Cake Chemistry

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Cooking is very appealing to children. Besides the obvious satisfaction of eating the final product, the process of cooking, including the handling and mixing of ingredients, can also be exciting. Cooking presents numerous opportunities to make some basic science more accessible. When structured in a thoughtful manner, it can provide experiences that will help children acquire essential experiences with basic concepts and processes associated with chemistry and physics.“Cake Chemistry” centers on the questions ofwhat makes cakes and breads rise. In other words, what chemicals and organisms are added to batter and dough to cause them to rise? These explorations allow children to practice being systematic in trying to design their own recipes that give satisfying results. Children also carry out tests and experiments to determine what proportions of ingredients are optimal for generating gas to blow up balloons. These processes are analogous to the experimental procedures that scientists use. Although these are not formal experiments, the activities in this guide do provide opportunities for children to get a sense of what is involved in the baking process. More specifically, children can learn about the chemical reactions that produce carbon dioxide. Sodium bicarbonate, the source of this gas in baking, is found in baking powder and baking soda. And it turns out, the yeast used to make bread rise also produces carbon dioxide. This Cake Chemistry project also offers opportunities for children to practice with ratios and proportions. They deal with this directly when they are making up and revising the recipes for their cakes. It is also involved in discovering that there is a proportionality involved in the chemical reaction of baking soda and vinegar. Practicing and thinking about proportionality in this manner gives children practical examples of a very basic and important mathematical concept. So, in a way, children are provided with a model for being scientific about a familiar activity. They start out with a problem, experiment with different ways of better defining the problem, carry out some simple experiments and tests to begin to solve the problem, and, at the end, come to some specific results that identify what the solution to the problem is. Along the way, they get to eat some of their experiments and learn something about chemistry.