From the Kitchen

Edible Science Experiment: Making Butter & Whipped Cream

I love taking kid’s projects and finding a way to make them edible. Today is no exception. Let’s grab our lab coats and head to the kitchen for some science fun! The kitchen holds great potential for science experiments with kids. Today’s experiment is simple – making whipped cream and butter – and it is really fun and actually quite interesting. All you need is cream, a bowl with beaters and a jar with a lid.

I remember making butter in a jar when I was a kid and thinking it was downright magical. I figured my 5-year-old Cate would probably think it was pretty cool, too. In order to make the project more “sciency,” I decided we would also make whipped cream. By making both you can illustrate how two different treatments of the same substance yield very different results.

I bought 1 pint of cream. We put half of the cream in a mixer and half in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

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First we beat the you-know-what out of the cream with our mixer. I used the stand mixer so that Cate could be the one to actually turn it on and “make” the whipped cream. I explained to her that when you whip cream, you are adding in air, which changes the texture and makes it bigger and fluffier.

Next we took our jar of cream, put on the lid and started shaking! This is the most fun part of the experiment…especially for the kids. But I will warn you – the little ones tire easily!  Plan on doing most of the shaking yourself. Cate and I just kept trading off, with my shaking turns generally lasting much longer.

Every five minutes or so we would stop and look to see what was inside. The cream just gets thicker and thicker, while remaining homogeneous. We talked about how our shaking was making the fat in the cream hit and stick to each other. We also talked about how the jar was closed and, unlike the whipping, we weren’t adding any air to the cream.

After about 15 minutes or so the magic begins. Just when you think you simply can’t shake anymore, there is suddenly a giant lump of butter in the jar! It’s very cool!

Here are the results! Lots and lots of fluffy whipped cream, compared with a bit of butter and some buttermilk. I think the size difference is probably the most striking observation: the whipped cream and the butter came from the same exact amount of cream! We talked about the difference adding air made versus “smooshing” everything together

When we were all done and finished talking “science,” we added some sugar to the whipped cream and some salt to the butter.  We then sat down with some strawberries and delicious sourdough bread and enjoyed the fruits of our labors. That’s gotta be the best science experiment ever, right?

In addition to the science, there is a literary and history aspect to this fun project. Cate and I recently started reading the Little House in the Big Woods, the first in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. We had read about the butter churn and Cate was super excited when I explained we were doing the same thing as Laura and her mother, just in a smaller container. Suddenly, Cate was pretending that we were the ones living in the woods a long time ago. Our science experiment turned into a mini history lesson and a great opportunity to play pretend!

For dinner that night we made buttermilk pancakes with our homemade buttermilk, topped of course with whipped cream and chopped strawberries. The perfect end to a perfect day in the lab!

Jane Maynard, writer and founder of the food blog This Week for Dinner, is a wife, mother to two beautiful girls and freelance graphic designer.  Jane loves eating, which comes in handy for a food blogger. Chocolate, cannoli, and H&H Bagels are her top foods of choice.

34 comments

  1. Hi, I just read this and it is soo cute, what a great idea. We are doing a cooking theme with my daughters kindergarten class, and I think I will have them try the whipped cream. Do you think they could make it with baby food jars or do you have to use a mixer?

  2. Actually, what’s left after making butter is NOT buttermilk as the cream was not “sour” before making the butter. Also, you should clean your butter in cold water until it runs clean. Otherwise, it will go rancid on you after a day or two.

  3. thanks for those tips, kristin! very cool!

    my mom had one of those tupperware thingies when I was growing up – she always used it for eggs when making brownies! :)

    thanks!!

  4. If you add a “dasher” to the jar, like a couple of clean marbles, it goes much, much faster. Tupperware also used to have a measuring cup thing called, I think, a Shake and Pour. It had a lid and a wheel that was designed to mix things like salad dressing. I don’t know if they still make it, but it also works really, really well for making butter quickly.

  5. Wow! You know… I never imagined making butter. Never mind that it would be this simple! And heck, it sounds like a good workout too. I really do enjoy your posts, always such great ideas :)

  6. I’ve done this before and it is super fun. The kids ran out of steam on the butter and my arm hurt for several days after all that shaking! You can make the butter MUCH faster with your stand mixer. I’ve made it in the jar and with a mixer. There’s no difference other than time AND you don’t have sore arms for the next two days! ;D

    You can make spreadable butter by adding olive oil or vegetable oil. Even cold it spreads easily.

  7. That was so cool! I never did that as a kid! I am going to put that in my “summer fun” folder. My boys will absolutely love it…although I do have visions of the jar slipping out of of their hands and butter running all down the walls. Hmmm, maybe I will file that one under “OUTSIDE summer fun”. Thanks for the great post!

  8. I love this. I love showing them the way to make cream and butter from the same container! We’ll be doing this in about 20 minutes when I pick up my son from school! What a fun after-school snack!

  9. What a great idea Jane. We’ve made butter before, on accident, but nothing edible.

    P.S. We just listened to the whole Little House series on tape, and loved every minute of it.

  10. I love this idea, thanks for helping me with dinner plans! :) Question, someone mentioned using honey-butter on the whole wheat pancakes. Do you know how to make honey-butter? Would I just add a certain amount of honey to the butter afterward? New to creating/baking, etc, things home made and not used to doing things from scratch! :) Thanks!

  11. two year olds are great at shaking things up…she may not totally “get” it, but I’m certain she would have fun doing it with you! :)

  12. GET OUT! Such a wonderfully simple and fun idea, and my favorite part is that it comes full circle. Yummy circle. Thanks for sharing your experiments.

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