Monday, June 30, 2014

Baking and Kids (and math)

One suggestion we got was to bake with the children.  This is an idea I strongly support for both mathematical and non-mathematical reasons:

  • Baking is full of measuring, so they see and use a lot of numbers. In fact, writing down a recipe for future use or for giving to another person to reproduce is a key motivation for even having numbers in the first place.
  • Fractions appear naturally if you use American measures or recipes
  • You often have to do scaling calculations (halve or double the recipe)
  • The process involves physically interacting with quantities; this is an important step for building comfort and intuition that sets a foundation for picture-based and abstract forms of mathematics.
  • Every product has hundreds of variations and competing recipes, so it encourages a spirit of exploration and investigation (see this brownie fugue, for example)
  • Small children can manage almost all the necessary steps, so it can help reinforce growing habits of independence
  • Of course, baking itself is a skill that is worth learning
  • You get to eat the end products!

What to bake?
I started drafting a treatise outlining the pros and cons of choosing breads or cookies or cakes to bake with the kids. Then I realized that probably no one else will care. For now, let's just say that all of them have their merits and eventually we will end up doing some of each.  Here are recipes in each category that I recommend or have had recommended to me (I'll add to this over time and have included some for which I don't have a link):

Lidia's pizza dough: very few ingredients, relatively easy to mix dough, very short baking time
challah: we make a half recipe
popovers: haven't made this recipe yet, but we will try it this weekend

French Yogurt Cake: also this, but note that we haven't made this!
pancakes: ok, you got me, this isn't baking, but we still love them.

rice crispy treats: again, not really baking, but who cares?
chocolate chip: enjoy this show (videotext) and go wild with variations

Other Cooking Resources for Young Mathematicians
Good Eats/Alton Brown: fantastically entertaining and I love the thematic focus he uses for each show. I've given you an "official" link, but probably better to look for episodes on youtube as above in the chocolate chip section.

America's Test Kitchen brings the philosophy of the scientific method to perfecting each recipe. To complement the above, here's their take on gluten and another with perfect pancake technique.


  1. You should add popovers/popcakes to the mix...mostly because they are fun to watch baking. I'll send you the time-lapse video we made.

    1. Do you have a recipe you recommend?

      Pop-overs are great. I guess they'd be a quick bread in my current taxonomy and they are a nice example of using steam to get lift. Also, if you are lazy about the baking step, essentially the same batter can be made into crepes.

      I found this time lapse: Popovers popping

      Carmina burana in the background seems a bit dramatic, no?

      Here is a video recipe that looks reasonable, but I'd take your recommendation if you have one:
      Paikin Popovers

      One issue that concerns me: adding batter to the pre-oiled and pre-heated muffin tin. We may experiment with skipping the pre-heating. Two hypotheses I've heard are that (a) it won't pop as much or (b) it will stick to the pan.