Math is essential to every aspect of baking, even if it does not feel that way. Math can be used to form a recipe or convert a recipe. Substituting ingredients is not uncommon in baking- simple substitutions like chopped nuts instead of chocolate chips in a cookie may not need much math. While larger substitutions like coconut milk instead of dairy or barley flour instead of regular flour require specific calculations to ensure the desserts’ taste as well as texture remain the same. Living in America ensures the importance of math in baking because most of the world outside of the United states bar Liberia and Myanmar use the metric system. Math is essential to convert those recipes into ounces.
A more specific form than just general math, is ratios. Many baked goods have a “base” or a starting point with exact ratios that ensure a tasty treat. Pound cake’s original recipe was “one-part flour: one-part egg: one-part fat: one-part sugar” Or a “cookie, three parts flour: two parts fat: one-part sugar”. (11 Baking Ratios Every Pro Should Memorize.) Each part is measured by weight, specifically grams, not by cups or ounces. A cup of butter weighs 226 grams and a cup of flour weighs 120 grams. In order to fulfill the ratios required for a pound cake, one would need the same 200g of flour, of sugar, of eggs, of fat. The most effective way to fulfill this ratio is to use a scale, but there a few other ways to replicate basic ratios without one. Excluding simply googling a recipe where someone else has done the work of determining the ratios for you. There are charts online as well as in some cookbooks that can be referenced when one does not have a scale. King Arthur flour has an extensive, alphabetized, searchable list that details the ingredients’ volume (in cups, teaspoons, or tablespoons), ounces and weight (grams). Using their list, one can determine a ratio for a basic pound cake in terms one uses in the kitchen regularly and can understand and quantify- like cups and teaspoons, while ensuring the grams remain the same.
Once a recipe is calculated, sometimes it needs to be doubled, halved or even tripled depending on the original serving size. Understanding the relationship between teaspoons to tablespoons to cups makes this process much, much easier. In 1 tablespoon, there three teaspoons and in a cup, there are 16 tablespoons. It is much easier to measure one tablespoon than trying to measure out one sixteenth of a cup. Reversely, using half a cup measure would be much easier than using eight tablespoons. Math is also important beyond just the creation of the recipe. When baking a cake, one must determine how long it must stay in the oven and how hot the temperature should be. The volume of cake batters as well as their density are essential to the cook time. A thin, airy cake will take less time to bake than a large, heavy fruit cake. Even the thickness of the cake pan can influence cooking time. It is easy to overlook that geometry is so important to baking as well.
In order to bake recipes from other countries, which coincides with the essence of baking- the sharing of cultures, one must have a basic understanding of the metric system. The metric system follows a more logical progression than the imperial system (the system of ounces to cups to pints that America uses.) The metric system functions in units of tens, making it much easier to compute than the imperial system, which does not follow any such rule. One gram equals 1000mg and one kilogram equals 1000 grams. In order to change units in the metric system, one simply moves the decimal point- no additional calculations needed. “To change from a smaller unit to a larger unit move the decimal point to the left and too change from a larger unit to a smaller unit move the decimal point to the right” (Sanders.) Once one can navigate the metric system by itself, they must also be able to convert the metric system into the imperial system. The conversions for weight are “1 ounce (oz) ≈ 28 grams (g), 1 pound (lb) ≈ 0.45 kilogram (kg)” (Sanders.) The conversions for volume are “1 teaspoon (tsp) ≈ 5 milliliters (ml), 1 tablespoon (tbsp) ≈ 15 milliliters (ml), 1 fluid ounce (fl oz) ≈ 30 milliliters (ml), 1 cup (c) ≈ 0.24 liter (l)” (Sanders.)
All bakers utilize math. From the simple home baker, who may not even realize the recipes they follow are based on ratios and geometry, to the professional baker creating their own recipes, utilizing conversion from the metric system to the imperial system. Having a basic understanding of the principles used to create, double, convert, or substitute recipes can aid every baker, no matter their skill level.