Baking – Gluten formation in cake dough


I have no experience in cooking. So I apologize in advance if this is a simple question.

The first cake of my life that I made yesterday swelled very well in the oven. It had a soft texture when eating. The only problem was the interior was a bit dense.

I've been researching what might cause this. Many people suggest that gluten formation in cake dough is not good and to prevent this, the mixture should be mixed slowly and gently after adding flour.

It is said that gluten is important to keep air bubbles in the dough. Because carbon dioxide gases are expanding during cooking and gluten needs to be strong to avoid air bubbles coming out.

There's a few things I'm curious about. Very strong gluten causes an elastic structure and this will have an undesirable texture especially during chewing in foods such as cakes.

But if we want a fluffy cake, don't we need strong gluten? If I don't have a strong gluten, won't these air bubbles go out and create a denser structure during cooking? Isn't that a contradiction?

What happens during cooking? Is there something I know wrong? Doesn't the expansion of carbon dioxide gas when heated and the presence of strong gluten to hold it make up the fluffy structure in the dough?

Here is my Carrot Cake Recipe;

2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour (spooned & leveled)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
210 ml vegetable oil
4 eggs room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups grated carrots

Note: Firstly I whisked together the oil, eggs and sugar until fully combined.

Thanks for your help.

Best Answer

Gluten development, leavening, moisture, bake time, and temperature are all very important. But one thing that stands out to me about your recipe is that it has a bit more carrot relative to the sugar and flour. Additions like carrot (or applesauce or banana) don't have any gluten, so they don't contribute to that air-capturing structure. Instead that puree just weighs down your cake. As a result a lot of quickbreads and cakes that contain pureed fruit/vegetables are prone to having a denser texture in my experience. Cakes that have less purée relative to the other ingredients tend to be lighter and fluffier, with larger air bubbles.

The other thought I have is related to the leavening and eggs. The amount of egg seems fine, but the leavening is on the low side (also fine, just low). And if all you do is whisk together the wet ingredients and then the dry, you aren't incorporating a whole lot of air into the eggs.

Eggs can be a tricky business with cakes and leavening. The simple truth is I think your cake recipe was intended to produce something a little dense and moist, and with the high protein from the egg and high amount of carrot is quite filling. But if you want to introduce more airiness, I would recommend trying 1 of 2 things.

Option 1: increase the chemical leavening. I would probably add 1 teaspoon of baking powder since you don't have much acid to activate more baking soda. Alternatively you could add a teaspoon or two of orange juice or another acid and then add some more baking soda to get some more airiness.

Option 2: would be the whip your eggs to foaminess and introduce air mechanically. This might be above your comfort level, but if you have an electric hand mixer (or some arm endurance) whip the eggs until they are homogenous and light in color and then add the sugar, whip until you think it's as dissolved as it will get, and then mix in the oil and dry ingredients as you have before.

One thing to remember though is when you do have a lighter fluffier cake it will feel drier usually, even if it really isn't. I'm only mentioning this because there are always trade-offs when you bake.