FoodScience

Baking: The Science Explained

Baking is a science. It requires skill and experience to make a perfect product. A slight change in the baking formulation product may turn out to be a disaster. 

I started baking this year and I failed many times. I repeat the same recipe again and again and was chasing perfection in a simple sponge cake. Every time the cake was a disaster until I learned the science behind it.

Baking is simple physics and chemistry. It’s an attempt to break those into steps.

Step 1 – Creaming butter and sugar

Take sugar and butter together and beat until the mixture is fluffy and similar to whipped cream. The reason behind the melt in the mouth texture lies in this step.

In this creaming process mixing of sugar and butter takes place. Air is the hidden component that is being incorporated in the mixture. Bubbles of air are encased by a film of fat, creating a foam. 

The butter in the mixture acts as a “shortener”. The fat coats the starch and protein of the flour with an oily film, and in so doing reduces the formation of tough (bready) gluten. This leads to a cake that has a tender and “short” crumb.

Role of sugar in the cake is quite complex. Initially, it helps to incorporate air but it reduces the caramelization point as well.

Step 2 – Addition of egg

Eggs are added to the cream of butter and sugar. It is a very important ingredient for a light and fluffy cake. It provides three functions to the mixture. 

The protein in the eggs forms a layer around bubbles formed from the butter and air. Protein coagulates on heating thus it prevents the collapsing of bubbles while baking in the oven.

The eggs provide the majority of the water for the cake mixture.

The eggs give the rich and heavy flavour to the cake.

Step 3 – Folding in flour

Gentle Folding action is used to incorporate the flour without breaking the bubbles. It acts as a structure builder within the cake. The starch in the flour is a reinforcing agent that stiffens and helps strengthen the egg foam. Gluten is the protein responsible for holding the cake together. Its elastic property allows the cake to expand while baking. Then it coagulates into a strong network that supports the heavyweight of sugar and butter.

Step 4 – Agents and baking

Baking powder is a leavening agent. Its a blend of dried acid and alkali. When it’s heated within a dough or batter, carbon dioxide is formed. As temperature increases, the water turns to vapour. Formation of gases and vapour causes the expansion of air bubbles inside the batter. To prevent the gas from escaping, gluten structures keep the backed good together.

As the temperature increases, the starch in the flour absorbs moisture, egg coagulates and gluten loses its elasticity. Now the cake has taken its permanent shape.

Step 5 – Browning

There is a drastic change in the colour and flavour of the baked cake and the batter. This happens because of the Maillard Reaction. The sugars and amino acids break down to form flavour compounds. 

After a series of constant chemical reactions, the cake is finally ready!!!

Article by,

Haroshit Tandon, admin

Student, NIFTEM

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