It fascinates me that once upon a time someone worked out that if you pick ears of corn, squish them, keep the powder that’s left, mix it up with butter and water and other things, and put them in the fire, the result would be good to eat.
So what’s the difference between the various baked goods you can make with flour?
What makes bread bread is two things:
Yeast – the raising agent
Strong flour – bread flour has a high gluten content compared to normal flour which traps the gas made by the yeast and helps the bread to rise
A basic bread recipe uses about 65ml of water for every 100g of flour.
Pastry is a dough made from flour, shortening and water. It’s used as a base or covering in dishes such as pies. It can also be the name for baked dough products like Danish pastries.
Shortening means fat that is solid at room temperature like butter, lard or margarine.
Pastry is made by mixing the flour with the fat. A crumbly shortcrust pastry has a ratio of roughly 1 part fat to 2.5 parts flour, with a few spoonfuls of water.
The flaky or puff types of pastry are made in layers, and the fat is not mixed in as thoroughly.
Sweet pastry can be made with the addition of sugar and other ingredients.
Pastry is made with plain flour and no raising agents are added.
A sponge cake is made with equal parts of flour, butter, sugar and eggs and makes a runny batter.
Fruit cakes often have twice the amount of flour to butter and sugar, less eggs and the addition of dried fruit. The batter is generally stiffer.
Cakes are normally made with self raising flour, or a mixture of plain flour and baking powder to ensure they rise. Many cakes are made to be light and fluffy.
Biscuits in the US are more like what we in the UK call scones. They are a small soft fluffy cake-like bread leavened with yeast or baking powder. They are often eaten with gravy.
Biscuits in the UK are small, crispy baked goods. In the US these would probably be called cookies. However in the UK a cookie tends to be thought of as a type of biscuit that is large, round and soft or chewy, often with chocolate chips or raisins.
Many UK biscuit recipes are not dissimilar to cake recipes however they generally have a high proportion of flour compared to other ingredients or a low liquid content so that a stiff batter, or dough that can be rolled out is formed.
One way to tell a biscuit from a cake is that biscuits go soft when stale whereas cakes go hard.
I have no idea what cookies do as they never last long enough to see in our house, but I suspect they may he closer to cake than what the English traditionally think of as a biscuit.
Recently I have made biscuits and cookies, and I do a cake every now and again. I’m afraid I rarely make pastry as its so easy to buy ready made. Sometimes I make bread in my bread maker but never just on its own. Life is much easier for us than it was for those first people who squashed up some wheat!