Succeeding without PHOs

By Frank Flider, PhD

As every baker knows, it’s difficult to produce perfect baked goods and icings without the proper shortening. There once was once an almost limitless choice of vegetable shortenings available for every baking need, but as baked goods makers moved away from partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) per the mandate from the FDA, many found themselves struggling with the functionality of replacement shortenings. One solution the industry gravitated toward is shortenings built around high-oleic oils or blends of high oleic oils with conventional oils.

By building shortenings around high-oleic oils as the liquid phase, all of the melting, sensory, crystallization, and working range properties required of shortenings can be readily achieved. This is because of the inherent flexibility of the interesterification process used to produce today’s shortenings. High-oleic oils can be blended with other liquid oils, such as conventional soybean oil or cottonseed oil, to fine-tune specifications and achieve desired properties. The solid phase of the shortening—which typically utilizes fully hydrogenated conventional soybean oil—can also be blended with fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil or palm oil. Tailoring shortenings in this way assures that the baker will be able to achieve the exact properties desired.

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High-oleic soybean shortenings have demonstrated the ability to function as “drop-in” substitutes for PHO shortenings in virtually any application. Extensive functionality testing comparing PHO shortenings and other shortening alternatives has demonstrated that high-oleic soybean shortenings consistently produce cakes, icings, cookies, pie crusts, donuts, and even puff pastries of unsurpassed quality and on par with PHO products.

Testing revealed that high-oleic soybean shortening produced icings with the most similar viscosity to icing made with PHO shortening, and had a much wider temperature workability range than other alternatives. White cakes made with high-oleic soybean shortening were most similar to those made with PHO shortening in terms of dome peak and edge height, as well as dome-peak-to-edge height ratio. And icing produced with high-oleic soybean oil shortening has proven to be smooth, light, and easy to decorate with.

For bakers, rather than having to work around shortenings that don’t necessarily fit their needs, high-oleic-based shortenings can provide effective solutions. Bakers can dictate the shortenings they want rather than try to force a less desirable shortening to work in a formulation.

Frank Flider, PhD, is active in the Institute of Food Technologists and the American Oil Chemists’ Society. He has more than 40 years of experience in the oilseed and agricultural biotech industries (including technical, managerial, and marketing positions), holds three US patents, and is the author of numerous technical papers.

Rise Up!  

By Marisa Churchill

Cakes, light and fluffy as we know them today, are a modern invention. Typically leavened with baking powder (first introduced in 1843) or baking soda (developed in 1791, but not introduced into baking until almost 100 years later), risen baked products used yeast (often ambient forms) for thousands of years. Of course, yeast is still a primary leavening agent as well. Here’s a quick primer on the leavening agents favored by bakeries today, and their ideal baking applications.

Banana Cake

• Baking Powder: Baking powder is a mix of baking soda and acid. Most baking powders are “double-acting,” meaning they release carbon dioxide when mixed with liquid, and then again (releasing the majority) when triggered by heat in the oven. This is useful with batters and doughs that need to chill before going into the oven. Because baking powder already contains acid, it’s usually favored in formulations with non-acidic ingredients such as milk, eggs, butter, and Dutch-processed cocoa powder.

Some of the classic recipes that use baking powder include: chocolate chip cookies, vanilla chiffon cake, and cake-style brownies. Cake recipes that use baking powder as a leavening agent will typically have a delicate crumb, light appearance and fluffy texture.

• Baking Soda: Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate is a single-acting leavening agent. It reacts with heat to form carbon dioxide.
The one drawback with baking soda is (when heated) it produces sodium carbonate. The metallic taste created by sodium carbonate can ruin the flavor of cakes. Thankfully, the metallic flavor can easily be neutralized by acid. This is why baking soda is typically used in recipes that include an acidic ingredient such as molasses, buttermilk, yogurt, or natural cocoa powder.

Use baking soda for browning, which happens best in an alkaline environment. A perfect example of this is in buttermilk pancakes. Making pancakes with baking powder instead of soda will create nice lift, but they won’t brown as well. For a golden-brown color you need that more alkaline pH. Baking soda is the better leavening option in items like blueberry muffins, gingerbread cake, and old-fashioned fudge cake. Recipes that use baking soda will typically have a medium-size crumb, golden-brown appearance, and fluffy texture.

• Yeast: Yeast is a fungus, and like most fungi, it imparts flavor. There are three main form of yeast used in baking: natural, fresh/cake, and dry. When yeast is alive, it feeds on sugar (typically from starches) and produces carbon dioxide gas that makes the batter rise.
Natural yeast is everywhere, floating in the air and living on our bodies. A natural yeast starter is typically created by mixing a specific formulation of water and wheat flour that’s left out at room-temperature. This type of yeast is typically used in breads and pizza dough, where a coarse grain and distinct flavor are essential.

Fresh/cake yeast is sold in blocks. It’s very moist, living, and highly perishable, making it less suitable for commercial use. Dry yeast might be the better option for large-batch commercial bakeries. It comes in two forms, active dry and instant. Instant is the form typically used in commercial baking of yeast-risen products. As with all yeast, it has a distinct flavor that lends itself well to a variety of baking applications.

Active dry is a dormant form of yeast cells. Because it’s dormant, it can be kept at room-temperature for up to two years. This yeast needs to be “woken-up” before baking. This is typically done in warm liquid (105˚F - 110˚F). Instant yeast is also a dormant form of yeast, but the yeast cells are much smaller. It can therefore absorb liquid faster than active dry, which means it can be added directly into the dry ingredients without the warm-water step. The best baking applications for active dry and instant yeast are laminated doughs, brioche, challah, and babka. Products made with yeast will have a coarse crumb and distinct “yeasty” flavor.

Icing on the Cake

Consumers spend upwards of $2.5 billion annually on wedding cakes, making it a major influencer on overall cake trends. It’s therefore no surprise that big cakes have been stretching the boundaries of customization, with the more extreme ones appearing as edible forms of art.

This development has made café transfers a big business as well. Incredibly elaborate icing designs, from mirror glazes to metallic frostings, and from transfers that mimic paintings by Monet and Van Gogh, are trending up fast.

Another hot trend is drip cakes, with “naked” or “half-naked” cakes underneath. Drip cakes involve pouring white or dark chocolate (or sometimes caramel) on top of a cake and letting it drip down the sides. These high-end trends also are starting to trickle down, influencing bakers of birthday and other celebration cakes to add them to their line-up.

Trend Circle

Snack trends are notoriously fickle. That makes it hard for processors to know how to tell a true trend from a fad. Cake pops, while still popular, are less so than they were two years ago. And remember muffin tops? Yet, doughnuts have—and likely will always—endure. Nigel Travis, former CEO of Dunkin’ Brands Inc. and author of “The Challenge Culture” (Hachette, 2018) suggests several ways to glean ideas and identify lasting concepts. “As Executive Chairman of high-profile companies like Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, it’s amazing how many comments I receive from consumers through social media, email, or even occasionally a phone call giving me advice and telling me what we should do. Personally, I have also taken the opportunity to speak at colleges and schools to get feedback about various topics such as products or operations. The insight that you get at an informal event fully backs up the formal consumer research that all companies should continue to do. And it’s not just focus groups. It should be going out, tracking social media, and directly talking to consumers.” Dunkin’ Donuts just launched a new donut made of cake batter. When asked about the donut, and the influence cake trends had on the decision, Nigel responds, “At Dunkin’, we did extensive consumer research two years ago that guided our new strategic direction.”