Saturday 21 March 2020

Is Baking a skill or Science?

I asked the question 'Is Baking a skill or Science' at the ‘Science on Your Doorstep’ event at Cusworth Hall Doncaster recently. We chatted about the usual ingredients for a cake and how each one has a key chemical role to play.
What do the ingredients do?
Butter or oil (diary free) makes a cake tender
Sugar binds a cake and adds sweetness
Eggs act like glue, prevent crumbling and give a tinge of colour (or diary free alternative such as oat milk, vinegar or cornflour)
Flour gives structure
(but don’t over mix otherwise it’s too heavy and dense)
Baking powder adds air bubbles
Milk or water add moisture
Mix, melt or rub in
Creaming’ incorporates air to make it light and fluffy
‘Melting’ butter releases water content to mix with flour and form gluten so biscuits are chewy
‘Rubbing in’ is good for pastry or scones
Add the heat
When the ‘leavening agent’, usually baking powder (self raising flour has it already), is heated, it releases carbon dioxide into the mixture. As the temperature rises, a vapour forms from the water in the butter and eggs. Gluten forms with the flour and holds everything together so the mixture can set and achieve a permanent shape and colour.

What can go wrong in baking cakes? S

Sunk in
the middle

– Mixture is too soft.
–  Oven temperature is too cool so mixture does not rise evenly.
– Oven temperature is too hot so mixture does not cook evenly.
– Oven temperature is too hot.
– Cake is placed too near hottest part of oven.
– Mixture is too stiff.
too close

– Too much liquid is added.
– Mixture curdles when eggs added (NB add 1 tablespoon of flour to each addition of egg to reduce the risk of curdling).
Fruit (dried) sunk to the bottom
– Dried fruit is too damp.
– GlacĂ© cherries are sticky (NB always wash and dry glacĂ© cherries before use).

It’s good to follow a recipe but traditional cooks would often tweak their recipes to get the best results. Time to get testing!

In the end, we all agreed that Baking was a bit of both. 
Happy baking!