Regardless of the product, baking conundrums will inevitably occur. 

Baking remains a blend of science and art. The range of interaction between various ingredients in a formula is virtually infinite given the variety of ratios. The number of potential ingredients is also far reaching; the forms and quality of a single ingredient can vary, and the ways they all can be combined then heated, fried or baked at different times and temperatures only complicates things more. Reactions and unexpected results inevitably occur. This is why the product developer needs to control or take note of as many variables as is practical. Formulators need to unravel these unexpected results, these “mysteries.”

As a consultant working with customers who may not have much baking experience, I have to explain that these mysteries sometimes occur. Then, I must work around the inexplicable result to get customers what they want. Many of these strange occurrences come to us from our own customers.

David Busken, contributing editor, Baking & Snack
One example is cracking on a chemically leavened baked product. Cracking happens when the top has formed a skin before the leavening has gone off. When that occurs, it pushes up and tears that skin, giving the crust a cracked look. But what if you want a lot of cracks, such as in a muffin that breaks wide open like the blossom of a rose? More leavening should equal more cracking. The more leavening like sodium acid pyrophosphate, SAPP 4 or RD1 (the slower reacting version of SAPP 28 often found in bakeries), the faster it goes off … meaning less cracking instead of more. The solution is counter intuitive. Use much less baking soda to react with the leavening acid, and it reacts much later.

For dry wire-cut cookies, ammonium bicarbonate — typically used in rotary cookies — and higher temperatures will also give you small cracks. The ammonium bicarbonate activates when the product has reached a high enough temperature; that means, hopefully, the crust has set on the cookie before the ammonium bicarbonate releases its gases.

Another mystery — it eludes me still — is why chocolate chips bloom in chocolate-chocolate chip cookies but not in a regular chocolate chip cookie with nearly the same formulation. Chocolate bloom may be caused by the fat crystals on the surface of chocolate changing forms in the chip, giving it a chalky appearance. Another cause is contamination of the chocolate by other fats. This is why you don’t want to mix compound coatings with real chocolate. A compound coating has any fat other than chocolate liquor or cocoa butter in it. If mixed together, both will likely bloom.

To confirm it is a fat bloom, simply hold your thumb on the bloomed part for about 15 seconds. The crystals will melt, and the chocolate will have its appealing brown color. If the chocolate remains chalky looking, it is because of a sugar bloom: small sugar crystals forming on the surface of the chocolate. This is caused by the chip being exposed to moisture, even minute amounts. Condensation on cookies coming out of a cooling tunnel in a bakery too high in humidity is a common culprit of this kind of bloom.

You don’t need to look far for mysteries in baking. They appear in products like chocolate chip cookies every day. Those chocolate chips, painstakingly produced through careful tempering are baked at 350°F, melting all the fat in the chips, yet when cooled in no particular fashion, they don’t bloom. The reason, as with cracking in chemically leavened baked products, often seems like a mystery.