Your Essential Baking Knowledge for the Holidays

Using the quick refresher below, ensure your essential baking knowledge is right before you begin preparing your holiday desserts. 

Evaporated Milk or Condensed Milk? 

Southeast Dairy Association - Walnut Caramel Ice Cream

While condensed milk and evaporated milk are both thick, shelf-stable canned milk made by removing about 60% of milk’s water, the two have different tastes. Condensed milk is often called sweetened condensed milk because of its added sugar, creating a sweet concoction that can be eaten on its own once boiled and cooled. Evaporated milk, also known as dehydrated milk, not to be confused with powdered milk, goes through a longer preservation process than condensed milk. It may be labeled as unsweetened condensed milk.  

Granulated Sugar or Decorating Sugar? 

Southeast Dairy Association - Sweet Potato Praline Pie

Granulated sugar is commonly used in baking as a sweetener, so it can be confusing when sugars with other names appear. Decorating sugar has crystals much larger than granulated sugar and is used to decorate desserts, like topping cookies. The larger size makes it more heat resistant. (Think of the packets of sugar in restaurants, where the tiny sugar crystals dissolve in your cold drinks.) You can add coloring to the decorating sugar to get a rainbow of options. Other sizes with similar uses to decorating sugar are called coarse sugar and sanding sugar. 

Powdered Sugar or Confectioners’ Sugar? 

Though the terms are often used interchangeably, these two sugars are different. Powdered sugar is granulated sugar that has been ground to a very fine powder. For those who watch lots of baking shows, you may have heard the term “icing sugar” for powdered sugar. That’s simply due to powdered sugar often being used to make homemade icing. Meanwhile, confectioners’ sugar is powdered sugar with starch added. This prevents it from caking as it sits. So while you can substitute one for the other in baking, read the ingredients carefully if you’re looking to decorate your dessert using sugar. 

Meringue or Whipped Cream? 

Both whipped into a light, white fluff used to top desserts, meringue and whipped cream are popular during the holidays, but don’t confuse the two. Meringue is made using egg whites, while whipped cream is made using heavy whipping cream. Meringue lasts longer than whipped cream and can be added to desserts ahead of a meal, not at serving like whipped cream. Whipped cream is typically sweeter than meringue, so your dessert’s taste profile will change if you mix up what you need. 

Baking Soda or Baking Powder? 

Southeast Dairy Association - Milk and Cookies Cake

Both baking soda and baking powder are used in place of yeast, but which is used depends on how the dessert is made. Baking soda reacts to any acidic ingredients included, making food less tangy, so these recipes are baked immediately. Baking powder reacts when placed in heat, so it can rest before being going near the stove. The two ingredients are not exclusive, however. Baking soda and baking powder can be combined to control the overall flavor but still allow the mixture to rise. 

Check out The Dairy Alliance’s desserts for inspiration as we head into holiday get-togethers.