How to decide temperature of baking?

Oh My! Oh My! This is a big topic to discuss.  Do we have a definite answer on the temperature we use to bake?  Well, remember baking is a science.  Science is about application of knowledge and understanding of the natural world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.  In simple words, you need to understand the multiple factors that affect the temperature setting and then explore and find the right temperature to achieve the desired outcome of your baked goods. 

Before this, let’s see what actually happen inside your oven.  The first changes to your baked goods are called browning reactions.  Literally it is a process whereby the surface of your baked goods turning into brown.  Browning reactions typically come from Maillard reaction or caramelization.  Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between protein (amino acids) and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor.  On the other hand, caramelization is a browning sugar process which involves the removal of water (as steam) and the break-down of the sugar.  Maillard and Caramelization reactions are non-enzymatic browning.  Both typically proceed rapidly from around to 140 to 165°C.  Logically the higher the temperature, the faster both processes happen.

Secondly, oven can change the structure of your product.  It helps to evaporate the water from your baked goods.  This of course happen at 100°C.  This process usually gives crispy crust to your baked goods.  Sometimes it also helps to raise your baked goods like souffles.  Besides, Starch gelatinization could also happen at temperature higher than 80°C.  It is a process where starch and water are subjected to heat, causing the starch granules to swell. As a result, the water is gradually absorbed in an irreversible manner. This gives the system a viscous and transparent texture.  Besides for temperature as low as 62°C, protein like egg whites start to denature.  Protein denaturation is a process that protein change its structure in the presence of certain chemicals such as acid or due to the heat treatment.  Simple examples are the boiled eggs become hard and cooked meat becomes firm.  This process can cause gelation or coagulation which means that you get the structure of a product like meringue.  Melting of fats again will make the product more flexible and higher in volume.  Example is melting of butter requires temperature as low as 35°C.

Other than above, heat also activate leaving agents like baking powder, baking soda, yeast, etc.  For hygiene purpose, it kills germs and most micro-organisms in your baked goods, making it safe to consume.

So, that’s all we need to know?  Well, now you understand the basic knowledge about what temperature do to your products.  Next, we will need to explore and find a good temperature to bake your goods.  There are a few factors to consider such as oven type, pan size, altitude and lastly ingredients of your baked goods.  Quick tips as below:

Oven Type

Ovens are commonly categorized as industrial convection oven or normal electric oven at home.  As convection oven are more efficient and faster than normal electrical oven at home, you may need to adjust your temperature and baking time of your recipe.

Pan Size

Just remember this:  you need lower temperature but longer time to bake compared to smaller pan.  For example, you may need to set 165°C and 30 minutes for 8” pan but 145°C and 45 minutes for 11” pan.

Altitude

This may come as the most mysterious and puzzled issue to a lot of bakers.   One bakes a perfect cake at sea level but got a fallen cake when bake at high land.  You must understand that air pressure is lower at higher altitude and it takes longer time or higher temperature to bake.  That explains why the same recipe turn out very differently when used in low land and high land.   Not only altitude affects temperature, it also affects the amount of sugar, baking soda and flour.  This is indeed a complex knowledge to learn.

Ingredient

Well, we have learned about the effect of oven to your ingredients as mentioned above.  Be cautious when you increase certain ingredient such as sugar in your original recipe.  Sugar will cause browning effect thus use lower temperature when you increase the amount.

All in all, baking is a science.  It requires experimental spirit to find out the most ideal temperature to your invented goods.  There is a simple general guide that you could start your exploration journey from, click here.    Maintain a spirit of curiosity and enthusiasm and you will find your way there.