Which is Best When Baking - Cold or Room Temperature Ingredients?

May 11, 2022

Glass bottle of milk
The temperature of the ingredients you use when baking plays a role in the taste, texture, and overall success of the baked goods you prepare. Learn how to know when to use room temperature or straight-from-the-fridge cold ingredients and why it makes a difference.


COOK + BAKE   |   Published May 11, 2022



Brown and white eggs on a black towel




Baking is a science that relies on precision and the success of a series of chemical reactions occurring among the ingredients.


If you want the best results, it is important to pay attention to details like what oven rack position to use and the temperature of your ingredients.


Although we all may get in a rush and lack the patience necessary to bring butter and eggs to room temperature, it is so important to the taste and texture of your baked goods. Cold ingredients will not create the air bubbles necessary for fluffy cakes and thick cookies.


And yet, pie crust will never be flaky with room temperature butter.


Recipes normally tell you that butter needs to be softened and occasionally may mention room temperature eggs, but what about ingredients like milk or sour cream? How do you know when straight from the fridge is okay?


This post is going to explain why it is so important to have ingredients at the right temperature and how to confidently know what temp is right for the baked goods you’re preparing








THE IMPORTANCE OF USING THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE INGREDIENTS WHEN BAKING






Why Is It Important to Have Ingredients at the Right Temperature?


The temperature of ingredients plays an important role in how well your recipe blends together, which impacts the texture of your finished baked good.

  • When room temperature eggs, butter, and dairy products are blended in a recipe, they create an emulsion where air is trapped into the smooth mixture. That air then expands with the heat of the oven producing a light, fluffy baked good with uniform texture.


  • Cold ingredients in doughs and batters do not blend well, prohibit the desired emulsion, and lead to clumpy frosting, hole-filled cakes, and dense cookies. However, when making crust and baked goods like biscuits and puffy pastry, cold butter is what you want for a flaky texture.


  • Adding cold liquids or eggs to the room temperature butter and sugar you’ve creamed can shock, curdle, or harden the fat back into solid pieces. If you bake with this curdled mixture, you’ll have a bunch of little holes and tunnels in your cake where the butter chunks were and your batter will tend to rise poorly creating a dense, dome-shaped cake.


  • Cookie dough relies on the air pockets created from blending room temperature butter and sugar. This is how you are able to remove thick cookies from the oven rather than ones that have spread out thin and flat.


  • Some baked goods like muffins and quick breads are more forgiving than others. They won’t be ruined by using cold ingredients, but the texture will still be better if you first allow everything to come to room temperature.






Stack of oatmeal raisin cookies


READ NEXT: Grandma's Recipe for Old-Fashioned Raisin Oatmeal Cookies





Ingredients Where Temperature Matters


The ingredients that need to be room temperature when baking are those that are typically kept in the refrigerator like butter, cream cheese, eggs, milk, buttermilk, heavy cream, sour cream, and yogurt.


Dry ingredients like sugar and flour are already at room temperature, although you may find that chilling your flour, water, and tools is helpful when making pie crust.


Rule of Thumb: If a recipe calls for room temperature butter, then the milk, eggs, and other ingredients should be room temperature as well.




What Does Room Temperature Mean?


When talking about baking ingredients, room temperature is between 65° to 70 F° (or 18° to 21°C). At this temperature butter is soft, but not yet looking greasy or starting to melt.


If you leave butter sit out for too long and it starts to melt, stick it back into the refrigerator for a few minutes.




Adding sticks of butter to a clear glass bowl



When to use Room Temperature Ingredients


The majority of baking uses room temperature ingredients. This is how baked goods with a cohesive dough or batter will turn out best.

CREAMING BUTTER + SUGAR


When creaming room temperature butter with sugar, the sugar crystals dig out air pockets in the butter which is what you need for tender, fluffy baked goods.

But if your butter is too cold, the crystals can’t effectively create these necessary air bubbles in the hard butter. Your cakes and cooks will come out flat and without the texture you’re looking for.

And if the butter is too hot, it will melt and the bubbles will disappear.


HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN BUTTER IS ROOM TEMPERATURE?

Press your finger into the butter, and if it makes an indent easily without your finger sliding away, the butter is soft enough. It should still look waxy and not shiny or greasy.





MAKING FROSTING


It is important to use soft butter or cream cheese when mixing frosting for cakes and cupcakes. You can’t have a smooth frosting with chunks that won’t mix in because they are still too hard to cream.


INCORPORATING EGGS


When you beat or whisk a room temperature egg into a dough or batter, the egg’s protein traps the air bubbles leading to a lighter textured baked good. Cold eggs have a hard time coming together in the batter.


WHIPPING EGGS


Eggs whites can be whipped up to eight times their volume, but only when the eggs are at room temperature. They are looser when warm so it is easier and faster to incorporate air into them.


DAIRY INGREDIENTS


Most baking recipes with room temperature butter also include other dairy products like milk, cream cheese, or sour cream. These ingredients must also be room temperature to keep the batter smooth and the emulsification successful.


If a recipe calls for melted butter, it should be brought back to room temperature and not added to the ingredients while it is hot.




Chocolate chip cookie dough in bowl



How to Bring Ingredients to Room Temperature


The easiest way to bring baking ingredients to room temperature is to plan ahead. Leave the butter, eggs, milk, heavy cream, buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt you’ll be needing out on your counter for 30 to 60 minutes before starting your recipe. Cream cheese is harder to soften and may need a couple of hours.


If you forgot or are in a rush, here are a few ways to speed up the process:

Butter and cream cheese: Cut butter or cream cheese into small pieces and spread them out. The smaller pieces will come to room temperature in 10 to 15 minutes.

Eggs: Place uncracked eggs into a bowl and cover them with warm (not hot) water. Let them sit for 5 to 10 minutes while you get the other ingredients ready.

Milk and cream: Microwave liquids for about 15 to 20 seconds to take the chill off.


If your recipe calls for room temperature eggs that are separated (putting the eggs and yolks in at different times), be sure to divide the yolks and eggs while cold and then allow them to warm to room temperature.




When to Use Cold Ingredients


When baking, you want to use cold ingredients for any baked goods that have a flaky texture when done.

This includes pie and tart crusts, biscuits, scones, puff pastries, croissants, and danishes.

You also need to have cold cream when making homemade whipped cream so that it thickens.

It is important in these baked good to use cold butter because the fat needs to remain solid before going into the oven where the small pieces of butter mixed throughout the dough can melt and create pockets of flakiness.



Making frosting with a mixer in a glass bowl.



Giving your ingredients time to come to room temperature when baking makes more of a difference that you probably ever realized. While your cookies and cakes may turn out perfectly fine using them straight from the fridge, isn’t it worth the 15 extra minutes that it takes to make them great?




CONTINUE READING THESE POSTS IF YOU'RE INTERESTED IN BAKING 101 SERIES: A collection of posts helping you understand the basics to better baking.

Choosing the Right Oven Rack Location

Should You Use Salted or Unsalted Butter?








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