The Science of Baking
Good bakers are sometimes better scientists than they are chefs. Because unlike a cooking recipe that you can adjust as you go along, good baking relies on an innate understanding of how ingredients work together to create the desired result. If you’re cooking a stew, you can fiddle with the salt and pepper as it cooks, but with baking, it’s all about accuracy. You only get one shot at it. There is no in-between.
So here are few basic concepts that will help you to better understand the science behind your cake recipes, brought to you by the Stork Baking team.
When you combine sugar and margarine, be sure to “whip” or “cream” the mixture well before incorporating your eggs. This means beating your egg and sugar mix until it becomes pale and the sugar has started to combine with the liquid in the eggs. It can take anywhere from 2 – 5 minutes depending on your mixer and it ensures that air bubbles areinjected into mixture and makes for lighter, fluffier bakes. Aeration is essential to build up the volume of your batter.
Top Tip: We recommend Stork Bake because it’s the best margarine for baking cakes.
Egg yolks add a lovely golden colour and richness to a batter, but the egg whites also play an important role. The protein and water make a great binder for the batter. It’s important to “scramble” the egg mixture before adding it into your batter, otherwise the yolky strands may cause an uneven texture in the cake.
Wheat cake flour contains gluten, which is what gives breads and cakes their elasticity. So the trick is not to under, or overwork the flour. If you overwork the flour, the gluten bonds will be so tight that your cake will not rise nicely. If you underwork the flour, the gluten won’t have strengthened enough and your cake may collapse. The rule of thumb is to fold flour into the cake batter to make sure its properly incorporated – and then stop.
Cake rises for 2 reasons. Firstly, because carbon dioxide is released by the baking powder, and secondly because the water in the eggs creates vapour that also allows the cake to rise. The gluten in the flour is like a balloon and the leavening agent and water in the recipe is what puffs it up with vapour and CO2. So, you can imagine that if your flour is underworked, then you will have weak balloons and the air will escape, leaving the cake flat and dense.
Have you ever wondered why raw batter and cake taste so different? It’s the “Maillard Reaction”. It happens when food is cooked above 140 °C and it refers to the chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars when heat is introduced. It’s called “browning” because the chemical reaction changes the appearance and taste of foods. So, all you need to know is that if you don’t bake at 140 °C plus, you won’t get a nice golden brown colour and that glorious crunch.
And herewith ends the Science lesson for today. For more baking tips visit the Stork Baking Academy.