Strengtheners provide stability, ensuring
that the baked goods does not collapse once it is removed from the oven.
For most baked items, the major strengthener is flour, often referred to
as the "backbone" of baked goods, because it provides the structure or
Flours include wheat flours of varying
"strengths" or hardness, from soft pastry flours to hard wheat used for
breads and pastas, as well as special flours and meals including whole
grain flours, rye, pumpernickel, oat, rice or cornmeal.
Flour functions as a strengthener because of
its proteins and starches. The proteins present in eggs (found in the
whites and yolks) allow them to serve as a strengthener as well. Eggs are
used in this way for cakes, made by the foaming method.
Starches are also important to many baked
goods' overall structure. The starch granules first swell in the presence
of liquid. Then, as they are heated, they swell even more, trapping liquid
or steam within their expanded frame. As heat continues to set the starch
into a stable structure, texture is also affected.
As for sweeteners (sugars, syrups, honey and
molasses) perform other functions in addition to providing flavor. Sugars
in any form tend to attract moisture, so baked goods containing sweeteners
generally are moist and tender. They also have a longer shelf-life than
unsweetened baked goods.
The caramelization of sugar is responsible
for the appealing brown color on the surface of many baked products. Heat
applied to the sugar causes this browning reaction. Besides affecting the
color, caramelization also gives a product a deep, rich and complex
flavor. An obvious example is the difference in taste between simple
syrup, made by dissolving a sugar in water, and a caramel syrup.