Short on time or baking at the spur of the moment? These 5 things are perfect choices!
For years, whenever I wanted to bake, I had to plan for it. I had to make sure I had my recipe and all the ingredients I would need, and remember to let the eggs come to room temperature and the butter soften.
When I started ratio baking last year, I realized that, as long as I kept my basic baking ingredients stocked, I really did have everything I needed to bake. Not having to use a recipe has been freeing, but, when I do want to try something a little different I do need to plan. Like I don’t normally keep lemons in stock, so making a lemon cake would need lemon zest, so I would need to remember to pick up a lemon. But, for something basic and quick, keeping the basic ingredients on hand makes baking on a whim easier, and gets the creative juices going as I peer through my kitchen to see what I can do.
My adventures have had ups and downs, but, as I’ve grown more confident, I started wondering if it was possible for me to walk into the kitchen at any point during the day and just decide to bake. Well, as long as I have my basic ingredients, yes! And I have done this, more than once.
Here are 5 things you can bake on a whim.
You don’t need butter and eggs to make a simple, plain bread. If you’re going for brioche, then, yes, you do need butter and eggs. But if you just want a nice crusty white bread with a firm crust and soft interior, all you need is yeast, flour, water, and salt. That’s it. There’s nothing that needs to be warmed up or softened. Perhaps you may argue that the yeast needs to be proofed, but, as long as you’re sure, or reasonably sure (as I am) that your yeast is fresh, you don’t need to proof. You don’t even need warm water. I use ice cold water and haven’t had any problems.
The ratio for bread is 5:3 flour to water plus a teaspoon of yeast per pound of flour and the salt should be 2% of the weight of the flour. All you have to do is mix the flour, yeast, and salt; add the water; and knead about 5-7 minutes. Then, of course, it needs to rise and, at that point, you might even forget you’re making bread. But, when you discover it a couple of hours later, it’s ready to be punched down, shaped, perhaps given a second rising, and then popped into an oven heated to about 450 degrees for 30-45 minutes or 350-375 degrees for a softer, more pliant crust.
2. Pie crust
I used to be afraid of making pie. It wasn’t something my mom made a lot when I was a kid, so I always thought pie was a little scary. On the contrary. It’s actually pretty easy! It doesn’t require any eggs and the water and butter should be as cold as humanly possible. So it’s the perfect thing to make at a moment’s notice!
The pie crust ratio is 3:2:1 flour to fat to liquid. I’ve read the water should be as cold as possible and the butter should be equally as cold as possible, which means, if you have flour, fat, and something liquid and it’s all cold, you’re all set. Just cut the butter into the flour and then add the ice cold liquid before refrigerating for at least an hour.
Check out my recipe for apple pie, which also details how to make pie crust.
Oh, the ratio will call for eggs. It’s 2:2:1:1, flour to liquid to fat to eggs. But I prefer to use applesauce. I’ve found it makes the muffins moister and a lot more tender, probably because of the moisture. See, egg whites have a drying effect, so I find the muffins and quickbreads I’ve made using them to be a bit drier. I definitely prefer using the applesauce, especially since it also means I don’t have to plan.
But what about the butter? Don’t worry! And don’t do what I did the first time and try to cut it into the dry ingredients. It should be melted and mixed in with the wet ingredients. See? There’s no need to let it soften as well as no need to take out or even use eggs if you use applesauce.
Ensure the fat and applesauce weigh the same (do NOT go by the 1/4 cup of applesauce per egg you would use as it will throw off the ratio a little too much) and that the flour and liquid (purees are considered liquid, by the way) weigh the same as well as twice as much as the fat. Melt the fat and mix it with the applesauce and liquid. To the flour add some baking powder and salt and/or sugar depending on what you’re going for. Then simply mix them together until lumpy, but mixed.
Also check out my guide to ratio baking muffins.
This is a pure dairy ratio involving dairy and eggs, though I definitely do not recommend sweetened condensed milk. The ratio is 2:1 dairy to eggs. Since both are heated, neither needs to be room temperature. Yes, that might mean it takes a little longer to cook, but, when I use 3 eggs, it just takes between 15 and 20 minutes for me to get the consistency I want. I can walk into the kitchen, pull out some heavy cream and eggs, and have custard cooling off in the fridge less than thirty minutes later, depending on whether I have a young child trying to help.
All you have to do is weigh out the dairy and eggs and dump them into a double boiler, or create one by putting a mixing bowl on top of a pot of water (ensuring the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water, even when it’s boiling – that will cook your eggs!), and mix until it’s thick enough to your tastes. A good idea is to strain it afterwards just in case there are some bits of cooked egg.
No eggs and only cold butter here! Short on time and wanting something bready? I mean, it’s a match made in heaven! I recently had about 45 minutes to make biscuits and get fries in the oven when my husband decided we needed to make a Popeye’s style lunch, which meant I had to make biscuits, from start to finish, in about 20 minutes. No, they were not pretty, but they sure tasted good!
The ratio is 3:2:1 flour to liquid to fat. Biscuits do not require eggs and the butter must be cold. The colder the better. Actually, I’ve read that it’s a good idea to let the biscuits sit in the fridge to let the butter firm back up so it’s lovely melting in the oven for those perfect layers and bit of puff. I barely work in the butter, as it should be quickly worked in to prevent too much melting, which means there are lots of chunks of butter when I smash out the dough and cut it out. Though doing so does yield more ideal layers and puffing than trying to get it really cut in well.
What To Do If You Do Want to Bake With Room Temperature Butter and Eggs And Haven’t Planned
Of course, if you do want to bake something on a whim and it does require room temperature eggs and softened butter, try putting the eggs in warm water for about 5-10 minutes and a warm glass over the butter for a few minutes. Personally, I haven’t done either as I usually plan ahead or jump to one of these 5 when I want to bake on a whim, but I’ve heard they work.