Bake like a Pro: Make ‘Lip smacking’ cake with science

If cooking is an Art, Baking is Science

If you look at a cake, it can be made with just five ingredients – self raising flour, sugar, butter/oil, egg and your favorite flavor. But to dish out a lip smacking dessert, you need to be an expert. Expertise means having the know how about how each ingredient would behave, what’s the ratio to be used, how quantity can be altered without losing cakes softness and texture etc.….. If you ask a chef….they will say it can only be gained by experience.

 But then here I differ….Making a cake is all about science…precisely speaking…chemistry. Let me detail out the chemistry behind making a cake, so that you could bake like a pro from your first attempt.

It’s said, If cooking is an Art, Baking is Science

Let’s start with the Flour

First lesson don’t mix up flours

Maida or white flour is similar to cake flour sold in the United States . Like cake flour, white flour is finely milled. It has less protein than all purpose flour. White flour is produced from soft wheat and is low in gluten content (8-10%).

All purpose flour is different from white flour. It is made from a mixture of hard and soft wheat. It has a gluten content of 9-12%. This can be used to make both cakes and breads. However cakes won’t be very soft.

Self-raising flour is a mix of all purpose flour, raising agent, and salt. The most commonly used raising agent is baking powder, but some brands also use bicarbonate of soda. Self-raising flour is many a times used as a short cut in baking (no need to add soda), or by vegans who do not eat eggs, as the extra raising agent in the flour mimics the role of egg..

Note: Weighing is the only accurate way to measure flour, as flour amount would vary depending on how tightly flour is packed into a measuring cup

Cake becomes dense and fails to rise….understand Gluten

Flours are mainly made up of starch and protein. When water is added to the flour, chemistry develops between them…. proteins glutenin and gliadin combine and form gluten.   Stirring, kneading, folding, and mixing causes gluten to stretch and organize itself into a network. Overmixing the cake batter, leads to thick, cohesive and elastic gluten resulting in a more dense, chewy texture.  This is beneficial in case of cookies, but it harms the cake.

Note:  Overmixing the cake batter, leads to thick, cohesive and elastic gluten resulting in a more dense, tough texture.  

Fluff up your Batter with Butter and Oil

Butter and Oil- together as Fat, perform two main roles in cake making.

Fluff up your Batter with Butter and Oil

Fats help in trapping air during beating and mixing. It helps in producing a batter with lots of tiny air bubbles trapped within droplets of fat.  Sugar adds more air pockets, and leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder expand those pockets, providing baked goods with their signature texture. This is very important in cake baking. It is these air bubbles that expand during baking forming a light, airy structure.

Fats weakens glutens: Fats coat gluten proteins and prevent them from forming long, strong strands. Because it shortens gluten, fats are called as ‘Shortening ‘agents.

Note: Fats are called as ‘Shortening ‘agents because they shortens gluten

Note: Fats are called as ‘Shortening ‘agents because they shortens gluten

Sugar: it’s just not a sweetening agent…

Sugar has many functions in addition to adding sweetness to cakes. The amount of sugar must balance out with, proteins, and starches from flour. But if that balance is altered and more or less sugar is added, then the result could either be so tender that it lacks the structure to hold its shape, or it could be in good shape but too tough.

Sugar undergoes a series of complex browning reactions above 160deg C, and the products of these form the brown crunchy crust of the cake. The reactions are known as Maillard reactions. 

Sugar also helps in making the cake moist. The interaction between sugar and water allows sugar to lock in moisture inside the cake.

Note: If the sugar added is more or less, it makes the cake too soft or rock hard

Which one to use….Baking Soda or Baking powder ?

Which one to use….Baking Soda or Baking powder ?

Baking powder and baking soda are both leavening agents, yet they are chemically different. Baking powder contains cream of tartar. Baking powder is part baking soda plus tartaric acid. It’s used in baking when dry ingredients have more sweet components. Most baking powders are labeled ‘double-acting’ meaning they release a small amount of carbon dioxide gas when they are stirred into the batter and release a majority of gas when triggered by the heat of the oven.

Whereas, baking soda does not contain acid, It’s just plain sodium bicarbonate. It is used when the sour cream, buttermilk, orange juice etc are added to the batter. The acids from orange juice, sour cream mix with the sodium bicarbonate to create carbon dioxide and thus leaven the product. Baking soda is more stronger than baking powder. Add just enough baking soda so that it will completely react with the amount of acid in the recipe. Too much baking soda and not enough acid means there will be leftover baking soda in the recipe. It gives a metallic, soapy taste to the cake.

Note: Baking powder has an acid. Baking soda need an acid…..simple

Eggs  provide structure, leavening, richness, color, and flavor to cakes

Beaten egg white  functions like baking powder – give the dough a light, airy texture. This is achieved because egg white (albumin) contains lecithin. This protein lines the outside of the air bubbles created when the egg is beaten up and so prevents them from collapsing during baking. To help stabilize whites even further, add acidic elements, like cream of tartar and lemon juice. In unbeaten whole eggs the lecithin acts as a binder, holding the cake together. In addition eggs can be used as emulsifiers, moisture source (instead of simply adding water). When egg is used as a glaze it also acts as a source of protein for the Maillard reaction.

Note:  Egg yolks contain fat, as well as lecithin, an emulsifier that allows fats and water to mix smoothly and ensures even texture.

Use the Right Bakeware

For baking one should not use any bakeware. Casserole pans, baking sheets, and muffin tins – all perform in very distinct ways. Glassware and metal baking dishes give different outcomes because they have different properties. Choose the bakeware based on recipe and temperature needs.

Note:  Bake the cake in the middle of the oven – too close to the top or bottom can cause overbrowning.

If you have read till the end of the post, you can start with Baking. Head to your kitchen, pick up your ingredients, set your oven….Enjoy Baking!

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77 thoughts on “Bake like a Pro: Make ‘Lip smacking’ cake with science

  1. Whenever I bake a cake (once in a blue moon) taking out Mom’s recipe book, I get to hear almost all of this from Mom. From measuring to weighing to mixing to preheating to cooling. Seriously, all these are so important while baking, but one only realizes after some failed attempts.

  2. this is so informative. I have always been fascinated with baking but being a no measure friendly cook i was always a mess. I understand its a science and the key is only measurement!

  3. As a baking newbie this is hugely helpful. Found some answers like the difference between Baking Soda vs Baking Powder as also between Maida and self-rasing flour. I used to depend on microwave cakes but now want to try it the proper way in an OTG. And I’ve been struggling to get it right.

  4. Wow! Didn’t know there was so much of science behind baking a cake! One question – Many recipes ask me to add baking soda, baking powder and egg! So what should I do scientifically, especially if I have run out of one ingredient 😛

  5. That’s really great that not only you shared a recipe of cake with us but you also know why these products are using and science behind it. You are genius mama. I always get confused with baking powder and baking soda. But now I am clear. Thanks for sharing this valuable information

  6. i have never read about baking in a scientific manner before. Thanks for this post, now I know so much about baking. I will be carewful about all the points you have shared. Love your blog .

  7. That was a superb run down on baking 101. I love to bake and bake fairly well, but now I can actually understand the omg and perhaps create some recipes

  8. That is some useful and detailed information, Hena. No wonder they say baking is an art and why measurements and ingredients are not interchangeable. Some of this stuff was new to me too.

  9. A nicely curated post. I’m a foodie and love cooking too. Your post is like a hand holding lesson for the first timer. I appreciate your genuine effort in curating this post. Thanks for sharing the info!!

  10. you are bang on when you say that the correct way to measuring quantities while baking a cake is to weigh them. Loved you post from the start through the end. Thanks for providing a scientific explanation behind behaviour of all the ingredients on the final texture of the cake.

  11. Hi! I agree when you say – Baking is Science. For me, it has always been about the measures and proportions. Cooking, you can get away with a few blunders here and there and call it a masterpiece like Modern Art ;). But, Baking is accurate science. No two ways about it. Creativity element is there but it is essentially science all the I am not a big fan of Baking Soda either and I´m a huge fan of eggs. I find it hard to appreciate baked items without eggs….they add richness, density and flavour as you rightly said. Interesting blog..glad to stumble upon it. Cheers!

  12. I never baked in my life but when my son completed 7 months and I wanted to provide him with some home made teething biscuits I turned to google to learn the basics of baking. I have baked quite a lot since then mostly cookies but every time the result was different even if I was following the same recipe. Now after reading your post I get to know the science behind baking and am very thankful to you as this is going to help me a lot now. Keep sharing such awesome posts!

  13. I loved reading this. Baking and all cooking in fact is a science and I love the precision of it. At one point of time in my life i was obsessed with baking and I realise now it was my need to bring some order and precision in my life. I really do enjoy the meticulousness of baking. I havent baked in a long time.. I must do it soon.

  14. I have baked a lot of cakes during my hotel management graduation days. And have heard and learn about these points. However you know how a mommy brain works at times. You just got all those memories of baking back. I guess I need to get my hands back on baking some cake soon

  15. This is a fun to read learning kind of post Hena, I love the way you explained and after reading the things which I had no clue about – my eyes went pop. cake baking is an art I always thought and being a dud in art I could never back a decent cake. Now that you have mentioned it as science let me give another shot 😉

  16. That’s quite an informative post and at the end of it, I can surely vouch for what you mentioned earlier that “Baking is a science” :D.

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