Saturday, February 23, 2013

Baking and Chemistry

I love to bake. Cookies, cakes, pies, breads, muffins - it doesn't matter - I'll make them.  Part of my enjoyment comes from family legacy: my sister enjoys baking, my grandmothers were great bakers, and my great-grandmother baked pies well into her 80s.  But the other enticement?  It's chemistry.  All baking relies on a chemical reaction between the ingredients.  It is fascinating watching it happen.

Today I made Shoo Fly Cake, a sweet molasses cake that is a staple in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where I lived almost half of my life.  This cake is truly a testimony to the marvelous reactions that occur when certain ingredients make contact.  Here is the chemistry in action.

Dry ingredients: 4 cups flour, 2 cups light brown sugar, 1 tsp salt, 3/4 cup shortening.  Mix to make crumbs. Reserve 1 cup of this mixture for later.

Next, some of the wet ingredients + the magic dry ingredient: 1 cup Grandma's Molasses (yellow label), 1 egg, 1 tablespoon baking soda.

Now for the catalyst: 2 cups boiling water. 

And reaction!  Love the foamy bubbles!

Add the dry ingredients to this mixture and pour into 9x13 pan, sprayed with cooking spray.

Top with the reserved dry mixture.

To complete the chemical reaction add heat!  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

This cake is delicious served warm or cold.  In fact, this is the cake my husband has requested I make for him to take to work on his birthday.  One catch - I'll need to make two of them!

So today my Sticks and String were a wooden spoon and my apron.  Hope you enjoy!


  1. I love love love Pennsylvania dutch food. Never had the shoo fly cake but boy o boy the shoo fly
    pie is so good.Love that part of the USA.

    1. The taste is very much the same, but this is a true moist cake all the way through. My husband and I still consider Lancaster County 'home' and may retire there when that time comes.