Article by Vegan Pastry Chef Ljubov Van Beek
This is the first article that is part of a new series – Vegan Baking Science.
We may not realise it but water is one of the most important ingredients when it comes to vegan baking – it changes the way other ingredients act in a product. Every baker should understand how water affects your baking, whether you’re making a cake or a raw dessert, it matters.
Water is defined by certain rules:
- By its state: solid, liquid or gas
- Water dissolves things
- Water can be different in acidity: acidic, neutral or alkaline
- Water makes things grow
In this blog I will share the different physical states of water and why are they important.
Physical States Of Water
Water can change its physical state – go from solid to liquid or from liquid to gas – under the temperature that is close to human body. This is pretty fundamental in all biochemistry if you want to understand how baking works.
That is the reason why your favourite tart shells have beautiful layers inside, or why if you fail your mousse cake recipe – it will release a lot of water after thawing (which is called syneresis). It’s said you have mastered the skill of pastry if you can control water in your dessert.
So, what is so special with different physical states of water?
You will be surprised but pretty much all food is liquid water. Other ingredients, such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins, maintain water molecules in their place, which is the reason that food looks solid. Cooking and ripening releases water and you get a juicy product as a result. However, if you release too much water your product dries out and most probably will end up in your trash bin.
When frozen, water expands and that is another crucial fact you should be aware of. Let us look at that process a bit closer:
Water molecules have very strong bonds. When they bind together, they come very close to each other and the density goes up. Why does it happen?
Water molecule is polar. It means that it has two charges: one side is positively charged, and another side is negatively charged. When two water molecules meet, they bind together by their charges – negative side of one molecule connects with positive side of another molecule and they come closed to each other.
However, they are chaotically spread in the liquid, they have no structure and therefore the density is very high.
So what happens when it freezes?
Water molecules become structured, their hydrogen bonds become permanent, and therefore frozen water is less dense:
However, structure means that water molecules form ice crystals when being frozen. That means that whatever product they are in – they will certainly damage it by expanding. And longer the freezing process, the bigger water crystals are, and so is the damage. Sharp water crystals destroy the cells of a product, releasing juices, water out of your product, damaging the structure (and therefore the texture) of a product. When later defrosted, ice crystals become water, but the damage inside the product still stays. That is one of the reasons why professional bakeries, cafes, restaurants and cooking schools always have shock freezer – the shorter the process of freezing, the smaller ice crystals are formed, the less damage they are causing to your product. There is another reason why having short freezing time is beneficial, but we will talk about it next time.
When frozen quickly – water in a product solidify without crystalizing. In this state, any food product can be stored almost indefinitely. However, that means you have to reach -40 degrees Celsius very quickly and it is only possible with a professional equipment that will probably cost as a wing of a medium-size aircraft. In the end – you need to remember this rule:
“The balance between frozen and unfrozen water determines the texture and quality of frozen product”
When liquid water becomes gas or steam, the molecules blast into air in a random direction. It doesn’t seem like a very important note, however, molecules actually create a lot of pressure and that is the reason your croissants puff or eclairs rise in the oven. And here again – the balance of water is responsible for the texture of the end product. You can get a very flaky danish or a very chewy cookie (assuming you wanted a crunchy one).
Water also keeps the temperature steady – molecules of water consume heat as they are blasting away. If you remove water, your bakes can become browned very quickly.
Later we continue learning water as a very important ingredient in baking. What do you think of it? Did you know it is so important? Leave your comments in the box below.
- “The Structure of Ice”, available at: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/cheminter/chapter/the-structure-of-ice/, accessed on 12 January 2022
- “The strong polar bond between water molecules creates water cohesion”, available at: https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/strong-polar-bond-between-water-molecules-creates-water-cohesion-0, accessed on 12 January 2022
- “To which part of a water molecule would Li+ be attracted?”, available at: https://socratic.org/questions/to-which-part-of-a-water-molecule-would-li-be-attracted, accessed on 12 January 2022
- Field, S., Q. (2012). Culinary reactions: the everyday chemistry of cooking. Chicago Review Press: Chicago
- Bouzari. A. (2016). Ingredient. Unveiling the essential elements of food. HarperCollins: New York
Guest Writer – Vegan Pastry Chef Ljubov Van Beek
Chef Ljubov van Beek is an incredible up and coming vegan chef that is taking the world by storm with her incredible vegan desserts and pastries. You can learn more from her through her online classes:
Vegan Pumpkin Mousse Cake Class
Vegan Shortcrust Pastry Class
Discover recipe ideas, get advice and join in on vegan baking conversations with 24,000 keen bakers on Facebook.
How interesting. Water is not such a simple liquid after all. I look forward to the next lesson. Thank you.
Thanks very much, Sara. Your posts are definitely informative and so very helpful to us.
That’s probably confused me more as most people recommend freezing your cakes to keep them fresh before frosting
So is freezing a good or not so good thing if you don’t have a professional freezer