The 5 Essential Ingredients for Baking, Explained

Essential Tools, Tips & Techniques for the Home Cook by Michelle Doll shares tons of useful information on the equipment, ingredients, and techniques that will take your cooking to the next level.

Kara Rota
4-minute read
Episode #216

For having just a few ingredients, dough is a pretty complex thing. Understanding a few fundamentals will educate your technique.

1. Flour


These have a lower protein content, meaning they contain less gluten, giving them a more delicate crust. Think cakey, not crispy.


These are higher in gluten. Think pizza dough, pasta and baguettes.


Always transfer your flour from the bag to another container to aerate it. It has probably traveled across the country to get to you with literal tons of flour on top of it. You’ll get the most accurate volume measurement from fluffed flour. A cup of flour scraped out of a packed bag could actually be a cup and a half if it isn’t fluffed up. King Arthur Flour is my all-around favorite. It has been around since 1790 and is a fully employee-owned company; even more important, they are passionate bakers consistently delivering a superior product.


Use a sifter or a shaker, or hold a handful of flour in your hand and shake it like dice.

When you’re kneading dough, you want as little flour as possible to avoid offsetting the recipe, but go for the flour when you’re rolling because you do not want that baby to stick to the counter! You can always brush off any excess; flour not mixed into anything and cooked just tastes bitter and sad.

2. Salt

If you forget salt, the dough will taste a bit flat and stale.


I prefer kosher salt for almost everything I make, whether sweet or savory. Kosher refers to the size of the crystals. It’s the salt that’s packed onto a kosher slaughtered animal to draw out impurities. Remember this if you ever buy a kosher chicken or turkey! They’ve already been salted.


Table salt is too fine: the crystals are much smaller, so more salt will fit in the teaspoon, making things ultimately too salty. If your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of salt but all you have is table salt, then reduce the amount to 2⁄3 teaspoon or it will be too salty.


About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.