From Brownies to Binary


A few months ago, we purchased this cookbook.  (You can read about it here.) We hoped it would satisfy both the nerd in me and the sweet tooth in my student.

We started with a simple brownie recipe. I figured we could work up to some of the more complicated projects later.

My student was mixing the ingredients together and seemed to have everything under control. The batter looked delicious and I sampled some. Rich chocolate! Yum...Oh no! What was that strange metallic aftertaste?

“How much baking powder did you put in?” I asked him.

We conferred for a bit before I understood that he had used a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon and put in three times as much as the recipe called for. Optimistic, I assured him, “They will just be a bit lighter and fluffier.” I also hoped the aftertaste would mellow with heat.

I placed the two small pans on a larger sheet in case all the lightness and fluffiness spilled over the edge, which it did in a massive way.

It wasn’t pretty, but maybe it would still taste good.

I broke off a piece and tried it. The texture was delightful, like a thick crispy wafer with a taffy center. We might be patenting a new culinary method if the same metallic aftertaste didn’t hit us full force.


They were totally inedible.

Nerd Factor Score: 5/5               Sweet Tooth Satisfaction: -1/5

Our second attempt turned out much better.

And my student can now wield a mean measuring spoon!

He was now ready to tackle this project: Geode Cupcakes.

Compare it to an actual geode like this one that we saw on our trip to the Harvard Museum of Natural history. So sparkly.

This multi-day activity included working with fondant, making our own candy crystals, and smashing Jolly Ranchers—the candy, not actual ranchers. Haha.

On day one, we created geode shells from chocolate and vanilla fondant and poured some colored sugar syrup into them to crystalize.

After waiting overnight, this was all the crystal we could coax out of the mixture, so we decided to supplement the inside of our geodes with some crushed green apple Jolly Ranchers.

We loved how they turned out, but frankly, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier to smash open an actual geode.

Nerd Factor Score: 4/5          Sweet Tooth Satisfaction: 5/5


Finally, our latest foray into nerdy baking were these cookies.

Sweet and simple. Zeros and ones are how computers represent color: each color has a different number. (Go to a site like this one to see how colors turn into numbers.)

I love binary code, really I do. As a former software engineer, it’s like an old friend.

But there was no way I or my student would have had the patience or precision to create all those uniformly-sized ones and zeros.

Instead, I simplified the decorating task, without diluting the nerdiness, by converting binary (base 2) to hexadecimal (base 16). Hexadecimal values sometimes use letters as well as digits.

But first, we had to choose our colors,

apply the icing,

and wait for it to dry.

Finally, we labeled each color with its corresponding hexadecimal value.

Nerd Factor Score: 5/5                Sweet Tooth Satisfaction: 5/5

We will definitely do more projects from this book. My ambitious student wants to build his own computer out of candy!

Stay tuned!

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