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TEKS: Science:  3.5A, 4.5A, 5.5A, 6.4A; ELA: 3.19, 4.17, 5.17, 6.16

Cake Chemist

YouTube star Rosanna Pansino bakes science-inspired treats 

John Gilhooley

Rosanna Pansino makes cakes that look like brains, unicorns, and lab beakers. It’s all for Nerdy Nummies, her popular YouTube show. In 2011, when Pansino started her channel, she was a baking beginner. Today, 9 million subscribers watch as she measures, mixes, and frosts tasty treats.

A baker and a scientist may seem nothing alike. But they’re more similar than you might think, says Pansino. She uses science and engineering every day to make her clever cakes.

Rosanna Pansino makes cakes. They look like brains, unicorns, and lab beakers. It’s all for Nerdy Nummies, her YouTube show. Pansino started her channel in 2011. She was a baking beginner back then. She has 9 million subscribers today. They watch as she measures, mixes, and frosts tasty treats.

Cooking Chemistry

How does Pansino turn gooey batter into a delicious dessert? It takes a series of chemical reactions—changes that produce substances with new properties. Those reactions won’t happen unless the recipe is just right. “Every ingredient has a role to play,” says Pansino. 

For example, most desserts include baking soda or baking powder. These ingredients are called leavening (LEV-uhn-ing) agents. When mixed with other ingredients, they form bubbles of carbon dioxide gas that make the dessert rise. 

How does Pansino turn gooey batter into a tasty dessert? It takes a series of chemical reactions. These changes produce new substances. A recipe has to be just right for these reactions to happen. “Every ingredient inside a baked good has a role to play,” says Pansino.

Most desserts include baking soda or baking powder. These ingredients are called leavening (LEV-uhn-ing) agents. They form bubbles of carbon dioxide gas in the oven. That makes a dessert rise. 

Dessert Engineer

Pansino’s on-screen treats have to look good. And that’s not always easy. Pansino loves cake pops—balls of cake mixed with icing and formed into lollipops. But the first ones she made kept sliding down the sticks. Another time, her layer cake completely collapsed. 

Over time, Pansino has learned to engineer her treats to keep them from toppling. For example, she knows that her recipes need to include the right amount of flour. Flour contains many proteins. As a cake bakes, these tiny particles grab on to each other. The links they form help the cake hold its shape.  

Pansino’s online treats have to look good too. That’s not always easy. Pansino loves cake pops. Those are balls of cake mixed with icing. She forms them into lollipops. But the first ones she made didn’t work. They kept sliding down the sticks. Another time, her layer cake fell down.

Pansino has learned ways to keep her creations from toppling. She knows that her recipes need the right amount of flour, for example. Flour contains many proteins. They’re tiny particles. They grab on to each other as a cake bakes. That forms links. They help a cake hold its shape.

The Art of Decorating

Copyright ©2015 by Rosanna Pansino from THE NERDY NUMMIES COOKBOOK published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Photography by Michael Schmidt

Once a cake is baked, it’s time to decorate it. Pansino creates treats inspired by science, math, and popular culture. 

Today, her frosted creations look almost like real-life objects. But it took her years to learn her skills. “My first videos weren’t the best examples of professional decorating,” she says. “But the best way to get better is to keep practicing.”

Pansino tests each recipe many times to find the perfect formula. All that experimenting is hard work. She spends about 70 hours a week testing recipes and preparing to film her show. 

But Pansino says dreaming up new ideas is a lot of fun. And even when her creations don’t come out quite right, they still taste good. “My grandma always used to say, ‘Mistakes are delicious!’” Pansino says. 

Once a cake is baked, it’s time to decorate. Pansino’s frosted treats look almost like real-life objects. They’re based on science, math, and popular culture. But it took Pansino years to learn her skills. “My first videos weren’t the best examples of professional decorating,” she says. “But the best way to get better is to keep practicing.”

Pansino tests each recipe many times. Only then does she find the perfect formula. All that testing is hard work. She spends about 70 hours a week on recipes and filming her show.

But Pansino says dreaming up new ideas is a lot of fun. Not all her creations come out quite right. But they still taste good. “My grandma always used to say, ‘Mistakes are delicious!’” Pansino says. 

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