What Ingredient Makes a Cake Rise?

The Ultimate Cake Guide

Name someone who doesn’t like cake. Bet you can’t!

It’s very hard to resist a moist, fluffy, decadent sponge and you find yourself going back for more and more.

Cake is a centrepiece in every occasion, whether it’s a birthday, a wedding or an anniversary.

And let’s not kid ourselves, most of us go to these events just for the free dessert anyway!

Better yet, you don’t even have to use a celebration as an excuse to have cake.

It is super easy and quick to whip up a sponge in the comfort of your own home.

Sometimes, though, it’s not as simple as just mixing a few ingredients together with the hope that your cake will come out perfectly risen, moist and fluffy.

There have been many times where my bakes have not risen enough, which made me question, ‘What am I doing wrong?’.

There is nothing more frustrating than putting in so much effort in making the cake batter, just for your cake to come out looking flat, sunken and sad. Making you sad too.

The key to perfectly risen cake is to firstly understand what ingredient makes a cake rise.

Once you have a clearer understanding of the different raising agents available and how to use them properly, you will (hopefully) never struggle with your cake again.

What Makes a Cake Rise?

There are a few ingredients that you can use that will help rise your cake in the oven.

In this article, we will focus on baking powder, baking soda, self-rising flour, eggs and baker’s yeast as raising agents.

Baking Powder & Baking Soda

When I first started baking, I thought baking soda and baking powder were the same thing.

They are both white and powdery, they pretty much sound the same and they come in similar containers, so what is the difference between baking powder and baking soda, I wondered.

But, I’m not alone. A lot of bakers just assume that too. How naive of us!

In fact, baking powder and baking soda are completely different from each other and they are each used differently.

Baking Soda

Baking soda, or bicarbonate of soda, is an alkali that reacts with an acid.

That’s as far as my science knowledge goes, so if you want to find out more about the science behind baking soda, have a look here

Basically, baking soda needs to be mixed with an acidic ingredient, such as vinegar or brown sugar.

Once you mix baking soda with an acid, bubbles start to form which expand in the oven, making your cake rise. 

Baking soda starts to react as soon as you mix it with the rest of your ingredients so you need to pop your batter in the oven as soon as possible otherwise you will get a flat bake.

Baking soda only raises your bake once, that’s why it’s perfect for cookies. Baking soda is what gives cookies their soft, fluffy texture. 

Be aware of how much baking soda a recipe asks because it’s very strong. if you put too much, you will end up eating soapy tasting cookies. No one wants soapy cookies! 

Simply put, you would use baking soda in foods such as, cookies, fruit cakes, lemon cakes, gingerbread and soda bread because they all use some sort of acidic ingredient.

baking powder
Here is where it can get a bit confusing because baking powder already contains baking soda mixed with cream of tartar, which is an acid. 

Since it’s already mixed in with an acid, baking powder is usually used in recipes that don’t ask for an acidic ingredient. Still with us? Good. 

Just to confuse you even more, baking powder is double acting. Double acting means that baking powder initially reacts once you mix it with wet ingredients, just like baking soda.

Then, it further reacts in the heated oven, causing the cake to rise even more. Think of it as two stages of rising. 

So, baking powder is used to help raise a simple Victoria sponge cake, chocolate cake, and cupcakes.

Flour can be found in every house. It’s probably one of the most versatile ingredients out there as it is used in pretty much everything we bake.

From breads, to cookies, to molten lava cakes, to pastries, flour is in literally EVERYTHING. I actually panic when I’m nearly out of flour because I feel like I can’t make anything without it!

Flour is most commonly made from wheat, but there are many varieties of flour, not just plain wheat flour.

You can get whole wheat flour, bread flour, rice flour, oat flour, and even chickpea flour! There is an abundance of flour variety out there!

Self-rising flour is used for its ability to raise a bake. Self-rising flour is simply a mixture of plain flour and baking powder

Plain flour itself won’t rise a cake, but what will help rise a cake is the baking powder, just like we discussed above. 

If you ever run out of self-rising flour, just use plain flour and add some baking powder and you will get the exact same result, as if you had used self-rising flour. 

It’s very easy to understand what self-rising flour is and how to use it. If you want to make a fluffy, sponge cake with a good rise, then self-rising flour is the one to use.

Baking tip: If you want fluffy, thick pancakes, use self-rising flour instead and your pancakes will be humongous!

Eggs and Egg Whites

eggs and egg whites

Eggs. You can beat, poach, scramble, fry, bake, whip them… the list goes on!

What can eggs not do?! They are so versatile and are a key ingredient in cakes as they help bind and create stability in a batter.

They are also great for thickening sauces such as custards

If used correctly, eggs can also be used as a raising agent.

When an egg is beaten, air gets trapped in the mixture, causing it to increase in volume.

This increase in volume is what makes the cake rise with a very fluffy and aerated texture.

There are all sorts of different beating methods used to increase volume in an egg mixture. 

You can beat eggs and egg yolks over simmering water (bain-marie) to increase its volume.

This method emulsifies the mixture, giving it a very smooth and creamy texture. You will find this technique is used in many Italian recipes, like in tiramisus and genoise sponges

Whisking egg whites is also a great method used to add height to a dessert.

Whisking egg whites are more popularly used to make meringues, macarons and soufflés, adding to the light and airy texture. 

But, if you want to add some volume to your cake, separate the egg whites, whisk them up and fold them gently into your cake batter. This will make you sponge tall, light and fluffy.

Baking tip: Always use room temperature eggs in all your bakes. They break down easier and mix better.

Baker’s Yeast

Although yeast is not an ingredient that makes a cake rise, it is commonly used in bakery products and definitely worth a mention.

Yeast is what makes bread, donuts and cinnamon rolls fluffy and doughy and absolutely delicious.

You will find that there are a few different types of yeasts that you can get.

The most popular ones used in baking are; instant yeast (rapid), active dry yeast and fresh yeast.

Instant yeast is my favourite to use as it doesn’t need to be dissolved in warm water or milk and can be mixed directly with your ingredients.

cake

Now, you never have to wonder what ingredient makes a cake rise because we just gave you a deeper understanding of all the most commonly used raising agents. 

Knowing what raising agents are available and how to use them will ensure you get perfectly risen bakes every time.

Happy baking!

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