When I first heard someone say you should take colder ingredients out early and let them get to room temperature before baking, I thought that were crazy! I mean, who has the extra time to pull out your ingredients ahead of time and just let them sit on your counter top? Let me tell you, everyone should try to find the time, because it is totally worth it! If you don’t have the time, there are some tricks to speed up the process as well in some cases.
Butter is commonly used to make butter based cupcakes and American buttercream! It is important to have room temperature butter when the recipe calls for it. When making a butter based cake, the recipe usually asks you to cream together butter with granulated sugar. Butter recently pulled out of the refrigerator doesn’t cream very well, and if you can get it to cream, it will take forever! The point of creaming the butter and sugar in the first place is to allow the jagged edges of the sugar crystals to pierce through the butter and aerate it. This helps make your cupcakes light and fluffy. When making a buttercream, letting your butter warm up to room temperature can prevent having pockets of pure butter that doesn’t get properly incorporated with your confectioner’s sugar. This can cause your buttercream to get lumpy. Nobody wants to take a bite of a delicious cupcake that seems to have smooth creamy frosting on top, and get a big bite of pure butter. Yuk!
There are a few ways you can go about getting room temperature butter. If you are planning ahead of time, just take the butter out and leave it on your counter for about an hour before you planned on baking your cupcakes. Another method is to put the butter in the microwave for 5 to 10 seconds at a time. Be careful with this method! If you over do it, you can quickly have a runny mess of melted butter. You simply want the butter to be softened. Another way to get your butter room temperature quickly is to warm up a tall drinking glass in the microwave, and place the cup over the butter. The heat from the glass will warm up the butter quicker than letting it sit out. I usually have my baking planned far enough ahead of time, that I can pull the butter out an hour before and let it sit on the counter top. When I am in a pinch, I will turn my oven on to start preheating, leave the door slightly cracked and put my sticks of butter on top of my oven right above the crack of the door. This allows my oven to start warming up, and my sticks of butter can start warming up to room temperature with a little help from the heat of the oven while I get my baking tools and ingredients out. Make sure to keep an eye on your butter when doing this!
When it comes to eggs, the yolk and the white mixes more evenly together than a cold egg. Well mixed or whipped eggs create air pockets in the eggs, which then expands in the oven to create a fluffier cupcake. Whipped eggs actually get more volume and get peaks much faster when at room temperature, which is why it is recommended to have room temperature eggs when making meringues.
Again, the best way to get eggs to room temperature is to pull them out of the refrigerator and put it on your counter ahead of time. If you are in a hurry, you can fill a bowl with warm water, and place the eggs inside the water. This will warm up the eggs. If you use water that is too hot, it can cook the eggs, and you definitely don’t want scrambled eggs in your cupcakes!
Milk and Cream
When I say milk, I am not necessarily only talking about milk. I am talking about milk, buttermilk, heavy cream, half and half – any cold liquids resembling a dairy product that may be called for in your recipe. This also applies to other dairy products that can be found in recipes, such as cream cheese, yogurt or sour cream. When everything else in the recipe is room temperature, it is important that all the ingredients are room temperature unless otherwise specified. This allows your ingredients to emulsify, which traps air into your batter. When you put your cupcakes in the oven, the trapped air then begins to expand when baked, and makes your cupcakes light and fluffy. If you add these ingredients while cold, it can cause your other ingredients to sometimes seize up or curdle, which then in turn creates unwanted lumps.
The best way to get these ingredients to room temperature, is to pull them out ahead of time with your butter and eggs. To speed this up, you can put liquids in a sauce pan and put it over some heat on the stove. It will not take long, but with this method you have to be careful not to get the liquid passed room temperature. Milk can get hot quickly over the stove and burn, and you want room temperature, not hot milk!
To summarize this post, room temperature ingredients combine better than cold ingredients. When you try to mix cold ingredients with warm ingredients, it can cause your warmer ingredients to seize up, which in turn makes lumps in your batter and frosting. Room temperature ingredients emulsify when properly mixed together, which aerates your batter, and expands in the oven when it is baked. This expansion will make your cupcakes lighter and fluffier.
If nothing else, I hope I have taught everyone who reads this post a little something about baking. Better yet, I hope I have convinced someone to give room temperature ingredients a try! Let me know in the comments below, can you tell the difference?