On Friday, Feb. 12, chemists participated in C&EN’s first Kitchen Chem webinar and got a taste of the chemistry behind cookie baking. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, guest host Maria Gallardo-Williams demonstrated how to make heart-shaped thumbprint cookies and answered questions ranging from the chemistry behind ingredient substitutes to the difference between baking soda and baking powder.
“Cooking is the oldest form of chemistry,” says Gallardo-Williams, a baking enthusiast and director of the organic chemistry teaching labs at North Carolina State University. “It is also for many people the most tangible. You mix things, change their properties, and it results in a new and delicious product. I think most people can relate to that.”
Participants followed along, baking their own thumbprint cookies at home. “It was the perfect way to end the week and have a treat for the weekend,” says Becca Harmon, a graduate student in chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University. “I do computational research, and sometimes it is nice to have a tangible product/result instead of 0’s and 1’s.”
“I particularly enjoyed learning about the binding effects of eggs, and their vegan substitutes like flaxseeds, differences between using butter, and substitutes like almond butter,” says SriBala Gorugantu, a postdoc in chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University.“ As a chemical engineer, I appreciated Maria’s comment on the scale-up of cookie making by sizing the ingredients appropriately.”
“I loved learning about the importance of the butter and moisture content to get the best results,” says Rosalba A. Rincón, an associate editor for several journals published by Chemistry Europe. “I also learned that when I want an intense chocolate color when baking, I should use Dutch-processed cocoa powder because it’s been treated to neutralize its acidity, which makes it darker.”
“It was a welcome change to the monotony of COVID-19, and helped build a sense of community,” says Zoë Ayres, a senior scientist at Hach. “It was also really interesting to learn about some of the chemistry behind vegan baking, something I’ve not thought about before.”
“Working in the kitchen excites me and reminds me of experimenting in the chemistry lab,” says Vibha Gujar, a health informatics specialist. “I found it interesting to know so much about baking chemistry and also fun to watch cooking not just as a skilled art but also as a science!”
Sandy Kulkarni, a retired high school chemistry teacher, says the webinar gave her confidence that she “could bake those cookies and produce good experimental results.”