Batter Up – What is a Batter?

The older I get, the more I realize two things: time is precious, and homemade is superior to store bought. Reconciling the two can be a challenge.

I was thinking about my baking recently and realized my passion has moved from dough to batter. Baking with batter has several attractions for me. First, start-to-eat is often as short as 15 minutes. Second is portion control. As our kids are grown and on their own, all of my batter recipes have a 2-portion version and a 4-portion for families. The third attraction is that it requires only low-cost tools and machines. Basics include bowls, a scale, measuring spoons, whisk, measuring cup, spatulas, waffle maker and a griddle.

Why I like Batters

  • Batter is quicker
  • 2-portion recipes
  • Only basic tools needed

What is a Batter?

1. Sometimes I use a measuring cup to pour batter.

Most bread is made with dough, but some breads such as waffles, pancakes and crepes are made with batter. Bread hydration ratio is the ratio of the weight of liquid to flour. Using weight is important, as a cup of flour weighs about 120 grams, while a cup of water weighs about 240 grams, twice as much. A common bread ratio is 65%, i.e. the liquid is 65% of the flour weight. Bread hydration ratios range from 50% (a dense loaf) to 80% (ciabatta) and even 100% for a no-knead. Higher than 80%, however, is unusual.

A batter is a thin dough that can be poured. The word “batter” came from the French battre meaning to beat, as many batters require beating or whisking.

The thickest batter I bake with is for waffles at 200% hydration. That is twice as much liquid as flour. My pancakes run about 250% and my crepes 300%.

Leaven Agent

A leavening agent is what is used to create foam and cause the bread to rise. The three most common are yeast, baking powder/soda and none. Most breads use yeast. Breads that use baking powder and/or baking soda are called soda breads. Waffles and pancakes usually use baking powder/soda, but traditional Belgium waffles use yeast. Crepes do not use a leaven agent. I think of crepes as pancakes without the baking powder. Interesting side note: there are crepes with baking powder. They are called lace crepes, as they have small holes from the baking powder bubbles.

It is said you have to follow a bread recipe exactly, but what they really mean is you need to understand the chemistry. When I studied bread theory at George Brown College, we learned commercial bread recipes are written as ratios. Flour forms the base 100%. All other ingredients are listed as percentages of the weight of flour. As an example, a typical bread recipe will have salt ranging from 1.8% to 2.2% of the flour weight.

A simple bread recipe is:

  • 100% bread flour
  • 70% water
  • 1% yeast
  • 2% salt

or sometimes listed as: 70% hydration. 1% yeast. 2% salt.

Foundation Recipes

I love foundation recipes. These are the basics that have the core ingredients and steps. Learn the foundations, then build upon them. Create your variations and favourites. The work is to create those foundations, each building on the previous. I wanted a 2-portion as my base, then double for a family. Much of this work is based on standard ratios. The gating factor was eggs. I don’t want a recipe with a fraction of an egg. BTW, a standard large egg weighs 50 grams.

Simplify down to the essence. Then, try, try and try again. They told us at Recipe Development class at George Brown, by the time a recipe appears in Canadian Living, it was tested about 11 times. Print the recipe, weigh everything carefully, bake and take notes. These weights become important when you work out the nutrition values. Then tune the recipe and start again.

I started with soda bread, moved to waffles. Pancakes are basically waffles with more hydration and less fat. Crepes are thinner pancakes without the baking powder.

Enough background. Onward, batter up.

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