May is National Inventors Month, when we celebrate all the gadgets and materials that make our lives better. Whether it’s the refrigerator, your light-up sneakers, or that one cool Lego piece that everyone fights over, our homes, backpacks and pockets are full of objects that at one time didn’t exist but now make our lives better (most of the time). What’s funny is a lot of inventions have been created totally by accident, including the microwave, potato chips, and our favorite dessert around here, the warm-center chocolate cake. If you get out there and make stuff, chances are you’ll eventually solve a key problem – maybe one you hadn’t even thought of.
Wee ones: Silly Putty was invented by a guy trying to make rubber, except the type he created was too bouncy. If a normal rubber ball bounced 3 feet but his new stuff bounced twice as high, how high did the Silly Putty stuff bounce?
Little kids: Warm-center chocolate cake – the kind that gushes yummy chocolate sauce when you cut it with your fork – was born when chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten undercooked a cake. If you need 8 tablespoons of chopped chocolate to make 4 cakes, how many teaspoons of chocolate is that? (There are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon.) Bonus: If you need half as much sugar, how many teaspoons of sugar do you need?
Big kids: Fireworks were supposedly invented 2000 years ago when a cook mixed charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter, which, when packed in a tube and set on fire, exploded. If you mix 3 tablespoons of charcoal, twice as much sulfur, and twice as much saltpeter as sulfur, how many tablespoons of stuff do you pack in the tube? (Note: This isn’t the real recipe, but please do not try it!) Bonus: If each tablespoon of mixture turns into 12 sparkles in the sky, how many sparkles does your fireworks tube make?
Wee ones: 6 feet high.
Little kids: 24 teaspoons. Bonus: 12 teaspoons. And see below for the original recipe…super-easy to make, and a total crowd-pleaser.
Big kids: 21 tablespoons: 3 charcoal, 6 sulfur, and 12 saltpeter. Bonus: 252 sparkles.
Recipe for Warm Soft Chocolate Cake
(from Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, via Martha Stewart’s website)
8 T (1 stick) butter + more
2 t flour + more
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 large whole eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Butter and lightly flour four 4-oz molds. Tap out excess flour and set aside.
- Put butter and chocolate in double boiler (or microwave on Low) and heat till chocolate is almost completely melted. Stir till blended.
- Beat together eggs, yolks, and sugar until light and thick. Add the chocolate mixture and beat to combine. Quickly beat in flour until just combined.
- Divide batter evenly among the molds.
- Place filled molds on a baking sheet in the oven and bake until the sides have set but the centers remain soft – about 6-7 minutes for foil ramekins, 7 for ceramic ones.
- Invert each mold onto a plate, and let rest 10 sec. Unmold by lifting up one corner of the mold; the cake will fall out onto the plate. Or, if serving from ceramic, leave cake in ramekin and let rest 10-15 minutes before serving.
- Serve with vanilla or coffee ice cream.