Baking Lessons: How To Bake and Baking Principles
Baking is an entirely new world that encompasses a whole set of new principles, techniques, and methods and learning how to bake can take many years. In the culinary industry, it is so vast that it is usually practiced as a specialization. Many entrepreneurs will open a bakery and only a bakery due to the vastly different equipment needed, ingredients, and kitchen make up.
Understanding how to bake requires that you have a good foundational understanding of all cooking methods and theory in regards to how food reacts under certain situations and the various common combinations that produce great results, such as thickening, coagulation, proteins, and starches. These baking lessons are designed to give you the best knowledge for you to apply both at home and professionally!
To say baking is easy would be saying cooking is easy. Both have their nuances and it is always recommended that those who are serious about pursuing a career in the culinary arts, or is determined to understand as much as they can about cooking, to delve into the world of baking so they can at least see if they have a particular interest or natural skill with it.
Understanding baking requires the base knowledge provided in these baking lesson series. You must understand this base skills and techniques so when it comes time to begin jumping into learning how to bake you know the terms, processes, relationships, and key ingredients to name a few.
Introduction To Baking
Flour, sugar, eggs, milk, butter, and flavorings. These are the simple ingredients you need to produce a seemingly endless variety of products from bread to pastries. To consistently produce quality goods you must pay careful heed to the character and quantity of each ingredient, the method the ingredients are combined, and the various cooking methods used. Unlike a steak where it can be cut, grilled, roasted, sauteed, or braised and still be the same steak, baking depends on your ability to be accurate, careful, and precise. No amount of baking lessons or cooking lessons can make you understand that principle because it’s a fundamental truth. Learning how to bake is a mindset, just like anything else.
Baking and learning how to bake can often be referred to as the chemistry of cooking. All ingredients must be accurately measured and measurement is critical in the kitchen. Recipes for baking are not called recipes – they are referred to as formulas. Professional formulas in baking will use percentages in addition to amounts. This helps preserve the ratios and help when scaling up the formulas.
If you were to substitute carrots for turnips in a stew, would you see a radical change in flavor? Not really. The effect would be very little or none at all. When it comes to baked goods, changing an ingredient produces a large effect on the finished product and can fundamentally change it. There are many different flours, fats, liquids, and sweeteners that all function in a different manner. Bread flour and cake flour are not the same, nor are shortening and butter. Substitute one ingredient for another, and the results will
be completed different.
If you have a good understanding of ingredients, how they function and what they do your baking experiences will be much more successful and consistent.
Baking can often be referred to as the chemistry of cooking. All ingredients must be accurately measured, and measurement is critical.
Different Types of Flours
There are many different types of flours out there. For the purpose of keeping this article short and to the point, we will focus on the most popular flours available and expound on this topic further in the future. As we learn how to bake, we will need to learn more but right now the basics are fine.
Wheat flour is the most popular flour that is used in baking. It comes in a variety of different types. Wheat flour is the only flour that is capable of producing gluten. Gluten is the tough, rubbery substance created when wheat flour is mixed with water. Gluten forms strands and is both plastic (Changing shape under pressure), and elastic (Returning to original shape when pressure is removed). Gluten is what is responsible for the texture, appearance, and volume of your finished baking goods. It helps provide structure and helps contain gasses within the dough given off by leavening agents. If there was no gluten, you would not have raised bread.
The higher the protein count inside a flour determines how much gluten will form when mixed into the dough. Flour is categorized by “hard” flour and “soft” flour depending on the flours hardness. The higher the protein content, the harder the flour kernel used to produce the flour. These different flours are combined to produce what you see in the stores today, such as pastry flour, all-purpose flour, and bread flour.
All-purpose flour is approximately 2/3 hard and 1/3 soft flour and is widely used in home applications. It can be substituted in some recipes, but professional bakeries and shops rarely use all-purpose. Instead, they opt to use flours more suited to their needs.
Types of Flour and Protein Content
- Cake Flour (7-9.5%)
- Pastry Flour (7.5-10%)
- All-Purpose Flour (10-13%)
- Bread Flour (12-15%)
- Whole Wheat (13-14%)
- High gluten (75-80%)
Cake flour has the least amount of protein content and is ideal for tender cakes.
Pastry flour also has a low amount of protein content and is ideal for products in which you do not want a high amount of gluten production. These include biscuits and pie crusts
All-Purpose is just as the name suggests, being a well-rounded flour. It can be used in any application but does not produce results as well as flours designed for certain applications.
Bread flour is the hardest flour, having a high amount of protein and is ideal for gluten creation for bread making, such as yeast bread. The high protein content is also excellent and ideal for the creation of roux, as it provides better thickening properties.
Whole wheat flour uses the entire kernel except the wheat germ. Whole wheat products will be denser and have less volume then products made with white flour.
- Whole Wheat
- Nonwheat Flours
Self-rising flour is an all-purpose flour which salt and a chemical leavener is added (Usually baking powder)
Nonwheat flour, also known as composite flours, are made from grains, beans or seeds, corn, soybeans, rice, oats, buckwheat, potatoes, and other items. These composite flours are ideal for those with a sensitivity to gluten or celiacs who are unable to eat flour.
Knowing the appropriate type of flour, and those that are available to you will help you produce baking goods you never thought you could. The secret to proper baking is inconsistency in ingredients and amounts. Anyone can produce excellent tasting bread and all they have to do is follow the directions and apply the proper techniques.
It is important to understand what gluten is and how it is developed in baking, as more and more people claim they are gluten sensitive every year it will become an ever increasing aspect of baking to keep in mind.
Gluten is a protein that is derived from wheat flour and developed when incorporated with water and mixed. It is what causes the long stringy strands when you make the dough. The longer you work your dough, the more gluten that is developed. Gluten strands keep the leavening agents held within and promote the rising of bread. This is why most gluten-free bread is dense, dry and (opinion) unappealing.
The higher the flour’s protein content, the greater that flour’s gluten-forming potential. Flour does not contain gluten; only a dough or batter can contain gluten. Gluten is produced when glutenin and gliadin are moistened and manipulated, like when they are stirred or kneaded. The longer you mix a substance, the more gluten will develop.
A leavening agent is a process or reaction that creates air, giving rise to a baked good. When you inspect bread, you’ll notice the number of air pockets contained within it. The air pockets are created by leavening agents and are essential to providing fluffy, light products. Leavening agents are fundamental in baking and the improper selection of leavening agents can completely ruin the taste and texture of the product.
There are natural leaveners and chemical leaveners. Learn more in Quick Bread.
Gases such as air or Co2 can be trapped by gluten and will expand during cooking, producing leavening effect.
Starches will gelatinize once they reach a temperature of approx. 60C (140F) and will absorb additional moisture up to 10 times their own weight and expand. This contributes to the baked good’s structure/
Proteins coagulate once the dough or batter reaches 71C (160F) causing the additional structure to be added to the baked good. Temperature control is essential because if the temperature is too high the proteins will solidify before the gasses have expanded, resulting in a product with poor volume and texture. If the temperature is too low, the gasses will escape and could cause the product to collapse.
Fats melting will release steam which will help leaven a product. Most pastry is leavened this way. As the fats melt, the coat the protein tenderizing by keeping the gluten strands short and providing flavor. The proper melting point of the fat used is important.
Water evaporation causes steam which will leaven a product quickly and efficiently. If too much steam is released, the product will become dry and form a crust. Sometimes this is desirable, such as a baguette, and sometimes it isn’t.
When learning how to bake you must choose the proper leavening type!
Baking Soda – Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) is an alkaline compound (base) that releases carbon dioxide gas if both heat and moisture are present. The chemical reaction will occur more rapidly if the baking temperature is high. Therefore it is important to be baked quickly to prevent too much carbon dioxide from escaping.
Leavening Reaction: HEAT & MOISTURE
Baking Powder – is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and an added acid, such as cream of tartar and/or sodium aluminum sulfate. Baking powder also contains starch to prevent lumping and to balance the reactions. Baking powder only requires moisture for a chemical reaction and should be used quickly once it has been added. There are two types of baking powder – single action and double-acting. Single action will react with only moisture, while double-acting will release CO2 upon adding moisture, and more once the heat has been applied. Double acting is the most popular of the two.
Leavening Reaction (Single action): MOISTURE
Leavening Reaction (Double-acting): MOISTURE & HEAT
There are certain mixing methods that are used to produce different batters and doughs. Knowing these methods are important and many recipes will assume you know the differences between them. After reviewing this article, you will probably start to see some inconsistencies and fallacies in your search for baking recipes. If you know that a certain method is required and the recipe is erroneously calling for a different method, apply the method you know as correct to ensure proper product. Many of these erroneous recipes are fundamentally flawed and should be avoided as they usually make up for the problems by overcompensating in other areas.
There are several mixing methods to know, and we will cover the basics while expanding on others in further articles. These are:
- Beating (Vigorously mixing foods to incorporate air and develop gluten. Use the Paddle attachment)
- Blending (Mixing two or more ingredients to evenly distribute. Use the Paddle attachment)
- Creaming (Combining softened fat and sugar while incorporating air. Use Paddle attachment, medium speed)
- Cutting (Incorporating solid fat into dry ingredients until lumps of the desired size occur. Use pastry cutter or fingers, Paddle attachment)
- Folding (Very gently incorporating ingredients such as whipped cream or eggs with dry ingredients or batter. Use Spatula)
- Kneading (Working a dough to produce gluten by repeatedly folding the dough onto itself. Use hands or Dough Hook)
- Stirring (Gently mixing ingredients by hand until blended. Use whisk, spoon or spatula)
- Sifting (Using a fine mesh to pass dry ingredients though to remove lumps and aerate. Use sifter)
- Whipping (Beating vigorously to incorporate air. Use whisk or Whisk attachment)
This is all we’ll cover for baking principles and more information will be given in the areas where it is most applicable, such as flavorings, sugars, and fats.