Bakery Problem Solving Guide

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“My cakes don’t rise! My batter is gummy and collapsing!” Did you know that variables such as oven temperature, ingredient scaling and the order you mix ingredients can all affect your product’s outcome? When bakers have concerns with their bakery mixes or their scratch formulas, there is almost always a simple solution to the problem.

Many situations can be resolved by following your specific scratch directions or by following the directions on the bag or box from your mix or base manufacturer. Most bag or box directions include information about recommended mix times, batter or dough temperatures, baking times and temperatures and the weight of mix, water and other ingredients that may need to be added at the bowl.

As a high-quality cake mix, Pillsbury™ Bakers’ Plus™ carries the benefit of years of formulation expertise, consistent performance, and superior operational tolerance. Even with these technical attributes, improper handling of a mix can create inconsistent results. At General Mills, we focus on a few of the keys to the successful production of consistent, high quality cakes; mixing time, batter temperature, batter specific gravity, ingredient weight and baking temperatures and times. Below is a brief summary of the importance of each topic.

Mixing Time

The goal of mixing cake batter is to incorporate and properly hydrate the ingredients while aerating the batter. As this goal is accomplished, the appearance of a cake batter will change during the multi-stage process. The batter will start as a stiff-paste in the first stage, finishing to a velvety, free-flowing consistency in the final stage. An increase in the batter volume will be noticed as air is incorporated, setting the stage for the final crumb structure and texture. Under-mixing could result in lower volume and a tighter grain in the finished cake due to inadequate batter aeration. Over-mixing could create a weakened structure due to over aeration leading to a collapsed cake.

Batter Temperature

The batter temperature (as prescribed on the bag directions) is designed to yield the proper leavening activity during mixing and baking. Changes in batter temperature will have a significant effect on the aeration potential and leavening action of the batter. Warm batters will activate the leavening too early in the production process. This early activation will result in cakes with insufficient volume and a coarse grain. These cakes will also have a tendency to be very fragile and will crumble easily when handled. Conversely, cool batters will delay the leavening action resulting in peaked and broken tops with a tough crumb.

Specific Gravity

The specific gravity of a batter is the ratio of the weight of cake batter in a standard volume container compared to the weight of water in the same container. This ratio is a way to measure the amount of air incorporated into the batter during the mixing process. Correct mixing times and temperatures will ensure that the batter’s specific gravity falls within the range specified on the bag instructions – which in turn will ensue a finished cake with consistent volume, texture and grain. Low specific gravity would signify an over-aerated batter that could lead to collapsing in the oven. High values result from a lack of aeration and will yield a dense cake with poor volume.

Ingredient weight

No two people measure ingredients the same way, which makes weighing ingredients the best way to achieve consistent results. Measuring by volume (i.e. cups, scoops, etc.) leaves room for error and inaccuracies. For example, one person may measure a specific ingredient by over-filling a cup while another person my level the cup with a spatula. Measuring liquids accurately requires you to look at the measuring vessel at eye level.

Weighing all ingredients, including water, is the most accurate method of producing consistent finished baked products on a daily basis. No matter if you use pounds and ounces or kilos and grams, weighing your ingredients will always be more accurate than using measuring cups and teaspoons.

Baking temperatures and times

Oven temperatures that are too high will tend to burn your product externally while leaving the interior raw or under-baked. This can result in gumminess or collapsing of the finished product. Oven temperatures that are too low will cause the product to dry out, resulting in a shorter shelf life of the finished based product. To remedy these common issues, make sure you check your oven temperatures and have your ovens calibrated about once every year. Also, pay special attention to the manufacturer’s recommended bake times and temperatures, and you’ll produce high quality baked goods your customers will return for again and again.