Category Archives: Mixing Methods

The Whipping Method

I think of the whipping method as “European” and I don’t think that’s an inaccurate assessment, since you only tend to come across it when making spongecakes like génoise, joconde, ladyfingers or specialty cakes like rehrücken. I can’t think of any common uses for the whipping method here in the States, except perhaps for flourless chocolate cake. Essentially, the whipping method is how European bakers create very light cake layers in the absence of chemical leaveners.

You need a lot of eggs — plus plenty of sugar, which helps create a thick syrup that keeps the egg foam from collapsing. The neat thing about the whipping method is that it gives lie to the myth that egg foams can only be created with whites. Twaddle. Indeed in most instances where the whipping method is employed you’re whipping either whole eggs or egg yolks plus sugar. Egg whites plus sugar are a rarity in the whipping method universe because, well, then you’d have a meringue, would you not?

But I digress. In general sponges made via the whipping method begin with the egg-sugar foam. Any flavorings (like chocolate) are added next, then the dry ingredients are carefully folded in so as to preserve the bubbles (I said you can make a foam with egg yolks…I didn’t say that foam was stable). Sometimes a meringue is folded in as well to add more volume.

The upside of the whipping method is that it creates sponges that are very light, sweet and eggy-tasting. The down side is that those sponges can be a little dry tasting, at least by New World standards. All this begs the question: why use the whipping method at all when perfectly good chemical leaveners are available? The answer is because egg sponges have a cleaner taste and a lighter texture. The high proportion of egg can also create very plastic sheets of sponge that are perfect for rolling into things like yule logs. And anyway, dry cake is what cake syrup is for!

Filed under:  Pastry, The Whipping Method | 10 Comments

The Roll-In Method

The “roll-in” method is the description for what you do when you laminate dough for croissants, Danishes and puff pastry. Effectively you’re “rolling” butter into a flour-and-water dough. Personally I think of it as “folding” it in, but there you go. Who am I to argue with decades of established pastry lingo?

There’s no question that laminating seems more like a technique than a “mixing” method, though when you consider that one of the chief aims of mixing is to incorporate fat it all starts to make a little more sense.

So what does the roll-in method accomplish? By itself it’s an elegant way to maximize the process of “mechanical” leavening, i.e. the raising of a dough via steam power. Lest we forget, a drop of water transformed into steam occupies something on the order of 1400 times more space. Which makes confined steam a heck of a leavening engine.

Done well, the roll-in method creates over a thousand ultra-thin, alternating sheets of fat (usually butter or margarine) and dough. When heated the fat melts, freeing the dough sheets to push apart from one another through the action of steam.

The question often asked is: where does the water come from? The butter? Yes, though plenty of water/steam is released from the dough itself. In fact the dough supplies all the water that’s needed for leavening. A “wet” butter with a high proportion of water can actually harm the process, dampening the dough sheets and making it harder for them to separate from one another and rise. This is why experienced laminators favor fats like Euro-style butter, “dry” butter or margarine which have little-to-no water, and which create higher rising, crispier products.

How high can laminated doughs rise? Under perfect conditions, up to 7 times their original thickness. Granted that’s far less than the theoretical 1400 times, but then nobody’s perfect. Even under the best circumstances the vast majority of the steam we bakers try to capture escapes.

Filed under:  Pastry, The Roll-In Method | 2 Comments

The “Blitz” or “One Step” Method

This technically isn’t even a method. Rather it’s the opposite of a method. But I made reference to it in the gâteau battu series I did (which seemed to go on for months). The “blitz” method is simply shorthand for putting everything in the mixer bowl at once and turning on the machine. See what I mean about it being a “non-method”? There’s no methodology to it at all!

However you see this sort of thing quite a bit in the bread kitchen, notably with enriched breads like challah and (sometimes) brioche or a “cake” like gâteau battu. Because time is of the essence in bread bakeries (lots and lots of mixing to do each evening, donchaknow), extra ingredients like fats, sugar and flavorings are occasionally just dumped into the bowl with all the other dough components. Mix, transfer to rising container. Next!

Filed under:  Pastry, The "Blitz" Method | 6 Comments

The One Bowl (a.k.a. “Quick” a.k.a. “Blending”) Method

If the creaming method is the “go-to” method for most layer cakes, why employ something as odd and suspicious as the one bowl method? The short answer is: texture. When you do the one bowl method you mix the dry ingredients together in the bowl of a mixer, then add the softened fat plus some of the liquid. All that is mixed together until the dry ingredients are well coated with fat. Then the remainder of the liquid goes in and…done! It’s a little like the biscuit method, but with more thorough blending and more agitation.

Like the biscuit method, the one bowl method eschews any actual bubble-making. Whereas the creaming method relies on the tag-team effort of both mechanical and chemical leavening, the one-bowl method is an all-chemical affair. And indeed, most one-bowl method cakes call for a good deal more baking powder than standard cake recipes.

So then what does the one bowl method accomplish? As I mentioned, it coats the dry ingredients — notably the flour — with fat. This has the effect of severely limiting the amount of activated gluten in the batter (the gluten molecules can’t get hold of one another with a coating of fat in the way). Indeed you usually beat the heck out of one-bowl method batters in order to GET some activated gluten. A cake needs at least a little structure, after all. Otherwise it wouldn’t rise at all.

Those of you who already understand the role gluten plays in baked good can probably already see what the upshot of this method is. It creates a cake that’s melt-in-the-mouth, almost fall-apart tender. Severely limited gluten begets a cake you barely have to chew at all. It’s moist, it’s silky, it’s rich on the tongue.

So if the one bowl method gives you a result that’s that wonderful, why doesn’t everybody use it for cake? Well because one bowl cakes are a little dense for some people. Also, one bowl layers, being as tender as they are, are terrible for stacking. Oh you can make a layer cake out of them, but even with wooden supports, one-bowl method cake layers start to collapse under their own weight after three stories or so.

So the next time you’re at a wedding, look closely at the cake. Is it tall and sculpted? Then the layers are probably creaming-method: sweet and light and not as rich. If the cake is wide and low, the layers were probably made via the one-bowl method.

Filed under:  The One Bowl Method | 22 Comments

The Egg Foam Method

The next stop on our Big Five Mixing Methods tour will be the Egg Foam Method. Of all the various mixing methods out there, the Egg Foam Method has the virtue of being the most direct, the simplest. For indeed, instead of spending time and effort to create the conditions most likely to produce gas bubbles (as with every other method), with the Egg Foam Method you simply whip them up yourself. The challenge then of course: to keep those bubbles from bursting.

The Egg Foam Method begins, unsurprisingly, with eggs. Usually just the whites, though it is possible to make egg foams using the yolks too (they don’t fluff up as well, but more on the reasons for that later). The eggs are introduced to some sort of whipping device — a stand mixer, hand mixer, or whisk. Air begins to be incorporated and before long, voilà, ze foam. The next step is usually to introduce some form of acid stabilizer (cream of tartar, say) before the foam is folded into the other ingredients in the recipe.

What do those air bubbles do in the, er…whatever-it-is? Just as with all other mixing methods, they leaven (or “push up”) the batter. Once again it’s not expanding air that accomplishes the task. Air only expands by 20% or so in the heat of an oven. Rather it’s the water in the batter that does it. As I mentioned last week, water expands to some 1400 times its original volume when it’s converted to steam. The steam blows up the air bubbles and bingo, you’ve got leavening.

Interestingly it’s the hand mixer, as opposed to one of the stand variety, that’s the best tool for making egg foam, since it allows you to chase down every last little pocket of unwhipped white (my big ol’ Viking mixer is terrible at egg whites). Of course you can do it by hand, but there are very few people out there with the forearm strength to whip up a mass of egg whites into peaks before some of the foam starts to collapse. I once knew a brawny Swede who could do it. That sweet old lady could have pimp-slapped a longshoreman unconscious. The rest of us mortals need machines.

Filed under:  Baking Basics, Mixing Methods, The Egg Foam Method | Leave a comment

The Straight Dough Method

The last stop on our tour of the Big Five Mixing Methods is what is known as the Straight Dough Method. It is the method by which nearly all bread in the world is made. And if you’ve ever tried making your own bread before, you’ll be familiar with it. It goes like this: a) mix flour, yeast and salt together, b) add water, c) knead until smooth, d) let dough rise until doubled in volume, e) punch dough down, f) shape your bread, g) let shaped loaves rise for a second time until doubled in volume, h) bake your bread. There, easy. The whole thing can be done in about three or four hours.

Only there’s a problem, and that is that the unadulterated Straight Dough Method produces pretty lousy tasting bread. Or maybe that’s going too far. I should probably say bland bread. Uninteresting bread, devoid of either much crust, much texture or much flavor. Which is why most serious bread bakers never employ it, except as a general framework for more ambitious bread-baking projects. For stand-alone loaves of bread, you can get far more interesting effects by employing starters (what might be called the Starter Method) and sponges (the Sponge Method), which allow the baker to culture large quantities of flavor-producing bacteria before the dough is baked.

All of which is not to say that the Straight Dough method is without its uses. As I said, the vast majority of the world’s bread production (i.e. all that which is made outside of the world of hard-core bread fanatics) is made this way. Flat breads are a notable example: from Middle Eastern breads like pita and lavash to Italian pizza and focaccia. And then there are day-to-day items like rolls and buns which, even though they are made via the plain-jane Straight Dough Method, are still markedly better when made at home and from scratch. But more on that later. Let’s talk about how the Straight Dough Method actually works…

Filed under:  Baking Basics, Mixing Methods, The Straight Dough Method | Leave a comment

The Creaming Method

You may never have heard of the Muffin Method or the Biscuit Method, but if you’ve made a batch of chocolate chip cookies with the recipe on the side of the Tollhouse Morsel bag, you’ve heard of the Creaming Method. Typically, the Creaming Method involves beating a quantity of butter with a near equivalent quantity of crystalline sugar until the mixture forms a light “creamy” froth. It’s incredibly difficult to do (well) by hand, though my old neighbor Lilly Lundstrom, the Swedish Baking Queen, had no trouble managing it. But then she tipped the scales at 250 and had arms like a longshoreman. The rest of us mortals need a mixer.

So, what does the creaming method accomplish? In a nutshell, a fine texture with a regular crumb (i.e. lots and lots of little holes, all about the same size), like a cake. And in fact the creaming method is the go-to method for mixing cake batters, which bake up into light and tasty — though not actually tender — sweets. But Joe, all cakes are tender, aren’t they? Actually no. For while a good cake layer is yielding to the tooth (a result of that fine crumb), in reality it’s rather firm. Which is intentional, since cake layers need to be strong enough to stack and support the weight of lots of heavy icing and decorations. If cake layers were as tender as, say, a well-mixed muffin, they’d fall apart under their own weight. Professional cake makers place a high premium on firm layers. If you ever watch the gonzo baking show Ace of Cakes on the Food Network, you can see that the cake layers they use are incredibly strong, almost like styrofoam (but, you know, that you can eat).

To create the “cream” that the Creaming Method is named for, you start by putting a quantity of soft butter into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle. Not too soft, mind you, you want it just plaible, definitely not so soft that it’s greasy-looking. You set the mixer going, and once the butter is broken up, you add the sugar in a steady stream. Once all the sugar is in, you turn the mixer up and beat the mixture silly. You’re done when it’s significantly increased in volume, pale yellow looking, and you can no longer see any sugar crystals (though you should be able to feel them when you rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers).

What’s happened here? For starters you’ve combined the two ingredients, but more than that, you’ve driven the sugar crystals into the butter, creating lots and lots of little, regular air pockets. These pockets will go on to form the basis of the cake’s structure in much the same way bubbles in an egg foam form the structure of a soufflé…only in a cake there’s quite a lot more building material (i.e. flour and sugar) involved. But like a soufflé, each little pocket will fill with up with expanding gas and steam in the oven, providing lift. But more on that later, since I’ve got work to do.

Filed under:  Baking Basics, Mixing Methods, The Creaming Method | 7 Comments

The Biscuit Method

The biscuit method is probably the simplest of all the Big Five mixing techniques. On first glance, it resembles Muffin Method in that the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients are mixed together separately before being combined. The key difference is that the fat, which is almost always a solid fat, is rubbed into the dry goods before the main mixing event begins.

What are the advantages to that? First, the “cutting in” of fat serves the function of coating and lubricating flour granules, which greatly reduces the ability of the gluten molecules they contain to bond to one another. Thus, the Biscuit Method makes baked goods tender. The other big thing the Biscuit Method does is make things flaky.

How’s that? Well remember the rubbing thing. Most of the time when you dive into a recipe that employs the Biscuit Method, you’ll come across instructions directing you to stop rubbing when the fat blobs are about the size of peas (or at the very least when the mixture starts to look “like corn meal”). The reason you do this is because flakiness is a direct result of odd-sized blobs of fat, which, when the dough is rolled out into a sheet, form semisolid layers. When the dough is baked these layers melt away, leaving long slender gaps in the structure. These gaps are what are responsible for the texture we know as “flaky”.

Like the Muffin Method, the Biscuit Method is characterized by minimal mixing. Once the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients finally come together, the less you work the dough the better. This is especially important with pie crust, where any gluten formation at all can lead to significant shrinkage and toughness. Which makes me think I should make a pie this week too. Whaddya say?

Filed under:  Baking Basics, Mixing Methods, The Biscuit Method | 2 Comments

The Muffin Method

No it’s not some odd, pastry-based form of birth control. It’s one of the simpler of the Big Five mixing methods, something every baker should know. Simply put, the Muffin Method is a technique whereby two mixes are created: a mix of wet ingredients (eggs, soft or liquid fat, milk and sugar) and a mix of dry ingredients (flour, leavening and flavorings like cocoa powder). Once they are prepared — and the oven is preheated — the two are combined and stirred together very briefly before the finished batter is panned and baked.

So what are the advantages of the Muffin Method for making things like muffins? Chiefly tenderness, since so little blending leads very little activated gluten, as well as larger pockets of fat which tend to make a crumb, well…crumble.

Filed under:  Baking Basics, Mixing Methods, The Muffin Method | Leave a comment