Mixing Methods-Foundations in Baking
There are three major mixing methods used in baking which consist of the muffin method, biscuit method, and the creaming method. Often, they are categorized by the baked item you are making and the degree of mixing used to ensure the best baked good possible.
Tools needed for these methods range from just a simple mixing bowl and spatula to a food processor, stand mixer, and even the best tool God gave us…. our hands! These methods share a lot of common ground as well as, having their unique differences.
Let’s explore a little.
Uses: Simple cakes and quick breads, like muffins
For this method, dry ingredients are sifted together which ensures that all the ingredients are evenly combined and dispersed. Additionally, liquid ingredients are also mixed together separately from the dry, then added to the dry ingredients and mixed together just till combined.
This is typically done in a bowl with a spatula or wooden spoon. The mixture can still be a bit lumpy giving careful attention not to over mix as it can develop more gluten which results in a tougher texture. However, you can use a stand mixer with a paddle being careful not to over mix and mix on low-speed.
The fat in this method is always LIQUID and ROOM TEMPERATURE and usually some type of oil, commonly is vegetable oil.
Uses: Biscuits and pie dough
This method takes dry ingredients sifted together and all the liquid ingredients separately combined, just like the muffin method. However, the difference in this method comes with the fat.
The fat is “cut” into the dry ingredients to form either a large or small crumble like texture.
Food processor, hand-held pastry cutter, or your hands (which is great therapy I might add).
When mixing the fat or butter into the dough ( often referred to as cutting) two good rules are good to know here. Walnut size and pea size. This refers to what size the butter pieces will look like in the dough. These two sizes will are based on what type of pie recipe you are making.
Walnut and Pea Size Pieces of Butter
Firstly, obtaining large walnut size pieces of fat in the mixed dough will give you a flaky consistency which is ideal for most pie crust. I will cut the cold butter into larger slices like the picture above when mixed into the dough. This is great if you are blind baking crust that will be filled and crusts filled with pastry cream or cool fillings.
The second is known as the pea-like pieces of fat in the finished dough. Typically, this will give you what is known as a mealy texture. It is very similar to the walnut size pieces but less water is usually used to obtain this and it resembles cornmeal.
This method is ideal for keeping crust from getting soggy when baking and usually used when making a pie that uses fresh fruit or any custard pies.
Just like the muffin method, all ingredients are mixed just till combined. This is especially important to produce the best texture and tenderness. It is very easy to over mix pie dough and it took me a long time to get it just right with lots of practice!
Food processor or hands.
I like to make mine in the food processor but stop it just when the dough starts to come together and finish mixing it by hand and forming it into ball then pressed into a disc.
For biscuits, its super important to mix all ingredients just till it comes together. It may look lumpy but it provides the best fluffy biscuit without developing further gluten.
The fat in this method is always COLD and SOLID.
Uses: Cakes and cookies
Often times this method is referred to the “Sugar Batter Method” because it starts off creaming the fat and sugar together, hence where it gets its name. Unlike the muffin and biscuit method, this method is mixed well with a mixer for 2-5 minutes till light and fluffy.
After creaming the fat and sugar, eggs are then added with any flavoring. The eggs produce a tender and cake like texture. Dry ingredients are added alternately with any liquid like milk then the mixed for a few minutes till light and creamy. Mixing incorporates air also so it gives it a fluffy and creamy texture.
Tools: Stand mixer, hand-held mixer
The fat is always SOFTENED in this method, usually a good rule of thumb is room temperature.
Few Notes on Creaming
Cakes: Dry ingredients are mixed in alternatively with the wet in thirds, always starting with and ending with the dry.
Cookies: All ingredients are mixed together at one time till thoroughly incorporated.
As a side note, there is one more additional mixing method known as the straight method. Basically, everything is put into a bowl and mixed at the same time. Almost like a dump cake you read about. This could be used for cookies and yeast breads.
Check out my post on cake baking 101.