Adding dry ingredients.
January 3, 2007 4:11 AM   Subscribe

Why do recipes that call for certain items in small quantities -- salt, baking powder, etc. -- instruct you to mix the item in with the other dry ingredients first, rather than to add them right to the wet? It would seem that adding 1 tsp. of salt to the eggs/milk would mean that it would disperse and disolve better than if you added it to the flour/sugar and then added that whole mix to the wet.
posted by Framer to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Dry ingredients mix better. Dry added to wet is sticky and doesn't disperse, especially for baked goods when you're dealing with the gluten in flours, which is what makes it sticky.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:32 AM on January 3, 2007

Dry ingredients are usually sifted first, allowing for lumps and clumps to be broken up. Things were a lot lumpier before.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 4:37 AM on January 3, 2007

Another reason for waiting until the end to mix the wet and dry goods is that many leavening agents (baking powder/soda) begin to act as soon as they get wet, and all of their leavening power will be gone by the time the goods hit the oven/griddle/whatever if they are mixed too early.
posted by TedW at 4:44 AM on January 3, 2007

Short answer: good cooks have always done it this way because it works better.

Long answer:

The dry ingredients in most recipes of this kind comprise the bulk of what goes into it. You want the minority ingredients evenly dispersed throughout the total mixture. You can mix dry ingredients all day without causing undesirable changes in their physical properties.

Once flour is thoroughly wet through, though, excessive beating makes for a tough dough (cough!) and leavening agents shouldn't get wet until they're mixed with what they're supposed to leaven. So the best thing to do is mix all the dry ingredients to disperse the minority ingredients evenly amongst the flour, mix the wet ingredients to uniformity, and then fold the whole lot gently together.

If you've got a really wet recipe (like pancake mix) where you get to beat the crap out of it for a good long while once it's all mixed together, it doesn't really make any difference what order you add stuff to the mix.
posted by flabdablet at 5:18 AM on January 3, 2007

For the same reason you don't add ingredients after mixing up a bread dough. The new ingredient won't be fully dispersed through the product.

Have a look here and stay in the first column of pictures (All-purpose flour). At 1/2 (1/2 cup of water to the one cup of flour) the dough is lumpy. At 3/4:1 it's already a bit too wet. A new ingredient added in at either point, or any ratio in between, can't be "mixed in" because of how the dough behaves at that point. You'll end up with lumps of the new ingredient all over the place which will mess up the final gluten structure.

Adding dry ingredients to the wet ingredients effectively creates the same problem at an earlier point in the recipe. Could you get away with putting in a bit of salt, gluten, lecithin, etc.? Yes, probably, but put in too much and you'll never be able to mix the ingredients properly and have a mess on your hands (no pun intended). It's easier to instruct people to separate wet from dry till the last minute because explaining all of this to someone who just wants some brownies would take too long.
posted by jwells at 5:39 AM on January 3, 2007

If you just think about salt then you're probably correct because salt dissolves easily. Add it to the liquid ingredients and it's likely to dissolve and disperse just fine.

Other powders can get very clumpy, however, and when added to wet ingredients can form little lumps which are unpleasant to encounter. Have you ever bitten into a small ball of baking powder? It's horrible.

The above about the mixing of liquids and leavening agents also applies.
posted by OmieWise at 6:05 AM on January 3, 2007

Try adding your baking powder to your banana bread or whatever as the very last ingredient. Don't stir too much, because this will build up the gluten and make the bread drier. You'll find that the powder tends to clump, and there's nothing worse than biting into a little pocket of undissolved baking powder in your banana bread (well, maybe eggshell is just as bad).
posted by rxrfrx at 6:17 AM on January 3, 2007

Honestly, I always add the salt and baking soda/powder to my wet mixture before adding in flour. In a lot of baking you cream together butter and sugar, then add vanilla, eggs, milk, right? Then I add in any spices and leavening agents, do a quick mix, and add in the flour absolutely last, but still separately.

I find, especially with banana bread, if I try to mix the dry ingredients all together and then add them to the wet mixture, I'm a lot more likely to wind up with above-mentioned lumps of baking powder.

So in short: I think you're dead-on about that whole dispersal thing, and I bake the way you think is sensible. For what it's worth, I'm considered a pretty good baker.
posted by Andrhia at 6:25 AM on January 3, 2007

It's the simplest, least confusing way to write the recipe.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:43 AM on January 3, 2007

TedW has what I think is the crux of the issue here; besides dispersal (by sifting the dry ingredients together, you can achieve a more thorough mixing), many dry ingredients can have effects on wet ingredients.

Leavening is one thing (like putting baking soda directly into buttermilk or another acid). Other ingredients can react, too: never let sugar sit on egg yolks without beating them, as it can change their consistency ("cooking" them). Safer to mix the dry things together first, and deal with the more persnickety wet ones separately.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:11 AM on January 3, 2007

I think all of the answers above make a lot of sense, and also that habit and ritual have something to do with it. When my mom first explained baking to me, she said, "Always gather the ingredients, preheat the oven, prepare the pan... then measure carefully and combine the dry ingredients." One benefit she mentioned was that if you have a baking routine, there's less thinking involved and you're less likely to forget an ingredient -- say, if you get interrupted. Putting the dry ingredients together is never going to do any harm, whereas with the other method, it's possible to screw things up.
posted by wryly at 9:01 AM on January 3, 2007

As a side note, I want to disagree with flabdablet about "mixing the crap" out of pancake batter. I've had best results with mixing just to combine, leaving small lumps in the batter. I use the Joy of Cooking recipe (although the proportions are fairly standard), and this gentle mixing results in a lighter, tenderly delectable pancake that elicits rave reviews and many a convert from the Bisquick crowd.
posted by DawnSimulator at 9:22 AM on January 3, 2007

If you sift in the baking powder, you won't get the lumps, which do taste vile. Most flour doesn't seem to need sifting. I've always assumed that's a holdover from times when there might be critters in the flour. But baking powder is naturally very clumpy so I sift it.
posted by theora55 at 10:05 AM on January 3, 2007

OT - I agree with not overmixing the pancake batter: barely mixing the wet & dry is key to a light, fluffy & tender pancake.
posted by LadyBonita at 10:22 AM on January 3, 2007

I agree that if a light, fluffy and tender pancake is your aim, then beating the crap out of it is the wrong thing to do. But if you're after a manly flapjack that won't fall apart regardless of what you wrap in it, then whip it. Whip it good.
posted by flabdablet at 3:02 PM on January 3, 2007

« Older Is it cheaper to heat a whole house using gas or...   |   optimize and monitor windows XP Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.