The Bakerspace - Creative Chemistry: Author Guest Post by Kim Smith

Kim Smith is the author of perennial STEM favorite Boxitects and has brought us another tasty treat of a STEM book with Baker Makers. We asked her to talk a little bit about how science and baking go hand-in-hand and her own experiments with concocting sweet treats in the kitchen.

Baking is one of our first introductions to chemistry. It doesn’t require a lab full of hazardous chemicals—you only need simple household ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, butter, milk, and baking powder. These are almost inedible on their own, but through what seems like a kind of magic, they can turn into something amazing—something delicious.

As a staunch recipe follower, I am astonished by expert bakers on TV who can do it all without a recipe. They make creative baking look easy, like they’re just throwing a bunch of random things together, and ta-da, it turns out fabulous. What a magic trick. When writing Baker Makers, I wanted to gain an understanding of how this works.

I had some idea of how flour, sugar, eggs, butter, milk, and baking powder made up a cake but not how each one directly affected the outcome. I decided to try a simple experiment – baking five cupcakes and altering the ingredients each time. One cupcake was the control—I followed the recipe exactly. For the next four, l deliberately left out one of the ingredients: milk, butter, baking powder, or eggs. It was fascinating to see what effect each ingredient had on the cupcakes. One cake came out extra crumbly, another dense and flat, and the other two lacked moisture and flavour. I realized great bakers are scientists. They have the chemical reactions memorized and expert knowledge of how to problem-solve hiccups.  

As kids, we often start off as mad scientists, wanting to toss every ingredient that excites us into a big bowl, stir it around and have it turn into something fantastic. Like my character Naveen’s initial effort, and my own experiments with cupcakes, first attempts like these are often disastrous. But by learning a basic set of rules, like why each ingredient in a cake is important, the chemistry behind the magic is revealed!

Gaining a basic understanding of how ingredients interact can allow kids to begin to experiment with mixing things together. Instead of ending up with an inedible concoction, they can start making things that are delicious–something we all strive for as bakers. By experimenting and problem solving and allowing for complete disasters, kids can learn what works and what doesn’t. This spirit of experimentation (and the goal of creating mouthwatering treats!) can spur them to become more inventive and innovative problem solvers.

While baking requires precision and an understanding of math, Maker Spaces are perfect places to test and experiment. Combining Maker Spaces with baking creates the ideal introduction for kids to the magic of chemistry, leading not only to more confidence in the kitchen, but also fostering curiosity and excitement about science and the way things are created!

About the Author

KIM SMITH is the New York Times–bestselling illustrator of several picture books, including Boxitects, Baker Makers, Builder Brothers: Big Plans and the Ice Chips chapter-book series. She lives in Calgary.

About Baker Makers

Praise for Baker Makers!

“With witty, lively text and vibrant colors, Smith tells a story that will reassure young readers worried about trying new things [in] an entertaining and humorous story about the power of creative thinking.”
  — Kirkus Reviews

“As she did with Boxitects, Smith ­offers an upbeat and empathetic foray into maker (and in this case, baker) culture. The brightly colored cartoon illustrations create an enticing class setting that readers will want to join.”
  — School Library Journal