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Category ... Baking Science

Spring Water, Blind Taste Tests, and Open Minds

Aug 29, 2015 | From the kitchen of Rose in Baking Science



The only true and scientific way you can be sure of your personal taste preferences is to taste them "blind." Otherwise it is near impossible to avoid bringing your preconceived opinions and perceptions to the table.

About two miles from where we live, there is a water source that flows through the mountains so that it is pure and uncontaminated by wildlife. It runs freely, and seemingly endlessly, through a metal pipe. Old habits die hard and sometimes I catch myself short thinking I forgot to turn off the tap! Residents of our area can fill their water bottles at will with fresh and delicious spring water.

I decided to do a blind taste test using the spring water versus our softened well water, both at the same temperature. Woody and I each tasted the water without knowing which was which and each of us chose our well water as our first choice.

I once performed this blind taste test for my nephew Alexander when he was about 8 years old. He and a few friends he had met on his annual visit to us in NY tasted three different water samples. He was sure he would prefer Glaceau, the bottled boutique water his mother purchased back home in San Francisco. But all three boys and I all preferred the NY tap water (after I allowed it to sit overnight so that the chlorine would dissipate).

What better lesson for a child or adult to find out, without prejudice, what we really and truly prefer.

Baking Powder on the Rise

Jul 25, 2015 | From the kitchen of Rose in Baking Science


Our preferences for baking powders are ones that are made with an all-phosphate product containing calcium acid phosphate and non-GMO cornstarch. Baking powders containing sodium aluminum sulfate (SAS), to aid in releasing more carbon dioxide during the baking stage, generally have a bitter after taste, especially noticeable when added to pie dough.

Recently, Rumford released a new baking powder, Rumford Reduced Sodium Baking Powder, which contains 52% less sodium than leading brands and no aluminum. Rumford informed us that this new product activates mostly during the heating/baking phase. We were curious to test this new baking powder since timing of activation has a great impact on baked goods, especially muffins and cupcakes.

Letting the cupcakes rest before baking gives the cupcakes more rounded tops because if more of the baking powder activates in the early stage from the liquid in the batter there is less to disrupt the cell structure, during baking, needed to collapse the crumb to form a flatter top.

My White Velvet Butter Cake recipe served as our test recipe, since it is an egg white based butter cake and has a somewhat neutral flavor, which enables us to perceive differences during tasting more easily.

Since there can be a relatively long time frame to fill over a dozen cupcake liners, during which the baking powder will have begun to activate, we wanted to see if the new baking powder, which reacts more in the baking stage, would give us a wider window of time to fill the cupcakes and result in more uniformly shaped cupcakes.

We made two batches of cupcakes with each baking powder serving as the leavening for each batch. Once we filled the cupcake liners, we also let some of the cupcakes rest 20 minutes, and others 30 minutes before baking them. We baked all of the cupcakes for the same amount of time.



The test card shows the height in inches, then the width in inches.

The cupcake on the left, made with the original Rumford baking powder, had the batter stand for 20 minutes after filling the muffin cups and before baking as did the one on the far right, made with the new Low Sodium Rumford baking powder. (It is both flatter and wider.) The middle cupcake, which is very similar to the original Rumford, but made with the low sodium baking powder, stood for 30 minutes before baking.

The results indicate that the new Rumford baking powder is more effective in preventing doming for up to 20 minutes of standing time but not longer. However, when we gave them a taste test we found major differences. The original Rumford cupcakes had a more pronounced flavor and texture. The sodium reduced Rumford ones were milder in flavor and fluffier. We preferred the original Rumford for flavor and texture.

People are always asking either how to get more rounded cupcakes or flatter ones to hold more frosting. One of the major problems is that if making 12 or more cupcakes, by the time the last few cupcake liners are ready to be filled, the batter has been sitting in the bowl for at least 10 if not more minutes, resulting in more doming in the baked cupcakes. The longer the batter stands in the bowl before dispensing, the more the loss of leavening action during filling the liners. Once the batter is dispensed into the muffin liners this action slows down but is still taking place. So when the muffins are set in the oven, there is less leavening available to burst through the air bubbles in the batter to flatten the crumb during this heating phase.

Did you know that different brands of baking powder have different compositions, reactions, and results in the finished product? If you'd like to know why, continue reading!

Continue reading "Baking Powder on the Rise" »

Vegan Meringue

Jul 18, 2015 | From the kitchen of Rose in Recipes


When I saw this extraordinary mind blowing technique on Food 52, replacing egg white with chickpea liquid (they refer to it as watery dregs) we just had to try it! Dan Barber, in a project utilizing parts of ingredients that more often than not get tossed, came up with this genius technique. I can't begin to imagine how anyone could conceptualize and take the daring mental leap that the liquid in which canned chickpeas is packed could possibly support and hold air to create a mousse the way viscous egg white accomplishes so perfectly, but it does! Of course there are differences.

First of all, Food 52 noted that the chickpea flavor completely disappeared on baking and we found this to be true in that no one would ever detect the actual flavor of chickpea but there is a subtle additional flavor. Also it does not hold its shape in baking quite as well so that any ridges or swirls flatten into mushroom cap smoothness.

Here's the recipe as we did it:

1/3 cup/59 grams chickpea liquid (now dignified in Latin as aquafaba bean water)
1/2 cup/100 grams superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 250°F/120°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the chickpea liquid and sugar and use the whisk beater by hand to stir it together. Attach the whisk beater. Starting on low speed, and gradually increasing to high, beat for 15 minutes until fairly stiff peaks form when the beater is raised. They will droop slightly.

Place a dab of meringue underneath the parchment in the center to keep it stationary. Use two large tablespoons or pipe mounds onto the parchment.


Bake 40 to 50 minutes. At 50 minutes, Woody pressed one and they were not yet crisp so we continue baking another 10 minutes. This caused the meringue to begin to brown and become less smooth but still not crisp, however, after removal from the oven and cooled they became perfectly crisp. (We should have taken them out at 50 minutes.)

Mottled_rounded surface.jpg

Thus encouraged we decided to try our praline meringue ice cream sandwich cookie recipe which uses brown sugar. The mixture did not form stiff peaks but tasted absolutely delicious.


The meringues cracked during baking, which they normally do, but looked puffy and promising.

Gooey_centers_after_15 minutes_baking.jpg

Sadly, on cooling, they deflated and the centers were gooey liquid even on further baking.


We are not vegans but if we were, we would find that the meringues made with aquafaba and superfine sugar, which are delicate and light, are a perfectly acceptable substitute for the egg white variety.

The Power of Flour, Part Three: Génoise

Oct 23, 2010 | From the kitchen of Rose in Baking Science

As a result of the experimentation we performed, featured in previous postings of "The Power of Flour," we found that we preferred potato starch to cornstarch when converting both bleached and all-purpose flour to simulate cake flour. Woody and I were then curious to see what would happen if we substituted equal weight potato starch for the cornstarch component in a classic génoise.

The baking time and height of the cakes were identical. The cornstarch version had a slightly tighter and more velvety crumb. The potato starch version had a slight potato flavor which was masked by the syrup. (Note if making génoise with more clarified butter and less syrup the potato flavor might not be masked as effectively.) Conclusion: For a classic yellow génoise we prefer the 50 grams cornstarch but equal weight potato starch is an acceptable close substitute. By volume, instead of 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon cornstarch use 1/4 cup plus 2-1/2 teaspoons potato starch. (However, for flavor and texture we prefer 100% Wondra flour to either combination, except when using decorative fluted tube pans as the finished height is slightly lower when using the Wondra.)







The Power of Flour, Part Two of Two

Apr 24, 2010 | From the kitchen of Rose in Baking Science

The purpose of all these tests for Part 1 and Part 2 of "The Power of Flour" was to determine the optimum level of baking powder when using my two-stage method of mixing cakes to be baked in 9 by 2 inch high pans.

The 'control' cake for Part 1 was the "Downy All-Occasion Yellow Cake" from the Cake Bible which uses cake flour and all egg yolks, adapted from (2) 1-1/2 inch high pans to (1) 2 inch high pan.

The goal in Part 1 was to achieve the best texture and flavor if using bleached or unbleached all-purpose flour instead of cake flour.

In order to adjust for a higher 2-inch pan, we used 2/3 the batter that would be used for (2) 1-1/2 inch high pans and we decreased the baking powder from what would have been 2-5/8 teaspoons for 2/3 the batter to 2-1/2 teaspoons as higher pans need a stronger structure.

The goal in this Part 2 was to achieve a level cake layer for use as a two-layer cake, if replacing the egg yolks with either all egg whites or whole eggs. In order to accomplish this goal we needed to see what adjustments of baking powder--if any--are necessary when replacing the egg yolks with either egg whites or whole eggs.

Note: All Ingredients except for the baking powder and salt were weighed. (Eggs, and the yolks in proportion to the whites, vary widely from egg to egg so weighing is necessary for trust-worthy, consistent results.)

Type of Flour: Cake
Replacing the 4 egg yolks with 3 egg whites: baking powder increased from 2-1/2 teaspoons to 3-1/4 teaspoons.

Replacing the 4 egg yolks with 2 whole eggs: baking powder increased from 2-1/2 teaspoons to 3-1/2 teaspoons.

Type of Flour: Bleached All-purpose

Replacing the 4 egg yolks with 3 egg whites: baking powder increased from 2-1/2 teaspoons to 3 teaspoons.

Replacing the 4 egg yolks with 2 whole eggs: baking powder increased from 2-1/2 teaspoons to 3-1/4 teaspoons.

Type of Flour: Unbleached All-purpose
Replacing the 4 egg yolks with 3 egg whites: baking powder increased from 2-1/2 teaspoons to 2-5/8 teaspoons.

Replacing the 4 egg yolks with 2 whole eggs: baking powder increased from 2-1/2 teaspoons to 3-1/2 teaspoons.


We were surprised to find that though using all egg whites makes the structure stronger, using whole eggs makes it stronger still.

These results are predicated on weight of the major ingredients. If using volume for the eggs, be sure to measure them as the proportion of yolk to white varies from egg to egg.

If using egg whites that have been frozen, be sure to stir the thawed whites well with a fork to combine evenly.

A 2-inch high pan makes a very nice single layer cake. If making just one layer you may want to decrease the baking powder by 1/4 teaspoon to give it a slight dome. If making a two layer cake everything should just be doubled.

Final Conclusions for Part 1 and Part 2:

Egg yolks give cake a fuller flavor, egg whites give cake a softer texture.

Egg whites will need more leavening than yolks (exact amount depending on the cake).

Whole eggs will need more leavening than whites (exact amount depending on the cake)

Cake flour and bleached all-purpose flour result in the best flavor and texture in cake.

If using unbleached all-purpose flour, the best flavor comes from replacing 15% of the flour with potato starch. The most level cake comes from using egg yolks or whole eggs.

E10 F SLICE SHOT cake flour 2.5 tsp powder 2 21 10.jpg

CAKE FLOUR WITH EGG YOLKS & 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder


CAKE FLOUR WITH EGG WHITES & 3-1/4 teaspoons baking powder


CAKE FLOUR WITH WHOLE EGGS & 3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

E10 E SLICE SHOT bleached 2.5 tsp 2 21 10.jpg

BLEACHED ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR WITH EGG YOLKS & 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder




BLEACHED ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR WITH WHOLE EGGS & 3-1/4 teaspoons baking powder



E10 D SLICE SHOT UNbleached 2.5 powder 2 21 10.jpg

UNBLEACHED ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR WITH EGG YOLKS & 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder


UNBLEACHED ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR WITH EGG WHITES & 2-5/8 teaspoons baking powder


UNBLEACHED ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR WITH WHOLE EGGS & 3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

E12-SLICE-UNbleached-w-Potato-Starch 3.jpg


The Power of Flour, Part One of Two

Mar 06, 2010 | From the kitchen of Rose in Baking Science

For years I have been saying how important it is to use bleached flour in cake baking and I still prefer it, but after making the fortuitous mistake of using unbleached flour in a cake baked in a tube pan, and discovering that the pan's center tube kept it from falling, I have revisited the subject and made some very interesting and ground breaking discoveries.

Woody and I have conducted numerous tests using bleached cake flour, bleached all-purpose flour, and unbleached all-purpose flour in a solid (unmelted) butter layer cake using my one bowl mixing method and the All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from the Cake Bible. (We used two-thirds the recipe, first using two-thirds the baking powder (2-5/8 teaspoons). Then we decreased the baking powder to 2-1/2 teaspoons because we were using a 2" high pan instead of the 1-1/2" high pans in the Cake Bible (and higher pans need proportionately less baking powder). We found that when using bleached or unbleached all-purpose flour instead of cake flour, we got more tenderness (and in the case of unbleached flour improved flavor) by replacing 15% of the flour with potato starch which comes closer to cake flour than cornstarch.The overall appearance, however, with the bleached all-purpose flour is slightly lower either in height or in the center.

Our Conclusions
1. bleached cake flour is suitable for cakes where a very tender texture is desired.
2. bleached all-purpose flour and 15% potato starch to simulate cake flour results in a more even cake with smoother crust and better taste than cornstarch, but is not quite as tender.
3. bleached all-purpose flour is preferable for cakes that benefit from more structure.
4. bleached flour results in the best flavor.
5. bleached flour results in the best volume.
6. bleached flour results in the most tender and velvety texture.
7. unbleached flour results in less volume.
8. unbleached flour results in a coarser, chewier texture.
9. unbleached flour results in a cornbread-like flavor.
10. cornstarch substitution for part of the flour for bleached or unbleached all-purpose flour is less effective to improve structure than decreasing leavening, and alters the flavor.
11. potato starch substitution for part of the flour for bleached or unbleached all-purpose flour is even more effective than cornstarch as it softens the crumb. For the unbleached flour it also improves the flavor by lessening the cornbread-like quality.

Continue reading "The Power of Flour, Part One of Two" »

Science Rules: The Experimental Cuisines Collective

Apr 13, 2007 | From the kitchen of Rose in Baking Science

i should be packing, and doing countless other things to get ready for my upcoming trip, but i just have to share this incredibly interesting happening with you while it is fresh in my mind. it concerns the birth of a new group called "the experimental cuisine collective." i think it will have enormous impact on our food world. first a little background explanation.

over the years i've often been described or introduced as a food scientist which i've always been quick to refute out of self-defense. that was because people, at least unconsciously, divided the world between science and art, and when it came to food, science was considered the antithesis--equated with nutrition, absence of emphasis on flavor, and devoid of humor.

gradually i came out of the closet into which i really couldn't stuff myself for too long, given my excitement and desire to share what i was discovering about the way ingredients interact and the power this offers to create the best possible tasting things. a marriage between science and art is the ideal. you have to know why, you have to know how, and you have to know what. by "what" i mean what is good if not great.

Continue reading "Science Rules: The Experimental Cuisines Collective" »

Surrogate Baker

Nov 28, 2005 | From the kitchen of Rose in Desserts

we should be across the street having dinner. a colleague of my husband's actually invited us. (it is a rare event that anyone is willing to cook for me.)

i brought a cake i'm working on though he said he was making a galette. we arrived on time to find his galette sitting in a warm oven. apparently after living in ny for 3 years he had never used the oven and it only seemed to have a light, i.e. the heat was coming from a light bulb. so i insisted on bringing the galette back across the street to bake in my oven. with an american type flaky crust it would have been pointless as the warmth would have caused the butter to leak out of the dough and loose all its flakiness. but the cookie crust of a galette is not flaky to begin with so I thought it was worth the effort.

to find out how i rescued this soft pie crust set on a pan that didn't fit into my quick preheat carousel microwave/convection oven (the soft crust loaded with fresh fruit that he was threatening to stew on the stovetop), read on!

Continue reading "Surrogate Baker" »

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