Leavening is that which gives breads, cakes, muffins, pancakes, cookies, and so forth the ability to rise and increase in volume. Even crakers and pie crusts benefit from leavening to make them flaky. Leavening can occur mainly during cooking, such as for pie crusts. In other cases most of the leavening happens prior to baking, as with many yeast breads, or more often, leavening may occur partially before and partially when the product is heated. The type of leavening used may depend on the product, for example whether it's a batter or a dough. But no matter what, the idea behind leavening is that something (water or a gas) has to EXPAND for rising to occur.

Several types of leavening agents can be combined to give the maximum amount of lift to the product. For example, a recipe might require sugar and butter to be creamed, representing one type of leavening (air), and call for baking powder as well, which is another type of leavening (carbon dioxide).

In addition, the batter or dough must be suitable for holding the expanded shape, before, during, and after cooking. For example a cake with a lot of flour, such as a layer cake, will rise in the oven and hold the volume even after the cake cools and the leavening gases contract. The structure of the cake is strong enough after cooking so that the air cells remain. On the other hand, many cheesecakes and souffles which have little flour will attain a high volume in the oven but will collapse when the product is cooled. The egg protein-based walls of the little air cells are not strong enough to hold up the weight of the cake when the heated air cools and contracts.

The handling of the batter or dough is important, too. Some leavening agents work quickly to produce the gas and if the batter or dough sits around or is stirred too much prior to baking, the oven spring (rising in the oven) will be diminished.


Updated: May 25, 1996
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