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Chemistry of baking brings great joy to Beaverton resident

(Jennifer Priest Mitchell is a freelance writer in Beaverton. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

Did you enjoy chemistry class in high school? Meredith Hines was not a big fan of the subject in her early years. But her baking career has given her a new appreciation of the science, and she recently said, 'The chemistry is my favorite part of my job!'

Her work environment, the Dessert Tray in Beaverton, does not conjure images of beakers, Bunsen burners or the other makings of a chemistry lab. But Hines enjoys modifying recipes, and altering measurements and ingredients to make just the right flavor or texture as she and her co-workers fill the many orders for baked goods that come through the Dessert Tray each week.

The shop, located in the heart of Beaverton, does many orders for wedding cakes, but they also sell wholesale and retail items.

She explained, 'We have a storefront, and people can come in and buy things to take home. We also service New Season's, Zupan's, Wild Oats, and some coffee shops and caterers in town. We always have a case set up, though, so anyone who comes in can take something if they want to buy something that day.'

While wedding cakes are a huge portion of the Dessert Tray's summer business, (Hines said that in one weekend they did seven cakes) their business is steady all year long. People do not bake as much as they used to, and a lot of hostesses or small companies do special orders for parties and other events.

While the Dessert Tray's head pastry chef typically meets with the people who are placing orders for special events, Hines gets to do all the behind-the-scenes work of baking the cakes.

'I can decorate cakes and do just about everything else that is needed in that area, but baking is where I get the most pleasure,' she said. 'It is one of my favorite things to do and I seem to have a knack for it.

'Baking is such a science and I love that … you need to know what is an acid and what is a base to make it all come together.' She went on to explain that she recently needed to work from an orange poppyseed recipe and create a lemon cake. But it is not as simple as replacing milk with lemon. You need to know what ingredients will make the recipe work.

She laughed a little when she said, 'I did not like chemistry at all in high school, and now it is my favorite part of baking.'

Hines went to culinary school in Akron, Ohio, and said that while only one week of her training focused on baking, that really got her attention and she enjoyed it a great deal. She then worked in Ohio as chef for a nursing home and took over for the pastry chef there. She worked two years at an Akron bakery, and then came to Oregon with her husband when his job brought them westward.

Hines has lived in Oregon for seven and a half years, and she said, 'It was a very big change to come here, but we've learned to call it home. All of our family is in Ohio, but we have many friends here.'

When asked what she likes about the Pacific Northwest, she said, 'Oh, the summers! And, I love that I can walk to just about anything!'