Butter can be used in many different forms in a recipe. Cold butter is usually cut into flour for pastry or biscuits. Softened butter is usually creamed with sugar for cookies and cakes. Melted butter typically used for cakes and quick-mixing recipes like muffins and quick breads. Recipes call for butter in different ways. When you’re dealing with solid butter, measuring is easy, but I often get asked ”how are you supposed to measure melted butter in a recipe?” Some recipes call for “butter, melted” and others call for “melted butter,” and it can be a bit confusing at times.
The short answer is that you measure the butter before melting it, then you melt it and add it to your recipe. This is definitely the most common way of measuring melted butter and it is most likely the way that the person writing your recipe intended for you to do it. A very small amount of weight might be lost when you melt the butter (especially if you melt it at a pretty high temperature) because a little water will evaporate as the butter melts, but this should not have a measurable impact on the finished recipe. The only times when you want to melt the butter first and then measure it out are when your recipe calls for butter that is primarily used in a liquid form, such as browned butter, clarified butter or ghee.
When I was starting to cook back in high school, I had a handful of cookbooks and a few recipe cards from my mom and my grandparents where they had jotted down some family favorites. The cookbooks were reliable, but the family recipes often left out crucial things, such as the cooking time or temperature. They were still great resources, but they left a lot to be desired when I compare my experience of using them to all the resources that I have at my fingertips today. Even though I may not have a “smart range” that can predict exactly how long to bake my cakes and a refrigerator that knows how long to defrost anything I might want to cook for dinner (yet), my kitchen is becoming very “smart” when I compare it to my kitchen of just a few years ago. And that isn’t just because I’ve done a little bit of remodeling between then and now.
Quick cooking oats are an ingredient that I like to use a lot in baking, and they frequently show up in my recipes for oatmeal cookies and cakes. Quick cooking oats are rolled oats that have been coarsely chopped into smaller pieces to allow them to cook more quickly than regular oatmeal. Usually, they’re about 1/4 or 1/3 the size of a regular rolled oatmeal flake. They are larger than instant oatmeal, which tends to have a very powdery consistency.
Quick cooking oats, which are sometimes labeled “1-minute oats” on packaging, aren’t as prominent as regular rolled oats are when used in a recipe. Cookies that use them, for instance, will typically have a more uniform consistency and appearance. They also may be slightly less chewy (although this depends a lot on the baking time) than cookies made with the thicker whole rolled oats. Cakes made with quick cooking oats will typically have a finer, tighter crumb to them. In all cases, recipes that use quick cooking oats will have just as much flavor as those made with regular rolled oats, so it all comes down to a matter of personal preference in the end.
You can turn regular rolled oats into the quick cooking variety by pulsing them a few times in the food process to break them up.
Edible seeds – such as chia and flax seeds – are becoming more and more common, with the potential health benefits of adding them to your diet touted loudly by their packaging. But although they are small, the little seeds are something of a mystery to many bakers and chefs who often aren’t sure how they’re supposed to use them! Fortunately, these edible seeds are actually very easy to work with and you don’t have to take any unusual measures to enjoy their benefits if you want to start incorporating them into your baking.
Flax and chia seeds are two seeds that are very popular right now. They have very little flavor, especially in small amounts, and can be incorporated into anything from smoothies to breads simply by stirring them in. Flax seeds are difficult to digest, however, so you will get a bigger nutritional boost by grinding them up (or just buying flaxseed meal) before using them. Chia seeds are easier to digest and can be used whole.
Poppy seeds are another small seed that is commonly found in the kitchen. Although they don’t get the press that flax and chia seeds do, they can still be a good source of protein and fiber. They have very little flavor in small amounts and can be simply stirred in to any recipe that you might want to add them to, just like flax and chia seeds. Since they are a bit larger than those two seeds, they give baked goods a very attractive speckled look when incorporated.
Sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds are more familiar to most of us as ingredients, mostly because they have much more distinctive flavors than smaller seeds do. You can actually treat these seeds a lot like nuts. They can be toasted to deepen their flavor, which is much stronger than the flavor of smaller seeds. They can be stirred in to cookie dough and other baked goods whole. They’re a great addition to granola or other snack mixes, too. And both sesame and sunflower seeds can be pureed into tasty versions of peanut butter (called tahini in the case of sesame seeds).
Meringue-topped pies and angel food cakes need a lot of egg whites. It can be tempting to reach for a carton of prepackaged egg whites in the grocery store when you know you are going to need a lot, rather than separating a dozen or more whole eggs yourself. These processed products might do in a pinch when you’re looking for a way to cut calories from your breakfast scramble, but do they work in other egg white applications? Cook’s Country picked up for widely available varieties of processed egg whites to put them to the test in a recent issue (Feb/March 2013) to see how they held up to the real thing.
Their test included three brands of liquid egg whites and one brand of powdered egg whites. They were tested in omelettes, baked goods and meringue cookies, then compared to versions made with freshly separated egg whites. The test kitchen found that all of the products were acceptable in omelettes, but none worked as well in egg white-heavy baking applications. This is largely because of the pasteurization process that the liquid egg whites have gone through, which toughens the egg proteins so that they don’t stretch as easily when whipped, so they need a lot more time to get the same volume as fresh egg whites.
The top-ranking product in the test was Eggology 100% Egg Whites, which turned out a great omlette and an acceptable angel food cake. The meringues made with them were still acceptable, but overly crunchy when compared to fresh egg white versions.
The rest of the tested products ended up being “recommended with reservations.” Organic Valley Pasteurized Egg Whites tasted good in omelettes, but took an astounding 22 minutes to beat to soft peaks (fresh egg whites took just 6 minutes). Deb El 100% Dried Egg Whites were grainy in omelettes and meringue, but whipped up quickly and were easy to work with.
Egg Beaters All Natural 100% Egg Whites finished at the very bottom of the pack when it came to baking. Although they made a very good omelette, the twice-pasteurized egg whites did not whip properly or rise in the oven when baked.