5 ingredients to baking and the science behind them

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Some say baking is an art while others say that it can be a science.  Here are five ingredients commonly used in baking and cool scientific facts about them.

#1 Flour

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Flour is used in almost every baked good whether it be your favorite pastry or a delicious cookie.  Flour is made up of two proteins: glutenin and gliadin.

When you add water to flour to hydrate the ingredients, these proteins are drawn to each other and bond forming a new protein called gluten.

Now that you have dough, the next step would be kneading the dough.  Kneading the dough builds gluten networks which in turn support the bread that it will become later in the oven.  While dough rises, existing gluten threads touch and create more links inside the dough.  When the now kneaded dough is baking inside the oven, the proteins and starches in the flour transform into a sturdy webbing inside your baked product.

 

#2 Leavening agents

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Leavening agents are made up of yeast, baking soda and baking powder.

Yeast literally brings bread to life.  As yeast feeds on sugars in the dough, it produces a liquid that when it touches an air pocket it produces carbon dioxide and alcohol.  The elastic dough traps the small carbon dioxide bubbles and the dough rises.

Meanwhile, baking powder and baking soda release carbon dioxide that only enlarge bubbles that already exist in the batter.

Baking soda reacts chemically with acids such as citrus juice, buttermilk, molasses, honey and chocolate to produce carbon dioxide.

Baking powder adds carbon dioxide twice during the baking process.  Once when it reacts with liquids during mixing and again when it is exposed to higher temperatures in the oven.

 

#3 Eggs

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There are two parts of the egg to consider while baking.

Egg whites

Egg whites work as leavening agents.  When heated, the proteins in the egg whites uncoil and practically explode during the baking process.  The proteins also force out moisture when they are heated which is something to take into consideration while baking.  This can lead to chalky dry pastries.

Egg yolks

Egg yolks, on the other hand, add moisture to baked products.  Too much egg yolks and your baked good could come out kind of wet.

 

#4 Fats

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Adding fats to your baked good can make them tender.  Fats coat the proteins in flour preventing them from bonding with water and forming gluten.  Oil coats flour’s proteins better than butter, therefore, oil based cakes are moister than butter based cakes.

#5 Sugar and Milk

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Sure, sugar gives pastries their wonderful sweetness, but it also helps keep them moist.  There is a scientific explanation behind sugars tenderizing properties.

When you add sugar, the proteins glutenin and gliadin break off separately and not much gluten is formed.  Too much sugar and your baked product will not have any structure.

Milk also helps baked goods be moist.  Milk contains the sugar lactose which bonds with flour proteins and prevents gluten formation.

In addition to their tenderizing properties, sugar and milk promote browning of the pastry.  Bread crust is essentially caramelized sugars.

These are just a few ingredients used in the baking process to make wonderful creations.  It is amazing how science can explain how each ingredient acts and reacts with one another.  Just like with science, baking requires a lot of experimentation.  The addition of a few more measurements of one ingredient could cause disaster or awesomeness.  Subtract some measurements of another and you would get a completely different product.

Yes, mom, even baking cookies has science in it!

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