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Baking Bad: Cake chemistry

Baking was not the direction I imagined my career going in while I was studying chemistry at University.

Banana bread served with peanut butter, ice cream, jam and bacon
Banana bread served with peanut butter, ice cream, jam and bacon

I saw myself working in a lab, tinkering with chemicals, devising experiments. Well, my vision wasn't completely wrong. There are many similarities between chemistry and baking. More accurately, baking is chemistry and I think that is why it appeals to me so much. The precise nature of baking; following a recipe, weighing out the ingredients carefully , combining them in just the right conditions is exactly what we practiced in the chemistry lab. The main difference? The end result with baking is SO much better!

I'd like to share a few bits of cake chemistry with you in the coming installments of my blog - the science behind the rules of baking. Don't worry I won't get too technical. It's been 10 years since I graduated so although my interest in science is still there, the knowledge is starting to get a bit hazy! This may be upsetting to my dear old Dad who thought he was going to have a ground breaking scientist on his hands. The good news is that I'll keep my facts short and simple, in the hope that they will prove useful to you in the kitchen.

Why do we cream butter and sugar together?

In a nutshell, to give a better rise to the cake. When butter is 'creamed' with sugar the sharp edges of the sugar crystals cut into the solid fat and create pockets of air which are then incorporated into your cake.

The creaming together of butter and sugar is particularly important in the following banana loaf recipe. I LOVE the taste bananas give to baking and they make for a wonderfully moist cake, however if you're not careful you can end up with a stodgy product. By spending at least 3 or 4 minutes creaming the butter and sugar together I guarantee your banana loaf will be light and fluffy.

Ingredients

350g caster sugar

110g unsalted butter, room temperature

2 eggs

230g plain flour

¼ tsp baking powder

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

3 large over ripe bananas, mashed

1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

1.      Pre-heat oven to 180 °c and grease a large loaf tin

2.      Using a free standing or hand mixer, beat the sugar and butter together until soft and fluffy - this may take 3 to 4 minutes.

3.      Add the eggs one at a time and beat into the creamed butter.

4.      Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into the mixture and fold in. 

5.      Now stir in the mashed bananas and vanilla extract

6.      Pour the mix into your greased loaf tin and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes. Check with a skewer - if it does not come out clean, place back in the oven for 10 minutes.

7.       Let the banana bread cool completely before turning out of the tin and slicing.

Once you have the finished article you are spoilt for choice with serving options. Try it smothered in butter Melbourne style, or serve with creme fraiche and honey for a healthy twist.

We went all out with ours doing some experimentation ahead of our next Pop Up Soul BBQ evening, head chef Pete recreated one of Elvis's favourite snacks: banana bread, peanut butter ice cream, jam and bacon!

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