Ris­ing to the oc­ca­sion

Many recipes rely on let­ting leav­en­ers do their work

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FOOD - Mar­garet Prouse

Most quick breads (muffins, sweet loaves, pan­cakes) are leav­ened to make them rise. Com­po­nents of a recipe that cre­ate this airi­ness are called leav­en­ing agents and in­clude beaten eggs, bak­ing soda and bak­ing pow­der. Yeast, also a leav­ener, is sel­dom used in quick breads be­cause of its slower ac­tion.

Leav­en­ers work by in­cor­po­rat­ing air into a bat­ter (in the case of beaten eggs) or cre­at­ing car­bon diox­ide in a bat­ter (in the case of bak­ing soda and bak­ing pow­der). As the bat­ter heats dur­ing the cook­ing process, the gas ex­pands mak­ing the prod­uct rise, and the flour mix­ture firms up, cre­at­ing a struc­ture that holds, even af­ter the bak­ing process ends and the food cools.

Eggs, bak­ing soda and bak­ing pow­der all work in dif­fer­ent ways to leaven baked goods.

With eggs, the process is me­chan­i­cal. When you beat eggs, es­pe­cially egg whites, they puff up be­cause of the air bub­bles that are cre­ated. In some cakes whole eggs are beaten into a creamed mix­ture of but­ter and su­gar as well. In­struc­tions say to “beat un­til fluffy”, and this means “con­tinue beat­ing un­til the mix­ture vis­i­bly in­creases in vol­ume and be­comes lighter in colour”.

Heav­ier in­gre­di­ents such as flour are added to a mix­ture that is leav­ened with beaten eggs by fold­ing in, a tech­nique in­tended to break as few air bub­bles as pos­si­ble. To fold in, use a rub­ber spat­ula or a spoon, gen­tly cut down­ward through the bat­ter and then lift it slowly to the top.

Adding a pinch of an acidic in­gre­di­ent, such as cream of tar­tar (tar­taric acid), to egg whites makes them more sta­ble when beaten. Of­ten su­gar is beaten in grad­u­ally af­ter egg whites have reached the soft peak stage, mak­ing the foam more sta­ble and eas­ier to spread.

The pres­ence of fat, even a small amount on a greasy bowl (more likely to hap­pen with plas­tic and there­fore it’s best to use ei­ther glass or stain­less steel) will re­duce the vol­ume that egg whites reach when beaten. It is the fat in the egg yolk that cre­ates dif­fi­culty if even a drop of yolk gets into egg whites be­fore they are beaten.

Bak­ing soda, also called bi­car­bon­ate of soda, is al­ka­line and re­leases car­bon diox­ide gas when it comes into con­tact with an acidic in­gre­di­ent. This is what cre­ates those en­ter­tain­ing vol­ca­noes that chil­dren cre­ate us­ing bak­ing soda and vine­gar.

Soda is used as a leav­ener in con­junc­tion with acidic foods in­clud­ing but­ter­milk, nat­u­ral co­coa pow­der (not Dutch process co­coa, which is not acidic), lemon juice, mo­lasses or vine­gar, in foods such as but­ter­milk pan­cakes and the cake recipe that fol­lows.

When bak­ing soda comes into con­tact with acidic in­gre­di­ents, the re­ac­tion is im­me­di­ate. You have to be ready to bake these mix­tures im­me­di­ately af­ter mix­ing, be­fore there is time for the bub­bles to burst, or they will not rise as ex­pected.

Bak­ing pow­der is a mix­ture con­tain­ing bak­ing soda, and in­ert pow­der such as corn­starch and at least one acidic in­gre­di­ent. When dry, the soda and acid do not re­act, but the re­ac­tions be­gin when liq­uid is added.

Most bak­ing pow­der sold now is the dou­ble act­ing type, which con­tains 2 acidic in­gre­di­ents. One of them re­acts with the soda as soon as liq­uid is added, and the other re­acts when the mix­ture is heated. That two-stage re­ac­tion makes it a more for­giv­ing way to leaven foods than us­ing bak­ing soda and acid, which re­acts all at once.

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