About the Ingredients

Quality desserts are the direct result of using not only a quality recipe, but using quality ingredients. After a few short years of immersing myself in my kitchen, my cookbooks, classes, Food Network, countless blogs, and websites I've learned so much about basic ingredients and why they really do matter! Some things may seem obvious, like why use cake flour instead of all-purpose flour in a cake? Well I can assure you it's not just because one has the word "cake" in it. =) Much of the information I know about different ingredients and their uses is simply because I was curious. I am most definitely a learner, and if I have a question about something I will figure it out. Here is a small collection of my knowledge about ingredients and what to use when and how. Hopefully this will help you!

Butter is one of the most common ingredients used in baking. Therefore, it makes sense that certain types of butters yield different results. For most recipes, the best butter to use is Unsalted Sweet Cream butter. This butter is made from fresh pasteurized cream. This butter is ideal for 2 main reasons:
1. Using unsalted butter allows you to control how much salt goes into a recipe. It is difficult to know exactly how much salt is used in the production process, and having too much salt can greatly alter results.
2. Salt acts as a preservative. Salted butter may last longer than unsalted, but it also can be made of cream that is not as fresh as the cream in unsalted butter. Unsalted butter must be made with fresh cream, otherwise it would smell and taste bad. Salt in butter can mask odors and flavors that are undesirable. 
To ensure that your butter is fresh, simply cut a chunk off the end of a stick. If the color on the outside matches the color on the inside, then it is fresh. If the outside color is a darker yellow than the inside, then the butter has oxidized and is no longer fresh.
Some European butters, like Plugra, can be easily found in the US. They are ideal for pastry items like croissants and puff pastry that bake up flaky because they contain a higher percent of butterfat than American butter.

Cake Flour
Baking is very much a science and knowing how certain ingredients react can improve the quality of desserts. Cake four is ideal for most cakes and cupcakes because is has a very low protein content. This low protein content results in very soft and light cakes, whereas cakes baked using all-purpose flour tend to be tougher. The amount of protein in flour directly affects how much gluten is produced when flour is being mixed into the wet ingredients of a cake batter. The more a batter is mixed, the more gluten will be produced, and then the tougher the cake will bake up. Cake flour ensures that there will be a lower gluten production resulting in soft textured cakes. While cake flour can and should be used in most cake recipes, some recipes do call for all-purpose flour. All batters are different so this is perfectly normal and fine. However, if you try a recipe that uses only all-purpose flour and the texture is not right, try baking it again using half cake flour and half all-purpose flour. If this does not remedy the problem, fully substitute the all-purpose flour for cake flour and test the difference once more. Some good brands that are easily available are Swans Down or King Arthur Cake Flour.

Salt is another ingredient that is used in most recipes while baking. I know some people who use no salt at all when they bake just because it freaks them out that a savory ingredient is used in a sweet recipe. The purpose of salt in baking is to enhance the flavors that are already there. A small quarter teaspoon of salt has the ability to amplify the flavors that you want to taste in a chocolate chip cookie. A small pinch also has the ability to take the edge off of the intense sweetness of a homemade buttercream frosting. Salt is a helper when it comes to baking, and should be used when called for. I prefer to use Kosher salt in all of my baking and cooking. Kosher salt is more delicate and forgiving in flavor than regular table salt, making it ideal for any recipe. If you accidentally over-salt, chances are it will not be as noticeable with Kosher salt as opposed to table salt. Kosher salt normally comes in coarse grains, which may not lend itself to blending in as well as fine grains. Fine grain varieties can be found, otherwise the coarse grains can be pulsed in a spice grinder or food processor for a few seconds to make them smaller, which will allow them to blend into doughs and batters easier.