What if you could make a cake in minutes and teach kids some science at the same time?
Well, I have a secret for you…
You totally can!
All you need is 3-ingredients and one minute of your time.
Yep! I’m not kidding!
Mix 2 tablespoons of hot cocoa with an egg. Put the mixture in a microwave for 1 minute, and you have a chocolate cake. To make it even more decadent, we like to eat the cake with a bit of heavy whipping cream.
It’s yummy! It’s amazing!
But what makes it work?
Food Science for Kids
There is more to eggs and hot cocoa than meets the eye, as you will soon find out.
Baking is a science, and each ingredient in your recipe is a player in a complex process called a chemical reaction.
Ask kids: When we mix cake ingredients in a bowl, do they look like a cake?
What do they look like?
“Like gooey puke.”
These are some of the responses I got from my kids. (Write in the comments below what your kids came up with).
How do we go from a sticky mess to a sweet treat in 60 seconds?
It’s a combination of several factors.
RELATED: Are you turning it into a Cake Unit study? We have a list of exciting books about cake! Check out 20 Delightful Picture Books about Cake
A single egg in this recipe does much more than simply bind the powders together. It provides structure, richness, and leavening.
What is leavening?
Leaven comes from the Latin word levare, which means to lift. (Latin makes understanding new vocabulary much easier, doesn’t it?) An egg causes the cake to rise. Without an egg, this recipe could not work at all.
Hot cocoa mix
Our hot cocoa mix has three ingredients: sugar, cocoa, and vanilla. Sugar plays an important role in baking. One of sugar’s functions is to bind with water molecules (egg white is 90% water). Sugar also provides sweetness, while cocoa and vanilla provide flavor.
Microwaves use electricity from the outlet to generate microwaves. These waves penetrate food and excite the water molecules inside the food (remember an egg white is 90% water?). The turntable allows for an even distribution of heat throughout the content. Cooking causes our batter to firm and turns it into a cake that we want to eat.
Each microwave is slightly different, so there might be some variation in your cake’s texture and density. We noticed that even the mug size makes a difference. I like the cake best in a narrow tall mug, but one of my kids (the one who considers this the #1 dessert in the world) thinks that the wide, short mug makes a better cake. Once we found our perfect size, we stuck to it. Just remember to allow plenty of space for expansion. Pick a mug that won’t be more than halfway filled if you want to avoid a spill.
Chemistry will not seem scary and intimidating to kids if you start with this sweet chemical reaction. A chemical reaction simply means two or more molecules are interacting and changing. Ask kids to describe changes that occurred in this activity (from batter to cake) and dig in!
3 ingredients, 1-minute Chocolate Cake
Two tablespoons hot cocoa* (we like Starbucks Classic Hot Cocoa)
Heavy whipping cream
*I’m obsessed with reading labels and avoiding suspicious ingredients, so I put a lot of thought into finding hot cocoa that I could approve of. In this blend, there are only three natural components: cocoa, vanilla, and sugar. So your chocolate cake has everything you want and nothing you don’t want. If your mix has preservatives and artificial flavors, I don’t know how they would react in this recipe.
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What to do
- In a coffee mug, mix an egg with two tablespoons of hot cocoa mix powder until well combined.
- Put the mug in a microwave on high for one minute. You can eat the cake from the mug right away (it will be HOT), but we like to put a bit of heavy whipping cream in a bowl and use a handheld milk frother to thicken it to a consistency of sour cream. (By the way, our milk frother is one of the best kitchen tools we ever bought. My kids use it almost every day for their milk, and it still works like new.) Don’t have a frother? Just pour a few spoons of heavy whipping cream on top of your cake. *
- Run a knife around the cake to loosen it from the mug and plop it into the bowl with whipped cream.
*Note: Alternatively, you can whip the heavy whipping cream with just a whisk. Or turn the experiment into a dance party by pouring heavy whipping cream in a tightly closed mason jar and asking kids to dance with it for 5 minutes. It doesn’t need to be any specific consistency to work in this recipe. We like it a bit thickened up. But when you feel lazy, you can skip whipping altogether and just pour a bit of cream over the cake.
Oh my gosh! We love it! For the last two years, it has been our go-to dessert when we need one. My kids can make it independently. And my oldest son wants this to be his birthday cake next year.
We are delighted with the cake the way it is, but here are some fun variations you can try for the sake of experimentation. If you prefer sweeter desserts, add a spoon of sugar to the batter. If you crave extra chocolaty desserts, add a handful of chocolate chips. Need extra protein? Add chopped nuts.
I first started experimenting with microwaved cakes when I had my fourth child. In a rare moment of peace amidst constant chaos, I craved a reward (read: a dessert for my glucose-depleted brain). Since I don’t keep store-made desserts or snacks in the house (you can’t eat what you don’t buy), I had to make one myself.
I had a lot of rules for my dessert. It had to be gluten-free, made with clean ingredients, and preferably not too fattening.
I started with a full list of typical cake ingredients – flour, baking soda, vanilla, milk, eggs, etc. Inevitably baby would wake up from her nap, my preschooler would come up with a question, my older kids would need help with something, and the sky would fall before I get a chance to eat my cake. I had to speed up the process. I kept removing the ingredients one by one until all I had is cocoa powder and an egg! But it needed something creamy to complete it. Since I always have heavy whipping cream in the house for my morning tea, I added it to the finished cake. Mmm… heaven… My kids improved it with the milk frother (because my kids are always happy to froth something).
And the best part? This cake has only 170 calories without the whipping cream. Two tablespoons of whipping cream add another 100 calories. 270 calories dessert means I can eat a cake and stays in my size two jeans. Win-win!
I was scrubbing my mugs from cake remains for a year when I had a bright idea to spray the mug with PAM before adding egg and cocoa. And you know what? The cake slid right out, and the inside of the mug was almost pristinely clean. Try it if you have PAM on hand. Or better yet, try this Oil Mister. No questionable ingredients and this model doesn’t clog (like previous models did, which was a great pain).
Want to learn more about Food Science?
What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke
On Food and Cooking: The Science And Lore Of The Kitchen by Harold McGee
Are You What You Eat? By DK Publisher
The Cookbook For Kids (Williams-Sonoma): Great Recipes for Kids Who Like To Cook by Lisa Atwood (we have about a dozen cookbooks for kids in heavy rotation, and this one is currently the undisputed winner in my house)
Cooking Class: 57 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love To Make by Deanna F. Cook
Making a dessert is always a favorite kitchen activity in our house. I don’t know about you but understanding the chemistry of baking makes us all the more fascinated with its magic. We tried many different ways of making mug cakes, and this is the only one that passed our taste test.
Cocoa and eggs can be a serious teaching tool. Do you agree?