Six cool facts about the science behind baking

December 06, 2016

picture of a Centennial College chef dipping lady fingers into espresso for making a classic tiramisu

You probably think of baking as a means to an end. The means is mixing sugar, flour and eggs into a bowl, and the end is cookies, a cake, or something else sweet. But in truth, baking is more complex than that. It’s essentially chemistry, and there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes of videos, like our How to make Classic Tiramisu video, than you think. For example:

1. Every ingredient has a specific chemical job

The Elevated Kitchen says that the real reason you need the exact amounts of the various ingredients in what you’re baking to be precise is that you’re making a small, controlled chemical reaction. The wrong amounts mean that it won’t work at all. The Columbus Dispatch lays out what each ingredient does in detail:

2. It’s a struggle between the ingredients to grab the water

Also according to the Columbus Dispatch, it’s important to mix your dry ingredients in the right order, because all of your ingredients are fighting for one thing: The water. If you do it wrong, the batter won’t be able to get to it and will clump up. Speaking of water…

3. Sugar actually keeps everything together

Sugar is present in what you bake for more reasons than just sweetening, according to Lucky Peach. Its role is to bind to the water, because it’s hygroscopic, meaning it attracts water and keeps it from the other ingredients. Too much sugar and the cookie crumbles from brittleness. Too little, and it’s hard as a rock. Oh My Sugar High adds to this, by explaining that the absence of sugar in a confection allows flour proteins to create gluten, which is why gluten-free foods contain high amounts of sugar.

4. Flour makes a magic web

As this infographic from Shari’s Berries explains, flour is essential to bringing all of the ingredients in a baked dish together, as it absorbs water, and forms gluten chains, which make a “web” inside what you’ve baked. That web traps air in your dish as it expands, helping it rise up.

5. The secret of eggs

We mentioned above that eggs keep things glued together, but Lucky Peach actually explains why. Egg yolks contain something called lipids, a special kind of fat that adds colour and flavour to cookies. Meanwhile, egg whites contain albumin, a protein that interlocks when it’s heated, giving your dish structure.

6. Yeast literally gets gassy off of sugar

This one’s a little gross, but here goes: Bread and other baked goods rise because of a fungus called yeast eating the available sugars and expelling carbon dioxide (Co2. The expanding gasses make the dough rise. That’s right, your bread rises because the yeast eats a big meal, and gets gassy. Try not to think about it too hard.

There’s more science than just this behind baking, which is there for you to learn in Centennial College’s Baking programs, taught at our Culinary Arts Centre. It’s all in the service of making something delicious and making a career out of it.

By Anthony Geremia


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