Leif Jakobsen Shares The Secrets Of Functional Cake Ingredients

Sharing the secrets of functional cake ingredients

Combining hands-on baking with technical know-how

Leif Jakobsen understands cakes from the bottom up. For the first 15 years of his career he worked in craft bakeries in Denmark, during which time he grew increasingly interested in the potential of functional ingredients.

“I started off doing pretty much everything – the bread, the cakes, the Danish pastries,” he explains.  “I learned a lot about ready-bake mixes, and that the big skill in baking isn’t how you create a mix but how you handle it. You can give the same mix to different bakers and get different results. It’s not about how you weigh the ingredients but how you control the process.”

You can do a lot to change the look, the volume, the crumb structure of a cake by changing the combination of ingredients. But you need a deep understanding of different emulsifiers ― the way they work with each other and with other ingredients.

After training as a food technologist, Jakobsen was offered a role with Nexus ― Palsgaard’s R&D company. “That’s where I really learned how to formulate with active cake emulsifiers, he says. “I gained more and more knowledge about cakes, so I was able to combine my experience of baking with new insights into technical solutions.”

Emulpals® ― probably the best emulsifier in the world

For the past 16 years, Jakobsen has used this combination to help Palsgaard customers improve their cake and cake mix recipes: “You can do a lot to change the look, the volume, the crumb structure of a cake by changing the combination of ingredients. But you need a deep understanding of different emulsifiers ― the way they work with each other and with other ingredients.”

Usually, the solution is the right match from Palsgaard’s Emulpals® range, such as the super-versatile Emulpals® 110 which can be used in both aerated and non-aerated cakes, or Emulpals® 115 – a unique product for retail mixes with household applications. Depending on manufacturers’ needs, they can be combined with other products, such as Palsgaard® DMG 0298 or Palsgaard® SSL 3426.

Jakobsen doesn’t hesitate to describe Emulpals as “probably the best emulsifier in the world”. How can he be so sure? “For me, and our customers, it’s because it’s so easy to work with. It’s a powdered solution and it’s activated immediately ― as soon as you mix it with water or egg, the emulsification and the aeration begin, giving you nice, fluffy cakes.”

He contrasts this with shortening-based emulsifiers which are still commonly used, despite being more time-consuming to work with: “Mix producers need to cream up the mixes, or spray oil into them, and then blend in the rest of the ingredients. It’s a complex process that can change depending on the temperature and the equipment you’re using, and there’s a risk of ending up with lumps. When you’re working with powdered emulsifiers, you get better results more quickly and more consistently, even with the same equipment.”

He says Emulpals’ great tolerance also creates opportunities for mixes with a longer shelf-life: “With shortening in a mix, shelf-life might be something like six months. If you can extend that to twelve, that’s a big advantage, especially now that food waste is such a critical issue.”

Adding Emulpals to the mix enables a switch from saturated or trans-fats to healthier unsaturated liquid oils.

Goodbye PHOs, Hello Lean Label

In addition to technical benefits, Emulpals can help create better-for-you products. Jakobsen points to the drive to eliminate PHOs (partially hydrogenated oils), a major source of trans fats. “PHO-free is becoming a larger and larger target and this trend is growing across the world. A lot of governments are banning PHOs or reducing the amount that can be used. We’ve seen it in the US and now in countries like Brazil.“ In recent years, he has spent a lot of time helping customers around the world find ways to swap out PHOs without compromising on mouthfeel or texture.

Because Emulpals potentially contains only one emulsifier and one natural carrier (starch), there are also benefits for a leaner label. “We’re still giving manufacturers everything they need ― the volume, the structure and the fluffiness” Jakobsen says. “But we’re also helping them get their labels as lean as they possibly can be. Emulpals uses only polyglycerol esters, which our testing has found to be the best performing functional stand-alone emulsifier for cakes.”

A new taste-neutral solution for vegan cakes

Palsgaard’s newest solution for cakes is Palsgaard® SE 8102, a combination of plant-based proteins, fibres and gums. Unlike most of the company’s products for baking, it’s not an emulsifier, but it does work perfectly with Emulpals. While the emulsifier incorporates air, Palsgaard® SE 8102 delivers structure and stability. It has particular value in egg-free cakes, and Jakobsen explains that one of the reasons Palsgaard developed it was to help meet the growing demand for vegan products.

“There are a lot of plant-based cakes on the market now and also a lot of solutions for them,” he says. “But very often when you taste them, they have an off-flavour. One of the things that makes me especially proud of Palsgaard® SE 8102 is that it’s taste-neutral ― there’s no unpleasant flavour of soy, for example.”

Palsgaard® SE 8102 was the result of joint working between Nexus and Jakobsen’s team, which set itself an ambitious goal: “We could have just created something for plant-based muffins, but instead we gave ourselves the target of a sponge cake. That’s where there the greatest challenges of aeration and stability are, and our thinking was that if we could create a great plant-based sponge cake, we could make anything. It wasn’t an easy job, and along the way we made some very strange-tasting cakes! We definitely took the long way round to success, but now we’ve got something that’s perfect for plant-based products.”

Plant-based sponge cakes are notoriously difficult to get right. With Palsgaard® SE 8102 in the mix, creating tasty cakes becomes an easy feat.

Supporting customers around the world

Jakobsen believes Palsgaard stands out from other ingredient providers because it invests heavily in customer support. One of the big lessons he says he’s learned is how different manufacturers’ needs can be: “When I started this job, I thought I knew how to make a cake. But a cake in Denmark isn’t the same as a cake in the US, or a cake in Egypt, or Brazil. A sponge cake in Europe is often quite dry, because customers like to put cream or jam on it. But if you go to Asia, you’ll see that a sponge cake there will have high egg content and 10% oil content. Every country is different – that fascinates me, and I keep learning every day.”

What doesn’t change is his focus on problem-solving: “You have so many different experiences and different challenges across the world, and you have to think of different ways to solve the problems. I enjoy a challenge and I hate it if I ever have to go home from a trip without having fixed it.”

Adding listening to the mix

When asked about communication Jakobsen stresses the importance of listening. “When you’re sitting with a new customer and talking about your product, sometimes you pick up from their questions that they’re having problems in a different area. So you have to listen carefully to what they’re saying and touch back on it. When you do that, you can adapt your normal presentation to focus on what their actual problem is. There’s no point talking about a banana if the customer really wants to hear about an apple!”

Since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of this listening has taken place in online seminars. The cameras and screens are set up in a way that creates intimacy: “We try to make the customers feel like they’re sitting in the front row and can ask questions. It’s great because you can see people’s faces and their reactions to what you’re saying ― you can’t do that in a seminar with 60 or 70 people.”

So, what does Jakobsen enjoy most about his role? “I’m passionate about ingredients, and I’m passionate about sharing what I know. If I can spread some of my knowledge and help make better cakes then I’m happy.”

Would you like to request the help of Leif or one of his colleagues?