Baking is a science. You’ve probably heard that before, but what does it really mean? The science (and math) fundamentals of baking have to do with the process and the interaction of the ingredients used. When I teach my students, I focus on the steps to make bread and the functionality of bread ingredients. Once they begin to understand that, we move onto the science of mixing, which is the focus of today’s post.
Rub your hands together. You’ll notice that you generate heat, which is why we often do this in the winter to keep warm. This is friction. Friction creates heat (which is an important factor to consider especially when dealing with yeasted doughs). This is why dough and batters get warm as they mix.
Along with friction, mixing further breaks down the particles so that they can come together into a cohesive dough or batter. We mix for a few reasons.
- Combine ingredients
- Create gluten
- Add or incorporate air
The first one is the most obvious. We’re mixing to form the dough or batter. The second one, is specific for anything used with wheat flour and for yeasted doughs. Gluten is what allows the air to be trapped inside during fermentation (where yeast eats sugar to create carbon dioxide). The third one is one most, including my students, don’t consider. Air as an ingredient is often overlooked. There are specific instances wherein you would need to purposefully incorporate air. For example, in meringues or whipped cream, you rely on air for height as well as texture and mouthfeel. Egg whites, egg yolks, heavy cream, are all examples of ingredients you use to incorporate air. These batters are very delicate so you must be careful with overmixing or overworking it, thereby deflating it.
There are several mixing methods used in baking. The three most common ones are: creaming, kneading, and beating. Sounds a bit violent, right? Knowing which method you need to use tells you the order the ingredients should be added and how it should be done (tools, etc.). Generally, if a recipe says to use the creaming method, you would use a paddle attachment to mix the butter and sugar. For kneading, you would use a dough hook attachment. Finally, for beating, you would use a whisk attachment.
Understanding the fundamentals in baking allows you to manipulate them in order to influence the outcome of the final product. I could go on and on as I find the science of baking interesting and am always seeking more knowledge to increase my understanding of these concepts. We’ll stop here for now.