The Science of Baking, Continued: How Basic Ingredients Work

In December 2014’s “The Science of Baking,” writer Kelsey Casselbury broke down basic scientific principles – whether chemical or biological – that affect the baking process. The article looked at the basic function of six important ingredients: Flour, sugar, salt, eggs, fats and yeast. Often, though, you’ll run across some other basic ingredients in a baked good. What role do these ingredients play? Let’s take a look.

Baking Powder/Baking Soda Both baking powder and baking soda are leavening agents, which cause the baked good to rise as it bakes. They each release carbon dioxide, which enlarges air bubbles already in the batter. Baking soda does this just once, when it reacts to acids such as buttermilk, citrus juice or honey; baking powder does it twice – once when it reacts with liquids during mixing, and again when it’s exposed to the oven’s high temperatures. If your baked goods are too dense, it’s likely your leavening agents. Buy fresh cartons, as they can weaken over time.

Cream of Tartar This acidic salt acts as a stabilizer, particularly in recipes that require whipped egg whites such as meringues, angel food cakes and soufflés. The acidity of cream of tartar helps the egg whites hold water and air. This ingredient also add color to a baked good.

Milk Not only does adding milk to your recipe keep the baked good milk, it also helps bond flour protein and hinders gluten formation. This is because milk contains the sugar lactose. This sugar also helps promote browning during the baking process.

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