Edible Explorations: Corn starch science experiment gives way to chocolate pie

  • Corn starch's mild flavor and translucency make it a good pick for thickening pies, like this Chocolate Cream Pie.

      Corn starch's mild flavor and translucency make it a good pick for thickening pies, like this Chocolate Cream Pie. Deborah Pankey | Staff Photographer

  • If there's cornstarch in your pantry you're just minutes away from a fun science lesson on non-Newtonian fluid.

      If there's cornstarch in your pantry you're just minutes away from a fun science lesson on non-Newtonian fluid. Deborah Pankey | Staff Photographer

  • Cornstarch's mild flavor and translucency make it a good pick for thickening pies, like this Chocolate Cream Pie.

      Cornstarch's mild flavor and translucency make it a good pick for thickening pies, like this Chocolate Cream Pie. Deborah Pankey | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted4/23/2015 6:00 AM

Henry's addicted to YouTube.

And I'm not sure it's entirely a bad thing.

 

Sure he watches some inane stuff -- like parody music videos (I admit some are pretty darn clever) -- but he also spends a lot of time on science-related stuff. Sometimes those videos lead to him call my cellphone when I'm working to ask if I can bring home diapers, "preferably adult diapers because they're more absorbent," or if we have PVC pipe, Post-it notes and a fire extinguisher. Other times I'm more apt to grant his supply requests, like when he recently asked if we had corn starch.

Seems corn starch mixed with water creates a non-Newtonian fluid.

Say what?

Non-Newtonian fluid (the name comes from noted physicist Sir Isaac Newton) is a mixture that behaves like a solid under the stress of its own pressure, but when you break that stress and grab a handful, it drips like a thick liquid. Turns out toothpaste and ketchup are other substances with non-Newtonian fluid properties.

Non-Newtonian fluid is a mouthful, so it's also called oobleck, a reference from a Dr. Suess book. There are hundreds of videos showing how to make oobleck and fun things to do with it, like fill a wading pool and "walk on water" or watch it "dance" on a speaker.

After our oobleck experiments, we used the corn starch in another fun application: a pie.

In baking, corn starch (the starch from the endosperm of corn kernels) is used as a thickener. The gravy on the Thanksgiving table, the citrus sauce on your grilled salmon and your Grandma's strawberry rhubarb pie all benefit from corn starch's ability to bind ingredients as well as its mild flavor and translucency.

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We used corn starch to make a Chocolate Cream Pie.

Henry says: When I did the experiments with oobleck, we had to add the corn starch slowly and stir a lot before it got thick. It was really fun because when I let it drip through my fingers it was a cooling feeling.

When we made pie, the corn starch made eggs and sugar thick and once we added the butter and chopped chocolate it got really thick.

I'd rather eat the chocolate cream pie than the oobleck. You can eat oobleck, but beware -- it does not taste good.

Daily Herald Food Editor Deborah Pankey is the mother of two boys. Her youngest, Henry, is a sixth-grader and a picky eater who's finally beginning to explore new foods.

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