Anyone can achieve baking success, whether it’s a beautiful black cake with just the right texture, or a fluffy loaf of bread with just the right amount of chew. The secret? It all boils down to chemistry.
The Nittty Gritty!
Understanding the role that each ingredient plays in baking, and how they work together to create the final product is the key to a perfect treat, every time.
Flour is to baking what walls are to a house – it provides structure. When water is added to flour, two proteins – glutenin and gliadin – bond to form a new protein. This new protein, gluten, lends structure and support to baked goods, and determines their texture. Flours that contain a high amount of protein produce strong doughs and create a chewy texture, while lower protein flours create a delicate crumb. Flour also serves as a thickener in pastry creams, some pie fillings, and sauces. Find out the most common types of flour and their uses here in this issue of Cooking Sense Dec. 2014.
Baking powder, yeast, and baking soda are the ingredients that bring life to the mix. Baking powder and baking soda are both used to leaven baked goods, quick breads, flat breads, muffins, and cakes. The resulting crumb is usually quite delicate. When activated they release tiny bubbles (carbon dioxide) that help lift the batter. The difference lies in the chemical reaction that they each produce.
Eggs serve many purposes in baked goods such as providing structure, aeration, emulsification, flavour, colour and nutritional value. Comprised of two main parts, eggs are responsible for most of the structure in aerated cakes like angel food and sponge cake. We explain the role that egg yolks and egg whites play in baking, in this issue of Cooking Sense Dec. 2014.
Fats in general, function as tenderizers and moisteners in baked goods. The addition of fat to a baked item will result in a softer, more tender and moist item. Too much fat can lead to a greasy, waxy mouthfeel and heavy, flopped cakes or quick breads.
Generally, sugar helps give baked goods a rich, golden colour and texture. Sugar help keeps food from spoiling and can be used to stabilize beaten egg whites. Find out the difference between using brown and granulated sugar in baking, in this issue of Cooking Sense Dec. 2014.
Milks adds moistness, improves the texture and mouthfeel of baked goods, and also promotes browning.
Salt improves the flavour of food when used in the appropriate quantity. This is why pastry chefs use minimal amounts of salt in most of their goods. In baking, salt not only improves flavour but also increases crust colouring, delays the fermentation of yeast, strengthens gluten – resulting in less sticky dough, for easier handling – and increased volume in breads.
Read the full article in this issue of Cooking Sense Dec. 2014, here.
Ricotta Pound Cake
by Cynthia Nelson
1 (9 x 5) loaf pan, buttered and dusted with flour
1 ½ cup all purpose flour
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt (sub: ½ tsp. fine table salt)
¾ cup softened butter (6 oz)
1 ½ cup white granulated sugar
1 ½ cup whole milk ricotta
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ vanilla bean, seeds removed (sub: 1 ¼ tsp. spoon pure vanilla extract)
1 tsp. vanilla essence
Powdered sugar for dusting or strawberry sauce (both optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with rack in the middle.
Add flour, baking powder and salt to a bowl and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
Add butter, sugar and ricotta to a large bowl and cream together for 2 minutes if using a hand mixer, 4 minutes if working by hand.
Add one egg at a time to the butter-ricotta-sugar mixture and fully incorporate.
Add vanilla bean (if using) or extract and essence and mix.
Add the flour in two batches incorporating it into the mixture. Once incorporated, do not over mix.
Pour batter into pan and tap to remove any bubbles.
Bake for 15 minutes then turn the pan 180 degrees (for even browning), reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Cool in the pan on wire rack and then invert and dust with powdered sugar or slice and drizzle with strawberry sauce.
2 cups frozen strawberry, thawed
1 tsp. fresh lime or lemon juice
¼ cup white granulated sugar
Add all the ingredients to a blender and puree/blend until smooth. Serve with cake or drizzle over ice cream, rice pudding and other desserts.
Get more delicious recipes for your holiday baking in this issue of Cooking Sense.