Bread is a staple of many diets. From delicious garlic bread to crunchy pizza, it’s enjoyed throughout the world. But have you ever wondered what mathematics lies just beneath the crust? Thankfully DR Jefferson, AA Lacey and PA Sadd at Heriot-Watt University have! No? Well, we’re going to tell you anyway.
Bread dough is initially a bubbly liquid, with bubbles connected to other bubbles in a ‘matrix’. These bubbles will collapse, provided that both the temperature and temperature gradient are high enough. To start with, the bubbles at the surface (which is hotter than the interior) reach a temperature at which they are likely to fracture. At this point, the temperature gradient is also high, with plenty of cooler liquid dough nearby. However, when the temperature of the interior has increased sufficiently to allow the bubbles inside to burst, the temperature gradient is much lower, the matrix has set, there is less liquid dough nearby, and so less collapse can take place.
But that’s not all! We can refine the model by considering the movement of the ‘crust boundary’ (where bubbles collapse) as the dough rises, as well as the vaporisation of moisture inside the bubbles. Both of these allow for the transfer of heat and affect the thermodynamics of the whole process.
So in the future, please try to remember all the maths that worked hard to ensure the crustiness of your bread! And, on that note, we’re off to get pizza…
Jefferson DR, Lacey AA & Sadd PA 2007 Crust density in bread baking: Mathematical modelling and numerical solutions. Applied Mathematical Modelling 31 (2) 209–225.
Jefferson DR, Lacey AA & Sadd PA 2007 Understanding crust formation during baking. Journal of Food Engineering 75 (4) 515–521.