If you’ve ever read a recipe and seen “preferably at room temperature” written next to the eggs or the milk, you may have wondered why, and if it’s really that important. Allowing ingredients to reach room temperature before baking is a common practice that is constantly being debated by bakers and chefs. Here, we’ll explore the reason behind using room-temperature ingredients (vs straight from the fridge), the benefits of doing so, and tips for bringing ingredients to room temperature quickly and safely.
The Importance and Benefits of Room Temperature Ingredients
Using room temperature ingredients in baking is thought to be important because it allows the ingredients to interact with one another more effectively during the mixing and baking process. Temperature can also impact the texture, volume, and overall structure of finished baked goods, whether they’re too warm or too cold.
Tiffany Hopkins at Epicurious says that when following a baking recipe, “you’re mixing liquids and solids in a way that’s kind of architectural, capturing air to transform a mixture of disparate ingredients into a towering cake or a sheet of chewy-crispy cookies. Everything has to work together just so as to achieve the perfect outcome.” In order for them to work together properly, they have to be at their appropriate temperatures.
Take cake batter for example. When the eggs, butter, and milk are at room temperature, the ingredients blend together more easily, resulting in a smoother batter. If your cake batter has ever looked curdled, it’s most likely because the eggs or milk were too cold when you mixed them in with the butter. Even if the butter was creamed in the beginning, adding a cold ingredient can cause the butter to coagulate.
Additionally, room-temperature ingredients contribute to better incorporation of air and leavening agents, which can improve the rise, texture, and overall quality of baked goods. This is because the air bubbles created by the leavening agents (and the creaming process of sugar, butter, and eggs) are more stable when the ingredients are at room temperature. As a result, the baked goods will be lighter and airier (Sally’s Baking Addiction).
Ingredients that Benefit from Room Temperature
Specific ingredients that are commonly recommended to be at room temperature before baking include butter, eggs, and most other dairy products. Here is why:
- Butter at room temperature is easier to cream (with both sugar and eggs), which results in a lighter and fluffier texture.
- Eggs at room temperature whip up more easily and form a more stable foam, which helps to create a light and airy cake or batter.
- Dairy products at room temperature incorporate more easily into batter and dough, which results in a more tender crumb.
Exceptions to the Rule
It’s important to note that not all ingredients need to be at room temperature before baking. For example, cold water can be used in some recipes to help create a more tender crumb, and is important for certain recipes like pie dough. Certain other ingredients may not require being at room temperature, such as some leavening agents and spices. It’s important to understand when it’s acceptable to deviate from the room temperature rule and how to determine which ingredients need to be at room temperature based on the specific recipe.
Tips and Tricks for Bringing Ingredients to Room Temperature
There are lots of easy methods for bringing ingredients to room temperature quickly and safely. Here are a few:
- Place the ingredient in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.
- Place the ingredient on a baking sheet in a warm oven (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) for a few minutes (avoid doing this with butter as it’ll melt quickly).
- Microwave the ingredient on low power for a few seconds (if softening butter, check every 10 seconds).
- Soften butter or warm eggs without compromising their quality too much:
- For butter, cut it into small pieces and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes.
- For eggs, place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.
- Plan ahead and place ingredients out at room temperature the morning of, or a few hours before baking.
Fixing Common Mistakes
Like everything else you read on the internet, take this with a grain of salt. Just because it’s recommended that certain ingredients be at room temperature before baking, doesn’t mean you’re going to fail if your eggs or milk are too cold or too hot. Although you will have a very difficult time creaming cold butter (or melted, for that matter), your cookies aren’t going to be drastically different if you use room temperature vs straight-from-the-fridge eggs. However, if you run into specific problems, here are a few easy fixes:
- If the batter looks curdled, leave it out at room temperature for a few minutes to allow the butter to soften.
- If your egg whites are taking longer than expected to reach stiff peaks, let them sit on the counter for a few minutes before you continue whipping.
- If you accidentally left the butter in the microwave for a few seconds too long, place it in the freezer to harden up for 2 to 3 minutes.
By understanding the reason behind using room-temperature ingredients, the benefits of doing so, and tips for easily bringing them to room temperature, you’ll be able to level up your baking in no time!