The pound cake recipe: everything is an art and everything is a science

Everything is an art and everything is a science. This is not debatable. Everything that we do in life requires some degree of precision and creativity. Even in the purest examples, like career artists and career scientists, we see evidence of crossover. There is a science to mixing pigments and an art to manual pipetting.

I think this truth is most evident in baking. This endeavor requires a pure one-to-one ratio of art to science. Bakers, pâtissiers, boulangers and others who use ovens and flour to make great things must be one-part chemist and one-part interior decorator. Have you ever eaten a beautiful cupcake that tasted terrible or a tasty pie that fell to pieces on a cardboard plate? Neither is very satisfying.

I recently inherited a set of yellowed recipe cards from my grandmother, called Mimi, who is an artist and scientist in her own kitchen (i.e., studio and laboratory). Among them was a recipe that brought back two distinct memories. When I was about four years old, we visited my grandparents in Paducah at Christmas, and she made several types of cakes and cookies for the holiday. The best thing she made, according to my young palate, was a pound cake. I distinctly remember riding all the way back to Lexington with a pound cake on my lap.

In this photo my papa and I have either just eaten, are in the process of eating or are about to eat some pound cake.

The second memory is from when I was in college and tried to replicate the cake for Christmas. She wrote down the recipe, I bought all of the ingredients, got to work in the kitchen and was devastated by my results. Mimi’s pound cake is light and buttery; mine came out dense with un-dissolved sugar crystals. When I asked her what I did wrong, she said that I “beat it too hard.” I didn’t really remember beating it at all.

As I looked over the recipe, I noticed some key differences from the one she wrote down a few years before. The measurements were in weight (imperial pounds) and not volume (cups)—hence the name pound cake. It didn’t say “bake one hour and 15 minutes”; it said “bake until done.” I just had to scratch my head. The two sides of my brain just don’t communicate this way. I was using art where I should have used science and science where I should have used art.

We call all the people in the Kentucky Crafted Program “artists,” but all of them are also scientists in some way. The most shining example is Melissa Senetar who is the proprietor of PhbeaD. Not only does she hold a doctorate in biochemistry, she also creates beautiful jewelry from naturally expired insects, resin and silver. If art and science got married, her jewelery would be the wedding portrait.

Look at the happy couple.

We can take two things away from this: 1) If I try to make Mimi’s cake again, I’ll have to keep in mind variables and set up a few control groups. I might even have to get a set of Sherwin Williams color samples for “doneness.” 2) When discussing the value of the subjects studied in school, we must remember that the titles of classes are arbitrarily categorized. No subject holds the most value in developing well-rounded, employable individuals, because they simply cannot be separated in “the real world.” Great scientists are creative within their field, and great artists are precise and methodical within their genre.

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

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Pound Cake


Categories: Arts Advocacy, Visual Arts | Tags: , ,

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