Perfecting your cake baking skills takes time and practice. Most people know how to bake a cake or can follow simple recipes, but the best way to mastering the art is by understanding the science behind it. Leavening agents are your first step in this journey; they are the basics of making cakes, allowing them to become fluffy masterpieces.
What are Leaveners?
Leaveners are a very important aspect to baking; they are what allow the dough to rise and become fluffy, spongey, and delicious. Leavening agents release gasses within doughs and batters that cause them to rise and expand. They are used in almost all baked goods unless you are creating something like a pie crust that shouldn’t rise. While your treat is baking, it will begin to set with the bubbles still in the batter. Smaller bubbles create smooth bread, like cake, while large bubbles create a rougher, heartier texture such as bread.
Why Are Leaveners Important?
Leavening agents are imperative to the baking process. The gasses create thousands of bubbles in the dough using the stretchy gluten. If not for leaveners, dough would not be able to rise and expand, leaving you with chewy and unpleasant bread. For example, leavening creates the difference between a cupcake and a tortilla.
How to Properly Mix in Leaveners
When adding leavening agents to your baked goods, the simplest technique is to whip your egg whites until they are fluffy and then slowly fold in the rest of your ingredients. This will allow you to retain as much air as possible in the dough. When using chemical leaveners like baking soda or baking powder, we recommend mixing all of the ingredients normally because they create bubbles as soon as the CO2 starts being produced, which means that you don’t need to force air bubbles into your dough. Biological leavening with yeast is mixed just like chemical leaveners but it has a very slow rising process. Once yeast is activated, it eats the glucose and lets its excretions create the CO2 bubbles, the magic of baking with leaveners.
Different Types of Leaveners?
There are generally three different types of leavening agents: biological, chemical, and physical. The most commonly used biological leavening agent is yeast. Don’t be alarmed, but yeast is actually a type of fungus. Yeast makes the dough expand through fermentation, the process where yeast consumes sugar to produce bubble-making CO2. Yeast normally needs to be activated for this to happen. When using the most popular type of yeast (active dry yeast) you have to dissolve it in 105 F water in order to activate it.
Everybody has heard of baking soda and baking powder, even non-bakers, but these types of leaveners are different, regardless of the similarity in look and name. Baking soda is used with an acidic ingredient that creates CO2, the magic ingredient in baking that produces those fluffy, scrumptious cakes. Baking powder works similarly to baking soda but they are not interchangeable. Baking powder actually has a mix of baking soda and some other acidic elements, which are activated when mixed with liquid.
Physical leavening involves forcing air into your dough when you mix the butter and sugar. With enough mixing, little air pockets are created as you whip the egg whites until fluffy, which fills the mixture with bubbles. To keep the air bubbles intact, slowly add the rest of the ingredients.
Leaveners are a key part in baking almost everything, from cakes and muffins to banana bread and cookies. Knowing how to properly use leaveners will prevent you from creating those dense, dry, and distasteful cakes. When you consider these small yet essential details in your baking, your favorite recipes will always turn out perfectly. After all, life is what you “bake” of it!
If you don’t feel like putting in the effort to become a master baker (you’re not alone), then treat yourself to Ne-Mo’s classic and wholesome treats, the delicious example of how your own home-baked goods should taste. As part of our Baking Basics blog series, remember to look out for new up-and-coming baking tips from Ne-Mo’s Bakery!