Why Are Ingredients Important In Baking?

Oftentimes, we follow baking recipes without realizing the science that goes into baking. We don’t realize how important each ingredient plays in a recipe. What will happen if you missed an ingredient? What happens when you add an ingredient a certain way? How does it change the overall taste and texture of your recipe? 

Ingredients are important in baking because it plays a crucial role in determining the texture, volume, taste, crispiness, moistness, dryness, density, softness, or hardness of the end product. The way you use and combine ingredients will ultimately determine the outcome of your desserts.

To give an idea here’s a chart of the common ingredients most of your favorite baked goods consist of showing how the texture differs even with the most common ingredients used.

Baked GoodsCommon IngredientsProduct Result- Texture
Cinnamon Buns-Milk
-Brown Sugar
-Unsalted butter
-All Purpose Flour 
Biscuit-like texture and flaky. 
Pound Cake -Butter
This recipe is known to have a pound of every ingredient. It usually is on the denser side. Crispy on the outside, soft, and has a tighter crumb.
Scones-Heavy cream or milk
-Baking powder
-Optional- Fruits 
Biscuit like texture and flaky. 
Brownies -Unsalted Butter
-Granulated Sugar
-Cocoa Powder
-All Purpose flour 
Has a fudgy, gooey, soft texture and is dense.
PiesThe flaky dough:
The outer exterior is crusty and flaky. 
Vanilla Cake-Cake flour/All Purpose Flour
-Baking powder
-Baking soda 
-Vanilla Extract
-Vegetable Oil
The way you mix and combine the ingredients will determine the type of texture you want. Whether it is reverse creaming, the oil method, or the creaming method. You can read more about out here.

As you can see based on reading the chart a lot of the ingredients used for the different types of desserts have similar ingredients but differ in the way it comes out once baked. and this is what makes it amazing about combining the ingredients in different ways there’s always a different outcome in texture.

Now we’re going to go a little bit deeper into how the ingredients work in a recipe so you can better understand what it does and what it functions as and why it does what it does.

The Importance of Each Ingredient and Their Roles In Baking

The Stregtheners (Protein)
Making what you make easy to eat (And Chew!)Drying IngredientsMoistenersAcidic IngredientsFlavors
Flour Sugar Flour Water ButtermilkExtracts
Egg whites Fats Egg whites Milk SugarSpices
Water – helps the gluten formOilCocoa Powder Eggs
EggsStarch Simple Syrips 

There will be a strong focus on explaining more about the most common ingredients that usually are used within a recipe which are eggs, flour, baking powder and soda, sugar and butter, and milk.

The function of Eggs

The egg is one of the most commonly used ingredients in most baked goods. The egg acts as an added fat but it also makes for a very good binding ingredient. It’s good at holding ingredients together and helps them mix easier. 

The egg yolk is a good emulsifier meaning it’s good for mixing oils together where ingredients usually wouldn’t mix well.  Most times if you were to try to combine oil and water it wouldn’t mix but an egg surpasses that rule and is able to mix water-based ingredients together with oil. 

Egg whites are considered a wet ingredient and egg yolk is considered a dry ingredient. The egg whites consist of 90% of water and 10% protein. Egg yolks are 50% water, 30% fat, and 20% protein. This is the main reason why you’ll see some recipes ask for only egg whites because just a touch of egg yolks (the fat) will prevent the eggs from frothing and having a stiff peak. 

Eggs whites is also used as a way to help the cake rise if not using a leavening agent or to help the cake be more fluffy you’ll see this a lot more in white cake or angel food cake. Most cakes don’t require you to separate the egg it just depends on the recipe. 

You can read about the different stages of egg beating here

Egg is a very versatile ingredient and is used in very different ways in baking.

The Function of Flour

Flour comes in many different types depending on what you are looking to bake. Growing up I always thought all-purpose flour was the only flour that existed. It wasn’t until I started to learn about flour and the different types and properties for use.

You can read a little bit about flour in this post

The type of flour and its uses will be dependent on what you want to make. If you’re looking to make bread the best flour that is recommended is to use bread flour

Bread Flour is known to have a higher amount of protein 14% which means that the flour will hold better because of the amount of gluten making it a stronger dough. 

Pastry Flour tends to be less in protein meaning that whatever you bake it will be more delicate and tender because of the lack of gluten forming. It is best to make puff pastries, in some cakes (might need to combine it with another flour to increase protein, quick bread, pies, and croissants.

All Purpose Flour is one of the most commonly used flour if you were to go into someone’s kitchen cabinets this is the flour they would most likely have in their cabinets. It can be used to bake different things such as bread and cakes and it has a fairly good amount of protein 10-12% but not as much as bread flour.

Cake Flour I consider it personally the beginner flour especially if you’re making cake as a first-timer. It is so easy to overmix the batter because the cake flour has less gluten formation that can be developed. The flour is easier to work with if you’re making cakes and it allows you to stir without overmixing with bit more grace. You would be least likely to have an over-mixed batter.

Type of flourFlour PropertiesFlour BrandsProtein %
Bread FlourThis Flour is high in protein which results in a very strong dough. This dough is easier to handle, especially for a beginner. -King Arthur
-Bobs Red Mills 
Pastry Flour Pastry flour is not best for bread and cookies and it’s known to have a very low protein intake as low as 8% and that is not enough to build gluten structure. It is not as popular to use. -Robin hood
-Bob Red Mills
Cake Flour Cake flour is lower in protein and is perfect for cakes. It doesn’t develop gluten as fast allowing there to be little to no overmixing in your batter. Cake flour is usually in a box and not in a bag like the usual type of flour. -Swans Down
-King Arthur
-Pillsbury Softasilk
All-purpose Flour This type of flower is best for different types of baked goods such as bread, cakes, muffins, biscuits.-King Arthur
-Bobs Red Mills 
-Robin hood 

The Function of Sugar

It’s a common misconception that sugar is a dry ingredient; in fact, it’s considered a wet ingredient. Sugar especially granulated sugar is known to trap moisture very well and it also helps bring structure to the cake. It’s what helps make a cake rise. 

If you’ve been looking to avoid sugar and you want some substitutes you can check out this post here.

Using brown sugar and cane sugar which contains molasses plays a big role in helping your dessert have more moisture as well as making a baked good become more tender this is a great example for cookies if you were to use brown sugar because of the molasses the cookies would be more chewier and softer.

Sugar plays different roles in a recipe depending on how it’s used and the type.

  1. Brown sugar can be used as an acidic ingredient to help activate the baking soda. This is what will help a cake rise or even a cookie to be puffier and grow bigger and be less crispy as opposed to just using white sugar. 
  2. Sugar is usually used in combination with butter to be creamed And it’s what will help the overall creamy batter to have more air pockets which will help the bread to be airier and lighter with a nice crumb. Using brown sugar won’t have the same effect but it will still create a creamy batter but it won’t be as airy and create as many pockets. 

The function of Salt 

You’ll notice that a dessert that is meant to be sweet will call for a pinch of salt and that can make all the difference in the flavor and create a great contrast in taste. Sometimes not adding salt to something Sweet can make a big difference and is very noticeable. Salt can make whatever you’re baking taste better. Salt also helps develop gluten faster.

The Function of Butter 

Butter is a fat that ranges between 80-86% with the rest being water. Butter is used to make a creamy batter by mixing sugar and butter which then creates bubbles which is responsible for improving the structure of the cake. Butter plays a role in creating Italian meringue buttercream mixed with egg whites and sugar. Butter is used in many different types of cakes such as pound cakes, vanilla cakes, and other butter-based cakes. 

You will quickly find out that there are different types of butter that range in flavor and you can check out the chart here.

Butter also heightens the flavor in the cake and that’s the reason you will notice most chocolate cakes use oil instead so it doesn’t overpower the chocolaty taste we all love. 

The Function of Baking Powder and Baking Soda

Baking powder and baking soda are both leavening agents. Baking powder is activated by heat and wet, unlike baking soda which needs an acid in the recipe to be activated. That’s why you’ll notice that some recipes will have buttermilk or brown sugar specifically for the recipe. 

You can see other acid ingredients that would activate baking soda here

Usually, if there is enough baking soda and acid, baking powder is not used. Both are needed if taste can’t be sacrificed and more leavening is still needed in order for the cake to rise. Baking soda also acts as a browning agent and that is the reason some recipes use both as the baking powder doesn’t have the same effect.   

The Function of Milk 

Milk is considered a fat and is responsible for enhancing the flavor of baked goods. That’s why you’ll see many people usually exchange water for milk because it makes a cake richer especially when using a cake box mixes. 

You can read more about enhancing your cake box mix here

Like an egg, milk is an emulsifier and allows the cake batter to hold more of the fats and liquids together in correlation to the flour being added to the batter. Milk tends to add more density and flavor to a cake. Because of the protein in the milk, it can also help a bit with the overall structure of the cake and gluten development

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