The Complete Guide to Types of Dough and Batters
Sweet or savory, here's everything you need to know about doughs and batters
Mom's nut cake studded with giant chocolate chips, half-frozen cream puffs from grandma, or scoops of cookie dough directly from the bowl—childhood memories almost always start with dough. But for as many good memories as one might have with doughs and batters, there are probably just as many that are not so good.
I’ve baked "simple" no-knead breads probably a thousand times until I was satisfied. Everyone claims to have the “perfect” cookie dough recipe, and I've tried almost all of them. While I have failed with many doughs, I’m still fascinated by them.
As with many things, the basics must be mastered so that you can be creative and still find success. So we've scraped all of our knowledge together in this article to help you in preparing any dough—from buttery shortcrust pastry to fluffy yeast dough. With this knowledge, you can be confident that your homemade pizza for next Sunday’s movie night and spontaneous poppyseed cake for weekend brunch will turn out perfectly.
Doughs vs. Batters
People in English speaking countries use the words dough and batter to describe different things—not interchangeably, as we do in German. Doughs are a mixture mainly consisting of flour and are therefore malleable and can be kneaded with your bare hands on a work surface. Batters are usually thinner, more liquidy, and are mixed with an electric mixer or hand mixer in a bowl. Get it right every time thanks to our trusty infographic.
Shortcrust pastry is as simple as following the “3, 2, 1” rule of thumb—300 grams (approx. 2 ½ cups) flour, 200 grams (1 ⅓ sticks) butter, 100 grams (approx. ½ cup) sugar. Add an egg and form a buttery, tender, and crumbly pastry dough. My favorite dessert, if I want to show off a bit, are small shortcrust pastries filled with lemon curd and topped with fresh berries. To do this, I roll out the dough, put it in a muffin tray and fill it with the lemon curd after blind baking (more on that later). It looks fancier and more elaborate than it really is.
Pie crust - a basic recipe
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Shortcrust pastry: Tips for preparation
With shortcrust pastry, you should work as fast as you can. Take the butter and egg directly from the fridge and mix them with cold fingers into the flour and sugar. If your dough is too sticky, add some flour; too crumbly, add some ice cold water by the tablespoon. As soon as you have a relatively homogeneous mass—there can be a few pieces of butter—wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.
When the dough is cool, roll it between two layers of baking paper and put it directly into a pie dish. Now it's time to blind bake. This means nothing more than pre-baking your dough in the mold in order to prepare it for a variety of fillings. You can do this by covering the pastry-lined mold with parchment paper and then filling it in with special pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 min., let cool, and it's ready to fill.
Try your hand at shortcrust pastry with any of these delicious recipes!
Many people have a love-hate relationship with yeast dough. Sometimes the dough doesn’t rise, it becomes too dry, or you accidentally knead the air bubbles out of it. But, even in light of all that, it's really not that difficult.
What distinguishes yeast dough?
Bread with juicy crumbs traversed by many differently sized, but smaller bubbles—that represents a pretty good base: yeast dough. Why yeast dough is a good base for pizza? It's crispy and soft at the same time, a texture that keeps the tip of your slice from folding down when you pick it up.
Basic yeast dough
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Fresh vs. dry yeast
Cubes or packets—does it make a difference? Honestly, no. Dried yeast is nothing but fresh yeast from which the water has been removed. It is more practical because it can be stored longer and usually added directly to the dough. Fresh yeast, however, is more primal, can only be kept in the fridge for a few days and must be dissolved with sugar, lukewarm water or milk before it can be made into a dough. Whatever the preference, in general, two packets of dry yeast or one cube of fresh yeast is plenty for 1 kilogram (approx. 2 1/2 lbs) of flour.
Yeast dough: Tips for preparation
A few things about yeast doughs: Do not dissolve the yeast in water that is too hot or too cold. If it’s too hot, the yeast will be killed and rendered useless; too cold, and the yeast won’t be activated properly. Lukewarm, or approx. 40°C/110°F, is just right for yeast. Now’s the time to knead, knead, knead—at least 10 min., but 15 min. is even better. You can do this by hand, or use a stand or hand mixer fitted with dough hooks. This is important so that the gluten strands develop in the dough, forming small bubbles and thus giving the yeast bacteria space.
After all that kneading? Time to let the dough rest. It’s optimal when the dough expands to approximately twice its size. You’ll then shape the dough and let it rise, or proof, a second time before baking it. Resting should happen in a warm place. If you are not sure if your room temperature is sufficient, place it in the oven at 40°C/110°F and leave the door half open. Another option is to rest it overnight in the fridge. It takes longer, but the dough gets finer pores, becomes more elastic, and the taste becomes even more intense.
How to make yeast dough rise faster
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How to knead dough
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Quick yeast dough alternative: German curd-oil dough
A real yeast dough needs plenty of time, it’s not something you throw together quickly. The emergency alternative if you don’t have time? A quick curd-oil dough, with low-fat fresh cheese curd and baking powder provides fullness and moisture in a similar dough. To make it, drain 150 grams (⅔ cup) quark and mix with 300 grams (approx. 2 ½ cups) flour, 1 egg, 8 tablespoons vegetable oil, 4 tablespoons milk, 80 grams (⅖ cup) sugar and 1 tablespoon baking powder in a stand mixer. Now you can knead in raisins, and even plait a braided loaf. Bake at 160°C/320°F for approx. 30 Min. and voilà!
So what makes a batter different from a dough? Usually, batters are more “creamy” or pourable in texture than most doughs. All ingredients are mixed to a foamy mass and do not necessarily need a leavening agent to be airy when baked.
Batter: Tips for preparation
When it comes to batters, it’s important to fold in the dry ingredients carefully. Note the order of adding the ingredients as well (for instance, beat the egg yolks and egg whites separately, then mix in the dry ingredients alternately with other wet ingredients) and make sure that they are all the same temperature, preferably room temperature. Is your batter too liquid? Add a little flour. Too tight? More liquid, please!
There are lots of things you can do with batter, but here are some great recipes to get you started.
For the making of this article, I’ll admit I was a little impatient and always scurried into our test kitchen to annoy our chef and resident pastry expert Johanna like a little kid—asking, "Is it done yet?" only to get the same maternal response all over again, "Patience! It has to cool down, otherwise it will break when you try to roll it." What she means is that the cake, which was to be transformed into a beautiful Swiss roll cake with cream and strawberry filling, had to cool completely before being gently rolled up into its shape or else the cake itself might split.
What distinguishes sponge cake?
Sponge cake batter is light, airy, and full of small bubbles. I love it because the dough is sweet but not overly so. The aforementioned Swiss roll cake is a dream, but sponge cake is also the perfect base for all kinds of layer cakes with buttercream or cream and fresh fruit fillings.
Sponge cake: Tips for preparation
Johanna caught me as I stirred and stirred and warned me never to stir sponge cake batter. This is even more important here than with pound cake. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, beat egg yolks with sugar until foamy, and then fold the whipped egg whites into the egg yolks. Add cornstarch to your dry mixture and again, mix carefully and gently. Now bake immediately (at 200°C/390°F), so that nothing stands in the way of the light and fluffy result. If you want to make a Swiss roll, as we did, then place the baked and cooled cake directly between two clean and dry towels, roll it up, and let it cool well.
Nothing can go wrong with this recipe. And this one is not only even faster prepared, but also vegan:
Vegan sponge cake base
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What else to make with sponge cake batter? Why not start with our favorite options?
Back in the days when we were invited to grandma’s house, she mostly opted to “prepare” half-frozen cream puffs for coffee or tea. The small round balls were solid, as soon as you bit into it, a half-frozen soft cream melted in your mouth. They were always tasty!
What distinguishes choux pastry?
Unlike, for example, yeast dough or shortcrust pastry, choux pastry is prepared on the stove in a pot and stirred constantly until a homogeneous dough is formed, which can be easily detached from the bottom of the pot. You can make the puffs I just described out of the dough—or other delicacies such as sweet eclairs or salty Gougères with Gruyère cheese.
Choux pastry: Tips for preparation
All you need to make a choux pastry is butter, flour, eggs, and milk (for a golden brown crust) or water (for a crunchier crust). If you use milk, heat it slowly while stirring so it doesn’t burn. You may also like to use a mix or milk and water to take advantage of the aspects of both. It’s important that you stir constantly until the dough starts to wind around your spoon. Once the mass has cooled down slightly, you can stir in the eggs and finish the choux pastry—and perhaps even fill it into piping bags for further processing and shaping.
Gluten-free doughs and more
Gluten-free baking can be done, and enjoyed, by anyone. Even if you do not suffer from celiac disease or another gluten intolerance, sometimes it makes sense to bake without wheat. For example, one of my favorite brownies, are originally baked with ground almonds. The almonds give it a chewier, softer quality that you just can’t get with regular flours.
How gluten-free doughs work
We wish it were as simple as replacing ordinary flour with a gluten-free alternative such as coconut, rice, or buckwheat flour, but unfortunately, it’s not that easy. The gluten in “regular” flours acts as the binder and of course that is missing in the gluten-free varieties. Even so, gluten-free baking is not that hard. The easiest way to do it is to make a large container of all-purpose, gluten-free flour that you can have around the house for whenever the urge to bake might strike. In general, the following recipe will work: mix two parts gluten-free flour with one part gluten-free starch with a binder such as xanthan gum or tapioca flour.
For more on gluten-free baking, check out our article and try using your gluten-free magic on the recipes below!
Even more doughs and batters
Nibbling cookie dough
Anyone who claims to dislike cookies is probably lying—no offense! But honestly, even raw, cookie dough is so tasty! Everyone has their own best chocolate chip cookie dough recipe, and variations can be down to which types and how much sugar used, to whether they are vegan or without eggs. Do you let the dough rest overnight? And which type of chocolate do you use: chips or chopped pieces? However you make it, you’ll love these recipes.
How to make puff pastry
I have to admit, I have only made puff pastry once in my life. It is so much work. You layer and roll and cool and fold again and then have to start all over. But trying everything at least once is my rule when it comes to cooking and baking. After my quasi-successful attempt, I found I appreciated the incredibly buttery croissants from the pâtisserie around the corner so much more! Give it a shot for yourself!
Do you have questions about doughs and batters? Let us know in the comments!
Published on May 4, 2019