Food First Blog | Magic Numbers in Baking

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Magic Numbers in Baking
Magic Numbers in Baking

Generally speaking, time and temperature is everything. In commercial baking, time tracking and temperature measurements have grown increasingly precise. In the early days of commercial baking, prior to accurate temperature measurement of ovens, a formula would list the baking temperature as a range of low, medium, or high heat. Without precise data equaling exact controls, it was often hard to maintain consistency. If incorrect baking times or temperatures are used, baked goods can be under or over baked causing significant qualify issues. Hence the reason, consistent numbers or “magic numbers” often appear in formulas and present an overall understanding of industry best practices.

In baking formulas there’s a familiarity among temperatures, time, and amount. There are magic numbers common to many different bakers and bakery products.

Temperature has become a crucial point in the baking process. For yeast products, yeast is most active in CO2 production around 100°F (38°C) which is near the typical proofing temperatures of 95-110°F (35°-43°C). Also, yeast typically dies in the oven near 140°F (60°C). Final internal temperatures of breads are generally 200°F (93°C). These temperatures are now guiding principles for bakers worldwide.

Other constants in the baking industry include the Maillard reaction. Maillard browning reaction is one of two common non-enzymatic browning reactions that occur in baking. For Maillard browning to occur a food needs a reducing sugar and a protein. Common reducing sugars in baking are glucose, fructose, lactose, and maltose. By adding heat, they go through a series of reactions to produce color and flavor compounds such as those found in the crust of bread. Maillard browning occurs at a lower temperature than the other common browning reaction, caramelization. Low moisture, high pH, and high temperatures accelerate the reaction. Maillard browning starts around 280°F (140°C) whereas caramelization starts around 365°F (185°C). Hence, why many baked goods are baked in ovens from 350-425°F (176-218°C).

In AIB International’s Baking Basics Webinar series, the importance of Maillard browning verses caramelization is discussed. For instance, one of the most common sweeteners in baking is sucrose (table sugar). Sucrose is a non-reducing sugar, so products with only sucrose do not go through Maillard browning. Most cakes are made with sucrose and will only brown via caramelization which needs a higher temperature. Bakers who manage these magic numbers well produce a consistent product and maintain control over the flavors and textures of their products – the ultimate goal for any facility.

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