Our ingredient temperature cheat sheet is your key to better baking

Go from a nervous baker to a confident one who whips up cookies on a whim.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

The temperature of your ingredients in baking affects texture, shape and taste, and ultimately your ego! Didn't mean to make that stunted loaf of bread? Blame it on the hot water that killed the yeast. Understanding which basic baking ingredients should be at which temperature – and why – can catapult you from a nervous baker to a confident one who whips up cookies on a whim. Read on…you may want to preheat your oven before you start.

Baking ingredient temperature cheat sheet

Butter

Room temperature for cakes and cookies. Butter should be at room temperature for most cake and cookie recipes so it emulsifies easily with the other ingredients.

Tip: Cut your butter into smaller pieces for it to warm up faster.

Cold or frozen for pies and pastries. For any pie crust, hand-pie or pastry recipe, butter should be cold or even frozen. Why? Butter releases steam as it melts under heat, forming tiny air pockets in the dough. If it does this at the same time the crust is hardening in the oven, the shape of those pockets will hold to create a flaky texture. If the butter is too warm it will melt too soon, and all those flaky layers will collapse.

Tip: Cold hands make better pie crusts too, so run yours under cold water before handling the pastry. And if it's a really warm day in your kitchen, take the extra step to pre-chill your tools.

Eggs

Room temperature for most baking. This helps for better emulsification, and they whip faster and easier if you're making something like meringue.

Tip: To quickly bring eggs up to room temperature in their shell, immerse them in a bowl of warm water while you're assembling the rest of your ingredients.

Cold for separating. It should be noted that eggs are easier to separate when they're cold, so do this as soon as they come out of the fridge and let the required parts come up to room temperature in a bowl.

Bonus: Both egg whites and yolks can be frozen. Whites can go in as is, but yolks can turn gummy, so whisk a pinch of salt into them first – about  ½ tsp per cup of yolks. If you're freezing whole eggs, blend in ¼ tsp of salt per cup of eggs. Freeze them as singles in an ice cube tray or altogether in a container and label.

Milk

Room temperature for most baking. Milk and other dairy products perform best at room temperature as well.

Bonus: With the exception being when mixed with yeast. There's an enzyme in milk that can affect yeast growth, so scald your milk first to destroy it and let it cool back down to room temperature.

Tip: To scald milk, rinse a pot with cold water before adding the milk. Do not dry. The bit of water left in the pot from rinsing will prevent the natural sugars in the milk from sticking to the sides of the pot and burning. Bring milk almost to a simmer, about 185 degrees F, or when it starts to steam.

Yeast

Lukewarm water always for activating. Yeast is a living thing and is killed off at high temperatures, around 140 degrees F. This is especially important to remember when you're rehydrating active dry yeast. The water should be lukewarm, 105 degrees F to 115 degrees F, something you can comfortably wash your hands in.

Tip: The optimal temperature for yeast growth is 80 degrees F to 90 degrees F, so place your rising bread on top of your fridge or beside a wood stove where it can generally get to this temperature.

Overall tip: Thermometers are your friend in baking!

It's best to take the guesswork out of baking. Bread is done when its internal temperature reaches 200 degrees F, so use a meat thermometer to check. Oven temperature is also incredibly important to your final product. Because you can't always trust an older oven's dial, invest in an oven thermometer to ensure accuracy.

And now for the big moment! Test out this temperature stuff with any of these recipes.

Chocolate Walnut Banana Bread

Ginger Sparkle Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Kale and Zucchini Muffins


Jessica Brooks is a digital producer, trained chef and DIY investor.