The Chemistry of Food and Cooking Project: Delightful Vanilla Cupcakes
In this project, we students were tasked with baking or cooking a food item and experimenting with one aspect of it- an "independent variable" like an ingredient or cooking method- to learn how it affected "dependent variables" like the quality and taste of the food. As a baker with a dairy-allergic mother, I decided to experiment with butter substitutes in cupcakes. My recipe, some data I gathered, and my reflection are below.
Recipe and Food Data
How does the ingredient you experimented with affect the food’s overall characteristics?
Flour has two important proteins called glutenin and gliadin. When they are introduced to water, they unravel and then bond together to form what we know as gluten- which is a key component of bread, but isn't meant to be too present in cupcakes. Butter plays a key role in the formation of good cupcakes, ensuring they are fluffy enough and have a full, rich flavor. Along with other fats and oils, it helps to prevent the formation of too much gluten, which makes cupcakes more dense and bready, by encasing and protecting most of the flour from the water in the recipe. In my recipe, I attempted to replace butter with applesauce in one batch and Earth Balance butter substitute in another. I didn't realize at first how this worked, and was just choosing these substitutes based on suggestions I'd heard or read. But the Earth Balance ended up working much more effectively than its fruity counterpart, and I soon found out it was because the composition of Earth Balance allowed it to do the same things with the flour that butter did. The applesauce cupcakes ended up having the consistency of bread. For my final project, I will most certainly be making cupcakes with Earth Balance vegetable "butter."
In what way(s) are cooking and doing science similar and in what way(s) are they different? How are a cook and a food scientist similar or different? As I learned in this unit, there's a lot of science involved in cooking. Both cooking and food science aim to end with the ideal product for consumers or a further understanding of how to make it. Cooks and food scientists both make observations as they do their work and use their results to find a better outcome. Experimentation is common in either scenario, and both tend to understand chemical processes, their exact requirements, and how they work. However, sometimes cooking is a little more relaxed, and cooks often experiment as they go rather than setting up something purely for the purposes of observing the result and gathering data. When I was making cupcakes for data and not for my friends and family, I had to practically fight everyone away from my cupcakes until it was time for the (carefully designed and run) taste test. It was painful- I was used to letting everyone have a taste whenever they wanted. In the end, a cook's first goal is just to make something tasty that consumers can enjoy, whereas food scientists have to pay much more attention to specific, quantifiable data in addition to taste. I've now had a little experience in both roles, and I have to say that when it comes to cupcakes, I honestly prefer just being a baker! I was glad, however, that I learned a little something for the next time I have to make a dairy-free product.
The Chemistry and Sustainability of Construction: Osprey's Eye View
In this project, we explored the sustainable features of the new Animas building and designed exhibits to potentially be placed in the school!
Essential Questions How does the structure of matter on the atomic, molecular, microscopic and macroscopic levels determine its physical, chemical and biological properties with emphasis on their use in building construction?
How do the design of a building, selection of building materials, construction process and use of a building affect the overall sustainability of a building project and the user experience in the building?
Osprey's Eye View: Informative Website
I researched our school's windows- how they are designed to prevent heat transfer, and how special features such as sound dampening windows are constructed. The website I created can be found through the QR code above or this link.
What new information did you learn through doing this project?
I learned why regulating indoor temperature is so important to conserving energy, and how multiple-paned windows help reach this goal. I hadn't previously thought about how much energy went into maintaining preferred temperatures inside houses and buildings, or realized how important it was to think about this when designing buildings. Now, I know more about the structure of multiple-paned windows and why they are built that way. From my discussion with Ryan Lutz, I also learned a little more about building codes and regulations in the US. I find it optimistic that in general, we are trying to shift more and more towards sustainability.
What new skills, dispositions, or lessons did you learn from this project?
I've never been very good at online design, and this project made me realize that I probably should work to improve that. I feel like I could have certainly added to the interactivity of my final project if I had more skills in that field. I would have liked to make my own graphic images, and make them more actively interactive. Perhaps, if I had the skill, I could have made it so viewers could click on different parts of images, zoom in, examine them, and be led to different links. This project also reminded me not to be held back by overly raised expectations- a lesson I seem to be learning over and over again. I had to remind myself constantly that this was meant to be a prototype, and to treat it as such. Stress does not help me create beautiful work.
How can this project be improved for next year's students?
In my opinion, this was a very good project. Construction and architecture never has been a huge interest of mine, and many other students feel the same way, but I think most of us were still able to engage and learn more about our school building in this project. This project is a great example of what Animas is about- we are learning from what is happening in our real world, and making real-world things. I think one of the most notable parts of the semester was the concrete lab- that should definitely be continued. Not only was it a lot of fun, but I don't think I'll ever look at concrete the same way again. I also appreciated the chance to talk to professionals, in class and on our own time. I only wish that we had gotten to spend more time at the construction site of the new school. When we were there, it felt rushed and we didn't really get to look around as much as I would have liked.