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 ingredients.

    New interest in microwave baking

    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 guests.

    But is it a cake?

    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.

    Microwaves on a mission

    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 fine-tuning 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 address."
    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 oven-based 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."

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    Lasse Kolding Sørensen, Application Technologist, Palsgaard A/S