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5 Fun Facts about The Science of Baking

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

Have you ever wondered what the ingredients in your favorite recipes do? We might not think of cooks as scientists, but that is what we are when we mix, match, and mess with recipe ingredients. So, the more we know about the ingredients we use in baking, the better our results will be! Here are a few facts and tips for your kitchen.

Yeast:
This tiny, one-celled fungus multiplies quickly and makes bread rise. When the yeast eats sugar, it releases carbon dioxide so that the dough fills with bubbles and rises. Kneading (folding/turning/rolling dough) helps develop the gluten (wheat protein), which then strengthens the dough and supports the gas bubbles. TIP: Too much or too little kneading can cause bread to be heavy and dense; 10 to 15 minutes is usually about right by hand.

Flour:
All-purpose (8-11% protein) is the most common flour. Bread flour (12-14% protein for greater gluten strength) is the best choice for yeast products. Pastry flour (9-10% protein) doesn’t work well in yeast breads. Cake flour has the lowest protein. TIP: Choose the right flour for baking projects. Try substituting whole wheat flour for half of the white flour. (For more information about the benefits of whole grains and a tasty whole grain recipe, download the August issue of the Healthy Families newsletter from Eat Right Montana at http://www.eatrightmontana.org/PDF/ERMNewsletter2010-08.pdf

Sugar:
The proper amount of sugar is necessary to provide the right amount of food for the yeast. Remember that yeast releases carbon dioxide gas that gives bread a lift and increases the volume. TIP: Be careful not to add more sugar than a recipe calls for or it can have the opposite effect. Too much gas breaks the gluten bubbles and makes the bread fall flat.

Salt:
Salt adds more than flavor to breads; it protects them from getting dry and stale too quickly by absorbing water and holding it in. It also helps control the growth of the yeast and strengthens the gluten protein in the dough. TIP: If you eliminate salt from a bread recipe, reduce the time that the dough rises, so that large air pockets do not have time to form.

Fats (butter, margarine, shortening, or oil):
Fat helps make dough softer and lighter, because fat particles melt when baked and increase the volume. Fat also creams together with sugar, trapping air and acting as a leavening agent when baked. TIP: Except for pie crust or pastry dough, use fat at room temperature for baking. A heated fat does not incorporate air well and a cold fat does not spread evenly with the other ingredients.

For more fun, easy tips on healthy living, go to www.eatrightmontana.org/eatrighthealthyfamilies.htm



Dayle HayesDayle Hayes, MS, RD
Author, Speaker, and Nutrition Therapist

Dayle Hayes is a registered dietitian committed to innovative, delicious nutrition solutions for busy families. As a consultant to Billings Clinic, she specializes in positive nutrition tips, eating disorders, and sports nutrition. Dayle graduated from U. Mass-Boston and received a Masters of Science in Community Health Education from U. Mass-Amherst.
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