If you have a scientific mind you will likely enjoy the baking process; if you have a science AND art based mind (like me) you will likely enjoy cake artistry. This is where science and art come together to result in something delicious and creative.
It’s SO MUCH fun creating artistic cakes from scratch but it does require some knowledge about the science behind baking. Baking from scratch is chemistry and it’s anything but simple. There are MANY reactions occuring between each of the ingredients in a recipe with each ingredient playing a specific role in the success of the final product.
Here I talk a bit about how eggs act as a binding agent in a cake recipe and how each part of an egg has an important function in the outcome of the final product.
Binding Agents and More
If you cook at all you know that eggs function as a binding agent for other ingredients. For example, we often dip chicken pieces in a beaten egg before dredging them in flour and frying in hot oil when preparing fried chicken. In this way, the beaten egg is used to bind the flour mixture to the surface of the poultry pieces. (As a side note, I have so many wonderful memories of my grandmother cooking and watching her go through this process to make her famous fried chicken for lunch. I can’t believe she would go to all this trouble to cook LUNCH for my grandfather. She cooked three meals every day and was a remarkable cook. She certainly influenced my desire to bake and taught me many techniques. I learned so much from her as did my older brother who was an amazing chef; his creations were legendary.)
Fats and Proteins
Eggs are incredibly important in from-scratch baking because they act as a binding agent for the other ingredients in a recipe but they do more than this, the egg yolk and the egg white each bring something unique to a cake recipe.
An egg yolk makes up about 34% of the liquid weight of the egg and contains all of the fat in the egg and a little less than half of the protein.
The yolk gives a recipe a creamy texture and is responsible for the egg’s emulsifying properties. Conversely, the egg white (albumin) is responsible for the majority of the egg’s weight and is also half of the egg’s total protein. I always think of egg whites as protein and egg yolks as fat.
Neither of these are bad things when it comes to a cake recipe because we need both but we can use each of these egg components to manipulate the structure of the cake. For example, if we use more egg yolks in the recipe the cake will have more of a creamy texture. Also, if we fluff the egg whites with an electric mixer, thereby increasing their volume by up to 6-8 times, and then gently fold the whipped egg whites into a batter this will cause the batter to be lighter and have a greater rise during the cooking process. (Yes I know I’m starting to sound like a super nerd here but I warned you this is science!)
How can this information help you with your baking?
The way to improve upon recipes is to run trials and keep good notes about each trial recipe. It’s important to write notes about the specific changes made when tweaking a recipe or when creating one of your own.
For example, you may start with a recipe handed down in your family and instead of using 5 whole eggs as instructed in the recipe use 6 whole eggs. What changed? How did this affect the recipe? In the next trial perhaps use 7 egg yolks and 6 fluffed egg whites and see what happens. Keeping good notes lets you see how the alterations are affecting the final product and could lead to an outstanding recipe.
Working with trial batches like this is so important in recipe development and improvement. Every time you change the quantity of the ingredients you change the outcome. Likewise, each time you change techniques you also change the outcome of the recipe. The truth is that great ingredients and skillful techniques make great cake.
Here’s a quick way to see how one change can alter a final product. The next time you make pancakes for your family add 2 whipped egg whites to the pancake batter. Whip the whites until they are at a medium peak level- not too stiff. Gently fold the whipped whites into the batter and then continue with making the pancakes. This simple change will show you how one small technique and addition can make a big difference in the outcome of your baked goods.