As stated in my bio, I am a recovering baker. I love the scent of fresh cream butter, the whisps of flour that float in the air as you mix a batter and that knowing feeling that what is in the oven is done without a timer. It puts me at ease and makes me forget everything else.
So today is my birthday and I am making strawberry cupcakes with a dark chocolate buttercream frosting…because they are my favorite. When I first started developing my strawberry cake recipe, it surprised me how many recipes out there called for strawberry gelatin or jam. I wanted a fresh strawberry cake, but very few bakers on the web had tried this so I gave it a go. It became more successful every time I baked it because I kept adjusting the ingredients until they melded perfectly. For me this is the chemistry of baking- figuring out how ingredients interact with each other and the results that will ensue.
Over the years, lots of people have commented on the moistness of my cakes and the texture of my frostings and I know in my heart it is that understanding of what each ingredient does in a recipe, but a recent query from one of the Chemistry teachers in my building got me thinking about this more deeply. Is there a fat that makes cakes moister, a ratio of butter to sugar that keeps frosting from being grainy?
I believe there is and I used my birthday cupcakes as a vehicle for experimentation. I made two batches of strawberry cake- one using room temperature butter and the other canola oil to see which produced the better cake and what the real difference were using all the same other ingredients.
I am not a big measurer, but for this experiment, I measured everything precisely so my data would be reliable. I tend to always go for butter because butter makes everything better in baking. I always think a perfectly creamed butter will yield the most flavorful, fluffy cakes. But, in this case the canola oil really surprised me. I expected the oil-based cakes to be more spongy, but not as fluffy or rich as the butter cakes and the butter cakes did have a much smaller grain in the finished cake, but they were not appreciably better tasting.
I did not miss the butter in the oil-based cakes and they rose about the same size as the butter. The oil-based cake was far moister. My only beef with it was the slightly spongy texture of the batter. You can also see from the picture, the oil-based cake had a much larger grain in the finished cake.
This cake recipe does have fruit in it so I will need to try this experiment again with a more straightforward batter, but for now the oil wins for me because of the incredible moistness of the final product- even the second day!