Hi - I'm Pam and I am a Baking Geek (part 2)

In PART 1 of this post, I talked about 5 general "things to know" when it comes to baking, especially baking cakes.  In part 2, I promised to go over the purpose of the key ingredients in cake recipe.  Key ingredients are:  flour, a leavener, sugar, eggs, and butter.

1.  Flour:  Flour is what gives the cake structure.  I have written quite a bit (probably more than anyone else wants to read) about flour.  For all you need to know about flour, see PART 1 and Flour Power.  The only other thing I need to add is not to overmix your batter.  When you mix flour with a liquid and beat, it forms gluten. An overmixed cake batter will result in a tough cake because it developed too much gluten.

2.  Leavener:  Leaveners (baking powder and/or baking soda) is what makes cakes rise.  They are not the only ingredients that cause the cake to rise, but they are the primary way.  Unlike yeast, which produces carbon dioxide bubbles in the presence of sugar to create rise in breads, baking powder and/or soda just expands the bubbles that already exist in the batter.

What's the difference between baking soda and baking powder and are they interchangeable?  No - baking soda needs an acid to act (like citrus, buttermilk, molasses, honey or chocolate).  Baking powder is activated when it comes into contact with liquids and again when heated.

To make my cakes rise a little more, one of the things I do just about every time I bake a cake is to create a parchment "collar".  This process is explained in a post a wrote last year, You've Got Wring Around The Collar.

3.  Sugar:  Now, we all know sugar makes the cake sweet, but that is not it's only purpose in cake baking.  It also breaks up the gluten (from the flour) to help make the cake tender.  Sugar also helps make the cake moist by trapping the liquids.

4.  Eggs:  Eggs help bind the ingredients together and set the cake batter.  When exposed to heat, the proteins in egg whites uncoil and help the cake to rise.  The
yolks gives the cake a rich flavor and helps to keep it moist.

5.  Butter:  Butter (or oil or shortening) help tenderize the cake by keeping the flour from forming gluten.  Oils do a better job of it than butter does, but butter produces a better flavor.

While I hope these posts about the science of baking help to "demystify" the process, I highly recommend Gretchen Price's blog - Woodland Bakery (be sure to check out her YouTube videos, too).

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