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Published November 26, 2010, 12:00 AM

Prairie Faire: Cookies offer tasty lesson in science, math

“How much sugar should I add?” I asked my 7-year-old daughter, who was my baking assistant last weekend. “The recipe says 34 cups,” she replied.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“How much sugar should I add?” I asked my 7-year-old daughter, who was my baking assistant last weekend.

“The recipe says 34 cups,” she replied.

“Are you sure about that?” I asked as I looked over her shoulder. I felt a math lesson was in order.

“Well, there’s a 3 and a 4 on the recipe,” she noted.

“Do you see the line between the 3 and the 4? That’s a fraction,” I said. I showed her the ¼-cup measure, and she filled it with sugar three times. She added each scoop to a 1-cup measure. I wanted her to visualize the measurement.

“Well, we haven’t learned about fractions yet in second grade,” she responded a bit indignantly as she measured.

“We can learn something about math and science when we make cookies,” I said.

“I like science, and I like cookies. Math is OK, too,” she added.

A kitchen can be a learning laboratory for math and science. Unlike most lab settings, you get to taste your end product.

When you mix sucrose (sugar) with lipid material (butter or shortening) and agitate, you are dispersing the ingredients and incorporating air. The protein in eggs helps bind the ingredients together. If you mix the cookies too long, you may develop the gluten (flour protein) and end up with tough, dry cookies.

We also had a physics experiment in progress about heat transfer. Since I wanted to bake cookies continuously, we used many cookie sheets. The cookie sheets needed to be cool when we placed the dough on the pans. If not, the cookies would become misshapen during baking. We weren’t patient enough to wait for the pans to cool.

Unfortunately, my cookie sheets are not made of the same material, so the cookies baked at different rates. We used some insulated baking sheets, which bake more slowly. We used two large aluminum professional chef baking sheets, which transfer heat more rapidly.

We used a couple of dark, nonstick cookie sheets. Baking cookies on these pans often results in crunchier cookies. In fact, many manufacturers suggest that you lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees to avoid overbaking cookies and other foods on dark, nonstick pans.

After all this baking, I had quite a bit of cleanup to do. Next time, I will pick up more parchment paper to reduce cleanup time. Parchment paper is sold on rolls next to the plastic wrap and aluminum foil in many grocery stores. You simply put a layer of parchment on the pan and bake your cookies on the paper.

The heavy paper eliminates the need to grease pans and allows you to lift the batch of cookies off the pan, paper and all, onto a rack to cool. Therefore, you are less likely to damage the cookies when you remove them with a turner.

Since the holiday season is just around the corner, here’s a cookie recipe that you can prepare and enjoy right away. If you prefer, you can layer the ingredients in a jar as described and give as gifts.

These tasty cookies contain some healthful ingredients. The dried fruit adds disease-fighting antioxidants to your diet, and the rolled oats add fiber.

Remember that cookies and other holiday treats are considered discretionary calories. Try to limit yourself to a couple of cookies.


Oatmeal-Cranberry Cookie Mix in a Jar

1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. flour*

1 cup rolled oats

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup white sugar

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup white chocolate chips

*You can substitute some whole-wheat flour, if you wish.

Layer the ingredients in a clean, quart-sized jar. Cover the jar tightly with a lid and decorate as desired. Add a card with the following directions.

Additional ingredients:

½ cup butter

1 tsp. vanilla

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix butter, vanilla and egg together until smooth. Add cookie mix and mix well. Place by the spoonful onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for eight to 10 minutes until golden brown. For best flavor, use the cookie mix within nine months. Makes 28 cookies. Each cookie has 100 calories, 4.5 grams (g) of fat, 13 g of carbohydrate and 70 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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