Skip to main content
ATK Kids

Kitchen Classroom: Week 15

Week 15 of resources to help kids learn in the kitchen—and make something delicious along the way.
By Published June 19, 2020

Welcome to Kitchen Classroom, where America’s Test Kitchen Kids is sharing a weekly set of kid-tested and kid-approved recipes, hands-on experiments, and activities paired with suggestions for how to bring learning to life in the kitchen.

We want to hear how Kitchen Classroom is working for you and your family and what you’d like to see in future weeks. Please click this link to complete a short survey about Kitchen Classroom. After completing the survey, you’ll receive a coupon for 10 percent off at the America’s Test Kitchen Shop (restrictions apply).  
Complete the Survey

This week, kids can take advantage of all the fresh, fragrant herbs available this time of year by making a batch of Basil Pesto; stir together a Chocolate Snack Cake using a surprising ingredient; roll their way to lunch with a Spicy BLT Wrap; and create a bakery-worthy loaf of Almost No-Knead Bread. 

Don’t forget to share what your family makes by tagging @testkitchenkids or using #atkkids on Instagram, or by sending photos to Visit the America’s Test Kitchen Kids website for more culinary content designed especially for kids, plus all of the Kitchen Classroom content in one easy-to-scan location. 

Here’s what’s cooking for the week of June 22nd through June 28th.  

Basil PestoEasy Chocolate Snack Cake
From left: Basil Pesto, Easy Chocolate Snack Cake

Basil Pesto

A quick spin in the food processor turns leafy basil (and a handful of other ingredients) into a flavorful sauce ready to stir into pasta or spread onto sandwiches or pizza. Kids will learn about where basil’s flavor and aroma come from by exploring basil leaves up close.

What You’ll Need
¼ cup pine nuts
2 cups fresh basil leaves
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (½ ounce)
1 garlic clove, peeled
½ teaspoon salt

Learning Moment
Science (Chemistry):
One of the ingredients that gives pesto its signature flavor is fresh basil leaves. Before you start to cook this recipe, set aside a few basil leaves for kids to explore and observe.

  • First, have kids smell the whole basil leaves. What do they notice? Does the smell remind them of anything? How strong is the smell?
  • Encourage them to nibble a whole basil leaf to see what it tastes like. 
  • Then, chop a few leaves with a chef’s knife and have kids smell and taste them again. Ask kids: Has anything changed? Is the smell or taste different now? Why do they think that is? (You can still add these chopped leaves to the food processor with the other whole leaves in step 3 of the recipe if you wish.)

Hopefully, kids noticed that the chopped basil has a stronger smell and flavor than the whole basil leaves. Explain that this is because whole basil leaves have oils inside them that have a strong aroma (or smell). These pungent oils are only released when the leaves are cut or broken open and exposed to air. The more you chop the leaves with a knife (or the blade of a food processor), the more oils come out, and the stronger the smell and taste will be. Basil plants use the oils in their leaves to protect themselves from predators like bugs—the bugs try to chew the leaves but they don’t like the way the oils taste, so they leave the plant alone. Luckily for us, humans usually do like the smell and taste of these aromatic oils! They’re what give basil its delicious flavor for cooking. This is also true for many other herbs, such as mint, oregano, rosemary, sage.

Take It Further 
Science (Food Science):
The America’s Test Kitchen Kids podcast Mystery Recipe recently released three episodes all about basil! Kids can listen to episodes 1, 2, and 3 of Season One, Week Six (“Be-Leaf in Yourself,” “Life in the Sub-Herbs,” and “Stem Education”) on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts to learn all about the fun and fantastical world of herbs. Kids can also try out the experiment in episode 3, “Stem Education” to discover other creative ways to release the aroma compounds in basil leaves! 


Easy Chocolate Snack Cake

This chocolaty cake is a perfect dessert or sweet afternoon snack—it’s great paired with a glass of milk! The simple recipe uses no special equipment and comes together in a snap. Kids can top their cake with confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, fresh berries, whipped cream, or even a smear of peanut butter! There’s also a surprising ingredient in this cake: mayonnaise. In this recipe’s learning moment, kids discover what mayo is doing in a cake (hint: look at the ingredient list) and figure out the best way to divide their cake into even portions. 

What You’ll Need
Vegetable oil spray
1½ cups (7½ ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1½ ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
⅓ cup (2 ounces) chocolate chips
1 cup (8 ounces) water
⅔ cup mayonnaise
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Confectioner’s sugar

Learning Moment
Math (Fractions):
Step 8 of this recipe asks kids to cut the cooled cake into 12 pieces before serving. Ask kids to think about how they will divide the square cake into 12 equal pieces. If needed, use the questions below to guide them. 

  • If we cut a square in half, how many equal pieces will we have? (Answer: 2)
  • What about if we cut those halves in half—how many equal pieces will we have then? (Answer: 4)
  • What do you think is the best way to turn 4 equal pieces into 12 equal pieces? (Answer: Cut each of the 4 pieces into 3 equal pieces; 4 x 3 = 12)

You might encourage kids to draw a square on a piece of paper and practice dividing it into 12 pieces before slicing into the cake. There are two ways to tackle this problem: Kids might cut the cake vertically into 4 equal pieces and then horizontally in thirds. Or, kids might cut the cake in half horizontally and then into six equal pieces vertically. Both are technically correct: The former creates wider rectangles of cake (closer to squares), while the latter produces longer, skinnier slices.  

If you’re looking for more of a challenge for older kids, have them label their drawing with the correct fractions as they go. The uncut square is a whole, so it is 1. After their first cut, each piece represents ½. Dividing the square again crosswise makes each piece ¼. Once they figure out how to divide the square evenly into 12 pieces (each 1/12), challenge them to show you how many of those 12 pieces they would need to equal one quarter of the whole cake or one half of the whole cake. (Answers: 3 and 6)  

Take It Further 
Social Studies (Food History):
This cake includes a surprising ingredient: mayonnaise. Ask kids:

  • In what recipes do you normally eat mayonnaise?
  • Why do you think there is mayo in this recipe?
  • Can you taste the mayonnaise in the finished cake? 

Then, have kids read the ingredient list on the jar of mayonnaise they used when making their cake. Among the first few ingredients will be eggs and oil—two ingredients that they’ll find in lots of cake recipes. Using mayonnaise gets these two ingredients into the cake, even if you don’t have eggs and oil on hand! This trick dates back to the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s, when people didn’t always have eggs and oil in their pantries, so they made do by adding something to their cakes they did have on hand: mayonnaise. The results were moist, cakey, and delicious! Check out this video to learn about cakes throughout history.



Spicy BLT WrapAlmost No-Knead Bread
From left: Spicy BLT Wrap, Almost No-Knead Bread

Spicy BLT Wrap

This simple recipe puts a spicy twist on a lunchtime favorite by mixing sriracha sauce with mayonnaise to make a creamy sandwich spread with a little bit of heat. If kids like things extra spicy, they can increase the sriracha to ½ teaspoon. This recipe is easily doubled to make two wraps. 

What You’ll Need
2 slices bacon
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon sriracha sauce
3 romaine lettuce leaves
6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 (10-­inch) flour tortilla

Learning Moment
Science (Chemistry):
Spicy foods are a source of some fascinating chemistry! Ask kids: 

  • What do you feel in your mouth when you eat something spicy, like sriracha sauce? (They’ll probably say that their mouth feels hot, or maybe as though it’s on fire!) 
  • Do you think the inside of your mouth actually gets hotter when they eat something spicy?

Then, put their prediction to the test! You’ll need a thermometer for this experiment. Before they eat or drink, take kids’ temperature with the thermometer and record the results. Have them eat a small bite of hot sauce or sriracha mayonnaise (if they’re up for it!) and then take their temperature a second time. Did their temperature increase? (It shouldn’t!)

So why do spicy foods make our mouths feel hot when we eat them? Spicy foods usually contain some form of chile peppers, such as hot sauce, ground cayenne pepper, chopped chile peppers, or crushed red pepper flakes. Chile peppers contain a chemical called capsaicin (“cap-SAY-sin”). Capsaicin reacts with some of the nerve endings in your mouth—the same ones that sense changes in temperature (like when you eat soup that’s too hot). Capsaicin tricks those nerve endings into telling your brain that there is a painfully hot temperature situation going on in your mouth when, in fact, there’s been no change in temperature at all. Sneaky! 


Almost No-Knead Bread

This (mostly hands-off) recipe is the perfect way to introduce kids to the magic of bread baking. With a bit of patience, the simplest of ingredients—flour, water, yeast, salt—transform into a beautiful loaf of chewy, crusty, sliceable bread that any kid (or grown-up!) would be proud to have made. This dough in this recipe needs to rise for at least 8 hours, so be sure to plan ahead before you start. 

What You’ll Need
3 cups (15 ounces) all-­purpose flour, plus extra for counter
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon instant or rapid-­rise yeast
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (9 ounces) room-­temperature water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
Vegetable oil spray

Learning Moment
Science (Observation skills):
This recipe provides an excellent opportunity for kids to practice their observation skills. After they’ve stirred together the dough in step 1, ask kids:

  • What does the dough look like? 
  • What does the dough feel like when you touch it with your hands? 

Encourage kids to write down their observations and also take some “before” photos of the dough, from overhead and from the side of the bowl. 

After the dough has risen for 8 to 18 hours, have kids observe it before they continue with step 3. Ask kids:

  • What does the dough look like now? How has it changed? (Refer to kids’ notes and photos, if you have them, for comparison.)
  • What does the dough feel like now when you touch it with your hands? How has it changed? 

Kids will likely notice that, after rising, the dough takes up much more space in the bowl, and its texture is smoother and also bubbly. Explain to kids that a few things have happened to the dough as it sat for all that time: 

  • The yeast ate some of the starch or sugar in the flour and “burped” out carbon dioxide gas. That gas caused yeast dough to rise and become bubbly.
  • The flour absorbed a lot of the water in the dough, which makes the dough’s texture smoother. It also helped gluten—a web of proteins—to form, which helps give the dough its smoother texture (and will give the baked bread its structure).   

Take It Further 
Science (Biology):
If kids are interested in learning more about how yeast works to make doughs rise, they can check out our kid-tested experiment, The Inflatable Science of Yeast.


On sale until June 30, 2020, the July box of the Young Chefs’ Club is all about bringing science to life in the kitchen. Kids can use the power of science to make the smoothest, most flavorful nacho cheese sauce, a cake with layers that switch places in the oven, turn ordinary eggs into fluffy (edible) clouds, and transform just about any flavorful liquid into tiny, shiny spheres.  
Learn More

Catching up on Kitchen Classroom? Find previous weeks using the links below:

This is a members' feature.