When you don't bake that often or if you're brand new to it, reading a recipe can feel a bit like reading another language. Certain baking terms and names of techniques can sometimes leave beginners feeling out of their depth and may even convince you to give up before you even start baking!
For example, if I asked you to mix batter until it reached ribbon stage, or to create a bain-marie, or to whip eggs into stiff peaks, would you know exactly what to do?
If not, that’s perfectly fine! You don’t need to know every term to get started with baking. You just need to start. And I don't want a few pesky words to stand in your way. That's why I created this Ultimate List of Common Baking Terms!
I've collected all of the commonly used baking terms and techniques into this easy-to-use A-Z glossary. It's even divided into categories – Baking Prep, Mixing Terms, Bread Baking, Pastry Terms, and Decorating Terms – to make it even easier for you to find the word you need clarification on.
I hope it helps you feel a little more at ease the next time you try and bake something new!
Table of Contents
Baking Prep Terms and Techniques
Bain-marie or Double Boiler: Created by placing a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of lightly simmering water. Always ensure that the water never touches the bottom of the bowl. This technique is used when you need to heat an ingredient slowly and indirectly so as not to burn or curdle it (ie. chocolate, curd, or custard).
Brown: In reference to butter. This technique separates and toasts the milk solids in the butter to enhance the flavour. To do it, simply place butter in a saucepan over medium heat and stir it while it melts. Once melted, it will start to foam and sizzle; keep stirring until the butter solids at the bottom turn golden brown and it smells nutty and rich.
Caramelize: To slowly cook a food until it’s sweet, nutty, and brown. Most often this baking term is applied to melting sugar until thick and amber coloured.
Chill: To place in the refrigerator for the time noted in the recipe instructions.
Chop: To cut an ingredient into smaller pieces. The recipe should indicate the coarseness of the chopped ingredients. ‘Roughly chopped’ pieces shouldn’t be any smaller than a mini marshmallow; ‘finely chopped’ pieces shouldn’t be any larger than a pea.
Divided: When one ingredient’s measurements are used separately at various points in the recipe method. For example, ‘100g flour, divided’ might indicate that 75g of flour is used in the pastry and the other 25g is used in the filling. Always check the method for exact division requirements.
Dust: To lightly cover a surface with a light sprinkling of a dry substance, such as flour, icing sugar, or cocoa powder.
Fondant: A thick paste made of sugar and water used to cover or decorate cakes and biscuits. It can be coloured using food dyes and gels and be easily molded or cut into intricate shapes.
Freeze: To place in the freezer for the time noted in the recipe instructions.
Ganache: An emulsification of chocolate and cream. Normally used as a frosting to fill various baked goods or to decorate cakes.
Gelatinisation: A chemical process that causes starches to expand and absorb water when heated.
Greasing: To lightly brush the surface of something with butter or oil. Normally used in relation to baking tins or trays to prevent the bake from sticking.
Leavening: An ingredient that produces gas and causes baked goods to rise. Common ones are yeast, baking powder, and baking soda.
Lining: To cover the surface of a baking tin or tray with non-stick parchment paper. Usually used in conjunction with ‘Greasing’.
Lukewarm: Warm to the touch, usually around 40°C (105°F)
Parchment: A heat-resistant, grease-proof paper used in baking and cooking to prevent bakes from sticking to the pan or tray. Also known as baking paper.
Peel: To remove the outer layer (or skin) of a fruit or vegetable.
Preheat: To warm up your oven to the temperature indicated in the recipe in preparation for baking.
Rolling boil: A vigorous, churning boil with lots of bubbles. Attained by using a high heat.
Room temperature: The ideal temperature for ingredients to be at for baking, around 18°C (65°F).
Scald: To heat a liquid until just below boiling point (around 82°C (180°F)). You can identify this by watching for little bubbles forming around the edges of liquid where it touches the pan.
Scant (measurements): To measure out a portion that is lacking a small part of the whole. For example, a ‘Scant 1 teaspoon’ would mean not quite a whole teaspoon – do not fill the teaspoon completely to the top; leave a little bit off.
Sieve: A utensil with a wire or plastic mesh used for separating particles of different sizes. In baking, it’s normally used to strain solids from liquids, sift dry ingredients into wet ingredients, or puree soft solids.
Simmer: To heat a liquid to just below boiling point (around 82°C (180°F)) and keep it at this constant temperature. It’s identified by small bubbles breaking the surface every couple of seconds.
Softened butter: Butter that is at room temperature – cool to the touch – and perfect for incorporating with other ingredients. It shouldn’t be too firm, nor look greasy or glossy; if you press a finger into it, it should leave an indentation, not sink or slide down into the butter.
Mixing Terms and Techniques
Aerate: To incorporate air into a substance, usually a batter or egg whites.
Beating: To mix rapidly to combine ingredients and incorporate air. This is usually done using a whisk, hand mixer, or stand mixer.
Blend: Stirring together ingredients until well combined, typically with the aid of a blender, hand mixer, or stand mixer.
Combine: To bring together two or more ingredients into one incorporated mixture.
Consistency: The texture, thickness, and viscosity of a substance, usually batter.
Creaming: Mixing softened butter (or another fat) with other ingredients (usually sugar) to bring them together and incorporate air.
Curdling: When liquid separates from the solids in a substance and forms ‘curds’ or lumps. Usually this happens to dairy products, such as milk and eggs, but can happen to batter when the ingredients are mixed together at different temperatures.
Dilute: To thin a liquid by adding another liquid.
Dissolve: To incorporate a solid ingredient into a liquid ingredient to create a solution. For example, adding powdered gelatine to hot water.
Emulsify: To combine two or more ingredients that do not normally mix easily.
Folding: A baking technique that gently incorporates dry ingredients into liquid ingredients. Typically performed using a rubber spatula by cutting the batter in half and bringing the batter up onto itself, then rotating the bowl and repeating.
Grainy: Refers to the texture of a baked good or ingredient that isn’t smooth or has granular bits.
Incorporate: To add one ingredient to another and mix them together until evenly distributed.
Infuse / Steep: To immerse or soak a substance in a liquid to extract its flavours. For example, placing cinnamon sticks in hot milk to flavour the milk with cinnamon.
‘Light and fluffy’: A baking term typically used to describe the colour and texture of creamed butter and sugar. The mixture should be almost white in colour and very aerated and soft in appearance.
Macerate: To soften solid ingredients by soaking them in a liquid.
‘Make a well’: A term typically used to denote creating a hole in the middle of a bowl of dry ingredients to pour liquid ingredients into so they can be incorporated.
Pulse: Used to describe the setting on a food processor or blender that provides short bursts of chopping to give you more control over the texture of the end product.
Purée: To reduce fruit or vegetables into a thick, smooth sauce by crushing them. This is usually done via a food processor, blender, or potato masher.
Reduce: The process of thickening a liquid by simmering or boiling to enhance its flavour, naturally reducing the amount of substance.
Ribbon stage: A mixture that is thick enough to leave a figure ‘8’ drawn on the surface for ten seconds.
Sifting: To move dry ingredients through a sieve to incorporate air and remove uneven particles.
Slake / Slurry: To mix together a powdered thickening agent (usually flour or cornflour) with a little liquid (usually water) to add mix into a larger amount of liquid without forming lumps.
Soft, medium, stiff/firm peaks: States of whipped egg white or cream after being beaten. To achieve soft peaks, whip just until the cream reaches a melted ice cream texture. For medium peaks, keep whipping until the cream starts to very gently ripple. If you lift up the whisk, the cream should hold a peak that flops over slightly when turned over. For stiff peaks, keep whipping until the cream achieves tight ripples and resembles the texture of frosting. If you lift the whisk up, the cream should hold a straight peak when turned over. Stop whipping at this point.
Stir: Mixing a substance by moving a spoon or other utensil in circular motions.
Strain: To run a liquid through a sieve to remove any lumps or impurities.
Temper: A baking technique used to gradually raise the temperature of a substance, usually eggs or chocolate.
Whip: To beat air into a liquid ingredient or mixture using a whisk or beater to make it light, frothy, and voluminous.
Whisk: An implement used to blend and incorporate air into a mixture.
Zest: The outermost (coloured) layer of citrus fruits. It can easily be removed using a fine grater and adds strong flavour to baked goods.
Bread Baking Terms and Techniques
Bloom: To sprinkle a dry ingredient on top of a liquid ingredient and allow it to sit for a period of time to ‘activate’. In bread baking, this is typically done by sprinkling yeast over warm, sweet water and allowing it to sit and become frothy before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.
Crust: The outermost firm, crispy layer of bread, a tart, or a pie.
Kneading: To work the gluten in dough (usually bread) by massaging, stretching, pulling, and folding it on a hard surface.
Levain: A fermented flour and water mixture. Also known as sourdough starter.
Over-proofing: (see Proving) A baking term used when bread dough has been left to rest for too long, resulting in air bubbles that have grown too large and popped before baking.
Proving / Proofing: The process of letting bread dough rise before baking.
‘Punch down’: The act of gently deflating bread dough after its first rise to release the air bubbles and reshape the dough into its final form.
Score: Cutting the surface of bread dough using a sharp knife.
Sponge (Yeast): Allowing the yeast to ferment or bloom before adding it to the final dough.
Under-proofing: (see Proving) A term used to describe bread dough that hasn’t been resting for long enough, resulting in not enough air bubbles to help it rise.
Pastry Baking Terms and Techniques
Blind baking: The act of baking a pastry crust part of the way through before adding the filling.
Crimping: A baking technique used to seal pie or tart crusts; it’s done by pinching the sides and tops together with your fingers or a fork.
Docking: To prick the bottom of a pie or tart crust with a fork before baking. This allows steam to escape so the crust doesn’t puff up in the oven.
Egg wash: A mixture of egg and milk typically used to brush over pastry crusts to help it brown and become glossy or to glue two pieces of pastry together.
Flaky: Pastry made with larger chunks of fat to give it more lift.
Laminate: A baking technique designed to create super flaky pastry. Alternating layers of dough and butter are folded together to let out steam during baking, helping the pastry puff up in the oven.
Mold: To give shape to pie or tart dough, either by pinching or pushing it into a tin.
Pinch: To use your fingers to press dough together.
‘Roll out’: The act of using a rolling pin to flatten a piece of dough to the desired thickness and shape indicated in the recipe instructions.
Rubbing in / Cutting in: A baking term used to describe the technique of crumbling butter into small pieces in flour using your hands.
Candy Making Terms
Hard Ball: For nougat. Occurs at 125°C (257°F). You can identify it by dropping a spoonful of the hot syrup into cold water; you should be able to gather it into a ball in the water.
Hard Crack: For brittles. Occurs at 150°C (302°F). You’ll know the syrup is at this stage when it separates into hard, brittle threads.
Soft Ball: For fudge. Occurs at 120°C (248°F). You can identify this stage by dropping the syrup into cold water; it should form a soft, flexible ball that flattens into a pancake.
Soft Crack: For taffy. Occurs at 138°C (280°F). You’ll know the syrup is at this stage when it forms hard threads that are pliable and bend.
Batch / Yield: The amount of baked goods or servings a recipe makes.
Crumb: A baking term used to describe the texture of a baked good. For example: tight, loose, dense, moist.
Crumb coat: A baking technique whereby a small amount of frosting is slathered on a naked cake to lock in excess cake crumbs and prevent the crumbs from ending up in the final outer layer of frosting.
Dredge: To coat an ingredient with a dry substance, such as powdered sugar on a baked doughnut.
Drizzle: To pour a thin stream of liquid on top of something. For example, melted chocolate over cookies.
Glaze: To coat a substance with a thick, sugar-based sauce.
Ice / Frost: The act of spreading buttercream on a baked good.
Pipe / Piping: A technique whereby a liquid (usually frosting) is squeezed out of a piping bag onto a baked good to decorate it.
Sponge (Cake): A layer of baked cake.
Sprinkle: To lightly scatter a dry ingredient (usually sugar, decorations, or toppings) over a baked good.
Torte / Torting: A technique used to divide cake layers so they can be filled and stacked evenly.
I hope this glossary of baking terms and techniques was helpful for you and that you now feel even more excited to get started with your first recipe!
And if you want to put your new knowledge to use, you should check out a Bookish Bakes subscription or Classic Kit!
Our kits are perfect for beginner bakers, because we send you everything you need to get started. Every kit comes with a fail-proof recipe, all the dry ingredients you need, pre-measured to save time, as well as any extras like pre-cut parchment paper, piping tips and bags, or cutters!