Recipes usually specify an order, which can make home bakers nervous about messing up.

By Julia Sklar
December 21, 2020

You're baking a cake and halfway through the preparation realize you added the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, when the recipe specifically asked for the opposite: "Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer … In another bowl, combine the oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry." Oops. But does it really matter? Is this a gaff worthy of starting over for, or can you confidently move on?

While mixing the dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls, and then combining, is in fact crucial, it turns out that the order in which they're added together — wet into dry, or dry into wet — doesn't hugely matter, except where cleanup is concerned.

The reason that wet and dry ingredients are often first mixed together in segregated bowls to begin with has everything to do with evenly dispersing ingredients. Without following this initial step, it's fairly easy to get batter that has unappetizing concentrations of salt or slightly metallic-tasting baking soda, or egg whites and yolks that are still separated, and will behave differently in the oven.

But from there, there is actually much debate about which order of combining is best. Some say that adding dry into wet leads to clumps of dry ingredients floating in the batter, while others say that actually the opposite, adding wet to dry, leads to, well, also clumps. It would appear that the jury is still out, and everyone despises clumps. But one thing is definitely true: It is much harder to successfully add dry ingredients into wet ingredients neatly. That order tends to lead to a giant puff of flour wafting toward the ceiling, and settling all over the counters, while a steady, viscous stream of wet ingredients will instead narrowly ribbon its way down into the bowl containing dry ingredients, and nowhere else.

When in doubt, you should usually abide by the combining orders of the recipe you're following because the author may have a specific reason for writing it that way, whether or not the reasoning is clear to you. But if you end up doing it the wrong way around, don't despair. Your cake will still rise, your cookies will still taste great with a glass of milk, and your pancakes will still make for a special breakfast.