Is this the world’s best microwave-mix cake?

Is this the world’s best
microwave-mix cake?
Microwave cake mixes don’t always deliver the pleasurable, convenient
experience consumers hope for. Now, food manufacturers can take
advantage of ingredients producer Palsgaard’s latest research results
to develop an entirely new level of cake quality with comparatively few
Interview with Lasse Kolding Sørensen, Application Technologist, Palsgaard A/S
If you’re in touch with consumer
cake markets, you’ve probably
noticed that the use of microwave
ovens to produce cakes and similar food in a convenient format is
finally gaining a foothold.
While just-add-water or similarly
simplified cake mixes for both conventional and microwave ovens
have had their ups and downs for
decades, it now seems that the microwave is being viewed with less
scepticism than before. In fact, recent trends such as “mugging” or
“cake-in-a-mug” – preparing various ingredients in a single-serve
coffee mug then placing it in a
microwave oven – are hot topics
among cake lovers, who avidly
swap recipes on their favourite social media sites. Even El Bulli, the
Michelin 3-star restaurant voted
the world’s best no fewer than five
times, has served a 30-second
microwave sponge cake for its
Encouraged by these developments, cake mix manufacturers
are climbing on the band wagon
with ranges designed to exploit
this new market potential. But,
while microwave cakes based on
“real” ingredients can often produce something that closely resembles an oven-baked product,
few of the mix products have the
same degree of success. In fact,
consumers experimenting with the
new mixes are all too often disappointed by the result. Typically,
it seems, they’re rewarded with
something that lacks the consistency of oven-based cakes and
which quickly dries out. It’s just,
well, not a cake.
Danish-based ingredients manufacturer Palsgaard has been aware
of the problem for some years. But,
with numerous ingredient development projects on the go at any
one time, it wasn’t until 2013 that
the company turned its attention
to helping its cake-manufacturing
customers to lift the quality of their
microwave mix recipes.
Given that food and ingredient
manufacturers have been experimenting with microwave cake
mixes since the 1980s, Palsgaard
realised that solving the problem
was going to take a concentrated,
sustained effort. At the same time,
a more holistic approach was required rather than focusing on finetuning or replacing individual ingredients. Special resources were
allocated in the company’s labs,
with a mandate to work in near
isolation from other projects until a
solution was discovered.
The project was headed by application technologist Lasse Kolding
Sørensen. “When talking to cake
manufacturers, we only had to
mention dryness or complicated
ingredient mixes and they would
start nodding vigorously. So we
knew which problems were key to
The Palsgaard team suspected
that the difficulty of getting microwave cake mix recipes right – and
the potential brand damage from
disappointed consumers – was
holding many manufacturers back.
So they set out to deliver a compelling solution that would simplify
mix recipes and provide an end result that, in the hands of consumers, closely resembled an ovenbased cake, more of the time.
“We wanted to come up with some
recipes that could give the industry
the confidence to work further on
their microwave products,” says
Lasse. “Luckily, I was given all the
resources I needed to really throw
everything up in the air and start
again from scratch, working with
as many recipes and running as
many tests as I needed to. And
that made all the difference.”
Microwave ovens don’t provide
the perfect setting for producing
cakes. Far from it, in fact. One of
the problems is that the changes
in, and interactions among major
ingredients, which would normally
occur over a lengthy baking period
in a conventional system, can’t be
completed during the short baking period of a microwave system.
The reason for this is that micro-
While developing the two recipe suggestions Palsgaard also ensured that they
would work if consumers were to try try to personalise the cakes - e.g. by adding
a toffee-filled chocolate, or by adding fresh fruit to the coconut cake.
wave radiation interacts with water
to create a boiling rather than baking effect. To make matters worse,
cake mixes are demanding applications, with all ingredients added
at once and, especially with microwave products, with an extremely
short stirring and baking time.
None of these challenges, however, could stand in the way of a
concentrated effort in Palsgaard’s
labs. And after months of work,
and more than a few frustrating
moments, a convincing solution finally emerged.
The results are impressive, to say
the least. Two distinct recipes were
created, one for a rich chocolate
cake, the other for a coconut-flavoured product. When cooked in a
microwave oven at 1,000 W for 50
seconds, both recipes produced
remarkably appealing cakes that
feature genuine cake-style consistency and don’t quickly dry out.
Adding to their appeal, the two
recipe suggestions can easily be
personalised by the consumer to
fit his or her own tastes and creative urges. For example, a toffeefilled chocolate added to the stirred
chocolate cake batter will result in
a delicious lava cake that’s a real
treat when served warm with a
scoop of ice cream. And freshly
chopped pineapple or raspberries
can add a fresh, fruity touch to the
coconut cake.
There’s yet another advantage,
too, with the Palsgaard recipes:
consumers who like their indulgent treats to be as convenient
as possible will be pleased to find
that removing the finished cake is
as simple as turning the container
upside down on a plate. The cake
won’t stick to the container’s sides
or appear damaged after removal.
Much of the recipes’ success, it
turns out, lies in the fact that both
are based on a balanced mix of
raw materials whose crucial ingredient is an emulsifier system
well-suited for a tough job: fast
dispersion and hydration using al-
most no energy. Put another way,
that means gently stirring the mix
in a mug of water, then exposing
it to microwave treatment with a
pleasing cake structure as a result.
The system, named “Emulpals®” is
highly tolerant of other ingredients
that may be added, and provides
long shelf life for the cake mix,
too. This unique system is based
on only a few selected emulsifiers,
which have been activated on a
native rice starch. So, aside from
superior functionality, it provides a
label-friendly approach, too.
Despite the success of the two
recipes, Lasse emphasizes that
they are primarily designed as inspiration for the industry – and that
Palsgaard’s role is to help food
manufacturers to improve existing products or develop new ones.
He offers to throw open his lab
to manufacturers who would like
to explore these recipes together
with Palsgaard’s knowhow to craft
exactly the right recipe for their region and their target markets.
“We’ve got well-equipped pilot
labs around the world that can now
work with customers to refine their
recipes – or create new microwave
mixes that can address new markets,” says Lasse. “As an ingredients supplier, we have created a
new product development springboard, and we’re keen to follow it
through to products that really sell
in the marketplace.”
The Palsgaard technologist points
to the fact that, over the years,
consumers have demonstrated a
willingness to try out both ovenbased and microwave-based mixes as evidence that the right recipe can open up the market’s true
potential, both with younger and
older segments. For example, microwave-based cake mixes make
it possible for children to safely enter the baking world, while senior
citizens can finally serve up a cake
that lives up to their guests’ expectations with far less effort. There
are other markets, too, that may be
of interest, such as cafés looking
to provide tasty, attractive cakes
with a minimum of fuss and bother.
we solve those issues? It may be
market opportunities or production difficulties. Shouldn’t we solve
those problems together? With this
particular project, I think, we’ve
achieved what everyone wants in
a cake mix today: quality, ease,
convenience, and most important
of all, the ability to get the taste
just right.”
“I think one of the visitors to our
stand at FIE in Frankfurt said it
best. He just squeezed it, took
a bite and said: ‘That’s just like
a cake!’ It was the best thing he
could have said to me.”
“We’re here to solve problems related to food ingredients,” explains
Lasse. “What are our customers
having difficulty with and how can
Palsgaard’s pilot plants and product development support teams in Denmark,
Mexico and Singapore can provide manufacturers with dedicated assistance
based on awareness of regional markets, regulations and requirements. Trials –
from small to industrial-scale – can be conducted in advanced facilities equipped
with mixers, aerators, depositors and ovens, providing a complete recipe development and testing environment for optimal results.