Eggs in the Kitchen: Water, Protein, and Fats

In the last post, we explored how eggs are made to support growing chicks. Now, we’ll see how those same eggs can contribute leavening, structure, and flavor in the kitchen. This post will focus on the functions of eggs in bakes such as cakes, muffins, breads, brownies, and cookies, but we will turn to meringues and custards in future posts.

Proofing Time in Bread

The past couple posts have focused on the importance of getting the right amount of air into cupcakes, but aeration is important for other baked goods, too. In bread, the amount of air in the dough when it enters the oven also affects rise and texture. This is most directly controlled by the proofing step that happens after shaping and before baking. For this experiment, we under- and over-proofed bread to see how it baked up.

Fats in the Kitchen: Spread and Consistency

Over the last few posts, we explored how fats create tenderness and flakiness in our bakes. These functions mainly result from fats’ tendency to repel water, but other applications of fats come from their greasiness. By lubricating the ingredients in our mixing bowls, fats can affect bread rise, cookie spread, and fudge texture. They’re also essential for making sure our bakes come out of the pan. In this post, we’ll focus on the roles of fats that stem from their greasiness.

Fats in the Kitchen: Tender Textures

In the last couple posts, we explored the chemical structure of fats, learned why fats repel water, and discussed how they melt. Moving forward, we’ll focus on how these properties affect our baked goods. As we’ll see, fats are crucial for the texture, flavor, and sensory properties of our food. Let’s start with a closer look at the molecular interactions that create tender textures in our bakes.

Poaching Time for Bagels

One of the defining features of a bagel is its chewy, shiny skin, which forms when the bagel is briefly boiled before it’s baked. In this post, we’re taking a closer look at the poaching step, its effect on the bagel’s crust, and how it gives a bagel its characteristic appearance and texture.

Tangzhong Method for Bread

Tangzhong (from the Chinese 湯種, tāngzhǒng) is a breadmaking method derived from the Japanese breadmaking method yukone or yudane. It’s recently gained popularity largely thanks to the Chinese cookbook 65°C Tangzhong Bread by Yvonne Chen. For the tangzhong method, a small portion of the flour and water are cooked together to 65°C (149°F), then added to the rest of the bread ingredients. Tangzhong is known to keep breads softer and moister for longer due to the gelatinized starch in the cooked flour. To taste the effects of tangzhong for ourselves, we made two sets of bread rolls with the same ingredients. Half the rolls were made with tangzhong, and half the rolls were made without.

Cooking Bread with Steam

Bread dough doesn’t have to be baked. In Chinese cooking, for example, it’s often steamed to make buns. Commercial western-style bakeries also use steam to bake larger loaves with shinier, crisper crusts, an effect home cooks replicate with Dutch ovens. In this post, we’ll compare three methods of cooking bread dough using 花卷 (huājuǎn, literally “flower roll”), a type of Chinese steamed bun speckled with scallions. We’ll compare the traditional steaming method to baking and to baking with steam.

Starch in the Kitchen: Flour

In the last post, we discussed the molecular details of starch: what it is, where it comes from, and how it changes with water and heat. Today, we’ll apply those concepts to baked goods with a focus on the starch in wheat flour. Although flour is often noted for its gluten, it actually contains 68–75% starch. So when we consider the chemistry of any baked good that contains flour, be it cake, bread, or cookies, starch always plays a role. And in foods cooked in steam or boiling water, starch helps create textures as diverse as soft skins on steamed buns, chewy crusts on bagels, and crisp shells of choux pastry.

Leavening in the Kitchen: Yeast

In the last few posts, we’ve been talking about leavening gases, which give our baked goods volume and tenderness. Last time, we focused on baking soda and baking powder, which quickly produce carbon dioxide through chemical reactions. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at yeast. We’ll describe what yeast are, how they leaven, and what to consider when working with them.

Sugar in the Kitchen: Special Applications

Over the last few posts, we discussed a lot of sugar’s roles in baked goods. It’s important for flavor, texture, structure, and color in cookies, cakes, and muffins. But sugar’s roles in baking extend further. Sugar is important in meringues as a stabilizer, in yeast breads as a source of energy for the microorganisms, and in fruit desserts to preserve the structure and texture of the fruit. In this post, we’ll explore sugar’s myriad roles in these sweets.