MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: Why doesn't a cake work when you switch the direction of mixing?

Date: Mon Dec 20 12:54:24 1999
Posted By: Carl Custer, Staff, Office Public Health & Science, Scientific Research Oversight Staff , USDA FSIS OPHS
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 945185144.Ch

I couldn't find any reasonable explanation either, nor could the experienced cake bakers (two chemists, one food technologist; one microbiologists) that I asked.

Cakes rise because of:

  1. Entrapped air in the batter expanding in the oven's heat and
  2. gas production from the baking powder.
One person speculated that stirring in the opposite direction of what one is accustomed to might mix less air in the batter because we usually stir in the direction that is easiest because of muscle development. If true, then the cake would not rise as far - but - that would not affect the gas production from the baking powder.

The gas-air stays in the cooking batter because:

  1. The cohesion of the flours' starch.
  2. The strength of the flour's gluten, developed during stirring.
Gluten production is critical for the drier dough of bread, but not for the wetter batter of cakes (or biscuits)

So, except for the arm strength theory, we guess that the belief of "switching the direction of mixing a cake makes it fail to rise" is an "urban legend" or "old wives tale". However, this is a great opportunity to experiment:

If possible, repeat at least twice (Yum ;^d). On the repeats: switch which batter gets stirred in the opposite direction (new bowl or old) and where in the oven each pan goes.

Admin Note: You should also try the recipe with left vs. right-handers to see if use of the dominant hand affects the level that the cake rises.

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