How much sugar should I add?” I asked my seven-year- old daughter, who was my baking assistant.
“The recipe says 34 cups,” she said.
“Are you sure about that?” I felt a math lesson was in order.
“Well, there’s a 3 and a 4 on the recipe,” she said.
“Do you see the line between the 3 and the 4? That’s a fraction,” I said. I showed her the 1/4-cup measure and she filled it with sugar three times. She added each scoop to a 1-cup measure. I wanted her to visualize the measurement.
Many families bake together, especially during the holidays so why not make the kitchen a learning laboratory for math and science? Unlike most lab settings, you get to taste your end product.
When you mix sucrose (sugar) with lipid material (butter or shortening) and agitate, you are dispersing the ingredients and incorporating air. The protein in eggs helps bind the ingredients together. If you mix the cookies too long, you may develop the gluten (flour protein) and end up with tough, dry cookies.
We also had a physics experiment in progress about heat transfer. Since I wanted to bake cookies continuously, we used many cookie sheets. The cookie sheets needed to be cool when we placed the dough on the pans. If not, the cookies would become misshapen during baking. We weren’t patient enough to wait for the pans to cool.
Unfortunately, my cookie sheets are not made of the same material, so the cookies baked at different rates. We used some insulated baking sheets, which bake more slowly. We used two large aluminum professional chef baking sheets, which transfer heat more rapidly.
We used a couple of dark, non-stick cookie sheets. Baking cookies on these pans often results in crunchier cookies. In fact, many manufacturers suggest that you lower the oven temperature by 25 to avoid overbaking cookies and other foods on dark, non-stick pans.
After all this baking, I had quite a bit of cleanup to do. Next time, I will pick up more parchment paper to reduce cleanup time. Parchment paper is sold on rolls next to the plastic wrap and aluminum foil in many grocery stores. You simply put a layer of parchment on the pan and bake your cookies on the paper.
The heavy paper eliminates the need to grease pans and allows you to lift the batch of cookies off the pan, paper and all, onto a rack to cool. Therefore, you are less likely to damage the cookies when you remove them with a turner.
So get the kids involved in the kitchen and they will be learning as they bake!
– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L.R.D., is a North Dakota
State University Extension Service food and nutrition
specialist and associate professor in the department of health,
nutrition and exercise sciences.