I’ve decided to really put my focus on my kids and family this summer. Over the next couple of weeks and even months, in with all the other stuff I have planned (and really, I *do* have posts planned), I’m going to share some of the Awesome Summer Awesomeness that my family and I have been up to.
So my kids are kind of really into science. Not a day has gone by this summer without one of them asking to do a science experiment. We have quite a lot of kits, books, and various science paraphernalia around the house. But most of it is pretty messy, time consuming or requires supplies we don’t have on hand. But sometimes we find an experiment that is quick, easy, relatively clean, and requires items we always have ready in stock. Also, I think my oldest is catching on to the fact that I am far more likely to drop whatever I’m doing if the experiment is going to involve food. Like meringue cookies. Good thinking, kid.
My oldest had read in one of his science books about making the cookies. I know I usually take the science behind baking completely for granted. But really, a recipe is just a big old science experiment we can eat…assuming things turn out right. All the ingredients coming together, the heat, the reactions: science! The fun thing with meringues is that the recipe is super simple, as is the prep work, and you can see the science as you make them, rather than it all happening in the oven. For our cookies, we used
-6 egg whites, at room temperature
-1/4 tsp cream of tartar
-1/2 C sugar
-1/4 tsp vanilla
I let my oldest do most of the work, helping only to separate the egg whites. The two younger boys got to join in with adding the dry ingredients their older brother measured out for them.
We mixed the cream of tartar into the egg whites with the hand mixer until things got foamy and soft peaks were forming.
Then the rest of the ingredients were added and we continued to mix, passing around the hand mixer to make sure everyone got a fair turn.
It takes a while and can get a little loud.
But after a few minute, your mixture should be able to form peaks about two inches high, yet still be soft enough to flop over at the top. If that makes sense…
The boys had a great time plopping out the dollops of their “potion”, as they were by now calling it, onto the wax paper-covered cookie sheet. Then we baked the dollops for one hour at 250 degrees.
That’s a really long time for little boys to wait for cookies, and potions, to bake. Since things were too loud during the actual mixing, we discussed the science behind the cookies while we waited for them to be ready to eat.
It’s all about polymers. Egg whites are 88% water, and the rest is protein. The protein is the polymer. Polymers, as I understand it, are molecules tightly bound together. Plastic is a polymer. The thing with the polymers in the egg whites is that they are super tightly wounds together, like tight corkscrews. With the help of the acids in the cream of tartar, as you mix (and mix, and mix) the egg whites, those polymers start to unwind and stretch out. But because they are still closely bound together, they now make a nice stretchy surface (the peaks that flop over). When you add heat to those stretchy surfaces, they become rigid and you get the finished cookies. The sugar and vanilla help them taste good.
And after nearly 1.5 hours of baking, then cooling, the general consensus was that meringues are pretty tasty polymers. Yay for science you can eat!