Fun Cupcake Baking Science Fair Project

Updated on January 26, 2018
VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne is an educator and mom of 5. Her Science Fair articles are based on her experience helping her children do their projects.

Cupcake Science is fun!
Cupcake Science is fun! | Source

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!

Cupcake Questions

What is the purpose of each cupcake ingredient?

What does each ingredient do?

Hypothesis

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?

Cupcakes with cake flour vs. regular flour
Cupcakes with cake flour vs. regular flour | Source

Materials

Ingredients:

  1. Sugar
  2. Flour
  3. Vegetable oil
  4. Milk
  5. Eggs
  6. Baking Powder
  7. Vanilla

Equipment:

  1. Measuring cups and spoons
  2. Bowl
  3. Mixer
  4. Oven
  5. Cupcake liners
  6. Pen and paper for labeling batters and cupcakes and recording results
  7. 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.

Mollie's Research Notes:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!).
  3. 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!

4.3 stars from 118 ratings of Vanilla Cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 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

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together sugar and egg until fluffy with an electric mixer in the bowl.
  2. Add milk, oil, vanilla and baking powder and beat until well mixed.
  3. Add flour and mix.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Procedure

  1. Research about different cupcake recipes and ingredients.
  2. Pick out a recipe (we chose the above Vanilla Cupcakes Recipe).
  3. Reduce recipe so it makes just a few cupcakes.
  4. Put together ingredients and supplies.
  5. Make labels for the different batches.
  6. Make the recipe as written with cake flour as my control.
  7. Make the cupcake recipe again with the different ingredients left out.
  8. Write down the results of the appearance of the batter, the appearance of the baked cake and the taste.
  9. Photograph the cupcakes and taste them.
  10. Record my graph.
  11. Write out my conclusion.

Step by Step

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Measuring ingredients for cupcakes.Pouring cupcake batter in pans.Put labels underneath cupcake linersCake flour cupcake results.No flour cupcake results.No milk cupcake results.No oil cupcake results.No sugar cupcake results.No baking powder cupcake results.No egg cupcake results.
Measuring ingredients for cupcakes.
Measuring ingredients for cupcakes. | Source
Pouring cupcake batter in pans.
Pouring cupcake batter in pans. | Source
Put labels underneath cupcake liners
Put labels underneath cupcake liners | Source
Cake flour cupcake results.
Cake flour cupcake results. | Source
No flour cupcake results.
No flour cupcake results. | Source
No milk cupcake results.
No milk cupcake results. | Source
No oil cupcake results.
No oil cupcake results. | Source
No sugar cupcake results.
No sugar cupcake results. | Source
No baking powder cupcake results.
No baking powder cupcake results. | Source
No egg cupcake results.
No egg cupcake results. | Source

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 egg
 
 
 
no oil
 
 
 
no sugar
 
 
 
no baking powder
 
 
 
no milk
 
 
 
no flour
 
 
 
Create a table like this for your experiment. Except for the cupcake made with all-purpose flour, the rest of the cupcakes use cake flour.

Conclusion

In the conclusion, you will want to answer these questions (which are the same ones that real scientists ask themselves after doing an experiment):

  1. Were your results the same as you predicted?
  2. What surprised you?
  3. What did you learn?
  4. 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

What is your favorite flavor of cupcake?

See results

Kindergarten Project

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

Fun Facts

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

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      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        5 months ago from United States

        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!

      • profile image

        Jasmine 

        5 months ago

        What website did you get the cupcake recipe from?

      • profile image

        Jim 

        6 months ago

        What was the title of the Cake flour v.s. Normal flour project?

      • profile image

        Sydney Taylor 

        7 months ago

        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...

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        7 months ago from United States

        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?

      • profile image

        Sydney Taylor 

        7 months ago

        I'm doing this for my science fair but with cookie can you give me some tips?

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        8 months ago from United States

        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.

      • profile image

        Bob the Builder 

        8 months ago

        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.

      • profile image

        Diminica Hurtado 

        8 months ago

        I am a student and this experiment is what I am doing for the science fair

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        9 months ago from United States

        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.

      • profile image

        Kris 

        9 months ago

        How did your children visualize the taste and texture of the cupcakes? Were there any graphing involved?

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        16 months ago from United States

        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?

      • profile image

        Yasmin 

        16 months ago

        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)????

      • profile image

        avasslimeboutique 

        16 months ago

        Thank you so much for this! I'm doing it for my science showcase project and I'm having so much fun doing it!

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        18 months ago from United States

        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!

      • profile image

        Julie Barnard 

        18 months ago

        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

      • profile image

        Michelle Monize 

        18 months ago

        Very tasty at the end

      • profile image

        Nssia 

        18 months ago

        We are doing this project and we feel it will turn out great

      • profile image

        Sophia Koepplinger 

        18 months ago

        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

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        19 months ago from United States

        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.

      • profile image

        lil bean 

        19 months ago

        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

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        2 years ago from United States

        Glad this helped Andrea. I've done this project twice with my kids and they really enjoyed it each time.

      • profile image

        Andrea 

        2 years ago

        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.

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        3 years ago from United States

        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!

      • profile image

        Haille 

        3 years ago

        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!

      • profile image

        Kimberly 

        3 years ago

        That is some good infirmation but you have to be more detailed

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        3 years ago from United States

        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!

      • profile image

        Ashley Nigrelle 

        3 years ago

        This is a fun way to get involved in your schools science fair. I love how it has a report paper!

      • profile image

        LisaKeating 

        4 years ago

        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.

      • Vvitta profile image

        Kalai 

        4 years ago from Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

        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!

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        4 years ago from United States

        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!

      • sallybea profile image

        Sally Gulbrandsen 

        4 years ago from Norfolk

        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.

        Sally

      • DzyMsLizzy profile image

        Liz Elias 

        4 years ago from Oakley, CA

        I may be wrong, but I don't think there is any yeast in sourdough bread; I thought it just rose from the action of the starter ... ???

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        4 years ago from United States

        Great idea about the liners. That would make it a lot easier. And I was thinking that maybe I remember reading that the sourdough in San Francisco might be a unique yeast? I'll have to research that. I am thinking that making sourdough could be an interesting science project idea too.

      • DzyMsLizzy profile image

        Liz Elias 

        4 years ago from Oakley, CA

        Really??? Wow--I did not know that about yeast baking staying in the air, and creating sourdough starter. Goodness...

        I just had a thought about labeling those experiments... you could have also separated the cupcake liners into color piles, and have each batch as color-coded. Then, the labels would not be able to possibly fall off. ;-)

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        4 years ago from United States

        Yes hlwar--there are a lot of variations to this experiment. I actually have a sugar and fat free banana bread recipe that I absolutely love and make every week. However, it tends to come out kind of heavy sometimes. Thinking about this science experiment, I've tried different combinations of ingredients until I found out that adding 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of baking powder usually makes it perfect.

      • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Kearney 

        4 years ago from United States

        DzyMsLizzy--You are right in guessing that the cupcake just looked like it exploded. It was a mess to clean out but didn't get on the oven. I love that San Francisco sourdough and can taste that clam chowder in a bowl of that right now! I did not know it got it's unique taste from the weather. I do know that if you have a kitchen which regularly bakes with yeast, you have yeast in the air and that if you put flour and water out, it will develop into a sour dough starter. Great comment!

      • profile image

        hlwar 

        4 years ago

        After going through many baking failures I've pondered many of these questions myself. After all, baking is a science, not an art. I think I'll have to give your charts and checklists a try. Great educational and foodie hub! Thanks for sharing! d(-_^)

      • DzyMsLizzy profile image

        Liz Elias 

        4 years ago from Oakley, CA

        Congrats on HOTD!

        A very interesting experiment, indeed! I wonder what your daughter meant by the cupcake "exploding" with no egg? I can't even imagine that happening. Wild! Did it really explode, and make a mess in your oven, or just not cook right, leaving that gooey-bottomed hollow shown in the photos?

        I do know that weather can be a factor, also. For example, San Francisco's famous sourdough French bread cannot be made anywhere else in the world and come out tasting the same. with the same texture! They've actually taken the recipe to many places, and tried it, but it just isn't the same as when baked in SF.

        Voted up and interesting!

      • WiccanSage profile image

        Mackenzie Sage Wright 

        4 years ago

        Hey, very cool. Nice work! I've never compared baked goods with 2 different flours side-to-side before but it looks like there is a difference. I'm sure my kids will enjoy this science project-- anything that results in cupcakes.

      • bodylevive profile image

        BODYLEVIVE 

        4 years ago from Alabama, USA

        I enjoyed this hub, I believe my granddaughter is the cup cake queen. She spends weekends with us and summer vacation. The first words to come out of her mouth is, "grandma, are we making cup cakes?" Of course the answer is yes. She is 9 years old and I must admit, she does good in gathering her ingredients, mixing them and preparing for baking. Thanks for sharing a great project and story. Congrats on hub of the day too!

      • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

        Claudia Mitchell 

        4 years ago

        I like this idea. My daughter does the fair every year and I'll mention this one to her. She's already thinking about her project for next year.

      • Journey * profile image

        Nyesha Pagnou MPH 

        4 years ago from USA

        This seems like a really fun project for children to enjoy. Thanks for sharing the ideas in this interesting hub.

      • Harshit Pandey profile image

        Harshit Pandey 

        4 years ago from Varanasi

        I love cupcakes... Thanks for posting it and remembering me to eat one :)

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        4 years ago from New Delhi, India

        What an innovative way of presenting a recipe as well as a Science project! You kept the interest from start till end.

        Thanks for sharing, voted up!

      • rebeccamealey profile image

        Rebecca Mealey 

        4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

        Edible science experiment sure got MY attention. What an educational idea good for cooking skills in the future, I'll bet. Shared and pinned.

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        4 years ago from Chicago Area

        Now there's some scientific research I can really get into! :) Very practical way to illustrate science principles. Voted up and sharing with a cupcake fanatic friend of mine. Have a great week!

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