3 Amazing Edible Experiments for the Holidays

Edible Experiment: Peppermint Meringue

Now you can combine holiday cooking with STEM learning with these delicious recipes adapted from the book Amazing (Mostly) Edible Experiments by Andrew Schloss published by Quarry Books. Simple to make, with easy teachable moments, these festive dishes bring kitchen science into the season. Make them with your friends and family for more holiday fun!

1. Disappearing Peppermint Pillows

These melt-in-your-mouth cookies are called meringue (say “ma-RANG”). They’re made from just egg whites, sugar—and air. Even though they’re sweet, delicious, and look like other cookies, they’re little more than sweet shells filled with air. Put one in your mouth, and it will vanish in a peppermint-scented poof!

Edible Holiday Experiment: Meringue
  • 2 large eggs, separated (you only need the whites, so cover the yolks and save them in the refrigerator)
  • 1 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar 
  • 1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 candy cane, broken in pieces, or 4 peppermint hard candies
  1. Heat oven to 175°F. Line cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Sift the sugar. Put a piece of foil on the counter or on a table. Sift the confectioner’s sugar onto the foil to get out any lumps.
  2. Using the whisk attachment on your mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until they’re foamy. Turn the mixer speed up to medium-high and beat eggs until they’re white and thick, but still soft—sort of like hand cream. With the mixer still on, use a soup spoon to add the sifted sugar to the egg whites a couple of spoonfuls at a time.
  3. When all the sugar has been mixed in, add the peppermint extract. The mixture will look bright white, smooth and shiny. 
  4. Make the cookies using a small spoon, plop the egg white mixture onto the parchment. Put them just far enough apart so that they don’t touch.
  5. Put the candy in the zipper-lock plastic bag. Press out the extra air and seal the bag. Bang the candy with a hammer until it’s broken into a rough powder. Sprinkle the crushed candy over the cookies.
  6. Put the sheet of cookies into the heated oven and bake until they’re firm and dry, about 3 hours. Turn off the oven and let them sit in the oven for another hour. Remove from the parchment paper and eat up.

Makes 24 cookies

The Science Behind the Experiment

Egg whites are made up of protein and water. Cream of tartar is a mild acid that will help the protein in the egg whites coagulate faster and last longer. When you beat an egg white, the liquid protein molecules separate into strings and get tangled up, trapping air and water in an interlocking web of tiny protein bubbles. The more air that’s beaten in, the more the egg-white bubbles inflate. Water helps keep the walls of the inflating bubbles moist and flexible, but at a certain point, those walls can’t stretch anymore. Like balloons blown to their limit, the bubbles start to pop, releasing air and water. Then the whole network collapses. By adding sugar, you keep that from happening. The sugar bonds with the water, keeping the bubble walls moist and flexible so they can expand more without bursting. When you heat them at a low temperature, the protein bubbles hold onto the air, but the water evaporates, leaving behind a dry, crisp network of air bubbles that miraculously dissolves when it hits the moisture inside your mouth.

Glow-in-the-Dark Gelatin

A regular box of fruit-flavored gelatin (like Jell-O®), some tonic water, and a black light are all you need to make this glowing treat. You can buy black lights (also called ultraviolet lights, or UV-A lights) at the hardware store or online.

Edible Holiday Science Experiment: glow-in-the-dark gelatin
  • 1 box lemon- or lime-flavored gelatin 
  • 1 bottle tonic water 
  • A black light
  • Cookie cutters (optional)
  1. To make the gelatin, follow the directions on the box, but use the tonic water instead of regular water
  2. When you’ve got everything all mixed together, pour the liquid gelatin into a bowl and put it into the refrigerator to cool and get firm.
  3.  When your gelatin is cooled and set, shine your black light on it—and watch it glow.
  4.  Find some cool cookie cutters and cut your gelatin into glowing bells, stars, bugs, or whatever other shapes you want. Serve dessert in the dark and treat your family to a show!

The Science Behind the Experiment

Try a bite of your glowy gelatin, or take a sip of the leftover tonic water, and you’ll notice that it tastes kind of bitter. That’s because tonic water has a bitter-tasting chemical in it called quinine, and quinine glows greenish-blue when it’s under an ultraviolet (black) light. You can’t see ultra-violet light, because the light waves are moving too fast, but quinine contains phosphors, substances that slow the ultra-violet waves down to a speed that makes them visible to your eyes.

3. Moon Cycle Cookies

The design of these cookies comes from old-time astronomical charts that depict the phases of the moon. By watching the moon, and observing how its shape changed from day to day, early scientists figured out the moon’s orbit around the earth. These cookies connect us to those early scientists, but they do it in a way that’s pretty cool—making cookie dough bake light or dark simply by changing the amount of baking soda in the recipe.

Edible Holiday Experiment: Moon Cycle Cookies
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with aluminum foil, baking parchment, or a silicone baking pad.
  2. Make two cookie doughs. Cut the butter into small pieces and mix with salt, sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat until soft using an electric mixer or by hand with a wooden spoon. Beat in the egg until smooth, scraping the bowl with a spatula as needed.
  3. Use sticky notes, tape and pen, or some other method to mark 2 medium mixing bowls with the words “Light” and “Dark” (or draw an open circle for the light dough and a filled-in circle for the dark dough). The light-colored dough (for the light side of the moon) goes in the “Light” bowl; the dark-colored dough (for the dark side of the moon) goes in the “Dark” bowl.
  4. Put 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of flour in each bowl. Put the cream of tartar in the “Light” bowl, and the baking soda in the “Dark” bowl. Put half the butter-sugar-egg mixture into each bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of milk to each bowl and beat each with a clean mixing spoon into a stiff, smooth dough. If the dough gets too stiff to mix, knead the last bits together with your hands. 
  5. Roll out the doughs. Tear off 2 large sheets of parchment paper or foil. Mark a corner of each one so you’ll be able to tell the dark dough from the light dough. Start with the dark dough. Dust the sheet lightly with flour. Put the dough on the sheet, and pat and roll until the dough is 1/4 inch thick. Cut circles from the dough using a 2- to 3-inch round cutter. You should get 9 dark-moon circles. Prepare the light dough in the same way. You should get 9 light-moon circles.
  6. Make moons: Cut one of each type of cookie in half. Line up one light-dough half with one dark-dough half and lightly press the seam where they meet so you can’t see any open space between them. (Don’t worry about sealing the seam; the sides will stick to one another during baking.) You’ll end up with 2 cookies, both made with half light and half dark dough.
  7. Lift the cookies with a small spatula and slide onto a cookie sheet. Cut a thin slice off one side of two of each type of cookie. Line up the small section of one type of cookie with the large section of the other and lightly press the seam, as you did above. You’ll end up with 4 cookies, each made with both dark and light dough.
  8. Lift the cookies with a small spatula and slide onto a cookie sheet. Cut a slice 1/4 of the way in from one side of two of each type of cookie. Line up the small section of one type of cookie with the large section of the other and lightly press the seam, as you did above. You’ll end up with 4 cookies, each made with both dark and light dough.
  9. Lift the cookies with a small spatula and slide onto a cookie sheet. Cut a slice 1/3 of the way in from one side of two of each type of cookie. Line up the small section of one type of cookie with the large section of the other and lightly press the seam, as you did above. You’ll end up with 4 cookies, each made with both dark and light dough.
  10. Lift the cookies with a small spatula and slide onto a baking sheet. You should have 2 whole cookies of each type left (4 total). Put them on a cookie sheet.
  11. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 7 minutes. The dark dough will turn deep brown while the light dough will turn golden brown to make the cycles of the moon! Allow to cool for a minute on the sheet. Then transfer with a spatula to a cooling rack to cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes.
  12. Repeat with the remaining dough (you’ll have enough to make 2 full cycles). eat the moon!

Makes 18 cookies.

The Science Behind the Experiment

Cream of tartar is an acid. Acids inhibit browning. Baking soda is a base. Bases neutralize acids. By mixing cream of tartar into one half of the dough and baking soda into the other, you created one dough that browned and one that didn’t. Put them side-by-side in a cookie and you’ve got a treat that shows both the dark and light sides of the moon

Celebrate with experimentation, and have a wonderful holiday season!

Recipes and photographs from Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science by Andrew Schloss, published by Quarry Books. Text copyright © Leslie Jonath and Andrew Schloss. Photographs copyright © Chris Rochelle. Used by permission.

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