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The Function of Ingredients in Cake

The Function of Ingredients in Cake

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Baking cakes blend both science and artistry into one delicious mesh. You can use it to express your creativity but must also pay attention to how baking works—like how each ingredient functions to make the most savory treat.

By understanding the science behind these ingredients, you can make cakes that are both creative and lusciously tasty. 

Don’t worry, you don’t need to get flustered with the science talk. In this post, I’ll walk you through each ingredient’s purpose in a cake and share some useful baking tips for the most savory slice!

Cake Ingredients and Their Uses

The basic ingredients of a cake are flour, fat, sugar, eggs, liquid, salt, and leavening agents. Here’s how each of them works in your cake:

1 – Flour

Bag Of Self-Rising Flour

Flour makes up the basic structure of your entire cake. Wheat flour is the most popular form, though it is not used in cheesecakes or gluten-free cakes.

Gluten is a protein in flour that provides a way for the cake to bind to itself. It creates a web that traps and seals in air bubbles, which makes your cake soft and fluffy.

However, too much gluten can make a cake tough. So, you need to find the right balance of gluten formation to have a tender slice.

There are various types of flour, such as cake, bread, pastry, rye, all-purpose, and more. But you’ll mostly need cake flour for most cake recipes.

Still, keeping a reliable all-purpose flour handy in your kitchen is a wise decision for a newbie baker. I, for one, have a Pillsbury Best All Purpose Flour ready for any occasion!

2 – Fats and Oils

Butter And Oil

Remember how too much gluten formation ruins your cake? Adding fat to the recipe curbs the amount of gluten that forms in that slice, contributing to its color, flavor, and fluffiness.

This is because when fat is combined with sugar, the sugar cuts the fat, which causes air pockets to form. This aeration results in a texture that is less grainy and more tender.

But most importantly, adding fat extends your cake’s shelf life. It does this by delaying the re-crystallization of the starch, which slows the staling process.

While baking, you’ll often come across solid fats like butter, shortening, and lard. Ultimately, your choice of fatty ingredients will depend on the texture and flavor you want to achieve.

Butter is typically used for its flavor. It’s not favored when making flaky pie crusts or creating a very tender cake, but its flavor wins, bar none.

With shortening, you will get a much more tender cake, without worrying about ruining the flavor. Although, too much shortening will give you an artificial flavor, as it comes from vegetable fats.

Lard plays the same role as shortening, without the artificial vegetable fat flavor. You can get the tender cake without the overpowering taste of shortening.

Oils generally don’t impart a strong flavor to the cake. When used, they create a denser texture, which may or may not be the end goal for your cake. Typically, boxed cake mixes call for oil.

Here’s a useful pro-baker reminder:

Be cautious when substituting fats and oils. 

When replacing a fat (a solid), you will want to substitute it with another solid. Similarly, if you’re switching an oil (a liquid), you’ll want to replace it with another liquid. 

See, solids and liquids react differently in the cake, so to avoid ruining your slice, you must replace them in kind.

3 – Sugar

Scoop Of White Sugar

Sugar’s primary purpose is obviously to sweeten the cake. When creamed with fat, sugar helps in the aeration and stabilization of the batter.

Besides adding sweetness and stability, the glucose helps keep the cake moist and soft. It can also create a delightful crisp and color from caramelization during baking.

Sugar comes in solid and liquid forms, such as granulated, powdered, honey, and corn syrup.

Granulated white sugar is the standard choice for most recipes, while powdered sugar is typically used as a glaze or a frosting.

Brown sugar, while not commonly used, lends a unique color and flavor to the pastry. However, it’s moister than white sugar, so you might need to tweak your recipe’s liquid content.

This type of sugar is usually just white sugar with molasses from sugar cane. So, be careful with how much brown sugar you add, as you will start to taste the molasses as you add more!

4 – Eggs

Carton Of Eggs

Eggs play more than one role in your cake. It acts as a binder for the finished product, adding structure and volume. Used as a whole, eggs can bind, thicken, or be used as added flavor.

When brushed onto a baked good, they can be used as a glaze to brown the top. Separately, egg whites will work as a drying agent to hold your batter together.

There are also cake recipes that only use egg yolks for their emulsifying qualities and fat content. The fat in yolks enhances texture and flavor, while its binding ability locks the cake’s liquids and fats, resulting in a smooth, unified mixture.

Here’s a pro tip:

Whipping the egg whites makes millions of air bubbles. These tiny pockets create a stable foam for recipes like meringues and soufflés!

5 – Liquid

While milk tends to be the most used liquid for a cake, a recipe can also call for water, juices, or alternative milk. 

However, because each liquid can cause different reactions in the cake, be careful when substituting one for another.

You need liquids to supply moisture to the flour and the starch, aid in gluten formation, and assist in leavening by dissolving the sugar and salt. 

The amount of liquid influences how moist or dry your cake turns out. It can be the difference between labeling the resulting product as a “dough” or a “batter.”

6 – Salt

Salt is used in small quantities in a lot of baked goods. It is mainly used as a flavor enhancer, bringing out the flavor of the pastry. 

Balancing the flavors of ingredients, salt adds depth and complexity to the taste. Failing to add salt to a recipe that calls for it can result in a flavorless, bland end product!

Of course, it does more than that, too. Did you know salt can also be a good preservative, as it absorbs water, which means fewer bacteria and mold growth?

7 – Leavening Agents

Bowl Of Baking Powder

A leavening agent is a substance that releases gas when in contact with heat, liquid, and acid. Also called a rising agent, the leavener gives your cake the volume, texture, and crumb it needs.

Baking powder, baking soda, and yeast are common leavening agents. Baking powder and baking soda are known as “chemical leaven”, while yeast is a “natural leaven.”

Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, needs an acid to start aerating. On the other hand, baking powder is baking soda paired with cream of tartar.

Baking powder is the usual choice for cakes, though its over-use can result in a coarse cake that may be deemed inedible.

If your recipe calls for baking powder, but you only have baking soda, there are different ways to substitute the two to achieve the desired effect.

Common Reasons For Cake Failures

There are plenty of reasons a cake can fail. Knowing the common culprits behind these hitches can save you time and baking resources.

Dry and Wet Cake

Did your cake turn out too dry? You may have baked the pastry longer than the recipe intended. Or worse, you may have added too much flour with no liquids to compensate.

What about a soaking cake? Well, it means you added too much liquid. Add more flour or reduce the milk or water, whichever you’re using.

Cake Sinking In the Middle

A sinking cake is a quick recipe for a sinking mood. But why does it happen in the first place?

There are plenty of reasons for this hitch. A cake pan of the wrong size, uneven temperature in the oven, undermixing the batter, or underbaking can all contribute to a sinking pastry.

However, the most common culprit for these sinkholes is using too much leavening in your cake.

Overcooked and Undercooked Layers

Sometimes, a cake can look cooked outside but hides a nasty mush of undercooked flour inside. It’s a typical rookie mistake that can spoil your guests’ appetite!

This pastry disaster happens when the oven’s temperature is too high, cooking the outside faster than the inside. Never forget to consult your recipe for the optimal heating your cake needs!

Final Thoughts

Mastering the use of the ingredients is the first step to understanding how a cake works. Knowing the functions sends you on your way to being able to adjust and substitute ingredients like a professional.

With time, patience, and a bit of experimentation, you can also make your very own recipe to enjoy with your friends and family!

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Michael Efemena success

Saturday 18th of June 2022

I want to send cake recipe


Saturday 9th of October 2021

Thanks. That was an essential information.


Monday 27th of September 2021

this has been so helpful of knowing the use of each ingredient, thanks alot

Baker Derick

Friday 9th of April 2021

Thanks dia am inspiring in baking too

Dania Khan

Wednesday 1st of April 2020

This was vey informative and helpful. thankyou so much!

Sarah | Baking Kneads

Wednesday 1st of April 2020

Hi, Dania!!

I’m so glad I could help!!