Happy Sunday! I hope you all had a wonderful week! I have another wedding next weekend, so I’m starting to get organized for that. It is a large event, so I’ll be doing a lot a baking this week!
There is definitely an art and a science to baking and cake decorating. I usually share the artistic side, but after talking to a couple of friends, I decided to do a few posts on the science side of things. Now don’t worry, I’m not about to bore you with a lot facts! It’s really cool actually!
Every cake recipe is made from basically the same few ingredients and each one serves a specific purpose. You can’t just go switching things around, leaving things out altogether, or adding new things. But with a little bit of knowledge you can learn how to make substitutions when necessary or how to successfully add your own twist to a recipe.
- Butter -
Most cakes call for butter, but oil or shortening are also used sometimes. I’m definitely a fan of real butter…there isn’t anything better! Butter (or whatever the fat source is) keep the cake moist and adds flavor. A cake made without butter would be very crumbly and somewhat bland.
All fats are not the same though….you can’t just swap one for the other. Oil and shortening are both 100% fat, butter is about 75% fat and 25% water, and margarine (gasp! I hate to even mention it!) is 30 – 50% fat and the rest water. Margarine should NOT be used in baking. It contains too much water and will produce a very tough cake.
- Sugar -
Obviously sugar provides taste, but it also contributes to the moistness of the cake too. There really are no substitutes here. Honey can used, but the cake will be much darker both inside and outside.
- Eggs -
Eggs mainly provide structure in baked goods, but they also help to bind all the ingredients together. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I made an egg-less cake, so you can make substitutions though. I found that yogurt made a great substitute for eggs, since it provided the missing proteins from the egg.
- Vanilla -
Of all the ingredients in a cake, vanilla is probably the most simple…its serves ones purpose: flavor!
Flour, like eggs, provides structure in cakes. However, it is very difficult to find a substitute. The gluten in the flour is what gives a cake its texture; without that, you would have a very dense cake. That gluten can be a problem though if it’s over mixed. That can lead to a very chewy texture, which is not desirable in a cake.
If a recipe specifies all purpose flour, cake flour, or bread flour, it is a good idea to use the right kind of flour. The amount of gluten and protein is different in each one and that can really mess with your finished product.
- Baking powder -
Baking powder is called a “leavening agent” which basically means that it makes the cake rise, which gives it a fluffy texture. Baking powder is not the same as baking soda. Baking powder will react with any liquid, whether it acidic or not. Most baking powders sold in stores in “double acting” which mean it reacts once when it gets wet and once when it is heated.
- Baking Soda -
Baking soda is also a leaving agent. However, it requires another acidic ingredient like buttermilk or yogurt to make it work. Baking soda is “single acting” so it only reacts when it get wet. So, when baking with baking soda, you have to get it in the oven pretty quickly or all the baking soda will react away.
In cakes, salt has just one job: flavor! If you leave the salt out, your cakes will taste very flat and one-dimensional. Salt enhances all the other flavors in the cake.
- Milk/Buttermilk -
The milk or buttermilk (or in some cases, water) obviously add moisture to the cake, but it can also affect the leavening agent. If the recipe calls for baking soda, make sure you also use buttermilk or there won't be any acid to react with the baking soda.
Stay tuned for Cake Science Part 2....I'll give you a quick overview of the science of mixing all these ingrediants together. It really is important to cream the butter and sugar together first and alternate the wet and dry ingrediants, and I'll explain why!