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I've been starting to bake more cakes and cookies recently, and many recipes say to have some ingredients that are usually stored cold, like milk or eggs, to be added at room temperature. Why is this? Will having cold ingredients affect the outcome of the baked goods much?

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The exact reason depends on the particular ingredient and recipe. Some common ones include:

  • General temperature. By having all of the ingredients at room temperature, the time it takes to bake the overall item(s) is easier to predict, leading to better, more consistent outcomes.
  • Egg whites Egg whites form the protein network that creates the foam when whipped more easily at room temperature than they do cold, so will whip up more quickly and with more volume.
  • Butter Butter is often desired slightly cooler than room temperature, for its plastic properties; it incorporates air for the creaming method best slightly below most room temperatures. Otherwise, it is easier to spread or incorporate when warmer.
  • Cream cheese Easier to mix with sugar or other ingredients at room temperature than when cold.
  • And the rest of the ingredients, like milk, is supposed to be added also at room temperature in order to not cool down (or melt, if just scalded) the other ingredients which are already in the batter. – rumtscho Apr 20 '14 at 23:52

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