By Doah Shin
If you have ever watched The Great British Baking Show and wondered how a gooey mess could transform into a beautiful, fluffy delicacy, you have come to the right place– today we will be talking about the chemistry behind baking a cake!
The typical recipe for a cake includes flour, sweetener, eggs, fat (like butter), liquids, and a leavening agent (like baking powder). It may seem crazy that these random ingredients mixed together ~magically~ become a three tiered cake, but science can explain it all!
First of all, you may be wondering: how do cakes start like this
.. and then come out of the oven and look like that??
For this massive glow-up, we can thank leavening agents, like baking powder. With the addition of water, baking powder makes tiny bubbles of air that expand when being heated. This is what allows the cake to expand, rise, and become a lot taller than when it was just batter. Another behind-the-scenes leavening agent is air. When we beat eggs, sift flour, and mix things together, we add air to the batter which can also help with rising.
So that’s how we can get a tall cake, but what is cake without its soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture?? That’s where a fat source (usually butter) comes in. Butter is essential for the amazing texture and moistness of the cake, but it needs a partner– sugar! Mixing butter and sugar is a process called creaming, and it is so important for beating air into the batter and forming gas bubbles, which allows the cake to be airy and light.
Then, the eggs come in. When bubbles are formed, they can easily burst when put in the oven. Thankfully, eggs form a layer around the bubbles, allowing the texture of the cake to be maintained even in a hot oven!
Finally, we will talk about flour. Flour is the glue of cake: it holds everything together. Flour has proteins that, when mixed with water, form gluten, which gives the cake its strength and structure.
So next time you take a bite of cake, remember how hard chemistry is working to satisfy your taste buds!