In Baking Hows, Whys, and WTFs, food editor Shilpa Uskokovic will answer your burning baking questions and share her tips and tricks for flawless sweets. Today: What does “fold in” really mean?
There is no world in which I could write “What does ‘fold in’ mean?” without invoking the now iconic “fold in the cheese” meme from 2015 television show, Schitt’s Creek. What can I say? I’m a card-carrying millennial. For all the David Roses in the world wondering how to fold in something, allow me, unlike Moira, to tell you at least one thing about this simple technique that comes up often in many baking recipes, like cakes, pies, and muffins.
Folding is a way of mixing together two ingredients with different densities to preserve the lightness and structure of the mixture. Generally, one of the ingredients is light and airy, like whipped egg whites, and the ingredient it’s being folded into is heavier and denser, like melted chocolate. By folding the lighter ingredient into the heavier one, rather than stirring or whisking, you’re able to combine them without breaking too many air bubbles, the invisible ingredient in all of your baking and the secret to weightless meringues, soaring cakes, and dainty creams.
How to fold
Start with the heavier mixture in a large bowl. A larger, wider bowl shape makes the process easier.
Gently plop one half to one third of the lighter ingredient(s) on top. Incorporating the lighter ingredient(s) in batches is helpful if the denser mixture is particularly firm, like chocolate ganache. The initial inclusion will loosen up the latter so it’s easier to fold in the rest.
Using a wide silicone spatula or a wire whisk (more on that later), start at the top of the bowl, at twelve o’clock. Making sure your whisk or spatula is touching the bottom of the bowl, drag it straight down to around six o’clock. Scrape along the side of the bowl until you hit eight o’clock. Then flick your wrist toward two o’clock. Congratulations, you just folded.
Give your bowl a quarter turn and continue thusly, until the lighter mixture is almost fully incorporated. If you were folding in batches, add the second or third batch and continue folding until the batter is thick, airy, and uniform in color with no large streaks of the lighter ingredient (some small lumps or light streaks are okay; overfolding could deflate the batter).
In the spatula versus whisk debate: Most of us may fold with a spatula and while, yes, it’s fine, pastry pros prefer a round whisk for better, more efficient folding. Imagine the wires on a whisk as many (very, very narrow) spatulas and it suddenly becomes clear why it’s a superior tool for folding. Instead of just one point of contact, there are now 8–10, each swiping through the batter as quickly and precisely as Uma Thurman with the Crazy 88s.
Practice your strokes
A PSL lover’s dream come true. Big, soft bakery-style pumpkin muffins with crunchy pumpkin seed streusel and lots of spice. Great with butter and coffee.