Baking can be an amazing conduit for learning in a surprisingly wide variety of areas. As a young girl, baking provided me with an opportunity to avoid any potential boredom that might occur on a rainy day, in a very rural area, in a house with no cable television. I would always bake cake. I didn’t even want cake (I’m a baker who’s strongly opposed to cake, it just doesn’t do it for me) but they were fun to make, and the activity was something to occupy my hands and brain, always providing me with an outcome that I could then frost, which, let’s be honest, is really the fun part.
As I’ve grown up, baking has expanded from something I did solely in my free time, to something I get paid to do. I’ve worked as a baker in a variety of French bakeries, cafes, and even for my own small-scale bread business. Baking as a kid, through my teenage years, and now into my mid-twenties, both professionally and recreationally, has opened my eyes to all the modes of learning it can provide for students, especially adolescent girls.
Nutrition is a hot topic these days. Our bodies are all so different and we all need such different things to feel healthy that I won’t waste words sharing my personal views about nutrition. But I will say that baking provides a practical and easy conversation starter on topics such as organic vs. conventional, what GMOs are, how GMOs and pesticides in food affect us (grains & butter, two main ingredients for baking can be loaded with toxins), what whole grains are, and why they might be better for us.
Where are our grains grown? What did it take to grow them? What sort of variety of grains are out there? What kinds used to be more prominent? You can also practice altering recipes to make them healthier, therefore demonstrating making healthier food choices. For example, replace half the white flour in a recipe with whole wheat, or substitute honey or molasses for highly processed white sugar.
While cooking with teens, you can easily talk about history through baking, both personal and global. For example: What were your ancestors baking? Where did they get those recipes? Where did they get those ingredients? Try making traditional family recipes! What did baking look like throughout history? How did we used to bake? Try to find and follow a traditional, ancient recipe! What role did bread play? What can you tell about a place based on their baked goods? Essentially, what’s the story behind the food?
No need to be a chemist to see that baking is a form of chemistry. Because of it’s inviting facade, baking provides accessible mode of understanding when it comes to different concepts in chemistry. What happens when you mix what, with what? And why? What makes things rise? What makes things fall? Making a sourdough starter is a practice of food fermentation, a perfect example of chemistry in baking.
Math is an easy topic to approach when it comes to baking because of all the converting of various number systems (how many ounces are in a liter? How many liters in a gallon? How about quarts? How many tablespoons in a cup? How many tablespoons in a cup of butter and how many sticks of butter make a cup?…you get the idea). Fraction addition, subtraction, and multiplication are also highly relevant. It’s generally pretty easy to turn a baking project into a math problem.
When it comes to baking, art and writing are essential to make a good recipe book. When I was little I spent a lot of time making different recipe books and pages. As I grew older, I kept doing it and now making recipes books is a personal art form for me. I love drawing in them and decorating them. I love the older, hand written/drawn Moosewood cookbooks as well as the Laurel’s Kitchen cookbooks with their beautiful wood cut prints. The images are engaging, they invite you to make your own.
Being able to write comprehensible recipes, that could be followed not only by the writer but also by any reader, is a practical and important skill. Not only does it promote clear communication and writing but also the ability to give and understand directions.
Perhaps among the most important things baking can provide are basic/important life skills, such as how to properly and safely use an oven, how to measure things, how to use a knife safely, and how to clean properly. It teaches a very important “I can do it” attitude, for which there are no substitutes.
I was a fairly energized, loud, and rambunctious little girl and baking helped keep me busy, while occupying both my hands and brain. I believe understanding the power and creativity that your hands hold is an important realization for adolescent girls, whether it comes in the form of baking or some other endeavor entirely. It helps them understand that they are worth far more than media and common culture tells them they are. Rather, using their hands, personal creativity, and skills to create a healthy and amazing substance shows them a glimpse of their potential to create far more than a loaf of bread or cookies (not that learning the power of feeding yourself well by your own means isn’t amazing skill in itself). They have the ability to create and provide so much for themselves and others, sometimes they just need the right push to help them realize it, and in some cases, I think a baking can be that push.
Resources to check out if you have a daughter who’s excited about baking: