6 Reasons Why Baking is a Science and Why Pastry Chefs Need It.

Bakers and chefs don’t have to be scientists, but it enriches them professionally and makes them better bakers when they understand the science behind baking.

To help student chefs who wish to pursue a career in baking, we’ve researched the science of baking. Let’s start with the following:

Why is baking a science?

Baking is a science as chemical processes operate during baking, changing ingredients into baked goods like cakes and cookies. Added and mixed in the right way, baking items interact with each other and undergo physical and chemical changes, further increased by heat exposure to create baked goods.

Science is involved in the primary methods for making baked goods like cakes, bread and pastries. Let’s take a closer look at the science behind baking.

6 Reasons why baking is a science.

Below are a few reasons listed to help understand the science of baking.

1. Scientific processes are vital to creating baked goods.

Baking is a science because it relies on chemical processes to create the finished baked product. These chemical processes are activated by adding, mixing, and the various ingredients interacting.

For example, when flour and water are mixed, gluten formation is triggered by the absorption of the proteins in the flour.

2. Adding a leavener, like yeast, sparks chemical activity.

Leavening agents, like yeast and baking powder, that cause batter or dough to rise have locked-in chemical processes released when they combine with other ingredients or are subjected to baking processes like mixing, beating, or heat.

3. Each ingredient has a scientific role in the end product.

Each item triggers a chemical reaction towards the formation of the end product.

For example, in making bread, you need flour, water, yeast and oil, and each ingredient plays a vital part in the bread produced.

Flour: Flour provides the structure for the bread as it contains gluten made up of proteins giving structure and strength to baked goods.

Water: Water is necessary for mixing ingredients and to trigger the chemical reaction of the gluten proteins in the flour, which need to absorb water to develop.

Yeast: Yeast is the leavening chemical that causes the bread to rise. Yeast consumes glucose and carbohydrates from the dough and produces ethanol and carbon dioxide gas which becomes trapped in the batter, causing it to increase over time.

Oil: The oil used to make bread makes bread softer and prevents water from escaping during baking.

Sugar: Besides contributing to the bread’s taste, sugar’s role in bread is two-fold: 1. It acts as a fuel for the yeast during the fermentation process, 2. Sugar is vital for the Maillard chemical reaction that gives bread its brown crust.

Salt: Salt adds to the flavour of the bread, but it also plays a stabilising role in bread dough.

For one, the right amount of salt helps to control the yeast fermentation rate in the dough, slowing down the rising time, and hence the gluten in the dough has time to strengthen.

Salt also forms a protective layer around charged gluten molecules, shielding them from each other. As such, they draw closer rather than repel each other, strengthening and stabilizing the batter.

When making bread, each ingredient plays a vital role.

In making cupcakes, you need cake flour, eggs, baking powder, sugar and oil or baker butter. As in the making of bread, each ingredient is vital for the reaction it creates towards making cupcakes:

Flour: Weak flours are used for baking cakes as they have a low protein content to prevent gluten formation, so the cupcakes are baked to a light and fluffy perfection.

Baking powder: The chemical purpose of baking powder is to cause the cake to rise. Baking powder contains an alkali, sodium bicarbonate and a weak acid like tartaric acid.

When exposed to the right amount of heat from the oven, the alkali and acid react in combination and release water and carbon dioxide bubbles, making the cake rise and leaving it light and fluffy.

Eggs: The protein in eggs helps to give structure to the cupcakes. Without it, the cupcakes will be soggy.

When eggs are beaten, the protein in the egg then breaks apart and gets tangled together to create bonds that hold in air bubbles, and these are strengthened even more with the heat from the oven, creating even more air bubbles to give light and fluffy cupcakes.

Sugar: Besides adding sweetness to cakes and the brown crust formed from the Maillard chemical reaction, this reaction is also responsible for the flavour and aroma of cakes.

Oil or butter: The fat in the oil or butter used in making cupcakes coats the starch and protein in the butter to slow down the development of gluten, adding to the light and fluffy taste of the cake.

Without the oil, more gluten will form, leading to a thicker, dry texture in the dough.

Each ingredient has a scientific purpose.

4. Applying heat causes scientific changes in the batter.

During baking, chemical reactions are set in motion when batters and doughs are exposed to heat like the oven’s heat, creating baked goods like cookies and bread.

As in the case of cookies, the butter in the mixture is an emulsion of two substances which separate as the butter begins to melt under heat. This separation results in cookies spreading out in the oven.

Eggs, used in many baked goods, contain protein strands that uncoil and tangle together again under heat, binding the cookie dough together.

5. Chef actions like kneading dough cause chemical changes.

The baker’s actions, like mixing or kneading dough, are critical to the outcome of baked goods.

For example, the proteins break apart in beating the eggs, which is essential for binding the dough together. Of course, a machine can be used rather than mixing or beating by hand.

The kneading of the dough, though, is still by hand, and how long dough is mixed directly impacts the chemical process in the dough:

By kneading bread dough, gluten forms long, elastic strands; the more the dough is kneaded, the more gluten develops.

The baker’s actions trigger a scientific reaction.

6. The proper science change needs an exact ingredient ratio.

Baking is often referred to as an exact science because you need to stick to the precise measurements of ingredients to ensure the baked good comes out flop-free. Incorrect proportions could result in a lopsided cake, as the ingredients don’t react correctly.

In addition, all ingredients must be weighed rather than measured by volume, as weight ensures greater measurement accuracy.

Using the correct proportions is especially important when working as a professional chef and baker, as it ensures that the baked goods one sells to customers taste the same and is the same proportion each time.

Further, in business, there are costs involved when a batch of cupcakes has to be discarded because exact measurements were ignored, resulting in an inedible product not being suitable for selling.

Having said that: many expert bakers with years of experience attest to judging proportions and producing delicious baked goods. My mom was pretty good at ‘eyeballing’ ingredients and creating great-tasting cakes (mostly).

5 Reasons why bakers and chefs need to know baking science.

Professional Bakers and pastry chefs need to understand the science of baking:

1. For professional success as a baker or pastry chef.

If you want to make a success of career in baking and pastry, it is critical that you understand the science of baking ingredients and how they react with each other.

This will help you produce good quality baked goods and understand the reasons behind the formula (recipes) you follow.

2. To create new baked goods.

Knowing the science of baking is critical to developing new baking formulas, guiding the chef on which flour to use, what kinds of ingredients and measurements, what mixing methods or what temperature to bake at.

By understanding the science of baking, the role different ingredients play, and how they function, a chef can experiment to create new baking formulas that meet various dietary requirements.

3. To create the wanted product by managing the ingredients.

Knowing the scientific composition of ingredients is vital in helping the baker understand why they need to use one flour above another.

A baker needs to know that gluten development controls the lightness or heaviness of the batter or dough, making it better to use strong flour for bread because they have a higher protein content, and cakes are made from weak flour because they have a low protein content.

4. To know which mixing method to use.

Knowing the science of baking and the outcome they want to achieve when baking or designing new products, bakers can decide which method for mixing is best for the desired result.

5. To understand what went wrong when a flop occurs.

When chefs understand how ingredients function and their chemical purpose, they can more easily pinpoint what went wrong when a baked good does not turn out as expected.

Baking is both an art and a science.

A question often asked is whether baking is a science or an art. The answer is that:

Baking is both a science and an art as baking relies on the chemical reaction in each of the ingredients to be active to form the final product, and it is an art as it allows the baker to express their creativity in making new baked goods and in designing cakes that are artistic masterpieces.

As an art, baking allows for the expression of creativity.

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