Using Vinegar in Baking

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Pungent-flavored vinegar seems like an unusual ingredient to use in baking, but vinegar's chemical properties make it a baking star. From creating fluffier cakes to making perfect meringues, vinegar is a versatile baker's helper. Learning vinegar's uses and secrets can save you time and avert baking disasters, for only pennies per use.

The Type is Right

White vinegar is one of the most common types of vinegars used in baking, with a simple, mellow flavor. It's produced by distilling alcoholic spirits from grains like rye and corn. Cider vinegar, crafted from fermenting apples, has a fruity flavor and is slightly sweeter than white vinegar. Neither of these two types will leave any lingering vinegary tastes behind in cakes or breads. Balsamic vinegar, which is made from unfermented grape syrup, is another option, but due to its stronger flavor, save it for recipes that specifically call for it.

Rise and Shine

One of the most important roles of vinegar in baking is to react with baking soda, creating carbon dioxide gas that helps cakes and cookies rise as they bake. To boost homemade bread dough rising, add 1 tablespoon of vinegar for every 2 1/2 cups flour in a recipe. If you have soft water, which can weaken gluten in dough, a little vinegar will also improve bread quality. Vinegar can help frosting, too -- a scant 1/2 teaspoon vinegar added to homemade frosting makes it creamy and glossy.

Call in the Substitute

If you've ever started a recipe and realized that you are out of buttermilk, vinegar can come to the rescue. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar and milk to a measuring cup, let it stand five minutes, and use as you would buttermilk. Vinegar can also stand in for lemon by adding 1/2 teaspoon vinegar in place of each 1 teaspoon of lemon juice in the recipe. To use vinegar instead of wine, dilute 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water.

But Wait, There's More

Add 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar for every three egg whites to make meringue that is fluffier and more stable. The vinegar prevents the meringue from collapsing by reducing the number of bonds formed between egg proteins. Vinegar brushed over a loaf of homemade bread a few minutes before the end of the baking cycle will help produce a golden brown crust. Likewise, adding a little vinegar to pie dough will result in a tender, flaky crust. If a fruit pie or other dessert turns out overly sweet, just add a pinch or two of vinegar to balance the flavors.