Please Explain: The Science of Baking

Friday, March 08, 2013

Baking can seem like magic, but it's not—it's chemistry! And understanding even a little about what is going on when you combine ingredients and add heat can make you a much more successful and satisfied baker.Shirley Corriher, author of BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking, and Chef Scott McMillan, a pastry art Instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, explain the particulars of baking—from different flours to measuring by weight to the differences between baking powder and baking soda.

Let us know if you have a question about baking. Leave a comment!


Shirley Corriher and Scott McMillan

Comments [18]

DBK from BK

@dBoy yes, some of us have gotten tests done. I do not have celiac disease but I'm very allergic to gluten. When I eat it I have abdominal bloating with sharp shooting pains, sometimes a headache and the feeling of fire underneath my skin in the abdominal area. It took almost a year of testing, scans, etc. to finally figure out from a simple allergy test that the culprit had been gluten the entire time. I can cheat sometimes and deal with the pain, but I definitely notice the difference. Our bodies are forever changing and developing allergies as time passes is not uncommon.

Mar. 08 2013 02:53 PM

Great segment!!


Mar. 08 2013 01:58 PM
Molly from Brooklyn

I've been baking since I was a teenager and I went through a phase of making "healthy" cookies, for example substituting pumpkin for butter in chocolate chip cookies. I really enjoy experimenting. However, as I expanded my horizons, I learned to love butter, it is so much more satisfying! Otherwise you feel like you can eat more. Also, europeans weigh their ingredients!

Mar. 08 2013 01:58 PM

Please explain semolina!

Protein content?


Mar. 08 2013 01:57 PM

"Gluten intolerant"??? Really???

Have any of the self-assumed "gluten intolerant" actually done the blood tests and intestinal biopsy required for accurate diagnosis??

Mar. 08 2013 01:55 PM

I ♥ Shirley Corriher!!

Mar. 08 2013 01:50 PM
Bef from Brooklyn

All the chemistry talk is kind of demystifying the magic of baking, but mostly it makes me feel like I am using all the ingredients when I bake, & so shouldn't bother trying.

Mar. 08 2013 01:49 PM
Jamie from Brooklyn, NY

On the fat content of butter, can I improve the supermarket butter by heating it to draw off water? Will this have other side effects?

Mar. 08 2013 01:42 PM
Tony from Canarsie

Matt from Brooklyn -- I found this LA Times article about baking focaccia to be helpful. Buon appetito!,0,1188913.htmlstory

Mar. 08 2013 01:41 PM
Matt from Brooklyn

I've tried to make Focaccia several times without success. I'm unable to achieve that light, bubbly texture. What might I be doing wrong? Should I be using a high or low protein flour?

Mar. 08 2013 01:36 PM
Helen from New jersey

Meringue cookies. I substituted Splenda into a recipe for meringue cookies and it fluffed up fine. But when I folded in chocolate it flopped and cookies were flat not tall and fluffy. Suggestions???

Mar. 08 2013 01:35 PM
Tony from Canarsie

Recent research suggests that baking (and brewing) may go back as far as 30,000 years.

Mar. 08 2013 01:34 PM
zach schwartz from West Palm Beach

Hellooooo Shirley,
Great to hear you on the radio. I ran the recording of the workshops for the IACP conferences for 10 years and Shirley and her husband Arch were the nicest and most fun food professionals. Good customers too, they always bought a lot of tapes and CDs. I miss them dearly.
best regards,

Mar. 08 2013 01:33 PM
Anne from Westport, Connecticut

Your guest's voice is darrrrling. I could listen to her read a dictionary all day... oir a cookbook. What an accent and a purr. And from a biochemist no less? A true aural pleasure listening to Ms. Corriher.

Mar. 08 2013 01:30 PM
antonio from baySide

What is the next exotic or uncommon fat/ingredient for breads or pie crusts etc. I have tried duck fat for pies, haven't tried pork...

Mar. 08 2013 01:27 PM

After finding out I have a sensitivity to gluten I had to give up my baking hobby:(
Can you recommend the best blend of flours for cookies and or cakes or a great tasting commercial flour blend?
I haven’t had much luck with the flavor of gluten free baked goods.

Mar. 08 2013 12:10 PM
drew in brooklyn from brooklyn

My question is: I'm quite a good cook but haven't really done any baking other than one go at muffins (which turned out pretty well). I'm a bit intimidated because of how precise baking evidently needs to be.
Any suggestions as to what I should start with to gain some confidence? Cookies? Bread?
Would love some feedback.

Mar. 08 2013 10:22 AM
Lisa from Westchester

Here are my questions:
1) Why does altitude affect baking? And why are other types of cooking (other than boiling water) not affected by altitude?
2) Why does Joan Nathan's challah recipe call for BOTH bread flour AND all-purpose flour? What is the difference between those flours & how do they affect the outcome? What impact would self-rising flour have?
3) Why do some recipes say different temps for the oven depending upon if one's oven is gas or electric?
4) Why do egg whites need to be room temperature to make meringue?
5) My mom's last homemade pie shell failed. I could only think that the oil or some other ingredient was too old. Scientifically, why would that make a difference?
6) Some recipes say 1 cup sifted flour, but not all require sifting. Should one Sift before measuring or after? Does altitude or humidity have an impact?

Mar. 07 2013 01:23 PM

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