Room Temperature Ingredients Equal Recipe Success
Taking the time to bring ingredients to room temperature (about 70ºF) can feel annoying and often times even I forget. You might be tempted to just skip this step but trust me, recipe success depends on room temperature ingredients. These are my tips for quickly bringing ingredients to room temperature quickly.
Do I really need room temperature ingredients?
If you've made any of my recipes (or most recipes in general) you may have read that you need room temperature ingredients. Usually, things like eggs, butter, and milk but can also include ingredients like sour cream, egg whites or mayonnaise.
The reason behind all this warming of ingredients? Creating an Emulsion. When you combine two or more ingredients that don't normally mix together (like oil and water) and getting them to stay mixed, you've created an emulsion.
Mayonnaise is a great example of a simple emulsion. If you just mixed egg yolks and oil together with a fork, the oil would separate from the eggs. But if the oil is added slowly while continuously whisking, the oil and egg yolk becomes a new mixture and it will not separate. This is the emulsion.
What happens when you don't have room temperature ingredients?
When ingredients are different temperatures, they do not like to mix. Bringing ingredients to the same temperature helps them to combine together. The reason recipes often say "room temperature" is because most ingredients in a recipe are room temperature already unless they have been refrigerated.
If you don't bring ingredients to room temperature, you end up with cold chunks of butter in your frosting, uneven baking, flat cakes, and curdled buttercream.
But if you warm the fruit up a little and then mix it with the buttercream, suddenly it all comes together.
When all the ingredients in your recipe are the same temperature they come out better. Cake batters are smoother and ingredients and air are distributed evenly. Cakes and cupcakes rise better and have a better texture.
Sometimes in my Cake Newbs baking group, someone will post a photo of a cake with an oily, wet layer at the bottom and ask what went wrong. 99% of the time the reason is that one of their ingredients were not room temperature. Usually the eggs. This causes the batter to curdle and split during baking. The oil settles at the bottom, the cake has a coarse texture and doesn't rise very well.
How do you bring ingredients to room temperature?
Usually, you would bring anything cold to room temperature a few hours before you need to use them. Depending on how hot or cold your room is, this could take quite a while. I don't know about you but I very rarely think about bringing ingredients to room temperature until it's too late.
Don't worry, you can still warm up your ingredients really quickly using some simple methods.
How to bring butter to room temperature
Butter is a very common (and delicious) ingredient in most baked goods. Depending on what you're making, it's usually at room temperature. The reason? Well, it's really hard to get butter to combine with anything when it's cold and hard as a rock.
Butter is one of the most common oil-based ingredients that we use in recipes to create all kinds of emulsions. Here are some of the most common.
- Creaming butter with sugar to trap air and develop a cake structure
- Creaming butter with cream cheese and powdered sugar to create cream cheese frosting
- Whipping butter with egg whites and powdered sugar to make easy buttercream
If you're thinking ahead, you can take your butter out of the fridge and leave it on the countertop overnight to allow it to come to room temperature.
You can also cut your cold butter up into cubes and leave it at room temperature and it will soften in about 30 minutes on its own. In a hurry? Fill a glass bowl with hot water for 5 minutes, then drain the water and dry the bowl. Place the bowl over the butter and it will be room temperature in a few minutes.
Short on time and lazy? (That's me). I put my butter in the microwave while it's still wrapped in paper. I buy my butter in the big 1 pound blocks so I start with 30 seconds then rotate the butter and reduce my power to 50% and continue heating in 10 second increments until it's softened.
For smaller cubes of butter, you'd use less time. Butter is properly softened when you can impress your finger into the surface and it leaves an indent but the overall cube holds its shape.
The risk with microwaving is that you can easily over-heat it and melt your butter. Melted butter has the same problems as cold butter and does not combine well with other ingredients so be careful.
How to bring cream cheese to room temperature
Have you ever read a recipe that said to use room temperature cream cheese and you thought nah... I don't really need to. So you just put the cold cream cheese in the bowl with the butter and thought if you just mixed it long enough it would all work out only to discover lumps of cream cheese that would NEVER mix in?
Yea.. me either *cough*
So yea if you want to bring your cream cheese to room temperature just cut it into cubes and put it on a warm plate or on the oven while it's preheating. It only takes about 15 minutes to warm up.
How to bring eggs to room temperature
Cold eggs can ruin a buttercream or cake batter really quickly. When you add cold eggs into softened butter, they can cause the butter to harden in chunks and ruin your emulsion. Cold eggs also do not whip up very well so if you're trying to make a meringue or trap a lot of air, bring your eggs to room temperature first.
For eggs in the shell, I place them into a bowl of warm water for 5-10 minutes. Usually for as long as it takes me to scale out my other ingredients for the recipe.
For egg whites, I measure them out in a measuring cup and then place the measuring cup into a bowl of warm water.
How to bring milk to room temperature
This one is super simple. I just microwave it after I measure it out in my glass measuring cup. Usually, 30 seconds is enough for about 8 ounces of milk. If you have a super-powerful microwave go for less time or reduce the power.
Other ingredients like sour cream, mayonnaise, and fruit curd
Usually, you don't need a lot of these ingredients in recipes so you can get away with taking them out about an hour before you need them and they will warm up pretty quickly.
If you're short on time, measure out what you need and place into a warmed bowl (warm with hot water for 5 minutes then dry).
What about hot ingredients like ganache, freshly made curd, and custard?
Sometimes room temperature means cooling the ingredients instead of warming. For instance, in my chocolate cake recipe, you have to add boiling water to cocoa powder and then let it cool. This can take an annoyingly long time to cool. Same thing with chocolate ganache if you want to use it as a frosting.
The best way to cool down hot mixtures it to pour them into a large, cold pan. I like to use large cake pans. This spreads the mixture out so it has more surface area exposed to the air and allows the heat to disperse quickly.
You can also put the mixture in the fridge to speed things up but be careful or you might have the opposite problem on your hands.