The chemistry of baking

Folks, Cake Week is only two weeks away…

Did you have fun with pie week and cookie week?


Ok…well, this is awkward…

I’m going to go ahead and pretend you gave me an enthusiastic, “Yes, ma’am!”

My initial idea was to make a Boston cream pie (a cake disguised as a pie, only in title).  I bought all of the ingredients, even printing out a few recipes to jive off of.

Then I ran out of eggs.

Trip #2 to the store.

Then I realized I had no cake pans (wha?!?).

Trip #3 to the store.

Even the parchment paper eluded me.  I should have taken it as a sign that Boston cream pie was not in the cards, but I soldiered on.

The cream filling and ganache were both divine, but the cake texture was like sandpaper. Do. Not. Want.

Doesn't that look like it should be outstanding? Booooo

After all that, I knew I had to find something that had:

1) Few ingredients

2) Easy Instructions

3) Delicious flavor and texture

Enter: Chocolate lava cake

We’ll all have to wait until Cake Week for the recipe.  (visit again on Valentine’s Day)

In the meantime, I’ve been searching for a “science-behind-baking” sort of book.  My dad always taught me to cook by feel, but that doesn’t work for baking.  I definitely need some practice and guidance.

I found a few, but this one looked especially promising:

Image courtesy of Amazon. Click to be redirected.

Do you know of any nerdy baking books that might help me understand how ingredients play together?  Do you cook by feel or do you stick to the exact recipe?




9 thoughts on “The chemistry of baking

  1. Recipe girl all the way. I can’t branch out – I’ll ruin whatever I’m cooking. I bought my mom Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible for Xmas. It had baking and cooking instructions throughout the book of things to pay attention to while you are preparing your food. She was trying to make a modern day Betty Crocker, perhaps not baking specific, but something to look through at B&N.

  2. That photo of your Boston Cream Pie looks fabulous. How disappointing that the cake texture ruined it for you. I was looking forward to that recipe, since I’ve never made one myself. You’ll have to tackle it again some day, just so you can show it who’s boss.

    For good “science of how it all works” cookbooks, I always turn to my America’s Test Kitchen volumes. I love them. They do all the research, test all the different ways to approach a recipe, then tell you in plain English what worked, what didn’t, and why. It’s so nice of them to take on all that failure so that I can just walk right in and make the perfect recipe every time. Love that.

    PS – Cake Week is coming! Cake Week is coming! (so excited…)

    • Funny thing? I’ve made Boston Cream Pie in the past from my own recipe and it was delicious. I can’t find that recipe for the life of me! I’ll get it up on the blog someday.

      Ahh yes, ATK. I’m adding that to my Amazon queue.

  3. CAKE WEEK IS COMING! I’m kinda all CAPSY excited about it!

    Too bad about the sandpaper texture, because that Boston Cream Pie looks fantastic! I hope you at least at all the ganache with a spoon before pitching the rest. As far as the nerdy cookbooks go…I’m your girl! I love those dorky things. Now I know that you and Alton Brown don’t always get along, but his I’m Just Here For MORE FOOD is my #1 choice for baking answers–it has by far the most comprehensive and easiest to understand text explaining the science behind baking. That said, he & I part ways with his staunch advocating of weighing ingredients and somewhat fussy measuring vessels. (The recipe ingredients are listed with both weight and standard measure.) The recipes aren’t always great, but the science/methods behind them are solid.

    My second favorite baking science book is Baking Illustrated by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. (a.k.a. the folks at ATK.) They have a (brief) explanation of the most common baking ingredients and equipment before delving headfirst into the recipes. As Jeanne mentioned, they share what went right, and what went wrong & why, which will help you be a better baker in the long run. I also like that they describe the desired product of their efforts before each recipe, so if they are not the characteristics I am looking for, I can move on to another recipe without the wasted effort.

    • I like Alton Brown, but I too have a hard time with his fussy kitchen accessories. I have no space or $ or time to assemble my Kitchenaid Mixer from scratch from items I find at the hardware store. There’s just no way.
      That being said, I love his easy sciency explanations for why foods work. I’ll check it out.

  4. While I do agree that the ATK people know their stuff, I mean they get paid to test recipes… why don’t I work here!?!?! Another REALLY good book is Bakewise by Shirley something or other. The recipe I gave you for the boston creme pie was from that book. Great explanations as to why things happen and why you may end up with differing outcomes.

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