Prairie Fare: Put on Your Baking Scientist Hat

Incorrect measurements and mixing can affect your final product.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist NDSU Extension Service

I pushed my cart around the mountains of baking ingredients on pallets in the grocery store aisles the other day. Many of the store shelves were empty, especially the shelves that noted a coupon was needed. The store had just gotten a large shipment of bags of flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar and chocolate chips.

Yes, holiday baking season is upon us and cookies often top the list of holiday food traditions. Of course, you can buy cookies readily in grocery stores, but they usually do not taste the same as homemade.

The word cookie comes from the Dutch word "koekje," which means "little cake." According to food historians, bakers would bake a small amount of cake batter to test the oven temperature.

While growing up, my relatives often made cookies associated with our Scandinavian heritage. I remember the deep-fried rosettes dipped in sugar. They looked like crispy flowers. I especially liked the krumkake, which were made with a special iron and rolled into a tube.

If you decide to bake this year, put on your mathematician's hat and your scientist lab coat. Actually, tying back your hair if you have long hair and putting on an apron will suffice.

Wearing a chef's hat, or toque, may get you in the baking spirit, though. When my children were younger, I bought a couple of chef's hats to motivate them to help me.

Baking is an effective way to teach kids about measuring and the functions of ingredients while having fun in the process. If you are doubling or tripling recipes, you may want to get out a piece of paper and write down the new recipe. Double-check the math to avoid culinary disasters.

Incorrect measurements and mixing can affect your final product. If you add too much of a particular ingredient, such as flour, your end product may have a dry, crumbly texture. If you use too little baking powder or soda, your baked good might not rise properly. If you mix cookies too much, you may develop the gluten (protein) in the flour and get a tough cookie instead of a tender one.

In preparation for baking season, try this little quiz about measuring.

1. This ingredient should be spooned into a measuring cup and then leveled off with the back of a knife.

2. This ingredient should be packed in a measuring cup. The ingredient should hold its shape when placed in the mixing bowl.

3. Your recipe calls for 2 cups of butter. How many sticks of butter should you use?

4. Your recipe calls for 1/2 pint of cream. How many cups is that?

5. When you measure these types of ingredients, you should bend down and look at them at eye level.

The answers: 1. Flour should not be dipped. It should be spooned in and leveled. 2. Brown sugar should be firmly packed, unless the recipe says otherwise. 3. Use four sticks of butter for 2 cups because each stick is 1/2 cup of butter. 4. One-half pint of cream is equal to 1 cup. 5. Liquid ingredients, such as water and oil, should be measured using a liquid measuring cup. Set the measuring container on a countertop and view at eye level.

Here's a delicious baked good recipe that calls for antioxidant-rich dried fruit, such as blueberries or cranberries. You can place the ingredients in a jar and add some trim to have a nice gift to share with a friend.

Enjoy holiday treats in moderation to avoid New Year's weight loss resolutions. Visit for more seasonal mixes for soups and other baked goods.

Blueberry or Cranberry Scone Mix in a Jar

2 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/4 c. nonfat dry milk powder

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/3 c. shortening

1 c. dried blueberries or cranberries

Stir together the flour, sugar, dry milk, baking powder and salt. Use a fork to cut in the shortening until the mixture looks crumbly. Pour into a 1-quart glass jar and top with the blueberries. Add more dried fruit to fill in the gap between the flour and top of the jar if needed. You also may place the mix in a zipper-top plastic bag. Copy the scone recipe and add it to the jar or plastic bag. Use immediately or store up to six weeks at room temperature or freeze for up to six months.

Blueberry or Cranberry Scone Recipe

Place the jar or plastic bag contents into a large mixing bowl. Add the following ingredients and mix until moistened:

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. lemon juice

1 beaten egg

1/4 c. water

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and then quickly yet gently knead for 12 to 15 strokes or until smooth. Pat to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into desired shape using a cookie cutter or knife. Place each scone 1 inch apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 F for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a cooking rack. Serve warm

Makes 15 servings. Each serving has 180 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 3 g of protein, 29 g of carbohydrate, 3 g of fiber and 150 milligrams of sodium.

Blueberry Scones

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)


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