From molecules to maritozzi

Science teacher Amy Van Matre-Woodward works on elaborate baking projects for her family


Allison Rueschhoff

Science teacher Amy Van Matre-Woodward’s favorite project is baking laminated dough foods. It is also her most time-consuming. Van Matre-Woodward must fold butter into the dough repeatedly, creating thin, flaky layers in pastries like croissants and danishes. “It’s the most challenging because the temperature of the whole butter-dough combination has to be right. If you put it in the oven [at] the [wrong] temperature, all the butter leaks out,” Van Matre-Woodward said.

With the fresh aroma of sesame seed bagels wafting through the kitchen air, science teacher Amy Van Matre-Woodward wakes up early Saturday morning to bake for her family. Outside of her teaching career, Van Matre-Woodward has a passion for bread baking that connects back to science.

Van Matre-Woodward keeps a food diary with notes about what she has tried — what worked and what didn’t. She believes it’s similar to keeping a science notebook with experiments and mistakes to reference for next time.

“I’ve always tinkered with cookbooks, even when I was little,” Van Matre-Woodward said. “It’s only been in the last five years that I’ve gotten into [baking], where people have given me cookbooks. Baking is like science because you have to be precise with your measurements and the environment of the room, or things don’t turn out.”

Van Matre-Woodward gets her cookbooks from celebrity bakers like Paul Hollywood from “The Great British Baking Show and Claire Saffitz, writer of “Dessert Person” and “What’s for Dessert.” Usually, Van Matre-Woodward sticks to the recipes from these cookbooks. 

“[I’m] a recipe follower,” Van Matre Woodward said. “The only creative thing was the challah bread that I made; there are different ways you can braid the bread [which is] the creative end of it.”

Van Matre-Woodward tries to keep family traditions alive by baking the same things her family used to bake. But along with past family traditions, yule log cakes are a new tradition she has created around the holidays.

“My grandmother, who passed away, would always make a batch of cinnamon rolls to distribute among the family for Christmas,” Van Matre-Woodward said. “I decided to keep the tradition going, so I make large batches of cinnamon rolls for family and friends. In addition, a few years ago, I started making multiple yule log cakes to give [out].”

Even with teaching, Van Matre-Woodward still has time for baking. Creating food for others is always a hobby she will keep.

“In my future [with] baking, I just want to keep trying new recipes,” Van Matre-Woodward said. “Maybe when I retire, I’ll get a bakery or bagel shop job, just for fun.”