Important recipe terms you should know
Sometimes recipes can be confusing, especially if you are using a new technique. Below is a list of terms that you might find in recipes that are similar but slightly different – with a short description of what they actually mean.
• Batter vs Dough – batter is a runny mixture (usually containing flour and a liquid such as milk, water or eggs) that could be poured, whereas dough is a firmer mixture (also made of flour and liquid) that could be spooned or handled such as bread dough.
• Beat vs cream – these terms are often used interchangeably in terms of mixing butter and sugar. If you were to do it by hand you would use a wooden spoon for both and if you were to do it in an electric mixer you would use the paddle attachment. The difference is that ‘beat’ can also be used to describe runnier mixtures as well eg. to beat cream to stiff peaks.
• Blend vs process – blending requires a blender attachment or a stick blender (like a smoothie) and process refers to a food processor, which gives the product a fine chop (like a finely chopped onion for example).
• Boil vs simmer – to boil means that the stove is at its maximum temperature and the liquid is at a full rolling boil; there are large bubbles breaking the surface. Simmering is a gentler form of boiling, the stove is at a lower temperature and only small bubbles are breaking the surface now and then.
• Folding-in vs mixing-in – folding-in is a very specific term that applies to mixing in whipped/aerated items (such as whipped cream or stiff egg whites), it is done by first mixing in one third of the aerated mixture (used to lighten the mixture and once that is evenly distributed the remaining two thirds are added). This is then GENTLY mixed with a metal spoon (that has a thinner leading edge than a wooden spoon, so as not to knock all the air out) using a figure of eight motion. Folding-in should be done very gently so to keep as much of the incorporated air in the mixture as possible. Try to refrain from banging your spoon on the side of the bowl if possible as this may also knock out some of that precious air. Mixing-in is pretty much just what it says it is, you can use any old spoon and do it any old way.
• Grease and flour vs line – grease the tin by rubbing butter all over the inside of the tin and then shake a little flour all over around in the tin to coat it, this will prevent the contents from sticking while it bakes. Other recipes will ask you to ‘line’ your tin, this can be done with baking paper but cutting out a “bottom” for the tin (either round or square in the case of a cake) and then cut out a long strip to cover the sides of the tin, make a small fold at the bottom of the strip about 1cm wide all along the bottom of the strip and cut small notches in it to allow it to bend easily, then tuck the folded section underneath the “bottom” to prevent the batter from leaking underneath the “bottom”.
In both cases you could use a cooking spray to prevent sticking, but if a recipes specifies lining then definitely do so – it usually means that it is a particularly sticky mixture, or the type of tin makes it difficult to unmould it. Either of these may be referred to as “preparing your tin”.
• Knead vs knocking back – when you make bread, the first step after adding the wet ingredients to the flour is to knead it. This develops the gluten and creates the chewy texture. There are many ways of kneading but most involve a fair bit of elbow grease and the heel of your hand. This step can also be done with the dough hook attachment on your mixer. Once the dough has been kneaded it is set aside to rise. After the initial rising step the dough is lightly kneaded again and shaped into the desired shape, this step is called ‘knocking back’. It is less intensive than kneading.
• Rising and proving – The first time a bread dough is left to rise it is called rising and the dough should at least double in volume. Then the dough is knocked back and shaped, then left to rise again. This second rising is referred to as proving.
• Rubbing-in vs cutting-in – rubbing-in and cutting-in produce more or less the same result, by distributing butter evenly through flour – either by rubbing in with your fingers or cutting in with two knives or a dough blender (if you don’t know what that is, here is a helpful picture below, you probably saw one in your gran’s kitchen drawers). Cutting-in reduces the risk of melting the butter with hot hands, resulting in a lighter dough.
• Stiff peaks, firm peaks and soft peaks – whipped cream and egg white reach these various stages when whipped or whisked as the air is incorporated. Soft peaks are the first stage, when the whisk is lifted, the mixture will keep its shape for a few moments then sink back into itself. Firm peaks are when the mixture is able to hold its shape but the tips of the peaks fall over and stiff peak is when the mixture maintains its shape and the bowl can be held upside down without any movement of the contents (usually over your own or someone else’s head).
Beware of over mixing, because it is just a few turns of the whisk from stiff peak to over-mixed. Cream will turn to butter and egg white will return to a runny form that cannot be whipped if over mixed.
• Whip vs whisk – whipping can be done with a whisk or with an electric mixer, whereas whisking implies that you should use the whisk (duh!), or at least the whisk attachment on your mixer. Whip implies that the mixture will have a lot of air incorporated into it and that it will be thick and fluffy whereas whisking could just apply to giving your salad dressing a quick mix.
• Make a well vs creaming methods – Many recipes will ask you to make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, this means to hollow out an area in the dry mixture and pour the wet ingredients into that well, from there start mixing the wet stuff into the dry stuff. This method prevents lumps from forming (usually) because the dry ingredients is gradually mixed into the wet ingredients from the sides of the well as you stir. Adding dry ingredients to wet ingredients will leave you with a lumpy mess usually. The only case where dry ingredients are added to wet ingredients is where the creaming method is used, first the butter and sugar are creamed together, then eggs are added and finally flour is folded in. As is the case with a Victoria sponge.
• Springform vs conventional cake tin – Springform tins have a loose bottom and the sides of the tin are tightened using a springy latch on the side. Recipes like cheesecake require a Springform tin so that they can be unmoulded without turning them upside down. If the recipe does not specify a Sprinform tin, most conventional cake tins can be used.
• Ribbon stage vs foamy stage – when beating eggs or egg yolk with sugar or castor sugar, the first stage will be the foamy stage. The sugar is mixed in and the eggs have a foamy appearance. If you continue beating the mixture will reach ribbon stage. This means that if you dollop a bit of mix over its surface it will keep its shape (in a ribbon) for a few seconds before sinking back to flat. This can either be achieved by using an electric mixer or if doing it by hand place the bowl of egg and sugar over a pot of simmering water to warm it slightly, this cooks the egg slightly and results in the mixture thickening sooner.
• Coating the back of a spoon vs pouring cream consistency – some sauces are thickened to the point of ‘pouring cream’ and some are thickened to the next stage, this is referred to as ‘coating the back of a spoon’. What that means is that if a spoon is dipped into the mixture and you run your finger across the back of the spoon, the cleared path of your finger will remain.
• Pouring vs dropping consistency – the consistency of a batter depends on the amount of liquid in the mixture and can affect your outcome. So if a recipe specifies a consistency, it may mean that you have to adjust the consistency by adding water or other liquids. Pouring consistency can be poured, even if it is quite thick whereas dropping consistency means that a blob will drop off the spoon (not runny but not as thick as a dough).
• Scald vs infuse – to scald milk or cream means to bring it to the boil. This step is often combined with infusing, by adding in a flavour (like vanilla pod) and bringing the mixture up to the boil. This helps the flavour to literally infuse into the liquid. Infusing implies that the liquid is hot.
We suggest you also check out our guide to smart baking substitutes.