If you’re anything like me and are a fan of both baking and science then these pages are for you! In these pages you’ll learn how ingredients interact with one another during the mixing and baking stages. You’ll also learn the make up of ingredients, where they come from, how they are made/processed, and how to use them in recipes. You’ll also learn their functions giving you a better idea of how to effectively adjust your recipes so you can truly make your recipes one-of-a-kind. Knowing these functions will also help you identify which recipes actually work and which ones are just gimmicks. A baker well versed in food science is a powerful force indeed. Enjoy!
Fats – Fats include butter, oil, shortening, and lard. They play a pivotal role in providing baked goods the texture that makes them so irresistible. Fats are also the most varied of all the ingredients. Generally speaking flour is flour (most flour used for baking is from wheat) and sugar is sugar (most sugar used in baking is cane or beet sugar) but fats come from a variety of sources and are all widely available. Substituting different fats for one another in a recipe can have dramatic effects so it’s important to understand how each one works before trying to alter a recipe’s fat ingredients.
Sugars, Syrups, and Sweeteners – Sweeteners include sugar (sucrose, fructose, glucose), syrup (honey, maple syrup, corn syrup), and sugar replacers like equal, truvia, splenda, sweet’n low, and agave nectar. Granulated sugar (sucrose) has properties that sweeteners don’t always replicate (sweeteners are mainly created to replicated sugar’s sweetness not necessarily its other functions) so it’s important to know sugar’s functions if you plan to use a substitute.
Flours – The most common flour used in baking is made from wheat – and that’s really saying a mouthful. Wheat flours include: All-purpose flour, cake flour, pastry flour, and bread flour. Other flours include: Buckwheat, oat, rice, rye, and corn.
Eggs - Eggs have a profound effect on baking and pastry goods and most products wouldn’t exist without these ingredients including buttercream, cakes, ice cream, and custards. There are vegan substitutes for eggs but it’s rare that any of those substitutes could replace each of eggs’ functions and properties. Knowing how eggs work will give you a better idea of how to alter your recipes and how to knowledgeably pick a substitute.
Milk and Cream – Not long ago milk that was used in baking and pastry almost exclusively came from cow’s including heavy cream (sometimes called heavy whipping cream, or whipping cream), half-and-half, whole milk (as well as 2%, 1%, and non-fat), and buttermilk. Many substitutes have become mainstream now including soymilk, almond milk, and coconut milk. Other dairy products in this category include yogurt, sour cream, neufchatel, and cream cheese. Though less common in baked goods that fats, flours, and eggs milk and cream can play an important role in baking and pastry so it’s important to know how they work and how they affect your finished products – especially if you’re trying to find a substitute.
Thickening and Gelling Agents – Thickening agents usually refer to starches like cornstarch and arrowroot while gelling agents refer to proteins like gelatin – however these categories aren’t necessarily true for all ingredients. Agar-agar is a vegan gelling agent that is actually a carbohydrate. Thickening and gelling agents play critical roles in the dishes they are used in and can be difficult to substitute (not to mention difficult to just use) so it’s important to understand their roles in baking and pastry products.
Baking Soda, Baking Powder, Salt – Many recipes use these ingredients for what is assumed to be direct leavening but you’d be surprised what other functions these ingredients perform. Salt on the other hand does more than just flavor your recipes and most chefs generally agree that salt should be used in every recipe – even in just a tiny amount.
Chocolate - You’d be hard-pressed trying to find somebody who doesn’t enjoy chocolate – though I know they are out there! Despite being so beloved, chocolate is an extremely complex ingredient and comes in many different forms including sweetened bar, chips, cocoa butter, coating chocolate, couveture, and cocoa powder. While it’s important to understand how it affects baked goods it’s actually a little more important to understand how to use chocolate properly.