The science of Baking- Part 1

In our last post, we saw how the people back in the day discovered the art of baking cakes and cupcakes and other delicious pastry.

It got me thinking; did the inventors of this process rely on a certain science or did they take a bunch of ingredients and throw them together and eureka! Cakes were born?

Before going on any further, we must look at the components that make up that beautiful structure we call cake.

Basic cake ingredients.

Every recipe available out there has the following as the standard ingredients;

  1. Flour (Plain flour, Rice flour, Self raising flour etc.)
  2. Sugar (castor sugar, icing sugar)
  3. Fats and oils (Margarine, butter ,vegetable oil)
  4. Eggs
  5. Milk

The science of baking- Part 1

The above five ingredients are the essential building blocks of any standard cake. This is where it all begins.

Over the next couple of weeks we be looking into what each component brings to the table to ensure the cake comes to life 🙂

  • 1.Flour

Flour. Oh flour. The mother of all cakes, pies and other delectable treats. So what is the origin of flour? Let’s take a brief history class and discover the origin of flour and appreciate the role it plays in the cake or cupcake recipes that we enjoy baking.

Flour was discovered about 13,000 years ago during the Mesolithic stage of human development, past the peak of ice age. At this stage, there was a lot of settlement in the area and the lifestyle of the once nomadic individuals started becoming more and more settled. Hunters and gatherers emerged. Wild grass formed a large part of their diet and soon they discovered wheat. With the gradual development of agriculture, the farmers discovered that the wheat could be ground into a white powdery substance; Flour.

The wheat would be ground between two simple stones. Population started growing and so there was need to come up with better tools to grind more of the wheat to cater for the population. And so mills were invented.

People became creative as to the uses of the flour. From cooking it to baking with it. They were an adventurous lot weren’t they?

Flour contains starch(major component), protein, fats sugar and minerals. You might have come across some recipes that require you to use either plain flour, self raising flour etc. Flours are classified according to the protein content in them. The protein content decides what the end use of the flour will be for example;

Bread flour is a hard wheat flour with about 12 percent protein. Bread flour is used for yeast raised bread because the dough it produces has more gluten than dough made with other flours. Sufficient gluten produces a light loaf with good volume. Slices hold together, rather than crumble.

All purpose flour is blended during milling to achieve a protein content of 10.5 percent. This medium protein flour can be used for all baking purposes. If using all purpose flour in place of cake flour in a recipe, substitute 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour for 1 cup cake flour.

Whole wheat flour may be substituted for part of the white flour in yeast and quick bread recipes, but the volume of the finished product will be reduced. Whole wheat flour contains the nutritious germ and bran as well as the endosperm of the wheat kernel. Bran particles cut through the gluten during mixing and kneading of bread dough, resulting in a smaller, heavier loaf. If substituting a very coarsely ground whole wheat flour for all purpose flour, use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour for every cup of all purpose flour.

Wheat germ, though not a flour, is often used in place of part of the flour in recipes for flavor and fiber, Protein, vitamins, minerals, and polyunsaturated fats are concentrated in the germ of grain kernels.

The non-wheat grain products below are often used in baked goods. This is because they are rich in protein but most do not have the potential for developing gluten. For this reason, at least 1 cup of wheat flour should be used for every 1 cup of non-wheat flour so the product will not become too dense.

Rye flour is often used in combination with wheat flour for bread. Light rye flour can be successfully substituted for 40 percent of wheat flour in a recipe without loss of volume. Medium and dark rye flours should be limited to 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively, of the total flour amount.

Oat flour-has a relatively high protein content, 17 percent, but does not form gluten. Oat flour can be substituted for as much as 1/3 of wheat flour in bread.

Corn-meal is coarsely ground dried corn. Corn flour is more finely ground corn. Both corn flour and corn meal contain 7-8 percent protein on a dry basis. Neither corn meal nor corn flour will form gluten. A grainy texture in cornbread can be avoided by mixing the cornmeal with the liquid from the recipe, bringing to a boil, and cooling before mixing with the other ingredients.

Rice flour-has about 6.5-7 protein and does not form gluten. For people who do not tolerate gluten, rice flour is an acceptable substitute for wheat, barley, rye or oat flours. In baked products, 7/8 cup of non-waxy rice flour can be used in place of 1 cup all purpose wheat flour.

The above non wheat grain flours are suitable for those individuals who are allergic gluten. So to all those allergic to gluten, all is not lost. You can still enjoy cakes and cupcakes! 🙂

And finally Cake flour is normally a soft wheat flour that contains about 7.5 percent protein. The lower gluten content causes products to have a tender, more crumbly texture that is desirable in cake.

Self rising flour has some leavened agents significant to gluten content and they produce softer and lighter baked products. This is achieved when the rising agents and the flour components embed air bubbles during the mixing process.

Plain flour is exactly that. Plain. Without any leavening/rising agents. It has high protein content which is required to bind the flour to trap the carbon dioxide released by the yeast.

So the next time a recipe calls for the use plain flour or all purpose flour, or self raising flour, you can smile to yourself b’cause now you know!

In our next post, we look at the next couple of basic ingredients on our list. The learning continues!


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