How Eggs Work in Baking.
Eggs are my favourite baking ingredient.
So many possibilities hidden inside some seriously clever packaging that both protects and sustains the contents.
Whether they’re the star of the show in meringues and souffles or playing a supporting role in biscuits and bread, how eggs work is all due to their unique composition.
A centred yolk of fat and proteins surrounded by a white consisting of water and more protein.
I fully appreciate that I’m beginning to sound like an egg geek, but by the time you’ve read this article I’m confident you too will have an increased appreciation for the science of the humble egg.
Even if they’re not part of your diet.
You can use this information on how eggs work and what they do in baking to help make informed choices when it comes to identifying appropriate replacements for eggs in baking.
You’ll be baking like a pro in no time.
How eggs work in these popular bakes.
Egg yolks added to shortcrust pastry make it richer and slows down the development of the gluten in the flour, which is exactly what you want. Gluten has an elastic quality which can make pastry rubbery if overdeveloped. But the resulting crumbly dough can be difficult to work with. Check out this previous blog for more about gluten.
Top tip – It’s easier to work with an enriched pastry dough if it’s chilled after preparation and rolled out between two sheets of cling film or parchment paper.
Enriched bread doughs made with whole eggs are softer and have more flavour than bread made without. The soft crumb is a result of the egg white’s water content and slow gluten development due to the extra fat from the yolk. If you’ve made an enriched bread dough before you may have noticed that the dough takes longer to rise.
If you’ve yet to make an enriched bread dough bear this mind and be patient!
Biscuits and Cookies
The biscuits I’m referring to are the British kind which can be sweet or savoury, crumbly, and most importantly snap.
And my personal requirement for a good biscuit. It must be a good dunker.
If a biscuit can’t hold its own in a hot cup of tea, is it even a biscuit?
Biscuit recipes tend to be egg-free, this makes them drier and the lack of protein to bind the mix helps achieve that crumbly texture. For super light, crumbly biscuits try grating or pushing the yolks of hard-boiled eggs through a sieve into the biscuit dough. This increases the fat content and slows down the development of gluten.
Cookie recipes on the other hand are more likely to contain eggs. Adding moisture as well as binding the mixture. The moisture turns into steam in the oven and helps create a soft, chewy cookie.
I deliberately left cakes till last because this is where eggs really show us what they’re made of.
Binding, raising, tenderising, emulsifying (helping all the other ingredients combine), flavouring.
In cakes, eggs do all these things.
You’ve already learned how eggs bind, raise and add moisture to bakes.
All that’s left is emulsification.
So what is [I] + [MUL] + [SI] + [FI] + [KAY] + [SHUHN]?
A core ingredient of a cake batter is fat, whether that’s butter, oil, or another alternative.
When eggs are added to a cake batter, water from the egg white can make the batter curdle. This is the water and fat not combining.
Egg yolks contain a protein called lecithin and this works like a magnet. One end attracts and holds onto fat and the other end attracts and holds onto water. Lecithin acts as an anchor or bridge between the fat and water and holds the two together helping them to combine. This results in uniform distribution of all the other ingredients too which results in a smooth batter.
What happens when your cake bakes?
When you bake your smooth uniform batter, the water turns to steam which is lighter than the other components in the batter and so it rises, causing the cake to rise too. Aided by raising agents like baking powder. The more the water evaporates as steam the more solid the proteins in the batter become and this is what sets the cake’s structure.
The secret to reaching that ultimate goal, of a cake that’s cooked all the way through but still soft and moist, is to bake it just long enough so that the proteins are fully set but there is still a sufficient amount of water present that the cake isn’t dry.
When you know how long this is, write it down, treasure it, guard it with your life because you have hit the jackpot and you’ll be able to repeat this magic whenever you want, without fear of ever having a dry cake again.
Ready to start creating your own delicious bakes?
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