Hanuman and Kiran baked a cake for their loved teacher Professor Tung Tang, and he explained how each ingredient works out magical physical and chemical changes
The streams of daylight were not yet strong enough to slice to pieces the darkness inside the one-roomed home of Hanuman and Kiran.
But the little home was already witnessing a flurry of activity. The brother sister duo were breaking chocolate biscuits into a bowl.
“Bring the milk, quick!” said Kiran as she ground the biscuits to the smallest pieces her little hands could.
Hanuman brought the bowl of milk which she poured onto the biscuits as her brother stirred the mixture with a spoon. Task completed, the packet of ‘Eno’ was poured into the mixture.
After checking if the batter was thick enough, they put butter and flour on a large steel box, and were pouring the mixture into it, when their mother joined the activity.
“Is the batter ready?” she asked while finishing her cleaning.
Hands washed, she dipped her finger in the batter to check the thickness. Satisfied, she closed the lid of the container and put it into a pressure cooker and asked the children to move out of the kitchen.
Hanuman and Kiran waited in anticipation. They were backing a cake for the first time for Professor Tung Tang on the occasion of Teacher’s Day, and were eager to known whether their efforts had borne fruit.
A wait that seemed longer than it actually was and — lo! They stood wide eyed as their mother helped to take the fluffy cake out.
Soon, both of them were running down the little road that led to the Professor’s house, cake and cards in their small hands.
They surreptitiously pushed open the main door, uncertainly crossed the living room and found him in the kitchen among a mess – flours strewn all around and all sorts of containers scattered.
“What are you doing Professor?”
“Wait till you find out.”
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“Happy Teacher’s Day Professor,” the kids said together, placing the cards and the cake together before Professor Tung Tang.
“Oh! That’s very nice of you both,” Professor said smiling while placing the cake and the cards on the table in his living room.
Then, as Kiran busied herself in the kitchen, tidying it up, Professor stepped aside and took out a chocolate brown cake from the oven and all of them laughed out at the coincidence.
“Oh, so all this mess is because of that,” asked Kiran, to which Professor smiled and nodded his head.
Suddenly something struck her and she raised her voice “But Professor, I was wondering how these dusty flour turns into a cake.”
“Ancient Egyptians. They were the first culture to show evidence of advanced baking skills and this finally evolved to the cakes you bite onto today,” Professor said sipping his coffee, as Hanuman and Kiran dug in for more bites
“Astounding is it not? We’ll find out while sharing the lovely cakes,” Professor said placing both the cakes on the table.
Hanuman hurriedly brought a knife from the kitchen while Kiran followed behind him. She cut a few pieces and distributed to the Professor and Hanuman who were settling down in anticipation.
“Each ingredient in a cake has a job to do,” said the professor while taking a bite.
“Flour provides the structure; baking powder and baking soda introduces air into it making it fluffy. Eggs bind the ingredients together, butter makes them tender, milk or water provides the moisture while the sugar creates the taste,” he continued as he stepped into the kitchen to heat some water.
As he pulled out a container the brother sister team who had followed him said in unison: “Coffee!! “Can we have coffee today?”
The Professor nodded his head in consent. It was one of the rare occasions when coffee was allowed to the kids.
“As the ingredients combine, the physical and chemical changes start. Gluten, a protein present in flour, when mixed with water forms a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency.
“The eggs hold the mixture together. Then comes the baking powder and baking soda, and both release carbon dioxide, adding bubbles to the batter, helping it expand,” Professor continued mixing extra spoons of sugar in the coffee.
“And what happens when the batter is heated?” Kiran asked taking one step closer to see how strong the coffee was.
“When the batter is heated in the oven, the ingredients change again. The starch portion of the flour gels — with help from sugar ‑creating a web like structure that traps water and provides moisture.
“The carbon dioxide from the baking powder or baking soda will expand the cake.
“Gluten holds those bubbles in place like a balloon that contains air, while the fat from the oil or butter lubricates it,” Professor explained while pouring the hot drink for three of them as Hanuman took a deep breath to enjoy the aroma.
“And do you know who you should be grateful to for the cakes you enjoy today?” Professor asked while the three of them stepped out of the kitchen.
“Ancient Egyptians. They were the first culture to show evidence of advanced baking skills and this finally evolved to the cakes you bite onto today,” Professor said sipping his coffee, as Hanuman and Kiran dug in for more bites.
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Archita specialises in science communication, and in this series she has created for children, she uses three fictional characters, Hanuman, a bit of an imp, his elder sister Kiran and Professor Tung Tang, a scientist who meddles in musical instruments.