Baking can be intimidating. Visions of an inedible pie crust or fallen cake have many bakers-to-be running for the local bakery. But with a little practice and a bit of patience, you can create a perfect dough that will bake into a delectable treat. So before you grab those store-bought goodies, try your hand at a few traditional mixing techniques.
Two-Bowl Mixing Method
Also known as the muffin method, this technique involves mixing all dry ingredients in one bowl and all wet ingredients in another. You can do this ahead of time -- even the night before -- if you wish. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon or spatula as you go. Don't use an electric mixer or overbeat; the batter should be lumpy. Unlike with bread dough, which requires extensive kneading to develop gluten proteins, the muffin method requires leaving the gluten undeveloped for a soft, tender dough with a light crust. This is best for quick breads and muffins.
The Creaming Method
With the creaming method, you first beat or cream the fats, such as butter or shortening, with sugars, spices and salt. Once the mixture is light and airy, you add the rest of the ingredients. This method produces a moist, cake-like dough.
Pastry Mixing Method
To achieve that delicate flaky texture of perfect pastry, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and then cut chilled butter or shortening into the dry ingredients with a knife or a pastry blender. Keep cutting until the dough is coarse and crumbly. Then, lightly mix or toss in any liquid ingredients, such as water and eggs, which should be chilled ahead of time. Stir the dough just until all liquids are absorbed. As with the two-bowl method, avoid excessive stirring to prevent over-development of the gluten.
Biscuit Mixing Method
The biscuit method is similar to the pastry method; you first chill the shortening and any wet ingredients, and then mix the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl. Cut in the chilled shortening until the mixture is coarse, and then add the liquid ingredients, mixing carefully until the dough is moist. Unlike pastry, however, biscuit dough requires a bit of kneading. On a flat surface, knead the dough by flattening it and then folding it in half. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and then repeat the kneading process 10 to 20 times, or until the dough is soft and pliable -- but not sticky. Be careful not to over-knead, as this can make your biscuits tough.
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