Raise the bar in baking

by Sanjeev Kapoor

Did your last attempt at baking result in a dense heavy piece of flour instead of the light fluffy melt in the mouth cake it should have been? That’s probably because you haven’t leavened it effectively! A leavening agent is something that causes the sugar in the substance it is added to break down into simpler particles which eventually causes fermentation. These leavening agents are extremely important when it comes to baking. WE tell you about the most commonly used ones to hell your baking rise to new levels!

Air – Almost every baking recipe calls for beating eggs and sugar till the mixture is ‘light and fluffy’. When we do this what we are actually doing in incorporating air into the protein in the mixture, which makes it light and fluffy. Once well incorporated in the cake bread or any leavened product it forms a 3D structure of starch and glucose in which air is entrapped. Heating this makes the structure firm, keeping air inside the baked product. Over mixing often causes the air to escape resulting in a dense heavy baked dish! So don’t be careless with this important step the next time you bake!

Yeast – Yeast is a fungus and when it comes in contact with sugar and moisture, it undergoes the process of fermentation. The sugar and warm water acts as food for the yeast helping to activate it. The carbohydrates are then converted into carbon dioxide and alcohol. It is this carbon dioxide causes the food to rise. An absolute essential in making breads, yeast is available in two forms - fresh yeast and dried yeast. While you can pick up dried yeast from most grocery stores for fresh yeast you may have to make a stop at your local bakery! 

Baking Soda - Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. When it is combined with moisture and an acidic agent like yogurt, buttermilk, lemon juice or zest and orange juice, it releases carbon dioxide which causes food to rise at higher temperatures like in the oven or a steamer. You need to provide heat soon after the baking soda is added to make sure the leavening agent activates. For example while preparing a delicious Gujarati dhokla, we mix lemon juice with baking soda just before steaming. The carbon dioxide in the baking soda reacts with the steam and that what gives you a perfect light and fluffy dhokla. 

Baking powder – Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate plus an acidifying agent like cream of tartar and starch. So it’s not important to add an acidic agent to activate it In spite of having acid and alkali as components, they do not react with each other until they come in contact with moisture. When it does the starch separates the acid from the alkali to start a reaction. Even in baking powder you can get two types - 

Single Acting Baking powder - This baking powder is activated only when it comes in contact with moisture and hence you should bake the food as soon as you add it. 

Double acting baking powder - This baking powder can wait for baking. It basically reacts in two phases. Some of the carbon dioxide gets released at room temperature while majority of the gas is released while baking.

Here are a few tips on how to use leavening agents that will help simplify baking for you. 

Incorporate well – Mixing a leavening agent properly into a cake or any other batter is absolutely essential to avoid having a dense and dry baked product. For a dry leavening agent sift it along with dry ingredients like refined flour, cocoa powder so that it is mixed properly. For yeast you need to ensure that you knead the dough extremely well! 

Proportion is everything - If the leavening agents are added in excess the result will be a dry or crumbly texture. Too much of it can cause cake to sink along with a bitter aftertaste. Excess baking soda often results in a soapy taste and coarse texture.

A little of this and a little of that -  In most cakes, where ingredients like date, dried fruits or carrots are used, the recipe calls for both baking powder and baking soda. Baking powder does most of the leavening whereas the baking soda neutralizes the acids and adds some tenderness to the product. The quantity of baking soda is always less than baking powder in this case.

Store with care - Both baking powder and baking soda should be stored in cool, dry area. Make sure that the packet is properly sealed after the use.

How to check if it’s still active - add a teaspoon of baking powder to one fourth cup of hot water, if the mixture bubbles, baking powder is active and fit for use. For baking soda mix with warm water and vinegar and for yeast just dissolve some on warm not hot water –tiny bubbles are the indication! 

With all of this extremely useful information baking should be a breeze for you. For recipes browse through sanjeevkapoor.com and follow our instructions to the T and you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Recommended recipes-

Khaman Dhokla,  Truffle Brownie,  Blueberry Muffin,  Mawa Cake,  Vanilla Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting,  Eggless Mawa Elaichi Doughnuts,  Buttermilk Oats Pancakes,  Mud Fudge Cake with Ice cream

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.