5 Key Baking Terms – Becoming a Better Cook

There are so many different key baking terms and phrases which are scattered through every cookbook on the planet. Understanding key baking terms and what they mean for your recipes can only add to your success in the kitchen.

Cooking terms can be really daunting when you don’t know what they truly mean, and can even turn you away from a recipe.

In this article, I’m going to take you through a few of the weirdest and most daunting baking terms I’ve found while baking and together we’ll learn what they really mean. Let’s get to it!

For a more comprehensive list of cooking terms visit our article The Ultimate Glossary of Cooking Terms – 136 Terms.

Proofing

This one really confused me the first time I saw it. I’d spent a good, long while knowing proofing as the period of time in which your yeasted dough rises in a warm, dry spot. However, it also has another meaning! Sneaky, right?

Baking Terms Proofing and Laminating are baking terms you need to know to make these beautiful croissants pictured on a baking tray lined with brown paper.

If a recipe calls for the yeast to be proofed before it is mixed into the dough, then what you’re essentially doing is checking that the yeast is active.

Typically, you’ll stir some of your active dry yeast into warm water or milk with sugar or honey present. If bubbles form, then that means your yeast is active and ready to go! The reason it’s called proofing is that the bubbles are ‘proof’ that your yeast is active.

If your yeast is relatively fresh and new, this step is really optional. If you’re unsure whether your yeast will be active (for example, if it’s been in your pantry for years), then it’s worth proofing a small portion of it.

If you get bubbles after a few minutes, then your yeast is ready to go! If not, then you might need to take a trip to the supermarket.

This term will commonly be seen in yeasted dough recipes, as yeast is the only ingredient that needs a proof in this sense.

Bloom

Frustratingly, this one isn’t about flowers.

If you’re a bit of a coffee fanatic, then you might already have some experience with using this term in recipes. If not, then rest assured: it’s a lot less complex and fancy than it sounds.

At the most basic level, blooming is the process of saturating a powder with some form of liquid, in order to enhance the final flavor.

It’s commonly used as a cooking term, for example when discussing a brief heating of spices prior to adding other ingredients.

A good example of the term being used in a baking recipe is in blooming cocoa powder when making brownies or a chocolate cake.

By ensuring that all of the cocoa powder is completely wet and no dry lumps remain, you’re allowing the active ingredients in the powder to fully dissolve, and their flavor will come to the forefront.

The process of fully wetting the powder and allowing it to sit is called ‘blooming’.

Baking Terms Coffee Blooming in a mason jar on a blue and white polka dot towel and a measuring spoon filled with ground coffee.

Homogenous

This is a very fancy and scientific word that shows baking’s links to chemistry.

You might see this term in a step that’s telling you to thoroughly mix a bowl of ingredients until homogenous. All this baking term really means is ‘fully combined and smooth’.

Therefore, if a step in a recipe instructs you to ensure to mix until homogenous, you need to thoroughly cream the butter and sugar, for instance, before making sure to mix all the other ingredients to a point where no dry lumps remain.

A good way to ensure this happens in your recipes is to do a gentle mixing of your dry ingredients before adding your wet ingredients.

This helps liquids to be absorbed more evenly and thereby means getting to a homogenous stage is much easier.

I first saw this baking term in a recipe for brownies, and since then I always make sure to beat and beat and beat my batter until I’m happy that it’s completely homogenous.

Bain-Marie

This term is a particularly odd one, and the name doesn’t give you any clues about what the method actually means.

For the vast majority of terms, you can make an educated guess as to what they mean, but this one can be a little bit of a puzzle.

A Bain-Marie is the process of heating something in a heatproof bowl over a pot of boiling water. Bain-Marie is a French cooking term which those of us in the United States would know as using a double boiler. If you are still unsure of what a Bain-Marie or Double Boiler is we have linked to one for you. Click on the highlighted text above to see an example.

The idea is that the steam produced from the pot of water will give the ingredients a more even heating, as well as being more gentle than direct exposure to a heat source.

This is typically done with chocolate, as it can be a very temperamental ingredient. Allowing chocolate to get too hot, too cool, or in any way exposed to water can greatly affect it during the rest of your recipe.

The reason for this is that the crystaline structures that give chocolate it’s ‘skeleton’ can be greatly affected by any number of factors. Therefore, gentle heating is the best way to maintain the shape and sugar structure of your chocolate throughout the course of a recipe.

Another example of a recipe that might call for using a Bain-Marie or a double boiler is when you are making a custard or a custard style iu and need to temper eggs.

Laminate

At first glance, lamination may seem like a technique more suited to stationary than to baking, but it has its place in both worlds.

Laminating is the process of repeatedly folding and rolling out dough in order to achieve multiple layers.

Typically, this is done with a substance made up of layers of dough and butter. The objective is to create a pastry that, when uncooked, has a huge number of extremely thin layers.

Then, when cooked, the butter will melt and allow the pastry either side of it to crisp and puff. The end product, therefore, will be very light and airy. 

This method is most notably seen in the production of croissant, where the pastry is folded, rolled, and chilled many times in order to achieve a huge number of very light layers.

When done correctly, the outer layers of a laminated dough will have larger air spaces between them than the inner layers, which gives the end product a feeling of being light on the outside and pleasantly dense in the center

This is a great video on How to Make Croissants Completely By Hand that does a really nice job of demonstrating the baking term of laminating.

Key Baking Terms – Conclusion

These are just a handful of some of the stranger baking terms that are out there in the world.

Goodness knows, we’ve all had that moment, wooden spoon in hand as it drips batter onto our shoes, where we stand, staring at a cookbook and thinking ‘what on earth could that word possibly mean?’.

I hope that I’ve been able to help you out with this article and allow you to get to the next step in your recipe and your baking journey.

Did we miss a baking term that has you confused? Please leave a comment and let us know. We are always looking to update our content to provide the most value to you, our reader!

Happy baking!

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