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The Science of Cakes and Biscuits

The Science of Cakes and Biscuits

Pastry chefs pay a lot of attention to the consistency of their dishes using the right ingredients: let's find out how to make soft cakes and biscuits.

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What would happen if we gave our muffin a bite and found it crunchy? It would be a shock: chefs pay a lot of attention to the consistency of their dishes using the right ingredients and cooking techniques. When we talk pastry, the matter gets complicated: let's find out how to make soft cakes and biscuits.

Not all cakes must be the same, but those that are supposed to be soft should create the “melt in the mouth” effect. Think of a sponge cake: soft, yes, but as soon as you bite into it, it should melt without even having to chew. To adjust the consistency of a cake, and biscuits, moms and grandmothers have come up with all sorts of tricks, some of which are a bit like voodoo rites. We don’t mean to offend anyone, but science does indeed offer the best tricks. You don’t need to be an expert: a soft cake or biscuits depends on proteins.

Proteins are responsible of the consistency of a pastry. The more proteins are in there, the more gluten will be formed during the mix. Gluten is what gives elasticity, or hardness, to a pastry, and we need to regulate the amount. The ingredient that helps with gluten is flour: cornstarch has 12 to 15% of proteins. Some specific flours have more. If you think about it, bread has a lot of flour in it and it is elastic and crunchy. Everything a fluffy cake shouldn’t be.

The choice of flour is the key secret to regulate the consistency of cakes and biscuits: we need a kind that doesn’t have a lot of protein. There are a few out there exclusively for pastries. They cost a lot, but we can find generic ones in well-stocked supermarkets. Numbers? The percentage shouldn’t be above 8%, of protein for each 100 grams of flour. It’s data you can find behind the packet. Once you have your flour, you have to make sure the dough isn’t too humid. Less water means less gluten, which is our number one enemy. Too dry, and your pastry will be dry as well, ruining the outcome. So here is another trick: don’t use just butter, add also vegetable oil (palm and seed oil are great, but you can also use olive oil as an alternative). How much? 25%, compared with butter. If you need 100 grams of butter, use 75 grams instead, and add 25 grams of olive oil. To get the perfect consistency always go with chocolate. If you add cacao powder, the crystals of the cacao butter will fuse with the other fats making the pastry even softer.

An easy to make, haute-cuisine recipe to practice with? A chocolate sponge cake. You need 140 grams of flour with a lower protein intake, 6 eggs, 200 grams of sugar, 50 grams of potato starch, 50 grams of cacao powder, 150 grams of butter, 50 grams of oil, half a pack of yeast. Separate the egg whites, whip. Put the butter, oil and sugar in a bowl, whip. Add the egg yolks to the bowl. Mix and add flour, yeast, potato starch and cacao. At this point add the egg whites and mix it all in. You can pour your mix in a pan, or use a syringe or a sac a poche to make mini sponge cakes. Cook for half an hour at 180 °C for the cake, twenty minutes for the biscuits. The best moment will be when you taste it!

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