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Mr Fat & Mrs Sugar

Fat and sugar: the two relevant ingredients for leavened products

30 March 2022

Friends of Erre4m good morning and welcome to this new post. Today we are talking about leavened products and two ingredients that have a very significant influence on them. FAT AND SUGAR.

At first glance you would think that fat and sugar don't have much to do with baking, but as we will see in this post their addition can improve the result. If we add them in the right percentages and quantities, they have a positive influence on the dough yield and the yield of the finished product.

Let's see what their characteristics and peculiarities are.

Translated with (free version)

The role of fat in leavened products is threefold: it defines the structure, increases shelf life and imparts flavour to the product.
The fats mainly used in bakery and pastry (with regard to leavened sweet products) are lard, butter and olive oil.

The addition of fat mainly improves the elasticising capacity of the proteins forming the gluten mesh, giving the dough more malleability and extension.

A further benefit of fat matter is to prolong the freshness of the finished product because they have the ability to isolate the starch granules of the flour. As time passes, in post-baking, the starch loses the water it absorbed during kneading, some of which is retained by the gluten and some of which passes from the crumb to the crust and disperses into the environment. In this way, the crumb becomes increasingly dry and the crust increasingly moist, a factor that favours the development of mould.

The fat, in this case, hinders this process (which is called cooling) because it forms a kind of impermeable film around the starch, preventing water from escaping and, therefore, its migration and prolonging the shelf life of the product. Furthermore, by enveloping the carbon dioxide bubbles formed within the gluten mesh with an oily film, the fat has the ability to block them. This process is extremely useful for the volume and fluffiness of the finished product because, thanks to the addition of the fat, it is possible to obtain larger and fluffier leavened products with a finer and more homogenous crumb structure. In addition, the addition of fat significantly increases the nutritional value of the finished product.

Fat acts negatively on the yeast because it slows down its activity by isolating its cells and not allowing water and necessary nutrients to pass through. In the same way as sugar, fat should not be added at the beginning of the kneading process, but in the final phase.

Sugar, as repeatedly emphasised, besides being food for the yeast cells, acts as a stimulant for fermentation and determines the aroma and colouring of the crust due to the Maillard reaction.

It should be noted that, as with salt, a large amount of sugar in leavening mixtures slows down fermentation, rather than stimulating it. As with salt, a high concentration of sugar in the recipe causes plasmolysis of the yeast cells because it generates a strong osmotic pressure around the cell that destroys them. In fact, in recipes, e.g. for leavened breakfast products such as brioche, which contain as much as 10-15% sugar, it is always recommended not to add it at the beginning of the dough, but to move it to the middle phase.

Sugar helps the ingredients come together thanks to its binding power due to its natural viscosity generated after it is dissolved in the dough.
It can be replaced with honey in the amount of 1-2%, thus increasing the colouring during baking and the shelf life of the product, especially if cocoa is included in the dough. Cocoa has the characteristic of absorbing considerable amounts of water even after baking, accelerating the cooling process.

Honey, compared to sugar, inhibits the power of cocoa and keeps the crumb of the baked dough softer.

Sugar and fat due to their ability to slow down fermentation, when added to the dough, force an increase in the amount of yeast in the recipe. If, on the other hand, sugar and fat are significant in the dough, the fermentation functions of the yeast are almost completely inactivated. For this reason, when the dough preparation involves large amounts of sugar and fat, brewer's yeast is replaced with chemical yeast as, for example, in pastry preparations.

If, on the other hand, a recipe includes a lot of toppings, but also needs to rise consistently (and in this case I am referring to large leavened products such as panettone, pandoro, colomba, etc.), these ingredients are added a little at a time, after a fermentation period and making several kneads.

Concluding the post, fat and sugar are indispensable if one is looking for softness, taste, colour and increased shelf life in the product. And it makes little difference whether the product to be packaged is predominantly savoury or sweet, these two ingredients give the leavened product a surplus of organoleptic characteristics not obtainable without them. So whether it's bread with oil, a ferrarese or a maritozzo Mr. Fat and Mrs. Sugar offer themselves and unite pleasantly to our palate. 

Blog by Enrico Gumirato pastry chef and trainer