Monthly Archives: February 2014

More baking science…..sugar!

Sugar, sugar….oh, honey, honey…..(anyone else hear the Archie’s song?) Here’s the link to help you get in the mood.

Another of our How Baking Works lessons focuses on sweeteners, where we examine different classes of sugars: crystalline, syrups and specialty sweeteners.  Crystalline sugars encompass everything from granulated sugar, to brown sugar and powdered sugar, as well as Demerara, Turbinado and Muscavado.  For syrups, we include corn syrup, glucose, molasses, honey and of course (my favorite!) maple syrup.  Specialty sweeteners comprise a variety of products including high intensity sweeteners (such as Splenda and Stevia), dextrose and isomalt .

Tasting demo of different sweeteners.

Tasting demo of different sweeteners.

And yes, we taste them ALL!  You would be surprised at the different flavors that these sweeteners impart.

Pound cake experiment with varying amounts of sugar.  The 100% cake is the correct one.

Pound cake experiment with varying amounts of sugar. The 100% cake is the correct one.

In addition to identification and tasting, we also conduct a few basic experiments.  One experiment explores the functions of sugar by adjusting the amount of this ingredient in a basic pound cake.  We bake a control pound cake using the correct amount of sugar (100%) and then we bake other pound cakes (the variables) using the following percentages of the correct amount:  0%, 25%, 50%, 150% and 200%.  This experiment proves some of the functions of sugar.  In addition to the obvious function of “sweetening,”  granulated sugar also:  provides tenderness, moistness, aids in leavening and provides color (caramelization).  And yes, we tasted all of these too!

Here's a comparison of cakes made just with Splenda or Stevia, and cakes made with a 50/50 blend of sugar and one of these sweeteners.

Here’s a comparison of cakes made just with Splenda or Stevia, and cakes made with a 50/50 blend of sugar and one of these artificial sweeteners.

For this experiment with “high-intensity” sweeteners.  We made the pound cakes with either Splenda or Stevia, and then with a 50/50 blend of Splenda/granulated sugar or Stevia/granulated sugar.  Our findings here proved that high-intensity (or artificial) sweeteners can only provide “sweetness” to a product.  When used as the sole sugar replacement, none of the other functions existed.  Note:  no color, tenderness, moistness or leavening.  Of course, we tasted them and concluded that the blends were much more appetizing.

Cookies made with no sugar, the correct amount of sugar, and double the amount of sugar.

Cookies made with no sugar, the correct amount of sugar, and double the amount of sugar.

Another experiment explored the functions of sugars in relation to the baking of cookies.  For this project, we made cookies with 0% sugar, 100% sugar (the correct one) and 200% sugar.  You can see here how the amount of sugar affects the caramelization, texture and the spread of the cookie.  Taste?  Yes, you guessed it!  Hmm… this time, as you can imagine, we are all pretty tired of sweets!  (Education and learning require perseverance!)

So, did you know that sugar has functions other than sweetening?


Baking Science… does baking work?

Students in my How Baking Works class, observing a demo.

Students in my How Baking Works class, observing a demo.

So how does baking work? This week we will look at different basic ingredients and how they function within baked products.  For my How Baking Works course, we focus a full day on the particulars of one specific ingredient, conduct experiments and analyze our products.  (Think…..Scientific Method meets The Bakeshop.)

For the first post in this series of baking science, we’ll look at flour and gluten.

Flour: Different types of flours and their protein contents. Why is the protein content of the flour important?  The protein content of each type of flour correlates to the gluten-forming proteins in that flour.  These proteins help give the baked product the desired taste, color, structure and texture necessary for the desired characteristics of that product.  For example, we use cake flour to make cakes light and tender,  and we use bread flour to make breads chewy and satisfying.  In the baking world, we use various flours for different products: cake flour, pastry flour, bread flour, and high gluten flour.

For this experiment we made a basic “lean dough roll,” which consists of flour, salt, yeast, and water.  Our control product (the correct flour for the roll) was the roll made with bread flour.  We also made rolls with cake flour, pastry flour, high gluten flour and a product called Vital Wheat Gluten. This experiment proved the function of flours and the function of protein in flour.

Here are our findings:

  • – the higher the protein content of the flour, the darker the crust of the roll
  • – the higher the protein content of the flour,  the taller the roll will rise
  • – the higher the protein content of the flour, the more open pore structure within the roll (larger air pockets).  More protein means more air (carbon dioxide gas) can be trapped from the yeast fermentation, causing larger air bubbles within the roll.
  • – flour absorbs moisture.  The higher the protein content of the flour, the more liquid it can absorb.
  • -flavor. Flours with a lower protein contain more starch and less flavor.

Lean Dough Rolls

This photo shows our lean dough rolls that were made with the various types of flours, ranging from cake flour (about 6% protein) to vital wheat gluten (about 75% protein). Vital wheat gluten is an additive used to supplement the protein content of products (like whole grain breads) that are made with lower-protein flours such as rye, oat, spelt or buckwheat.

Gluten:  Gluten, a stretchy gummy substance, forms when the gluten-forming proteins in flour (glutenin and gliadin) come in contact with moisture (water) and motion (mixing).  This substance gives our products the stability necessary for proper structure development.  Gluten is a buzz word these days in the world of nutrition.  Gluten-free products are very popular and although a dietary necessity for those who have Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, they are not healthy for people on unrestricted diets.  Celiac disease is an auto-immune condition where the body (specifically the small intestine) can not properly digest gluten, therefore causing a number of unfortunate side effects.

Check out the National Institute of Health’s website for more information on Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity:

Also check out King Arthur Flour’s website for information on flour, recipes, and products:

Baking science.  Too much information? Or are you fascinated with this topic?

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My resource for this information, the book How Baking Works, written by food scientist Paula Figoni, serves as the basis of our curriculum for the How Baking Works class, one of the fundamental courses for the IBPI (Baking and Pastry) majors at Johnson & Wales University.

Creativity: Food as Art, Art as Food

In food education, we name the programs of study:  Culinary Arts.   The two-year degree though is called an Associates of Applied Science.  So how do we make the connection between “art” and “science?”  Often, people say that cooking is an art, while baking is a science.  What makes this distinction?  Do the two overlap?  YES!!!

When cooking, measurements are not always crucial to the final product.  A recipe may have the following instructions:  a clove of garlic, a bunch of chives, two chicken breasts and “season to taste.”  The exact measurements are not indicated as it is up to the chef to determine the amounts, according to the desired result of the final creation.  An experienced chef can estimate the proper proportions and predict the outcomes.  Therein lies the art of taste!  How these creations are assembled on the plate then requires the art of presentation.

During one of the “chapters” in my professional career, I worked as the first mate and cook on a private yacht.  The owner of the boat, an attorney, and his wife, a classically trained chef, went out to different restaurants for dinner six nights of the week.  On the seventh night, I cooked for them on the boat.  Why did they eat out so much? They believed in the art and entertainment of the dining experience.  They would examine every component of the meal:  how the hostess greeted them, the décor of the restaurant, the eloquence of their waiter, the font of the menu, the feel of the cutlery and the design of the china, and oh yes, the meal itself!  The food, though an important part of the meal, was not the only creative medium in the art of dining.  The choreography of the entire evening involved many interdependent components.  When dining out, how often do we think the food was good, but the atmosphere made the meal less enjoyable?

In the baking and pastry world, we follow formulas.  We think of a recipe as a list of ingredients, whereas a formula determines the exact amount of each ingredient with a specific method of preparation (MOP).  As we “eat with our eyes first,” initial appreciation of a product relies upon the presentation.  We value wedding cakes for their beauty, birthday cakes for their whimsy and sometimes we create sculptures of food for their visual appeal alone.  Although the eating of the creation may be a secondary desire, taste completes the experience.  So although the ratio of ingredients and the method in which the product is prepared can be considered a science, the art depends on the visual appeal.

I find joy in trying a new recipe, or adapting an old recipe by using the ingredients at hand, making substitutions to accommodate the tastes of whom I am feeding.  For baking, I make a rule of following the initial formula as indicated.  Then, through my knowledge of baking science (more on that next week!), I may make adjustments to please my palate or alter the texture.  When making wedding or birthday cakes, I spend more time at the drawing board, then the actual production of the creation.  These are just some of the creative aspects of the food world.

The photos included in this post offer a variety of artistic views of food.  Food art can be everything from the natural beauty of fresh picked strawberries, to sugar and chocolate showpieces, to a sculpture of the world’s largest lobster. You can decide, is it art?

How do you “create art” in the culinary realm?

Fresh picked strawberriesFresh picked strawberries, nature’s pure art!  Very edible!

Chef Duke's Cake, Food as Art

Chef Ellen Duke’s Fruit and Vegetable Cake.  This is edible art!

Chocolate Sculpture

Chocolate sculpture.  Never intended to be eaten, but smells really good!

Sugar Sculptures

Sugar sculptures.  Again, never intended to be eaten.

The World's Largest Lobster

World’s largest lobster! (Sculpture and kids, not edible!)                                                                                  Shediac, New Brunswick, CANADA

Einstein, in Toast

Toast “painting” of Einstein.  Technically, edible.  (Ripley’s Believe It or Not Exhibit)

Fresh Fruit Tarts, Plated Desserts

Fresh fruit tarts, waiting to be served in our school dining room.  Delicious!

Themed Mini-Cakes

Themed Mini-Cakes from our Advanced Cake Decorating Class.

Cowboy Cake

Cowboy Cake.  Edible.  In fact, it fed 400 happy guests!