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Sirious Science: Over-Mixing

9/22/11


You've met a lot of my family on this blog.  My mom, my sister Hannah, my brother Dylan, and now I want to introduce you to my youngest sibling... Georgia.  Georgia is a freshman at Syracuse University, on the Rowing team and majoring in Nutrition.  That's right, she's better than all of us.  Broadening her mind, exercising her body and just saying no (NO) to alcohol.  (Don't mess with that image, she's my teeny, tiny sister.)  Georgia's currently taking a Food Science course, so I've asked her to come here from time to time and learn us some things.  Science (and nutrition) was never my strong suit.  SO, ever wonder if recipes are just being bossy when they say, "don't over-stir?"  Ever wonder why the muffins you bake are so dense they could be used as a weapon?  Listen up, there will be a quiz.


If your muffins look like this...


Please, put down your rubber spatula. 

And your biscuits...


Never mind.  That is not a biscuit; that is a hockey puck.

Resist the temptation.  Yes, we all know how hard it is to stand over your bowl of raw dough and not stir the hell out of it; but, really, don't do it.  Mixing, either with your electric mixer or your hands, develops the gluten in the flour, which is what gives your baked goods their texture, structure - basically what makes them really yummy and appealing.  How can you tell your dough is over-mixed?  The end product.  The way it comes out.  If you do it just the slightest bit wrong, it affects your whole recipe, and you'll know.  

MUFFINS...

Rule of thumb for most muffin method recipes, STIR FOR ONLY 10 SECONDS. 

But there are clumps in my muffin batter!  YES.  PERFECT.  Most people don't know that this is the way quick bread mixtures are supposed to look like.  The clumpier the better.  In the oven, the heat will react with the leavening agent in the batter, causing carbon dioxide molecules to form and become trapped in the protein and starch.  This produces the tiny holes that create that bread-like quality.  When all is said and done, your self-control shall be rewarded with a soft and crumbly muffin like this:


(Your muffins should NOT have a high peak and should NOT have a smooth crust on the top.  The inside should be even without tunneling.)

If somehow you still feel obligated to stir until perfectly smooth, the gluten becomes overdeveloped, the air is released and the dough becomes tough.  You'll lose that desired light texture and your product will end up uneven, rubbery, and gross.  

BISCUITS... 

Same goes for biscuits.  Cut the cold fat into the flour using the biscuit method and stop until it's just combined.

But there are chunks of butter in my biscuit dough!  AWESOME.  Leave them there.  The butter chunks will melt, creating gaps, or flakes, where leavening does not occur.  The result?  A perfectly even-celled, light, buttery biscuit.


In short, don't pulverize the dough.  Respect the science and the science will respect your taste buds.      

11 comments:

Andrea the Kitchen Witch said...

Food science ROCKS! Awesome tips. I have to exercise lots of self control when it comes to mixing batters & such. the temptation to beat the hell out of them is strong. I am weak...:)

Rose said...

Does this apply to cakes?

Siri said...

Professor Georgia??

Mark said...

How did I get all these smart kids?

popcornsnaps said...

fellow cornell rowing alumnus here. this post is awesome!

Georgia Pinter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Georgia Pinter said...

When you're making a cake from scratch, it will depend on the type of flour you are using. If you use pastry flour, which is a low-protein flour, gluten is harder to develop so your cake's texture probably won't change that much. However, if you are using an all-purpose flour with a higher protein level you should definitely avoid over-mixing, otherwise your cake could end up tough and it won't rise properly.

If you're using a cake mix, check the ingredients before combining!

Colleen said...

She got smart so quickly, too! She's only been there a month!! G had better come home and make me those soooon..... I miss her in the kitchen...and around the house...

Happenstance said...

Wow, those "even-celled" biscuits look amazing! Saw Syracuse play 'SC last weekend-sorry Georgia, I'll leave it at that:) And is Mark your dad?! Your whole family comments and/or blogs? Love it.

Rose said...

Thanks, Georgia. The cake I make is a flourless chocolate cake with, off the top of my head, almond powder, egg whites, egg yolks, melted chocolate, powdered dry toast, salt, and coffee.

Meredyth said...

this is probably why my Tres Leches cake doesn't absorb the milks! the last two times I've made it its super dense and did not absorb a lick of the milks! It is just so hard to leave the clumps. now I know! Thanks!

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