One of the coolest things about baking is that it’s a science. Meaning, that when you scale out your ingredients and mix them together, they undergo chemical reactions to bring you your final product. Which makes you, technically, a flour chemistry expert and scientist!
Most of the ingredients that we commonly use in baked goods have a specific job in the baking process. You can even find substitutions for some of them that can produce the same results. It’s a system of balances where if one ingredient is missing, you might be able to add a couple of others to help out. Here is a list of the common ingredients and their duties.
I like to call flour the “Big Kahuna” of the baking world mainly because it is vital to most recipes, next to water of course. There are so many different types of flour made in the world today, and each can have their properties. There is cake flour, bread flour, cookie flour, pastry flour. There is whole wheat flour, coconut flour, rice flour, soybean flour, pea flour. There are also different types of wheat flour, such as Hard Red Winter, Durum, or Soft White. It’s amazing the amount of variations the world has to offer.
How do you know which flour to use?
It depends on what you are baking. Flour chemistry can be delicate, and flour’s main job is to provide structure, which explains why the amount of flour used is normally more than the other ingredients. So, if you were baking a loaf of bread, I would suggest using bread flour. Bread flour would be more ideal than cake flour and even all-purpose flour because it has been made to provide the best conditions when baking bread. Can’t do gluten? There are many gluten-free flours that can help to provide that structure with the added bonus of the other ingredients to pick up the slack.
Flour and water are the bffs of the baking world. The flour activates its proteins and enzymes when combined with water. Here’s an interesting flour chemistry tidbit: Did you know that wheat flour is gluten-free? Only when water is added, does the flour proteins react to create gluten. Mind blown! Of course, whatever is baked with wheat flour will still have gluten because of the need for water as well.
Why are some flours chlorinated?
When we think of chlorination, we think of our pools. To imagine something like that in what we eat, it can be a scary idea. However, when flour is chlorinated, it isn’t bad for you at all! The chlorination, when added to flour, helps to prevent collapsing and shrinkage after baking. This is beneficial when baking cakes.
For a fun “science” experiment: Test out different flours or other ingredients to see how they affect your products. One flour may work better than another.
- On the Rise, Royal Society of Chemistry. http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/Issues/2009/October/Ontherise.asp
- Dave Krishock, Bakery Science Instructor, and Advisor, Kansas State University.