When recipe calls for room temperature ingredients like butter and eggs, don’t make the mistake of grabbing them cold from the fridge and get to mixing it will break your recipe! Learn why are room temperature ingredients important in baking.
As we reflect on the articles shared these past few months, it is wild to think that we shared our very first article in October 2021. Having come such a long way, we have come to realise that you dear readers are much interested in learning about the science, background, and the “will it work- or will it not” in baking. You also enjoy learning the difference between two ingredients and going into a deep dive on what those ingredients can provide. As such, not only have you learned to tell apart ingredients that look (or feel) similar, but you also learned how to troubleshoot something, substitute ingredients, and even learn not to fall for common mistakes in baking. You also learned methods such as browning butter and why you should finish sauces with butter, etc. It’s all fascinating how much we have been able to share, and today, we take into consideration the very fundamentals of baking—that is the use of room temperature ingredients and why are room temperature ingredients important.
While we always like you to be in charge of your own creations and that you should do what makes you happy, there are still some rules to be followed especially when it comes to baking. Baking is art and science. Art in where you express your creativity in presenting the outcome and science is where you take into consideration of using the right ingredients, timing, and other methods to ensure the results that you desire. In an architectural manner, you are mixing solids and liquids, capturing air to transform a mixture of different ingredients into a layered cake or a tray of crispy cookies. You have to be coordinated with the all the processes for a fruitful outcome.
You could be the most impatient person in the world, but you must have patience when you are baking. Think about it, you cannot speed up chilling cookie dough or a cheesecake that is firming. Skipping a dough proofing step or even rushing to make French eclairs can result in disasters. Which goes without saying, you cannot grab something straight out of the fridge and expect it to work when the recipe calls for room temperature ingredients. Ingredients such as eggs, butter, milk, cream cheese, or other dairy ingredients, will be called to be at room temperature by the recipes most of the time, and plenty of people make the blunder of ignoring this specific step. For your sake, we hope you do not make this mistake.
The Importance of Room Temperature Ingredients
There is specific need as to why room temperature is highlighted in the ingredient list. The bottom rule is: If the recipe calls for room temperature ingredients, use room temperature ingredients. There is no other way to go about this or else you will end up with a recipe that does not look or taste the way it intended to.
Having your eggs, butter, and other dairy ingredients at room temperature is important because these ingredients form an emulsion which traps air. An emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally immiscible (incapable of mixing) owing to liquid-liquid phase separation. During the baking process, that trapped air will expand to produce fluffy baked goods, such as a delicious focaccia or fluffy Swiss roll. Since the room temperature ingredients are warmer, they can bond together effortlessly to produce a smooth and evenly textured batter, which results in a uniformly textured baked good. In contrary, cold ingredients will not incorporate together as easily, or even at all. This would result you in a clumpy frosting, dense cookies, and flat breads and muffins. The list of recipe failures goes on.
The Use for Room Temperature Butter
A handful of recipes will call for room temperature butter creamed with sugar. Creaming is the process of beating the butter and sugar together until you get them to be light, white, and creamy. Take a close look at your sugar and think about it, isn’t it just a billion little jagged-edged crystals of sweetness? When sugar is beaten with butter, their edges would create air pockets in the butter. What happens when your butter is too cold and firm, these sugar crystals will not be able to make it through the solid chunk of butter. That way you will not have any air pockets. No air pockets mean no trapped air in the oven, and no trapped air means no light and airy baked goods. It is a cycle that affects one or another.
However, when you use room temperature butter, the sugar can aerate the butter when you are creaming them together. Additionally, using baking powder and/or baking soda will give a hand to expand the little air pockets. Have your mixture placed in the oven and wait for a tender and fluffy good to pop out from the oven.
The same could be said for using room temperature butter in buttercream frostings. It is not likely for you to make a beautiful creamy and fluffy frosting with cold butter at all. And it most certainly is not possible for you to make cream cheese frosting with cold cream cheese too—it gets clumpy and hard to work with. You would not want to have butter or cream cheese chunks in your frosting as they do not look or taste inviting.
To see if your butter is at room temperature, use your finger to (gently) press into it. It should make an indent easily without you using any force. While the butter is still moderately firm, it is not rock-hard solid and cold. Room temperature butter is lightly softened without being greasy or melty in the slightest. Here is how you can soften butter and bring it to room temperature: How to soften butter in 10 minutes.
The Use for Room Temperature Eggs
Do you ever notice how it is much easier to whip, beat, or whisk eggs when they are room temperature? They come together so much easier and can also be whipped to a higher volume (try it). Just as it is important to use room temperature butter, the same goes for room temperature eggs. It all falls back to the air pockets. When an egg is beaten or whisked, its protein traps the air pockets. During the baking process, these air pockets will expand due to the oven heat. You can guess it already; the expansion of the air pockets helps to create lighter-textured baked goods. It is only possible to have air trapping at its peak when you use room temperature eggs.
But the air trapping capability is not the only reason room temperature eggs are used for baking. Simply adding cold eggs to any room temperature fat can harden and curdle that fat (and not in the good way possible). This ruins the creamed mixture; you would not want to sabotage your recipe with this ruined creamed mixture. Here is how you can bring the eggs to room temperature: In a bowl of warm (not boiling hot!) water, let the eggs settle for 10 to 15 minutes. You can do this as you prepare your other ingredients, just remember to keep track of time.
Use of Room Temperature Yogurt, Cream Cheese, Milk, Etc.
Recipes for cakes, cupcakes, or bread recipes that start with room temperature butter typically calls for other dairy products too. The emulsion process starts with the butter, sugar, and eggs, and it also continues with the other ingredients throughout. In maintaining a smooth batter and seamless emulsification, the other recipe ingredients too, must be in room temperature. One good thing to note is that if the recipe calls for room temperature or melted butter, the rest of the ingredients should be room temperature as well unless otherwise specified.
Patience is Key
We have said it once, and we will say it again: It always pays off to be patient in baking. And it is important to pay attention to the temperature of your ingredients for it. Remind yourself not to be that person who ignores the recipe instructions, brings trouble upon yourself, and blames these troubles on the recipe. Go the extra mile with baking, giving it the precise measurement of ingredients and right temperature for it. It will be worth it—whether it is a birthday cake for a friend or some tarts that you will bring for a gathering—they will all be the centre of attention