If you have ever been to a culinary school, one of the basic lessons you would have learned is that baking is a science. Every ingredient from flour to salt in baking plays a scientifically important role in delivering the desired result. The process of baking and the roles played by its various ingredients has a lot to do with chemistry.
When baking a cake, accuracy in the measurements of ingredients is as important as the method of preparation in getting the final product right. Getting the right measurements and knowing the recipe can get you a perfectly baked cake, but knowing how the ingredients work, will make you a pro in cake baking.
Science is not everyone’s thing, however, knowing a little for the sake of cakes wouldn’t be a bad idea. So let’s begin with creaming the fat and sugar. When we cream the fat and sugar many little air bubbles are formed in the process, and these bubbles are kept trapped in the mixture surrounded by a film of fat. It is the air bubbles that bring the fluffiness in the cake when beaten eggs are added to the mixture. Only solid fat has this ability to hold air bubbles, and that is why we need to use butter or margarine in recipes that call for creaming of the fat and sugar.
Flour, the main structure building element in cakes have protein that bonds and creates gluten when it comes in contact with wet ingredients, giving the cake its structure. Then comes the leavener, that is baking soda or baking powder. When the leavener come in contact with wet ingredients it produces carbon dioxide which will be stuck in the batter because of the starch from the flour which expands during baking and makes the cake rise.
Now, sugar is not just an ingredient that provides sweetness to the cake. It plays multi-role in baking a cake. Sugar breaks down the gluten in the flour and keeps the texture tender, it absorbs and locks in the moisture keeping the cake moist and also helps with the caramelization process enhancing the flavours and colour.
In short an understanding of the interaction of ingredients is the key to successful cake baking. The above said are pure basics. Learning and understanding the basics could give you the confidence to bake some amazing goodies.