Spray: Available in regular (unflavored), butter and olive oil varieties.  It can be used to spray baking pans to prevent food from sticking.
    • Olive Oil: Olive oil is made from pressed olives and classified in several ways: extra virgin, virgin, olive oil and light olive oil.
    • Vegetable Oil: Blend of oils from various vegetables, such as corn, cottonseed, peanut, safflower, canola and soybean.
    • Reduced-Calorie (or Light) Butter or Margarine: Water and air have been added to these products, and they contain at least 20 percent less fat than regular butter or margarine.  We do not recommend them for baking due to the higher water content.
    • Shortening: Vegetable oils that are hydrogenated so they’ll be solid at room temperature.  Use butter-flavored and regular shortening interchangeably.  Sold in sticks and cans.
    • Vegetable Oil Spreads: Margarine products with less than 80 percent fat (vegetable oil) by weight usually are labeled as vegetable oil spreads.  They’re sold in sticks for all-purpose use, including some baking if they contain more than 65 percent fat, so check the label.  Also sold in tubs and in squeeze bottles but these should not be used for baking.
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