Fun Cupcake Baking Science Fair Project
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!
What is the purpose of each cupcake ingredient?
What does each ingredient do?
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.
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 StepClick thumbnail to view full-size
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
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
What is your favorite flavor of cupcake?
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?