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Cooking Capers

Bake up a storm and learn how heat affects your batter

Australian Curriculum Links

  • Science > Chemical Sciences > Year 1> ACSSU018
  • Technology > Food and Fibre Production > Year 1 > ACTDEK003

You’ll Need

  • Enough ingredients for three sets of your favourite biscuit or cake recipe
  • Mixing bowls and cake pans
  • Freezer and fridge
  • Microwave

Try this

  1. This activity will work with any recipe that requires lots of butter and involves the creaming process. You can pick your own recipe, but if you don't have a favourite, this everyday chocolate cake recipe from Kidspot will work.
  2. Divide into three groups. Before following your recipe, give each group their allocation of butter.
    • Ask one group to leave their butter in the fridge
    • Another group should allow their butter to warm to room temperature, as per the recipe.
    • The final group should heat their butter in the microwave, so that it is just melted.
  3. Groups follow the instructions in the recipe, except for the temperature of the butter. Observe which recipe is easier to mix.
  4. Which temperature of butter produced the best result? Which rose the most?
  5. Once you've answered these questions, don’t forget to enjoy your results!

Further investigation

  • Repeat the same experiment with a different recipe. Does it have the same results?
  • Does temperature have the same effect on margarine or vegetable oil?
  • What other variations could you use in a recipe? Can you test these variations scientifically?

What’s happening?

Cakes and biscuits contain a mixture of ingredients that cause the mixture to rise or fall. The process of creaming the butter and sugar not only mixes the ingredients, but also traps air into the mixture. If the butter is too cold, it is difficult to mix. If it is too hot or melted, then the mixture will be too soft to trap air. The air pockets make the mixture larger. Air is a good insulator and it slows the cooking process to stop the butter melting too quickly, causing the batter to become flat.

Real world links

All this cooking might have you wondering about butter. Butter is made from the cream that settles on the top of cow’s milk. Milk is a special mixture called a ‘colloid’, this means that the parts don’t dissolve into each other but are suspended in the mixture. Beating the cream separates the fat molecules out of the mixture to create butter.

The first butters were made from sheep and goats' milk as we drank their milk before we milked cows. We can also make butter from the milk of yaks and buffalo. In India, clarified butter, or ghee, is used to fuel lamps.

Further information

There is plenty more information on the effect of temperature on baking biscuits or cookies, the importance of creaming butter and the science of baking cakes