March 4th, 2024

Science Smarts: The ‘secret’ science of Nana’a kitchen success

By Patty Rooks on February 3, 2024.

With the cold weather a few weeks ago, I was looking for some activities to do at home and of course, kitchen science came to mind. I thought I would share one of my favourites as it was inspired by a very special Nana’s birthday this weekend.

If you have even been to Nana’s house, upon entering you will be overcome with the most delicious smell ever -homemade bread baking in the oven! I have tried over the years to replicate this time honoured tradition but I am continually told Nana’s buns are better.

Well, I think it is time to sit down and have a serious discussion, me and Nana. About what, you ask? The science behind the absolute best baking, of course! I obviously have something I need to learn.

This week, we will delve into the science right in your own kitchen. Don’t tell Nana I am sharing her “secret” recipe.Let’s get started!

*Remember to ask an adult before doing this experiment.


– Oven

– Bread flour

– Sugar

– Salt

– Milk

– Vegetable oil

– Quick acting yeast

– Loaf pan

– Cooking spray

– Three mixing bowls

– Measuring cups

– Measuring spoons

– Clean towel

– Cooling rack


1. Measure 450 grams of bread flour and place in a large mixing bowl. I have always been told that when you are measuring four, you never shake the cup to level it off as it will affect the overall results. Overfill the cup with flour and then use your finger and run it across the top of the measuring cup to level it off.

2. Measure 5 mL of salt, 15 mL of yeast, 30 mL sugar and add to the flour. Mix well. Make a well in the middle of your flour mixture.

3. In another bowl, measure 300 mL WARM milk and pour in the second measuring bowl. Add 30mL oil. Stir well.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir well. This is where it is going to take some muscles! Keep mixing until you have soft dough.

5. Add a small sprinkle of flour on a clean work surface. Scrape the dough out onto the flour and begin to knead the dough. To knead a dough, press your knuckles into it and push away. Fold the dough in half and turn it away from you. Repeat this process for about ten minutes or until the dough is well mixed.

6. Spray the third mixing bowl with cooking spray.

7. Place the kneaded dough into the third bowl.

8. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and cover with a clean towel.

9. Allow the dough to rise for about 90 minutes in a warm place.

10. Clean up.

11. After 90 minutes, sprinkle a bit more flour onto the work surface.

12. Scrape the dough out again and knead it about four or five times. Shape the dough into a loaf shape and put in the pan OR make it into one dozen dinner buns (my favorite).

13. Cover the pan with a towel to allow the dough to rise for the final time.

14. After 30 minutes, place the loaf of bread in a preheated 220°C oven for about 30 minutes.

15. To tell if the bread is done, tap on the top and if it sounds hollow it is done.

16. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

17. If you can wait, allow it to cool before enjoying!

What is going on?

Is there really science in this activity? Yes, there is – trust me. We often just take for granted the things that happen when we are cooking, but there is so much science in the kitchen, it is absolutely amazing. In this experiment, there was yeast in the bread.

I know it just looked like a powder, but yeast is actually alive. It is made up of VERY tiny living things called microorganisms. The yeast needs something to eat, so it actually feeds off of a chemical in the flour called starch. As it does this, a gas is released and gets trapped in the dough, making it light and fluffy rising up.

Once the bread is cooked, and if you break the bread open, you can see where the gas bubbles were trapped. Now if you add real butter to your bread, that is a whole new science lesson – perhaps next week?

I hope you enjoyed baking your bread, if it did not work that well, keep trying. Some things take time, patience and a great deal of practice. I keep trying and trying and I am still working on perfecting my bread; as I am told mine is not near as delicious as Nana’s!

Keep an eye out for the Regional Science Fair registration opening very soon. Mark your calendars as the Virtual Science Fair registration deadline is March 4 and the in person science fair will be March 23 at Medicine Hat College. I hope to see you there!

Patty Rooks, senior scientific consultant PRAXIS, “Connecting Science To The Community.” Contact Praxis at,, Tweet or follow us @PraxisMedHat, or friend us on Facebook. Address: 12 826 11th Street SE, Medicine Hat, AB, T1A 1T7 Phone: 403-527-5365, email:

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