Ninth graders Kamryn Kullot and Megan LaPlante mix bread dough in their family and consumer science class, where they are studying food science.  PHOTO BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Ninth graders Kamryn Kullot and Megan LaPlante mix bread dough in their family and consumer science class, where they are studying food science. PHOTO BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
How stretchy is your dough?

Have you found a STEM in it?

And how fluffy is your food foam?

"Why do we want stretchiness in our dough?" asked Chatfield High School family and consumer science (FACS) instructor Linda Ganyo. She was asking her ninth grade students during class last Wednesday as the students reviewed why they use certain kinds of flour to make bread dough.

She got the answer she was looking for - "stretchy dough makes nice, chewy bread."

But how, she inquired, does bread dough become stretchy?

Ganyo explained that gluten-free bread, or bread made with specialty flour such as brown rice flour, will "turn out not stretchy, and it'll be more cake-like."

Next, she asked, "Why do we put sugar in the dough? What does it do for bread?" The students answered that it "feeds the yeast," and that "yeast makes the bread dough rise."

The teacher set the students to work mixing their bread dough in order to make breadsticks the following day. They were incorporating recipes that call for all-purpose flour but also required the addition of another kind of flour in place of the all-purpose flour to determine what its gluten or gluten-free properties do to make the resulting breadsticks chewy or heavy. Ganyo reminded them that "a dry or humid day makes a difference in how much flour you use."

Chatfield's FACS program is one of only a few remaining in the area - the typical "home ec" classes most alumni remember have given way to curriculum focused on science, math, engineering and technology, making learning how to measure a cup of sugar seem trivial when compared to learning how to do computer-aided drafting (CAD) or engaging in biomedical experiments.

However, Ganyo has confidence that her curriculum - teaching students why recipes contain certain ingredients and how those ingredients work together - is just as relevant and just as scientific.

She related, "The food science is part of the STEM program - science, technology, engineering and math - and through the food science aspect of it is that if the students do science projects for science fairs, the food science aspect is something that General Mills and other companies consider when the kids are competing, because they're looking for ways to develop new products and foods."

She elaborated, "If they understand why they put in what ingredients they use, they know how to control what they do. A person can put stuff in a bowl and mix it, but it makes sense to know how they do what they do and why."

The food science curriculum has been under development this school year, and Ganyo has enjoyed incorporating it into her classes, as she currently has ninth and seventh graders doing experiments, sans lab coats and goggles.

"The seventh grade curriculum includes why liquid boils, how a boiling point can be changed by adding salt, the science of acids and bases, the pH of common foods, how to help a batter rise using soda, the difference between baking soda and baking powder, sugars and starches...such as why a starch explodes inside popcorn, why milk proteins curdle, the basics," Ganyo added. "We're giving them a good start so they can use it in life experiences as well as being science-wise."

Her ninth graders' curiosity has been piqued by learning how to measure, how to use metric equipment, solving "mysteries in the kitchen, like why onions make you cry," about mass and volume, why ice only undergoes a physical change instead of a chemical change when it melts or freezes, and what enzymes are.

They also have been working with "food foam" or beaten egg whites with air bubbles.

"We're making food foam, like for angel food cake, and they're learning about why you can't put the sugar in too early or it will cause the whole cake to be ruined. If you put the sugar in too soon, it won't fluff."

Plans are in progress to expand the curriculum and use it in most of her cooking classes, as she has hopes to teach students that science experiments happen right in their own home kitchens.

"We're working on the curriculum this year," Ganyo said. "The kids have learned the function of eggs - as a binder, an emulsifier, as a thickener, leavener and for coating things - and put acids with baking soda to see what happens when you mix acids and bases. The function of all the ingredients in baked products is important. We're going to do more lab experiments next year, like the ones you get out of science books."

That encourages Ganyo, in that it means that a new generation of students will graduate cookbook-literate and interested in "the basics" of what stretchy bread dough, food foam and a good binding egg can become if put to work properly.