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LARSON: Good cooking is all in the chemistry

It's a funny thing how memories are triggered. I was strolling through the Lilburn Farmers Market last month when I saw what I thought to be a high school girl selling the most beautiful little truffles, brownies and pies I've ever seen. It made me think of all the times I'd subbed in advanced placement gifted chemistry classes. Invariably a student would ask me, "Are you a real chemistry teacher or are you just a mom?"

"I'm just a mom," I'd reply, "but I'm so glad to be subbing for a class full of such highly intelligent students, because I have a question you might be able to answer. When I bake cookies, I always use the same ingredients, but sometimes they puff up in a mound and sometimes they are flat. Why is that?"

No one could ever give me an answer.

So just to be a wee bit devilish, I asked the young lady how she got her little pastries to come out so perfect each time. She went on to explain in far more detail than I could possibly understand.

It turns out this young lady, Loren Myers, is a research technician at Emory University with a master's degree in biology and chemistry. Her work involves studying the development of the gut in premature infants. Somehow, her side business seemed to connect in a weird sort of way for me, but Myers said that was no so for her co-workers."

"They thought it was strange at first that I would be so interested in cooking, but if you can follow a science experiment, you can follow a recipe. It's all about consistency, quality and keeping good notes," she said.

Myers started baking with her mother as a child and always had a curiosity about the scientific aspects of what happens in the oven or on the stove.

"I made my first cake in fifth grade and the icing didn't look as nice as my mother's. I later realized I had cooked it too long," Myers said.

Over time she became more and more interested not in cookbooks, but in technique books.

"If you know the physics behind baking, you can experiment because you know why things happen."

Myers named her business Sugar Bear Sweetery, after her mother's pet name for her when she was growing up. All her little sweets are scientifically developed in her kitchen and scientifically tested in the lab by her co-workers.

"They all love it when I bring my latest experiments to work and there are a few foodies who give good feedback because they totally analyze things."

If you'd like to learn more about Myers' science projects, visit sugarbearsweetery.blogspot.com. If you'd like to do some scientific research on your own, the Gwinnett Library has several good books on kitchen chemistry.

And I wonder: Do you think we could get Jeff Foxworthy to host a show called "Are you Smarter than an Advanced Placement Gifted Chemistry Student?"

Susan Larson is a writer who lives in Lilburn Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.

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