Unbeknownst to some, baking is considered the most scientific method of cooking. Baking requires accuracy, knowledge, and critical observations on the entire cooking process. Only the slightest variation of conditions will alter the quality of your cake. Aside from knowing the chemical composition of your ingredients, understanding the science behind thermochemistry is also required.
Thermochemistry is the chemistry behind the amount of heat dispersed or absorbed during chemical reactions. In a more straightforward explanation, thermochemistry will give you an idea of how heat affects your baked product’s condition. In the case of breadmaking, the heat can be absorbed and released at the same time.
Is Baking a Cake a Chemical Change or Physical Change?
A quick refresher during the chemistry class will help your baking journey fully understand how the chemical reaction works. When a chemical process occurs, it is automatically followed by energy changes. During a response, energy can either be released or absorbed. This energy change is called physical change and chemical change.
The visible difference between a physical change and a chemical change is composition. During a chemical change, there is a visible change in design; physical change focuses on the changes in smell, appearance, but without a noticeable change in the material’s composition.
What is a physical change?
Physical change is described as changing texture, shape, temperature, state, and color without changing its compositions. During this process, several physical properties may alter but without affecting its design.
Changes include variations in mass, volume, viscosity, solubility, density, malleability, luster, and the ability to be drawn into a thin line. Examples of physical changes are the following:
- Chopping a large log of wood into smaller pieces
- Shredding a whole bar of chocolate
- Mixing jelly beans in a single canister
- Melting butter
- Incorporating sugar and coffee grains
What is a chemical change?
A chemical reaction happens when the substance’s composition is entirely changed. A substance is changed when it cannot be returned to its original state. Another indicator that chemical reaction had already occurred is when broken bonds created new, irreplaceable strains.
When two or more reactants are combined, and there’s a change in temperature, color, scent, and appearance—it is a clear indicator that a chemical change is in the process. Other indicators include the formation of precipitates and bubbles. Listed below are some examples of chemical reaction:
- Burning coal inside an oven
- Mixing baking soda and cream of tartar in a liquid
- Combining dry and wet ingredients for baking
- Cooking fresh fruits, vegetables, and other fresh produce
Is baking physical or chemical?
While you are baking a cake, several changes may occur. During the mixing process of wet and dry ingredients, you will automatically form bubbles in the cake batter. After placing the bakeware in a preheated oven, you will notice how the air bubbles are starting to loosen independently.
A few minutes after, you will notice how the cold batter is drastically increasing its internal temperature while the scent from the mixed ingredients is releasing from the baking room. Finally, you will see how a flat batter has turned into a moist, whole cake after an hour. With these indicators, you can conclude that baking is considered a chemical reaction.
What is the Chemical Reaction When Baking a Cake?
You will notice how a liquid cake batter is transferred into a different composition during the baking process. This is because the liquid mix has ‘magically’ transformed into a moist cake. How is this possible? Through thermochemistry! As mentioned earlier, the introduction of heat can alter a mixture or compound into a different substance—which is usually an endothermic reaction.
An endothermic reaction is a process wherein the materials are absorbing energy in the form of heat. In most chemical reactions, heat is released—indicating that the power is utilized to perform a chemical change. Therefore, you can conclude that all chemical reactions are considered endothermic.
When you introduce heat in your batter mixture, the flour, baking powder, milk, and other ingredients are heated. These ingredients absorb the energy coming from the heat source (oven) that will help in transforming the quality of your baked product. To further understand how endothermic reaction works, here is a simplified explanation:
- Change is a constant, irreversible phenomenon. For example, in baking, once the food is already cooked on a certain level, it cannot be altered back to its original state. This is because heat can effectively change the composition of your material (in this case, the baked product) to something unchangeable.
- Heat is the by-product of all endothermic reactions. Heat and light occur when energy is released. Even before the actual baking, heat is released in a different method.
- When you mix the dry ingredients with wet ingredients, the leavening agents like baking powder react to a liquid. This produces bubbles releasing a small amount of heat. It is barely noticeable due to its size, but the energy required to create those bubbles is through heat.
Is Baking Cake Exothermic or Endothermic?
With all things considered, you can conclude that baking cake is an endothermic reaction. The ingredients used in making your baked products react with heat by absorbing it. Heat absorption is essential in the production of your baked products. While it can continuously absorb energy, a prior inspection must still be done to prevent burning the cake.
That is why a thermostat and other temperature control devices are essential in making cakes and bread. Varying temperature can affect the outcome of the endothermic reaction in the cake. Prolonged exposure to heat can drastically transform the composition of food until all energy is utilized.
In the cake’s case, cooking it further will burn the sugars, fats, oils, and other materials composing the baked product. When all energy is released, the composition is used as a form of coal. It will continuously produce heat and light until all the substances turned into ashes. That is the ultimate by-product of all endothermic reactions: turning used energy into ashes.