How to Teach Science to Kids Through Baking

Rainy day?  Get your baking ingredients out to start teaching the kids some science through the fun medium of baking.  Don't equate baking with science?  It wouldn't work without some basic scientific principles, which is why you can throw together a casserole or a pasta sauce, but you can't go wildcard when baking a cake - not if you want it to work anyway!  Here are a few ways to teach science through baking to children of all ages.

Quick Wins

Kids are fascinated by cakes and muffins.  Show them how the raising agent (bicarbonate of soda) works with another ingredient such as milk to trigger a reaction and make the dough rise.  This is an example of the reaction of an acid to an alkaline substance.

If your recipe calls for baking powder instead, it contains bicarbonaate of soda with some added ingredients, cream of tartar and cornflour.  The baking soda is a base and the cream of tartar is an acid, so it can be used in a range of recipes where another acid might not be present.  Baking powder makes cakes rise through the release of the gas carbon dioxide.

Recipes to bake with kids:

Learning about Ph

The Ph (Potential Hydrogen) scale goes from 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral, 1 to 6 acidic, and 8 to 14 alkaline.  Ph can be measured using litmus paper, so kids can test small amounts of common items in the kitchen to see which are which.


All science is about precision.  In baking in particular, children need to learn to measure things accurately in order for the recipe to come out well.  They can learn basic measurements like a cup, teaspoon and tablespoon, and practice measuring out ingredients on the scales or in a measuring jug.

Older Children

Yeast-raised breads are a challenge for all cooks, and a fascinating science experiment too.  You can start with a simple experiment, blowing up a balloon using yeast, to illustrate how yeast makes bread dough or pizza dough rise.

Blowing Up a Balloon with Yeast

You will need:

Packet of active yeast
Small, clean, clear, plastic bottle (c. 500ml)
1 teaspoon sugar
Warm water
Small balloon that will fit over the mouth of the bottle

How to make it:

1. Fill the bottle up with about 2.5cm / 1 inch of warm water.

2. Add the yeast and swirl the mixture around.  Next add the sugar.  The warmth activates the living organism, the yeast, and the sugar feeds it.

3. Now the yeast’s digestive system will start producing gas, which makes dough rise.  Place the balloon over the neck of the bottle and put the bottle in a warm place.  Within about 15 to 20 minutes, the balloon should start to inflate.

Pizza Dough

Once children have seen the way yeast works, they can learn to make their own pizza dough.  The main considerations are that the water can’t be too hot, and the dough needs to rise in a warm place.

Experimental Mini Cakes

This will involve some waste, but is a valuable lesson in how certain ingredients affect recipes, and how important it is to follow baking instructions carefully.

You will need:

4 small greased ramekins

For each of the 4 cakes:

6 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 pinch of salt
2 or 3 pinches of baking powder
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 of an egg (Break 1 egg into a cup, beat until mixed, then use approximately one third of it.  Save the rest for the other 2 cakes.)

How to make it:

Make 4 different batches of batter, with a difference:

1. Make cake #1 exactly as instructed.  Label it 1.

2. Make #2 exactly the same, except leave out the oil. Label it 2.

3. Make #3 exactly the same, except this time, leave the egg out. Label it 3.

4. Make #4 exactly the same, except leave the baking powder out. Label it 4.

5. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet, keeping track of which is which, and bake them in a 180C / 350F oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

6. Remove from the oven and cool briefly.  Using a spoon, check the texture and taste of each cake.  What are the differences?  Which are more, or less, successful?

7. They can all be eaten, but eggs help hold recipes together and make them rise.  Oil keeps cakes moist.  Baking powder makes cakes rise.

Try these ideas, which are sure to provide hours of educational entertainment for your kids.

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