Mixing is arguably the most critical step in the baking process, the one that dictates more than any other what the end product will be. Don’t believe me? Imagine for a moment that you’re observing a baker at a work table. In front of him are indeterminate quantities of flour, fat, sugar, milk and eggs. Your job: to guess what he’s making before the whatever-it-is even goes into the pan. Impossible you say? Not if you were familiar with the Big Five mixing methods. For based solely on the way he combined those base components it would be possible to venture at least a pretty fair guess.
If he beats the sugar and the butter together until it’s light and fluffy, then he’s probably making cake or cookies. If he works large pieces of solid fat into the flour then he’s planning on biscuits or a pie or tart crust. If he mixes water into the flour as a first step then he’s got bread on his mind. You see what I mean.
Of course bakers have invented a wide variety of hybrid methods over the ages, designed to produce a wide range of effects (Rose Levy Berenbaum, for example, uses a combination biscuit-muffin method to make her famous cakes), but the ones I’ve just recited, along with the Egg Foam Method, are the basics. Details of each are contained in the following sections.