Science Fair Research Papers On Cookies

Several friends and I recently spent more than eight hours straight in the kitchen. We weren’t making an elaborate dinner or trying out new recipes. We were doing research. It just happened to require baking more than 400 cookies.

My goal never really had been to make 400 cookies. I wanted to create just one, a treat for a friend who can’t stomach the glutenproteins found in wheat. I had recently completed one experiment comparing the taste of cookies using wheat flour to those made with gluten-free flour.

Without gluten, cookies baked up flat and lost their delicious chewiness. Now I wanted to see if I could put the chew back into those gluten-free cookies. After reading many scientific papers, I learned of a chemical that should help: xanthan gum. It’s a polymer — a molecule made of long chains of repeating groups of atoms. In this case, the long chains mean that xanthan gum can make my cookie dough more elastic.

But I don’t know how much xanthan gum to use. To find out, I need to try varying amounts in each batch of cookies. I also need to make sure the xanthan gum is the only active ingredient that changes from batch to batch. (My colorings change too, but they’re not “active” ingredients.) I also need to control — keep constant — as many of my other variables as I can. So I will bake each type of cookie at the same temperature and for the same amount of time. And each cookie will get exactly five chocolate chips, to make sure one is not more chocolatey than another.

I had a control cookie batch (all the ingredients are listed here) and a batch of cookies that used the same recipe, with gluten-free baking flour instead of wheat flour. I also had three other batches of cookies using the same gluten-free recipe. To each of these batches, I added a different amount of xanthan gum. The first had just half a teaspoon. The next had one teaspoon and the final batch had five teaspoons of xanthan gum. 

Baking a bunch of batches

For this experiment, each volunteer would have to eat five cookies —rating the taste of each. I needed to make sure that I had enough people tasting my cookies to minimize the chance that any differences in rankings were due to chance. There’s a statistical testthat can tell me how many cookie tasters I to reduce the possibility of making the wrong conclusion about my data. This test has been simplified down to a table (table 2 here).

I had five groups of cookies to compare. I wanted to make sure there was a less than five percent chance that I might “see” a difference when one didn’t really exist. The tables showed me I should be able to detect a large difference between my five cookies if at least 16 people ate them. But if any real difference were small, I’d need 240 tasters. I decided to detect a medium difference. That should need only about 39 cookie tasters. And that meant I’d need 195 cookies.

What if some people didn’t fill out their rankings correctly? What if some of the cookies fell apart? And of course, what if I got hungry and ate a few? I baked plenty of extra cookies to make sure I had enough. In the end, I got a little carried away. I made more than 400.

Just like my last experiment, I weighed out all of the ingredients carefully. I mixed in the flour, sugar, water and eggs in the same order. I cooled the dough in the fridge for the same amount of time. Also as in the earlier experiment, I added food coloring to each batch. This way, I could tell which cookie came from which batch without telling my tasters.

In the first experiment, my control cookies were red. My two gluten-free batches were blue and green. But what if people simply like red cookies more or blue cookies less? This time, I switched the colors around. My control cookie was blue and my gluten free cookie was yellow. My three xanthan gum cookie batches were red (for half a teaspoon of xanthan gum), green (one teaspoon) and purple (five teaspoons).

Baking adjustments

Based on my earlier experiment, I now knew to space my cookies out so I could bake all five types at once and on the same tray. My previous experiment also showed that gluten-free cookies spread more while baking, ending up wide and flat. So I measured the cookie dough before it went into the oven, to make sure all cookies started out with the same amount of dough. For each batch, I changed the position of the cookies on the sheet, making sure that one cookie type was not always stuck in the same place in my oven.

I also measured cookies after they baked. That way I would be able to calculate how much the xanthan gum might have changed how much the gluten-free cookie spread. I kept careful track of all of this in my lab notebook.

I couldn’t have done all of this without plenty of help from my friends. They helped me write things down, measure things out and made a whole day in the kitchen a lot of fun. Their reward: Lots of cookies to sample.

Once the cookies were baked, I put them to the test. Stay tuned to find out what I learned.

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Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

atom   The basic unit of a chemical element. Atoms are made up of a dense nucleus that contains positively charged protons and neutrally charged neutrons. The nucleus is orbited by a cloud of negatively charged electrons.

control     A part of an experiment where there is no change from normal conditions. The control is essential to scientific experiments. It shows that any new effect is likely due only to the part of the test that a researcher has altered. For example, if scientists were testing different types of fertilizer in a garden, they would want one section of it to remain unfertilized, as the control. Its area would show how plants in this garden grow under normal conditions. And that give scientists something against which they can compare their experimental data.

gluten  A pair of proteins — gliadin and glutenin — joined together and found in wheat, rye, spelt and barley. The bound proteins give bread, cake and cookie doughs their elasticity and chewiness. Some people may not be able to comfortably tolerate gluten, however, because of a gluten allergy or celiac disease.

hypothesis  A proposed explanation for a phenomenon. In science, a hypothesis is an idea that hasn’t yet been rigorously tested. Once a hypothesis has been extensively tested and is generally accepted to be the accurate explanation for an observation, it becomes a scientific theory.

polymer  Substances whose molecules are made of long chains of repeating groups of atoms. Manufactured polymers include nylon, polyvinyl chloride (better known as PVC) and many types of plastics. Natural polymers include rubber, silk and cellulose (found in plants and used to make paper, for example).

statistics  The practice or science of collecting and analyzing numerical data in large quantities and interpreting their meaning. Much of this work involves reducing errors that might be attributable to random variation. A professional who works in this field is called a statistician.

statistical analysis   A mathematical process that allows scientists to draw conclusions from a set of data.

statistical significance   In research, a result is significant (from a statistical point of view) if the likelihood that an observed difference between two or more conditions would be due to chance. Obtaining a result that is statistically significant means there is a very high likelihood that any difference that is measured was not the result of random accidents.

variable (in experiments)  A factor that can be changed, especially one allowed to change in a scientific experiment. For instance, when measuring how much insecticide it might take to kill a fly, researchers might change the dose or the age at which the insect is exposed. Both the dose and age would be variables in this experiment.

xanthan gum  A hydrocolloid made by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. It is a long-chained polymer often used in baking to make substances more elastic.

Difficulty
Time RequiredShort (2-5 days)
PrerequisitesNone
Material Availability Readily available
CostVery Low (under $20)
SafetyAdult assistance is needed to make the cookie dough and bake the cookies.

Abstract

Have you ever bitten in to a cookie and thought, "this is the best cookie in the whole wide world!"? Was it one you made at home? In this science fair project, discover if you can perfect the taste of your favorite cookie right in your own kitchen!

Objective

Run a taste test to find out if letting cookie dough sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours before baking it makes cookies taste better.

Credits

Sandra Slutz, PhD, Science Buddies

This science fair project was inspired by: Leite, D. (2008, July 9). Perfection? Hint: It's Warm and Has a Secret. The New York Times. Retrieved August 27, 2008 from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/09/dining/09chip.html?

Chocolate-chip cookie recipe courtesy of Nestle Toll House.

  • Nestlé® and Toll House® are registered trademarks of Société des Produits Nestlé S.A., Vevey, Switzerland.

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "How Do You Make the 'Best' Cookie?" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 28 July 2017. Web. 11 Mar. 2018 <https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/FoodSci_p014/cooking-food-science/how-do-you-make-the-best-cookie>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2017, July 28). How Do You Make the 'Best' Cookie?. Retrieved March 11, 2018 from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/FoodSci_p014/cooking-food-science/how-do-you-make-the-best-cookie



Last edit date: 2017-07-28

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Introduction

Everyone has a favorite cookie. Some prefer peanut butter, others choose chocolate-chip, oatmeal raisin, or even gingersnap, and the list goes on! Whatever your favorite type of cookie is, you're probably always eager to try another batch to figure out what the "best" version of that cookie is. In this science fair project, you can continue your quest for the "best" cookie by exploring whether a small change in your cookie recipe changes the flavor.

First let's examine what goes into a cookie. All cookies have dry ingredients and wet ingredients. The exact ingredients depend on the cookie recipe, but in general, the dry ingredients include items like flour, baking soda, and salt. The wet ingredients can be liquids, like milk or water, or even butter or eggs, which although they aren't exactly liquids, they are "wet." Both butter and eggs contain a lot of water. For butter, 20 percent of the total weight is water. And eggs have even more water—74 percent!

To make the cookie dough, the dry and wet ingredients are combined. The result is a mixture that is wet enough that it doesn't crumble, but dry enough that it doesn't ooze into a puddle. If you were to magnify the cookie dough hundreds of times under a microscope, you would see little bits of wet and dry ingredients sitting next to one another—they'd be jumbled together, but they'd still be separate ingredients. But, if you let the cookie dough sit for a while, something new happens. The water from the wet ingredients actually goes into the dry ingredients—it is absorbed—similar to how a sponge absorbs a puddle of water.

When the dry ingredients absorb some water from the wet ingredients, all the ingredients become more similar, which results in cookie dough that is more uniform and thus, cooks more evenly. But does that result in a better tasting cookie? You can find out in this science fair project by conducting a taste test! You'll make two batches of cookies: one where the dough is allowed to sit in the refrigerator for two days before it is baked, and one where the cookie dough is baked right away after you mix the ingredients together. The cookie dough batch that will sit for two days must be refrigerated while the dry ingredients absorb water from the wet ingredients, otherwise the dough might start to spoil and would be unsafe to eat. Once you've made both batches of cookies, you'll have your friends and family taste cookies from each batch and tell you which one they like better. Which cookie do you think will taste better? Mix, refrigerate, and bake to find out!

Terms and Concepts

  • Batch
  • Recipe
  • Ingredient
  • Microscope
  • Absorb
  • Taste test
  • Spoil
  • Blind taste test

Questions

  • Which are the dry ingredients in your favorite cookie recipe, and which are the wet ingredients?
  • What is a blind taste test?
  • Why might it be better to run a blind taste test instead of a taste test where the tasters know the difference between the things they are tasting beforehand?
  • Why do some foods (like cookie dough) spoil when they are not refrigerated?

Bibliography

For more information about cookie recipes and the science of baking, consult a cookbook or try one of these websites:

  • Leite, D. (2008, July 9). Perfection? Hint: It's Warm and Has a Secret. The New York Times. Retrieved August 27, 2008 from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/09/dining/09chip.html?
  • Anusasananan, L.; Baker, A.; and Hal, C. (2005). The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. Sunset. Retrieved August 27, 2008 from http://www.sunset.com/sunset/food/article/0,20633,1590752,00.html
  • Prejean, W. (n.d.). Cookies: Function of Ingredients, Recipes, and Demonstrations. Retrieved August 27, 2008 from http://www.bakingandbakingscience.com/cookies.htm

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Materials and Equipment

  • Mixing bowls (3)
  • Electric mixer or mixing spoon
  • Measuring spoons
  • Measuring cup
  • Plastic wrap
  • Refrigerator
  • Cookie sheet
  • Oven
  • Optional: Wire cooling rack
  • Ingredients to make two batches of your favorite cookie recipe. If you don't have a favorite cookie recipe, you can try the chocolate-chip cookie recipe below in the Experimental Procedure.
  • Cookie tins or other containers to hold baked cookies (2)
  • Volunteers to taste-test the cookies (at least 10 people, not including yourself)
  • Paper to make taste-test questionnaire (one piece of paper for each volunteer)
  • Pencils, pens, or other writing utensils (one for each volunteer)
  • Lab notebook
  • Graph paper

Remember Your Display Board Supplies

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Experimental Procedure

Deciding on a Cookie Recipe

Note: many science fairs require that you do a quantitative experiment, whereas the taste-test procedure suggested is qualitative. Check with your science teacher to see if you need to do a quantitative project. See the last point on the Make It Your Own tab for an idea on how to make this project more quantitative.

To start this science fair project you will need to gather together all the ingredients necessary to make two batches of your favorite cookie recipe. If you don't have a favorite, or if you want to try a new recipe, here is one for Nestlé® Toll House® Chocolate-Chip Cookies:

  1. This table has the ingredients you'll need:
IngredientQuantity for One BatchQuantity for Two Batches
All-purpose flour2 ¼ cups4 ½ cups
Baking soda1 teaspoon2 teaspoons
Salt1 teaspoon2 teaspoons
Butter or margarine, softened1 cup 2 cups
Granulated white sugar¾ cup1 ½ cups
Packed brown sugar¾ cup 1 ½ cups
Vanilla extract 1 teaspoon2 teaspoons
Eggs 2 4
Semi-sweet chocolate chips1 (12-ounce) package2 (12-ounce) packages
  1. To make the cookie dough, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small mixing bowl. In a second bowl, use a spoon or electric mixer to beat the butter, granulated white sugar, packed brown sugar, and vanilla extract until the mixture is creamy. Add the eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time, beating well after each one is added. Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Continue to mix the dough until it is well combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  2. To bake the dough, preheat the oven to 375°F. Drop tablespoon-sized mounds of cookie dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes, or until golden brown. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then place them on a wire cooling rack. Leave the cookies on the cooling rack until they are completely cool to the touch.

Making the Cookies

Read the instructions carefully. It'll be at least three days between the time you start the experiment and when you conduct the taste test. Make sure to plan the timing of things so that the cookie-dough resting, baking, and taste-testing are all done on the correct days.

  1. With the help of an adult, follow the cookie recipe to make one batch of cookie dough.
    1. Do not bake this dough.
    2. Put the dough in a small mixing bowl.
    3. Cover the top of the dough with a layer of plastic wrap. Make sure the wrap is actually touching the dough and not just stretched over the top of the bowl. This will prevent the cookie dough from drying out. For added protection, add a second layer of plastic wrap on top. The bowl of cookie dough should look like the picture in Figure 2.


    Figure 2. Before putting the cookie dough in the refrigerator, cover the dough with two layers of plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap is in direct contact with the dough, as shown in this picture.

  2. Refrigerate the batch of cookie dough for 48 hours (two days). Make sure that the cookie dough is stored in the refrigerator the whole time and not left out on the counter. Unrefrigerated cookie dough is not safe to eat or bake!
    1. This batch will be your refrigerated cookie dough.
    2. It will be ready to be baked in two days. For example, if you made the dough Friday night it would be ready to bake on Sunday night.
  3. Once the refrigerated cookie dough has been in the refrigerator for 48 hours, bake it, as directed by your recipe. Because ovens are different, note down in your lab notebook for exactly how long you baked the cookies by the time they were done.
    1. Important: Let the refrigerated dough sit on the counter for 1 hour to warm back up to room temperature before baking.
  4. Immediately after baking the batch of refrigerated cookie dough, make a second batch of cookie dough. This will be the freshly made cookie dough. Bake this batch of cookies right away for exactly as long as you baked the refrigerated batch.
    1. Use the same recipe, oven setting, ingredient brands, cooking time, and cookie sheet for both batches of cookies.
    2. Make sure to keep the cookies from the two batches separate from one another so that you don't mix them up.
    3. As soon as the refrigerated cookie dough cookies are cool, it is a good idea to move them to a cookie tin or other container. Label the container "1" to indicate it was the first cookie batch you made. This will help prevent you from mixing up the two batches of cookies.
    4. When the freshly made cookie dough cookies are cool, move them to a second container labeled "2."
    5. At the end of the second day, you will have two batches of cookies baked, cooled, and stored in labeled cookie tins or containers. Now you're ready for the taste test!
    6. The taste test does not have to be conducted the same day you bake the cookies. The cookies can be stored in airtight containers for up to two days before conducting the taste test.

Taste-Testing and Analyzing the Data

  1. Once both the refrigerated and the freshly made cookie batches are baked and cooled, you're almost ready for the taste test.
  2. Prepare a brief questionnaire on pieces of paper to hand out to each volunteer, as well as writing utensils. The questionnaire should include the following questions:
    1. Do you detect a difference in flavor between the two cookies?
    2. Do you prefer the flavor of the cookie from container 1 or container 2?
  3. Tell the volunteers that you are conducting a taste test between two batches of cookies. Do not tell them what the difference between the batches is. Have the volunteers take a cookie from the refrigerated cookie dough batch in container "1." Ask them to eat the cookie, paying careful attention to how it tastes.
  4. Next, have the volunteers take a cookie from the freshly made cookie dough batch in container "2." Ask them to eat the second cookie, also paying careful attention to how it tastes.
    1. The volunteers might appreciate a glass of water (or milk) to drink between their cookies—this is fine and will help them enjoy each cookie more.
  5. Ask the volunteers to fill out their questionnaires and hand them back to you.
    1. Record their answers in a data table, in your lab notebook.
    2. Once you've recorded their answers, you can tell your volunteers what the difference was between the two cookie batches, but don't do this in the hearing of other volunteers whom you haven't tested yet!
    3. Note: Feel free to sample your cookies and see if you detect a difference between the two batches, but do not include yourself in the data table because you already know what the difference is between the two cookie batches. You only want data from people who are uninformed about the experiment.

     Fill in the boxes below, which correspond to the answer each volunteer gives:
    VolunteerDifference in flavor?
    Yes / No
    Prefer cookie #1 (refrigerated) or cookie #2 (freshly baked)?
    #1  
    #2  

  6. Once you've gathered all your data, you are ready to analyze it.
    1. Make a bar graph showing your data. There should be three bars, one for each possible answer.
    2. You can make the bar graph by hand or use a website like Create a Graph to make the graph on the computer and print it.
    3. Did most of the people detect a difference in taste between the two batches of cookies? Which batch of cookies did your volunteers prefer: the refrigerated cookie dough batch or the freshly made cookie dough batch?

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Variations

  • What types of differences do people detect between the two cookie batches? Repeat the experiment above, this time asking people who prefer one batch of cookie over the other what they think is the difference between the two batches. Do they taste different? How? Do they have different textures?
  • Try this experiment with several different types of cookies. Make refrigerated and freshly made batches of each type of cookie. Are the results the same across different types of cookies?
  • Do you think refrigerating for a period of time would affect other types of baking? Design an experiment to find out!
  • How many chocolate chips can you add before the cookies begin to fall apart? Can you come up with a way to consistently test how strong the cookies are?

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Related Links

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