Fourth-graders learn the science of bread

Chances are, sometime today you will eat a little bread. Maybe you will eat a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch. Maybe you will dip a piece of Italian bread into your spaghetti sauce at dinner. Bread is one of those things that you might take for granted. But about 450 fourth-graders from four Montgomery County schools recently got a new taste of bread, when they learned what is in it, how to bake it and the importance of sharing it.

Science and bread

“Future scientists. That’s what I’m looking for today, gang,” said Paula Gray, who works for the King Arthur Flour Company. She was standing in a big classroom at Johns Hopkins University’s Montgomery County Campus, talking to the fourth-graders. Gray lives in Vermont, but she travels around the country as part of a program called Bake for Good: Kids Learn Bake Share. Gray talks to about 50 schools a year, teaching kids how to make and appreciate bread.

Arieana Romero from Stedwick Elementary School in Montgomery Village and Lexie Mitchell from Ronald McNair Elementary School in Germantown helped Gray make the bread in front of everyone.

Gray explained that yeast, an important ingredient in bread, is a living organism.

“Right now, it’s dormant,” she said, referring to the yeast, which looks like grains of sand. “It means it’s asleep.”

Adding warm water to the yeast wakes it up, she explained. The right temperature is important: Water too hot will kill the yeast and too cold will not wake it fast enough.

“When the yeast wakes up, it’s very hungry,” she said. And it wants sugar! So Gray mixed the yeast, water and flour with sugar. The yeast absorbs the sugar and then carbon dioxide (in chemistry, it’s written as CO2) is released, causing bubbles to form in the dough, making the bread rise. This is called fermentation.

After salt, oil and more flour were added, Arieana and Lexie kneaded their dough by folding and pushing it, so that a sticky protein called gluten organizes itself in the dough serving as a trap for the CO2.

Then the mound of dough had to sit in a covered bowl for 1 1 / 2 hours. That’s called bench rest, Gray said. Later, in the oven, the bread will continue to rise, releasing more CO2.

Cooking for others

Gray also taught the kids some basic cooking techniques. “Always read the recipe twice,” she said. It’s important to have a good idea of what you will be doing and also how long it will take.

She explained the difference between a liquid measuring cup, which has a spout, and a dry measuring cup, which has no spout. She also taught the kids how to measure precisely, by using a scraper to remove excess flour.

“How about a hand for the dough?” Gray said at the end of the lesson.

The kids cheered.

“I never realized yeast is an alive organism,” said Kailyn Pavlicek, from Stedwick. “I never knew it needs water and sugar.”

Many other kids were surprised by what they learned.

The kids took home ingredients to make two loaves of bread, and several days later brought one loaf to school to be donated to the homeless.

“Bread is meant to be shared,” said Charlotte Garvey Corbett, who works with the organization Interfaith Works and who collected the bread for the homeless in Montgomery County. “Something made by hand by kids is really going to connect them to the people they’re helping.”

Learn more about baking

For more information about how to get King Arthur Flour’s free Bake for Good: Kids Learn Bake Share program
in your school, go to or call 802-526-1837. Always ask a parent before going online.

— Moira E. McLaughlin

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