What a dessert can teach

We ran out of ice cream sandwiches, so we had to get inventive to make dessert. Of course, my younger son had been wanting to make a dessert, ever since I brought home the book Boredom Blasters, which I had checked out from the library in search of ideas for playing with the children at day camp last week. It gave us fun both at camp and at home doing Slapstick Story Time (similar to Mad Libs). Then he noticed the Alien Candy Factory.

It has recipes for Marzipan Monsters, Saturn Swirls, Martianmallows, Chocolate Space Spiders, Plutonian Pretzels, Asteroidough, Rocket Raisin Balls, Truffle UFOs, and Interstellar Space Junk. (Also fortune cookies, but they looked like too much work, just to make something we can get anytime at the local Chinese buffet.) Some of the recipes called for ingredients I didn’t have (almond paste, chow mein noodles), or ingredients my son doesn’t like (raisins). But Saturn Swirls sounded perfect.

When I was a child, I used to try mixing chocolate chips and peanut butter to try to approximate the delicious taste of Reese’s peanut butter cups. Now I see what my mistake was – I used too much peanut butter and too little chocolate. Saturn Swirls are made using four parts chocolate chips (by volume, not weight) to one part of peanut butter. Melt the chips in the microwave, mix in the peanut butter (but not completely – you should still see swirls of lighter brown), drop by globs onto wax paper, and freeze.

The instructions say to freeze until they reach the atmospheric temperature of Saturn or until they become solid, whichever comes first. I suspected it would be the latter, but just to be sure I had to look up the temperature of Saturn. Not surprisingly, it’s extremely cold up in the clouds above the “surface” of the planet (being a gas giant, that word doesn’t apply very well), dropping to about 285 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) at the top of the clouds. But it gets a lot warmer lower down.

I found estimates of “surface” temperature anywhere from 140 degrees below zero (Celsius) to minus 20 (Fahrenheit). It turns out that Saturn actually generates heat, 2 1/2 times as much as it receives from the sun. NASA explains that “Many astronomers believe that much of Saturn’s internal heat comes from energy generated by the sinking of helium slowly through the liquid hydrogen in the planet’s interior.” I didn’t understand why that would generate heat, but another site explains that

Like an oily salad dressing, the gases in Saturn’s atmosphere are very slowly separating, with the lighter gas rising up and the heavier gas falling down. As this happens, friction between the molecules heats the gas, accounting for the extra heat.

I learned a few other things from this experiment. The commercial freezer in our basement freezes Saturn Swirls very quickly (but not to the temperature of Saturn’s surface, unless you use the highest estimate). Fingers melt them even more quickly, so make them small enough to pop in your mouth in one bite. And I think they could use just a little more peanut butter.

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