With the latest series of the Great British Bake Off currently airing, baking is very popular. Records show that many of the world's most celebrated scientists were also keen bakers in their spare time, offering novel takes on familiar recipes.
With the latest series of the Great British Bake Off in full swing, a lot of attention is being directed to the field of baking yet again. Everyone loves a baked treat, as evidenced by the ever-growing fashion for elaborate cupcakes. But many don't realise that the process of baking is surprisingly scientifically complex.
Baking typically involves combining precise amounts of ingredients in very specific ways and subjecting them to very particular temperatures in order to induce chemical reactions that occur at exact rates and levels. A small miscalculation in the procedure or components can ruin hours of preparation and work. Clearly baking has a lot in common with what goes on in your average chemical or materials lab, with perhaps the main difference being that you shouldn't eat the end-result of what goes on in a chemical lab. You especially shouldn't stick lit candles in it as part of a birthday celebration; that's unlikely to end well for anyone.
But this overlap between baking and science goes back a long way. A trawl through the archives reveals that some of the world's most well-known scientists were prone to dabbling in some home baking, and coming up with their own interesting variations on traditional recipes. Below are some of the more intriguing examples. Why not try them at home?
Stephen Hawking's Black-Hole Brownies
When not trying to revolutionise our understanding of the universe via M-theory, the current king of theoretical physics Stephen Hawking likes to take a break in the kitchen and work on his own unique variation on a traditional dessert favourite.
The recipe is simple. Take unsalted butter, cocoa powder, flour, at least 3 eggs (mid to large size), caster sugar, dark chocolate (milk chocolate also works if you prefer) and a tablespoon of cinnamon. Take all the ingredients and mix them together in a bowl thoroughly.
Following this, transfer mixture into an oven-proof container. The container should be very small, so much so that the act of forcing the mixture into the available space causes it to achieve the Schwarzchild Radius, undergoing gravitational collapse and becoming a black hole (the event horizon will provide the crispy outer layer which is crucial for good brownies). Once you have done this, place the resultant singularity in the microwave oven. Rotate and heat the singularity until it evaporates in a burst of gamma waves.
Record your observations of your brownies, publish them, and then get awarded a Nobel prize. Buy some professionally made brownies with the prize money.
Mary Anning's meat and potato pie
The ingredients required are approximately a kilo of braising steak, cubed or in strips (other types of meat can also be used, but beef works best), 1.5kg of potatoes, 2 litres of stock (again, beef for preference but it's at the makers discretion). Boil the meat in the stock for an hour or until tender, then add the potatoes. Boil until soft, then set the mixture aside.
For the pastry, take 4 tonnes plain flour, 1 tonne margarine, 1 tonne of lard, a drum of salt and approximately 10 buckets of water. Mix thoroughly in a cement mixer or similar apparatus. Take half a kilo of the pastry, roll it out, spoon the filling into it, then fold it closed, crimping the edges. Then return the pie to the remaining pastry, stir thoroughly, then bake the whole thing in an industrial oven/furnace until it is completely charred and solid.
Spend the next few months painstakingly working the petrified pie mixture out of the solid mass.
Darwin's Danish Pastry
He may have given us the theory of evolution and the high standards by which all scientific beards are judged, but Charles Darwin also gave us a quick and easy recipe for his version of Danish Pastry.
For this recipe, take 200g of white flour, 200g plain flour, 80g sugar (caster preferably, but not crucially), 1 egg, maple syrup, pecans, apricots and a standard tub of custard.
Mix all the ingredients together and place onto a baking tray. Place in the oven on a low heat for 4.9m years (3.6m years for a fan assisted oven). If you've set the conditions right, the ingredients, combined with a sufficient source of external energy, should evolve to form Danish pastry-like organisms.
NOTE: Darwin's Danish Pastries are generally considered unacceptable items to sell at a church bake sale.
Florence Nightingale Flapjack
She may be known as the lady with the lamp, but a fleeting source of nocturnal illumination is not all that Florence Nightingale can offer. Her culinary skills mean she also has a unique take on the humble flapjack.
Before you begin cooking, make sure the kitchen is clean. It's likely that the kitchen will be dirty in a variety of ways, which is unhygienic, so ensure that you clean every part of the kitchen thoroughly. Keep detailed records of how you clean the kitchen and what the likely causes of mess are. While you are at it, ensure that all the utensils and ingredients are properly labelled. Ask other kitchen users if they use the same labelling system, and if not come to an agreement about a standardised system where everyone uses the same measurements, terminology etc.
Keep detailed records as to how the use of the new standardised system benefits the other kitchen users and enhances productivity. Make some inventive graphs which demonstrate how this all works statistically.
You should have forgotten about the flapjacks at this point, but don't worry, you've more important things to be concerned with.
Sigmund Freud Scones
As well as being the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud is also responsible for a quick and easy recipe for scones.
For the recipe, you need flour, sugar, an egg (representing fertility and birth), butter and milk (representing lactation and child rearing). Place all the all the ingredients into a large, innocuous bowl. Then take a whisk, or large spoon, or any utensil with a long, firm, rounded handle, and beat the mixture thoroughly, even angrily, working out many years of repressed tension.
When you are done, place the mother I mean mixture onto a non-stick tray. Pat the dough into perfectly innocent rounded mounds then bake in the oven for approximately 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Once they are cooled, then it's OK to have sex with them.
NOTE: This recipe is only for men. Women can't bake as they are opposed to change.
Dean Burnett regularly makes up ludicrous claims about famous scientists on Twitter, @garwboy
If you would like to try combining science and baking, check out the Great Pink Bake Off 2013 for Breakthrough Breast Cancer
Baking is just like science, you just need to trade eggs and flour for the radioactive chemicals and lethal viruses. Photograph: A.Y. Photography/Getty Images/Flickr RF