Leavening Agent

“A leavening agent is any one of a number of substances used in doughs or batters that causes a foaming action which lightens the finished product.”

There are three main types of leavening agents: biological, chemical, and mechanical. Biological agents, which include beer, buttermilk, and yeast (which all contain some kind of bacteria), work by releasing carbon dioxide as a part of the bacteria’s life cycle. Chemical agents such as baking powder and baking soda work by releasing a gas- usually carbon dioxide- when they interact with moisture and heat. Mechanical methods, such as creaming butter and sugar together or whisking eggs whites, introduce tiny air bubbles through mechanical force.

Today, I made my first recipe using my homemade pumpkin puree. I wanted to make a pumpkin spice cake for my work’s faculty Thanksgiving lunch, but I had to miss it because I had to go to a training where I learned how to properly restrain Autistic children. Of course, I had to make the cake anyway so I decided to make it tonight so we could enjoy its wonderful spiciness for the week leading to Thanksgiving. I got the recipe from Country Living through some simple Googling. I was really hoping to find a recipe that used molasses, but whatever. This recipe was really similar to the pumpkin muffin recipe I used a while ago except it used butter instead of oil, it has more eggs, and I used a hand mixer for the cake.

Which leads me to a digression: I have always loved KitchenAid mixers. My mom had a dark blue one when I was growing up, and I was always amazed at what the machine could do. Double batches of cookies, bread dough, whipped cream, shredded cheese, hash browns, ground meat- the last three with the help of its handy attachments- this mixer could do anything. When I was a kid, they only came in a few standard kitchen colors, but now they come in over a dozen colors, and I could have one in each so I could rotate them seasonally. Unfortunately, these kitchen wonders retail for about a third of my monthly salary, so I’ve had to make do with my hand mixer my mom got me for Christmas about three years ago. Now don’t think I’m knocking my hand mixer; it has served me well and definitely proved to be better than your average Walmart hand mixer. But there’s something to be said about not having a tired arm by the time you’re done with a recipe and someday soon, I’m going to burn out its poor motor by making something intended to be made with a food processor.

Anyway. Back to the subject.

Overall, this recipe was pretty solid, but there are two things I would change about it. Firstly, it’s poorly written. Usually, dry ingredients are listed at the beginning and wet ingredients are listed in a group afterward, but this recipe did not follow that pattern. This lead to my confusion about the amount of baking soda and baking powder, which are both leavening agents (see what I did there?). I put in two teaspoons of baking soda and one teaspoon of baking powder, instead of the other way around. I know that if you screw up the amounts of leavening agents, it can really screw with your final product. Too much baking soda in cookies results in thin, spread-out, crispy cookies that taste a little off; incorrect amounts of leavening in cakes can make it over inflate or not rise properly or just ruin your cake in general. I do think my cake fell a little once it set, but it wasn’t too bad.

Secondly, I added some additional spices. The recipe only calls for cinnamon and nutmeg, and most pumpkin-related recipes will have those two in addition to ground ginger and cloves. Cloves are mighty powerful, so you only need 1/4 to 1/8 teaspoon depending on the size of your recipe, and I put in a 1/2 teaspoon of ginger. Luckily, I have whole nutmegs on hand- which you should get if you’re ever able- and grating a 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg is hard work, especially if you’re holding the last nub of a nutmeg.

The cake turned out wonderfully, and I regret the fact that my camera is out of juice. I served it with cream cheese frosting, and the SO mistook it for carrot cake. I have to keep it in the fridge because of the frosting, but it is delicious. It’s definitely something worth serving to friends and not having on hand to eat by yourself!

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