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Chapter 4 The science of mixing.


After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

* Understand the four mixing factors that affect baked goods.

* Understand the three main reasons for mixing baked goods.

* Explain what gluten is.

* Explain how mixing affects gluten development.

* Explain how fats play a role in mixing.

* List the correct tools for mixing.

* Properly fold in ingredients.


dough hook



food processor



pastry blender

rubber spatula



In this chapter, the science of mixing is explored. It sets the ground rules for the next several chapters and should be used as a foundation of general knowledge in preparing yeast breads, quick breads, cakes, pies, and tarts.

In the culinary world of baking, there are many ways to describe the physical act of placing different ingredients into a bowl to combine them. One verb used to describe this act is "mix." Do not underestimate this little three-letter word. The act of mixing ingredients together and the tools used to mix those ingredients all are crucial in determining the outcome of the final product. There are different ways to mix ingredients together, and either undermixing or overmixing can wreak havoc on the final product.

Four Mixing Factors That Affect Baked Goods

Four factors can affect the outcome of the final product:

* The physical act of mixing

* The tools used for mixing

* The order the ingredients are added

* The mixing method used

The Physical Act of Mixing

The physical act of mixing can determine the success or failure of a baked good. Mixing, whether by hand or machine (in an electric mixer), provides friction. The friction of mixing helps dry ingredients to break down into finer and finer particles that can absorb more liquid. Undermixing ingredients can cause lumps in batters and doughs in which ingredients are not thoroughly blended together. This may cause problems if butter and other dry ingredients become clumped together. The final product may look lumpy or streaky and may not rise as it should. Undermixing can also cause not enough air to get mixed in with other ingredients. This can affect leavening power and hole structure within baked goods, producing a final product with poor volume.

Overmixing can develop too much gluten and cause toughness in a normally tender product. So follow the recipe carefully, paying particular attention to how the ingredients are to be mixed.

The Tools Used for Mixing

The specific tool used for mixing ingredients is very important. For example, if a sponge cake recipe calls for folding in beaten egg whites into a batter using a rubber spatula but instead the egg whites are stirred in using a spoon, the cake may turn out heavy and dense. A sponge cake relies mainly on the air bubbles that form within the beaten egg foam to leaven the cake. If the foam is treated roughly by stirring and is not folded in gently, those needed air bubbles will pop, eliminating the needed leavening in the sponge cake. When specific mixing methods are learned, understanding which tool is needed will become second nature.

The Order the Ingredients Are Added

Many methods of mixing rely on the ingredients being blended in a specific order to ensure a successful end product. For example, if a flaky pie crust is being prepared but water is added to the flour before the fat is cut into it, a tough, hard-to-roll-out crust would result. If water comes into contact with wheat flour, gluten forms. If the fat was added after the water, it would be too late to prevent any gluten from forming.

The Mixing Method Used

The mixing method used in a recipe can determine the success of the final baked good. That is because the mixing method is a predetermined plan of how specific ingredients are to be combined. The specific mixing method depends on what is being made. If the recipe is followed step-by-step, the reward will be an end product that is anticipated and consistent time after time--in essence, a tried and true mixing method.

The Three Main Reasons for Mixing

There are three main reasons why ingredients are mixed:

* Mixing blends all ingredients and distributes them uniformly throughout the batter or dough.

* Mixing adds the invisible ingredient--air. Incorporating molecules of air contributes to the lightness in texture of the finished product. During the mixing process, small bubbles of air are incorporated into batters and doughs. These air bubbles work in tandem with chemical leaveners, like baking powder and baking soda, and with yeast and steam, enlarging them. These enlarged air bubbles expand in the oven as the heat rises, forcing batters and doughs to rise.

* Mixing controls how much gluten develops. In yeast breads, gluten development is encouraged. In quick breads, gluten development is discouraged. The amount of gluten that develops affects the texture of the finished baked good.

Three reasons why ingredients are mixed:

1. To blend ingredients into a uniform mass;

2. To mix in air; and

3. To control gluten.

Gluten Revisited

It is important to revisit the topic of gluten. Chapter 3 states that gluten is the network of fibers that forms when the proteins gliadin and glutenin are mixed with water. Gluten gives strength and structure to baked goods. There are times when gluten is desired and there are other times when its presence is discouraged. Gluten plays a major role in this chapter because the act of mixing contributes to its formation. Yeast breads, in general, tend to have more gluten developed within their doughs than quick breads, cakes, and pies because they are kneaded. For instance a yeast bread like French bread is chewy in texture from the process of kneading, which helps develop more gluten. In addition to forming texture, the network of gluten formed by kneading traps carbon dioxide gas, which is necessary to leaven the bread. On the other hand, only limited gluten development is desirable in a flaky pie crust, which should be flaky and tender in texture, never chewy. Chefs know how to manipulate gluten to their advantage. (See Chapter 8 for more on gluten and how to control it.)

Fats and Their Role in Mixing

Fats play an extremely important role in baked goods. Fats refer to a general group of ingredients that include butter, lard, margarine, vegetable shortenings, and oils. Their presence can affect gluten development. The more fat a recipe contains, the less gluten will develop. Fats coat gluten strands, preventing them from absorbing water and developing structure. As you read about the various mixing methods in this text, pay attention to how the fat ingredients (solid or liquid) are being mixed in (or not mixed in). Pay close attention to whether the fat needs to be cold and hard or softer at room temperature. Each mixing method handles fats differently. Certain methods incorporate the fat thoroughly, and some methods do not. Fats are tenderizers, and depending on how they work into their surrounding ingredients usually determines the texture of the finished product.

Fats also aid the leavening process with their ability to incorporate air through the process of mixing. Depending on the type of fat used and how vigorously it is mixed in with other ingredients will determine how much air is trapped within. These trapped air bubbles become enlarged in a hot oven, working as a team with baking powder and baking soda to leaven baked goods. (See Chapter 2 for more on fats.)

The Correct Tools for Mixing

In working with each of the mixing methods in this text, it is important to use the correct tools. One important tool to aid mixing is an electric mixer. An electric mixer usually comes with a paddle, a whip, and a dough hook (Figure 4-1).

Paddle Attachment

The paddle looks a bit like an oar for a boat, only shorter, with open spaces in between (Figure 4-2). The paddle is used primarily for creaming and blending batters and dough for cakes, muffins, and cookies. Yeast bread doughs can start out using the paddle and then, as the dough becomes too heavy, switched to the dough hook to knead the dough. When using the paddle, the mixer is usually on a medium speed. The holes in the paddle help incorporate air into batters and doughs more easily than can be done by hand.



Whip Attachment

The whip attachment looks like a short wire whisk, which is exactly what it is (Figure 4-3). The whip is used to beat as much air as possible into egg whites for meringues and into heavy cream for whipped cream. The whip is also used to beat yolks or whole eggs for a whole or separated egg foam cake like a sponge or a genoise. When using this attachment for meringues, egg whites generally are beaten on medium speed at first. This forms smaller, more stable air bubbles. The egg whites are then beaten until soft peaks are reached. The speed is then turned up to high as sugar is gradually beaten in until stiff peaks form. The starting speed of the electric mixer may vary with different meringue recipes. For the preparation of whipped cream, cold heavy cream is usually beaten on high speed.

Dough Hook

The dough hook is used for yeast doughs to simulate the kneading process of pushing and prodding the dough (Figure 4-4). This is used to thoroughly mix ingredients and encourage webs of gluten to form. It also develops a chewy texture in the finished product. After kneading the dough in the mixer using the dough hook, many chefs continue kneading the dough by hand for a few minutes to get a sense of how the dough feels.

Pastry Blender

An important tool in the biscuit and the flaky pie dough methods of mixing is a pastry blender. A pastry blender consists of five to six bent metal wires attached to a handle (Figure 4-5). It closely resembles a stirrup on a horse saddle. A rocking motion is used to cut the butter into pea-sized pieces into the dry ingredients. A pastry blender can be instrumental in making a flaky, tender biscuit or pie crust. If a pastry blender is not available, two forks can be used in a cutting motion. In some commercial operations, pastry blenders can be attached directly to the electric mixer.

Food Processor

A food processor is a bowl with a blade inside attached to an electric motor that can simplify chopping or blending (Figure 4-6). Attachments for dough hooks, graters, and slicers are available. Pie crusts and even bread doughs can be made in them. Caution must be used so that ingredients are not overmixed or overheated.








A whisk is made up of several curved, thin metal loops attached to a main stem-like handle (Figure 4-7). Whisks incorporate air and can blend dry ingredients together, combine raw eggs, or beat egg whites and heavy cream. Wrist action propels the whisk, which combines ingredients together while incorporating air.

Rubber Spatulas

Rubber spatulas are indispensable mixing tools. A more gentle mixing tool than a hard metal spoon, rubber spatulas are not as dangerous to lighter batters like meringues or souffles, because they consist of a soft rubber scoop-like spoon with a long wooden or plastic handle (Figure 4-8). After spending several minutes creating a light, airy batter or meringue, the last thing you want to do is to deflate it. So, by using an over and under motion, the rubber spatula gently mixes ingredients together. This is known as folding. (See Five of the Most Common Mixing Terms.) Rubber spatulas are also used to scrape down the sides of an electric mixing bowl and to aid in removing all the contents from the bowl.

Five of the Most Common Mixing Terms

The five most common mixing terms used in recipes are stirring, beating, creaming, kneading, and folding.


The most common mixing term used in recipes, stirring is usually accomplished with a spatula, spoon, or fork. It refers to the movement or agitation of ingredients for blending. It is a gentle motion that is not as active as beating or creaming.

There are times when a whisk is used to stir ingredients. For example, a whisk can be used to combine dry ingredients (e.g., flour, sugar) with chemical leavening agents (e.g., baking powder, baking soda) to ensure their even distribution.


Beating is a more vigorous term referring to repeatedly hitting an ingredient like heavy cream or egg whites against the sides of a bowl using a utensil like a whisk or the whip attachment of an electric mixer. Quantities of air are incorporated through beating.


Creaming refers to beating air into ingredients such as fat to attain a light, creamy consistency as bubbles of air are forced in. Creaming is usually accomplished with the paddle attachment. Often sugar is added with the fat and acts as an abrasive to soften it even further.


Kneading describes the act of pushing down on a dough with the heel of a hand onto a work surface, folding the dough over, and pressing it down again. Kneading serves two purposes. The first is to develop gluten within a yeast dough. The second is to incorporate ingredients such as raisins, olives, nuts, or herbs into a yeast dough that is too dense and heavy to have these ingredients mixed in using a utensil such as a spoon.

Occasionally, non-yeast doughs are kneaded briefly to combine ingredients.


Folding is the gentlest of the five mixing methods. It is used to incorporate egg foams or whipped cream into cake batters, mousses, souffl[e']s, and specific types of cookies such as lady fingers. Folding is usually used for specific cake batters known as egg foams and meringues in which the air bubbles within the batter are the primary leavening agent. It is also used when incorporating fresh berries or other fresh fruits into cakes and muffins to prevent the fruit from breaking up and the batter from becoming streaked.

Properly Folding In Ingredients

Recipes that contain beaten egg whites or whipped cream cannot be mixed into other ingredients in just any way. They are usually folded in gently and gradually. Folding is a very gentle method of blending a light and airy beaten egg white or whipped cream mixture into a heavier batter to lighten it up. The trick is to do this so that only a minimum number of air bubbles are lost in the process.


1. Start by whisking a small amount (about one-fourth) of the lighter mixture into the heavier mixture, just to lighten it up (Figure 4-9). Do not worry about losing air bubbles at this point. It will now be easier to fold the remaining lighter mixture into it.

2. Scoop the remaining lighter mixture on top of the heavier mixture (Figure 4-10). Using a rubber spatula, cut the spatula through the center of the mixtures and follow through going down to the bottom of the bowl and pulling up with the dominant hand while rotating the bowl in the opposite direction with the other hand (Figure 4-11A, B and C).





3. Repeat this motion, beginning again by cutting the spatula through the mixture with one hand as the bowl is rotated with the other hand.

4. Keep folding and dragging the spatula up until both mixtures appear well blended. A few streaks of meringue or whipped cream are fine (Figure 4-12).

5. Do not overmix or bubbles of air will burst and deflate the mixture.



(Note: If a recipe calls for folding in both an egg white meringue and whipped cream, the whipped cream is usually folded in last to prevent overmixing the butterfat.)


1. Name the four mixing factors that affect baked goods.

2. Name three reasons for mixing ingredients in baking.

3. How does fat in a recipe affect gluten?

4. What is gluten?

5. Why is it important to pay close attention to how the fat is blended into the other ingredients of a recipe?

6. When would the paddle attachment be used in a recipe?

7. Would a dough hook be the best tool for mixing butter and sugar?

8. Which mixing tool would be best to blend the ingredients for a pie crust?

9. Why does caution need to be used when mixing ingredients in a food processor?

10. What is the proper method for folding a meringue into a cake batter?
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Author:Sokol, Gail
Publication:About Professional Baking
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Previous Article:Chapter 3 Wheat flour the essential grain (and other flours).
Next Article:Chapter 5 Thickeners and stabilizers.

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