I know basically every celebration of pi day (March 14, because pi = 3.14…) turns into a celebration of pie, and I’d never say no to pie, but what if we could celebrate with delicious pies while also learning more about what math is at the same time? Conveniently enough, Eugenia Cheng, author of X + Y, has already done this for us: How to Bake π.
Now, I’m going to take a bit of a detour away from tasty delicious pie and into the world of knitting for a brief moment. Upon asking a college classroom what came to mind when asked about mathematics, math professor Sara Jensen found the top two words were “calculation” and “equation”. Asked the same question, professional mathematicians gave quite a different response: “critical thinking” and “problem-solving”. Which prompted Jensen to “eliminate pencil, paper, calculator (gasp) and textbook from the classroom completely. Instead, we talked, used our hands, drew pictures… And of course, we knit” (Jensen, Why I Teach Math Through Knitting), in an attempt to bridge the gap between how students approached math (calculating equations, memorizing proofs…drudgery) and how math could actually be used as a tool, engaging learners by making the learning interesting and more hands-on. I’ve joked before about how I’ve done more linear algebra while knitting than learning it in class, and certainly with more of a vested interest in how the abstract numbers translate to the physical object! And I’ve also thanked Pythagoras before for imparting his theorem to us while figuring out how to calculate length as I knit on a bias. In fact, I have found myself wanting to engage more with math as I knitted more and more, making alterations and designing my own items – it’s all the same math I learned by rote back in school, approached with a lot more enthusiasm now in comparison, and willingly at that!
And it’s exactly this work of transforming how we think of math, from equations and calculations to problem-solving and critical thinking, that Cheng does in How to Bake Pi. She makes math fun to learn, and accessible to audiences of varying levels of math knowledge, which is quite a feat!
A little bit of Chocolate Chip Cookie adventure happened on my Instagram feed a little while ago, when a baker I follow compared the bakers’ percentages of ingredients between the OG Toll House, Jacques Torres’ (the best*), and their own version of it. The post, from what I remember, actually had a bit more to it than just the comparisons of bakers’ percentages and included a lament following the publicization of a new “perfect” chocolate chip cookie recipe that didn’t pay homage to the history of chocolate chip cookies and those that came before this new recipe, but I’m not here today to dwell on the erasure of chefs and innovators in kitchens**. We’re here to talk about how to get to the perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie for you (or for whomever you’re throwing them to – from a distance, of course, so throw them you must – this upcoming Valentine’s Day).
As a result of the tiny bit of digging I did to write this article, it came to my notice that some of you might remember a time when chocolate chip cookies… did not exist. You might even remember when they came into existence. Isn’t that incredible?
Here’s Ruth Wakefield, the inventor (!!) of the chocolate chip cookie. Could you imagine? Being the person who invented the chocolate chip cookie. And then also somehow falling into obscurity over the years (because did you know who Wakefield was before this moment?) even though you invented the chocolate chip cookie, which, need I remind you, has not fallen into obscurity whatsoever.
Whether you’re more into New York style bagels or Montreal bagels, apparently Bagel Day was yesterday (Jan 15), and though we’re a little late onto this train, you can learn about the history of the humble bagel in The Bagel by Maria Balinska – yes, an entire book dedicated to it – along with a variety of recipes you can use to try your hand at making your own, so you can put whatever toppings and seasonings you like!
For a variety of different ways to make challahs, babkas, bagels, and more, check out Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna. The bagels in this one are New York-style bagels, and they come in a variety of incarnations, from plain bagels and whole wheat ones to jalapeno cheddar bagels and sweeter varieties like blueberry (classic) and cinnamon raisin, you’ll have enough bagels for all your sandwich desires! What I really like about this book is that it also contains lots of step-by-step shaping photo instructions, guiding you through how to shape your bagel dough, yes, but also the different ways you can braid your challah (in addition to the many-numbered strands, there’s also stuffed challah. Stuffed with delicious filling challah) and a clear demonstration of how to shape a babka.