VirginiaLynne is an educator and mom of 5. Her Science Fair articles are from projects which competed successfully (local, state, national).
Why Choose This Experiment?
My son, Brendan, got the idea for this experiment when he was cooking and wondered:
- What happens when you forget an ingredient in a recipe?
- Do you really need all of the ingredients when you are making cupcakes?
- What does each ingredient do?
This experiment tests that question by leaving out one ingredient at a time from a cupcake recipe. While we were working on this project, my husband, who is a molecular geneticist, pointed out that it resembles the way genetic researchers investigate how genes work by using "knockout mice." Read the information at the end of the article to find out what that means!
Two of my children have done this fun project for school science fairs. My son made muffins, and my daughter, Mollie, made cupcakes. You could also make cookies. We include our cupcake recipe if you want to try it yourself. However, you could easily adapt this idea to your own recipe. After trying this fun kitchen science, you'll never look at cupcakes quite the same again!
For the hypothesis part of the experiment, you will give your guess about what will happen when you leave out each ingredient. You can give a hypothesis for what will happen for each missing ingredient, or give a general hypothesis about what will happen.
Mollie's Hypothesis: If I take out one ingredient from the cupcake, the cupcakes will taste different from each other. I think that the cupcakes will look the same, though.
What difference does cake flour make?
- Vegetable oil
- Baking Powder
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Cupcake liners
- Pen and paper for labeling batters and cupcakes and recording results
- Adult to oversee my cooking
Record What You Know
Before starting on your science project, it is important to write out what you know and what you need to research.
Read More From Owlcation
Mollie's Research Notes:
- What I know about cupcakes: Some ingredients make the cake fluffy. Other ingredients give the cake texture. There are different types of cakes and cupcakes can be made in different shapes and sizes.
- What I know about ingredients in cupcakes: To make a cake, you need butter or oil, milk, flour, eggs and something to make it rise like yeast, baking soda or baking powder. Beaten egg whites can sometimes make a cake fluffy too. Most cakes have a flavoring like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or cookies and cream (my favorite!).
- What I need to research: I need a simple cake recipe for my experiment. I need to learn what the different ingredients do in the cake.
Rate this Recipe!
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 or 1 1/2 Tb. egg, beaten, use one egg for 2 recipes
- 2 Tb. milk
- 1 Tb. oil
- 1/4 tea. baking powder
- 1/8 tea. vanilla
- 1/4 cup plus 2 Tb cake flour
Vanilla Cupcake Instructions
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together sugar and egg until fluffy with an electric mixer in the bowl.
- Add milk, oil, vanilla and baking powder and beat until well mixed.
- Add flour and mix.
- Line cupcake pan with paper liners. Pour batter into liners until they are 1/2 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until lightly brown.
- Each recipe makes about 3-4 cupcakes depending on the size of your cupcake pan. For the experiment, repeat recipe but leave out one ingredient each time. Tip: To keep track of the cupcakes, you can put a strip of paper with the batter type under the cupcake liner.
- Research about different cupcake recipes and ingredients.
- Pick out a recipe (we chose the above Vanilla Cupcakes Recipe).
- Reduce recipe so it makes just a few cupcakes.
- Put together ingredients and supplies.
- Make labels for the different batches.
- Make the recipe as written with cake flour as my control.
- Make the cupcake recipe again with the different ingredients left out.
- Write down the results of the appearance of the batter, the appearance of the baked cake and the taste.
- Photograph the cupcakes and taste them.
- Record my graph.
- Write out my conclusion.
Step by Step
How to Record Your Results
Make a list of the different batches. First, predict what you think will happen when each ingredient is left out. Then record what you see as you do the experiment. After you have written all of your results in a notebook, you can take this and make a graph. Here is a sample of how Mollie wrote her results.
- Example Result: Cake Flour vs. All-Purpose Flour. I expected these to be the same. The flour looked the same, except the cake flour seemed a little softer and finer. When I made the batters, they looked just alike. But when I baked them they were different. The cake flour made the cupcake puffier and it gave it a better color. The cake flour looked more like a cake and less like a muffin. When I cut it apart, I saw that the cake flour cupcake had more air in it and had risen up more. When I tasted it, it seemed sweeter. It tasted more like cake. The All-Purpose Flour cupcake tasted more like a muffin and was denser.
Write your results the same way for all of your different batters:
- No milk:
- No sugar:
- No flour:
- No baking powder:
- No oil:
- No egg:
Chart for Recording Experiment Data
|Type of Cupcake||Appearance of the batter||Appearance of the cupcake||Taste|
made with cake flour
made with all-purpose flour
no baking powder
In the conclusion, you will want to answer these questions (which are the same ones that real scientists ask themselves after doing an experiment):
- Were your results the same as you predicted?
- What surprised you?
- What did you learn?
- If you were going to do a follow-up experiment, what would you do next?
Mollie's Sample Conclusion:
Were the results the same as predicted? My hypothesis was correct. Every different batter with something missing was different after it was baked.However, taking out an ingredient really make a much bigger effect than I expected.
What was surprising? The results that surprised me the most were the no egg, no milk, and the no flour. I expected that when I took out the eggs, that it wouldn't be a cupcake anymore, but I didn't expect it to explode like it did. I didn't know that milk gave the cupcake fluffiness. I also thought that the no flour one would be just a puddle sitting in the cupcake holder. I thought it wouldn't cook at all, so I was surprised when it turned out to be a kind of custard which was sweet and not too bad to eat.
What did I learn? The reason I did this experiment was that I wanted to figure out what each ingredient does for the cake. When I talked to my parents, I found out that scientists do something like my experiment when they want to find out what genes do in our bodies. Lots of scientists "knock out" a single gene in mice, just like I left out a single ingredient in my cupcakes. Then the scientists look at the mouse to see how it is different from mice that have that gene. That tells the scientist what that gene does, just like I was able to figure out what that ingredient does in my cupcake.
So I looked up "Knock-out Mice" on the Internet and found out that there are a lot of them. Baylor College of Medicine has 80,000 Knock-Out mice! That made me realize that what I did is pretty cool. I printed out some pictures of some of those mice. I'd like to see some of them one day.
What experiment could I do next? I think if I was going to do another experiment, I'd like to try the same thing with my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Or maybe, I'd like to try to do a recipe and change the amount of one ingredient. I know that sometimes chocolate chip cookies are flat and sometimes they are puffy. I'm guessing that maybe because of the amount of the flour or else the amount of baking soda. So I could try different amounts of flour or baking soda and see how that changes the recipe.
Cupcake Flavor Poll
How this Experiment Models Genetics Research
When my husband, who is a scientist who does genetic engineering, heard our daughter talk about wanting to do an experiment which left out different ingredients in a cupcake to find out what each ingredient did, he said, "That is just like the Knockout Mice."
What are Knockout mice? He explained that when scientists want to find out what a gene does, they take that gene out, and then let the mouse grow up to see how it is different from other mice. Knockout mice are animal models which help scientists find out what genes do. Since mice and humans have many similar genes, this research has helped scientists understand about our human genome.
What are Knockout mice used for? The first Knockout mouse was created in 1989 (the 3 scientists shared the Nobel prize for this in 2007). Now there are thousands of different kinds of Knockout mice which are used to study diseases. Knockout mice have been created which have: cancer, downs syndrome, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. In fact, scientists use millions of knockout mice every year in their experiments on many different kinds of diseases.
Knockout Cupcakes as Scientific Model: This cupcake experiment is not just to find out what the different ingredients do in cooking. It also serves to explain a very important scientific model system and show how scientists can use one model system to test many different kinds of things.
Knock Out Mice Explained
Cupcakes have been around a while. Although cupcakes are a current food fashion, they aren't new. The first cupcake recipe was written by an American woman named Amelia Simms in 1796.
Cupcake as Culprit? Several states like New York, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, California and Texas have banned cupcake bake sales or even cupcakes for birthdays in an attempt to prevent childhood obesity.
Itsy Bitsy Cupcake: The World's Smallest Cupcake was just 1.5 centimeters by 3 centimeters and was created in England for National Cupcake Week.
Competitive Cupcake Eating: While New Yorkers may ban cupcakes, people in New Jersey celebrate eating as many as they can. How many cupcakes could you eat in 1 minute? Competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi ate 13 at an event in New Jersey on July 19, 2013. He followed that up by taking just 20 seconds to drink a gallon of milk. Want to try beating that record?
Questions & Answers
Question: What grade level would you say this cupcake baking science fair project is for?
Answer: This experiment is easy enough for a grade school student to complete if they have help with the baking. However, you could also use this for junior high school or even high school if the student took the experiment and used it a bit more in explaining how the principle of "knockout" works.
Question: Is this cupcake baking science fair project good for a 5th grader?
Answer: This project is very appropriate for K-6.
Kate on March 17, 2020:
I might do this one for my science fair project thank you for putting this up.
Jenna Peters on December 04, 2019:
Now I have my science experiment!
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on November 21, 2019:
What a cool idea. So fun, and tasty, too!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 09, 2019:
You should be able to do this same project with any baking recipe. You might try looking up "kitchen science" to use as reference material.
Person, human, thing...oof on October 08, 2019:
I’m doing brownies instead but I was wondering if there is any information that I could use for research! (I don’t want the results)
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on April 22, 2019:
Hi Ella--I'm glad the experiment worked out well for you. I actually created this recipe myself. I consulted several recipes in the process. I was looking for ones that used a variety of ingredients that I thought could make for an interesting result.
ella on April 22, 2019:
hey- i did this for my science project and it worked great. where did you get your cupcake recipe? i need to put together a list of references. thanks:)
Ada on February 23, 2019:
Thank you for this idea I was look for good since ideas and I think this is a good idea for me because I love to bake and craft different flavors and experament with different recipes . I can’t wait to try this
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on January 09, 2019:
Divide all the ingredients in half.
Anonymous on January 09, 2019:
How do I fix the recipe to only make 2 cupcakes?
macie reader on December 20, 2018:
this is so helpful
Sasha on December 04, 2018:
i love cupcakes!
Cathy on November 03, 2018:
Thank you for share this wonderful idea with us I going to try to help my daughter do this for her science fair project and I told her about the fun cupcakes project and she start saying I want to do this mom I said okay. So we will try this today.again thank you for give us this idea for our science fair project
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 17, 2018:
Hi Diana--It didn't exactly explode, but it did rise up and overflow the muffin tin.
Diana on October 16, 2018:
How much did the batter "explode"? Just wanted to know. Planning to do this for my class.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 14, 2018:
The control is cupcakes made with all the ingredients.
jordan on October 14, 2018:
what is the control of the experiment
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on September 21, 2018:
Hi Nyla--this could be done in 8th grade, but you could also do the project on salt water and seeds, or the flexibility project.
Nyla on September 19, 2018:
Ok so is there any good projects for 8th graders like me?
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on January 25, 2018:
Hi Jasmine! We developed this recipe after looking at several different cookbooks and online recipes. We needed a recipe that required just one egg so that it was easier to divide into small portions. We didn't want to have too much batter!
Jasmine on January 24, 2018:
What website did you get the cupcake recipe from?
Jim on December 29, 2017:
What was the title of the Cake flour v.s. Normal flour project?
Sydney Taylor on December 08, 2017:
Yeah, Some stuff! Btw I'm Not like my Mom or Great Grandma I'm the only girl that can"t cook in this family! Soo Fingers crossed this will work...
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on December 07, 2017:
Hi Sydney--This should work well with cookies too. It might be interesting to have a recipe that has both baking powder and baking soda. I wonder if you will notice a difference when one is left out?
Sydney Taylor on December 07, 2017:
I'm doing this for my science fair but with cookie can you give me some tips?
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 19, 2017:
Bob--this was not supposed to be a project to produce great tasting cupcakes! The point is to see what happens when something is missing. They are not supposed to turn out "right" because that shows how each ingredient does something different. You really need to do more than 3 batches to make this work best. What yours turns out like is hopefully unique to your project and that is what you report about. Sorry this wasn't what you expected but it does sound like you got some good and interesting results.
Bob the Builder on November 19, 2017:
The cupcake without flour turned out to be an inedible pool of goop... NOT a custard. I could see pieces of the egg still there and I was doing this for my science fair project so now I can only have people taste the cupcake without egg and the cupcake without baking powder. (I was only making the 3 different batches of cupcakes) I am not trying to be mean at all but I was not happy with how things turned out.
Diminica Hurtado on November 16, 2017:
I am a student and this experiment is what I am doing for the science fair
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 03, 2017:
Hi Kris, They described what they saw and tasted and we also took pictures. This was a good time to introduce a variety of adjectives for taste and smell. We looked up lists of words and then chose ones that matched what we saw, tasted, felt and smelled.
Kris on October 03, 2017:
How did your children visualize the taste and texture of the cupcakes? Were there any graphing involved?
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on March 09, 2017:
Hi Yasmin--I think you can probably figure that part out yourself. What is it that is different in each part of the experiment? What do you keep the same? What will be the part which changes based on the manipulated variable?
Yasmin on March 09, 2017:
What is the manipulated variable (the part u change), responding variable (the part that changes on its own), and the controlled variable (the part that is the same)????
avasslimeboutique on March 09, 2017:
Thank you so much for this! I'm doing it for my science showcase project and I'm having so much fun doing it!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on January 11, 2017:
Hi, Julie! I posted these instructions for people like you. Although a science fair project does take a lot of work by both parents and students, it should be a great time to spend together and help the student understand how science works. Hopefully, it can be fun too!
Julie Barnard on January 11, 2017:
Thank you for sharing. Mt daughter has her first science fair and it's causing me some anxiety as I have no idea what to do or expect and I want it to be a great experience for her. This, I'm hoping, will help us! Thank you
Michelle Monize on January 05, 2017:
Very tasty at the end
Nssia on January 05, 2017:
We are doing this project and we feel it will turn out great
Sophia Koepplinger on December 28, 2016:
I love baking and have been trying to find an experiment that matches and this seems to be the absolute perfect one!! I will definitely try it out
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 29, 2016:
Glad this has helped you lil bean! You aren't the last parent who faced an emergency science project! That is one of the reasons my husband and I decided to publish our work. We want science to be fun, not stressful.
lil bean on November 29, 2016:
hello thank you for the project this is very stressful because my child has told me at the last minute but i am very glad i stumbled upon this website thank you very much and i hope you have a wonderful day
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 12, 2015:
Glad this helped Andrea. I've done this project twice with my kids and they really enjoyed it each time.
Andrea on November 12, 2015:
Thank you for the ideas. My daughter loves baking and science. We have our first science fair project and will try it out. Thanks for sharing.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on December 05, 2014:
Hi Haille--I think that is actually a very interesting question. Of course Red Velvet cake has tons of food coloring in it, so that would be a practical application for your project. Good luck!
Haille on December 05, 2014:
Hello! I am doing a science fair project.... (if you add food coloring to a cupcake, will it take shorter or long to bake?) I have yet too find any information on this topic. I think this idea is fantasic!
Kimberly on October 02, 2014:
That is some good infirmation but you have to be more detailed
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on August 28, 2014:
Caitlin--it was very interesting to me to see the difference. I tend to think I shouldn't worry about getting cake flour, but now I really do go out of my way to get it!
Ashley Nigrelle on August 28, 2014:
This is a fun way to get involved in your schools science fair. I love how it has a report paper!
LisaKeating on May 18, 2014:
Congratulations on another HOTD. I wish I had thought of this kind of project when my children were young. It combines practicality with fun. The part about the knock-out mice was also interesting. As always, your hub answers all readers' questions and provide valuable information. Great job.
Kalaichelvi Panchalingam from PETALING JAYA on May 18, 2014:
Looks like something that is both educational and fun. Good job. I am sure the kids will enjoy something like this anywhere in the world!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on May 18, 2014:
DzyLizzy--you are right that you don't add yeast to the bread, the yeast is in the starter. That is the way people in the past made bread You can make starter lots of different ways. Hey, maybe I need to write an article on that!
Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on May 18, 2014:
Brilliant, original and engaging, what a great Hub - so deserved the HOTD award. I love the idea of doing something like this with children or grandchildren.
The image used of the cupcake at the top is beautiful as well.
Very well done.
Voted up and more.
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on May 18, 2014: