Search Results for: science

The Big Fat Surprise

Next week a major new book will be published on the subject of dietary fat and why it’s good for you. It’s called The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz. Long time Joe Pastry readers know that this is a drum I’ve been beating for several years now, and I’m very pleased to see that Ms. Teicholz has done some serious research on this important subject. A feature was published about it in Friday’s Wall Street Journal. However because some readers will have trouble accessing it behind the WSJ‘s paywall, I’m going to quote it at length.


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Why do egg white foams cause dryness?

That’s a great question, reader Bobbi, for in fact they often do cause dryness when they’re incorporated into something baked: a cake, cookie or scone. I can think of a couple of reasons why that would be. As you may recall from past discussions of egg white foams, the act of whipping causes proteins in the mostly-water egg white to denature (“get wrecked” in science-speak). In their natural state these proteins — lots of globulin and ovotransferrin — are found gently curled in bunches. The force of whipping pulls those bunches apart, and once they’re apart the individual protein molecules start collecting on the surface of the air bubbles that have been created by all the agitation. They do that because those proteins have both water-loving parts and water-hating parts along their length. The surface of an air bubble is therefore a perfect place for them. The water-loving parts can stay in the water, the water-hating parts can protrude into the air, both sides of their split personality are happy. They’ll also bond side-to-side with each other just for good measure. The result is a protein mesh that reduces the bubble’s surface tension, reinforces its walls and keep the bubble from popping. In other words: foam. …

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On Seasoning Cast Iron Pans

Reader Rikki writes:

I know this probably isn’t your area, but I’m trying to season a cast iron pan. The pan maker says I should use low heat to season it, but just about every other seasoning article I’ve seen on the web says very high heat is the thing. Can you tell me: what’s the difference and which method should I use?

Rikki, just because I’m a baking blogger doesn’t mean I can’t flap my fingers for a while on this general cooking subject. It’s pretty interesting stuff! As you surely know by now from your readings, seasoning is the process by which porous die-cast metal pans are transformed into smooth, virtually non-stick cooking implements. In the old days people didn’t think much about seasoning since it just happened over time with use. Today home cooks take a more clinical attitude toward seasoning. As you mentioned…

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The Science of Pâte à Choux

Choux is a truly ingenious invention, though it almost certainly wasn’t “invented” in the classic sense of the word. It evolved, probably through decades, maybe even centuries, of trial and error. The secret of choux is that it’s “double cooked”, a process that imbues it with some very special properties.

If you’ve made éclair or cream puff shells before, you probably recall the process. Water and butter are combined in a sauce pan and heated to the boil, at which point enough flour is added to turn the mixture into a fairly stiff paste. That paste is then cooked over low heat until it forms a ball, which is then finished by beating in several eggs, one after the other. It’s then piped and baked (the second “cooking”). Interesting. Curious. But what does it all mean?…

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Vanilla and Vanillin

Reader Joey asks: why do we need imitation vanilla extract, and where does it come from? Both very good questions. The reason we need imitation vanilla is because demand for vanilla flavor exceeds the total quantity of naturally-produced vanilla by something like 750%. So, if we didn’t have imitation vanilla extract, a typical $2 vanilla bean would cost about fifteen bucks. Which would make one heck of a pricey pot de crème, n’est-ce pas?


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On Artificial Eggs

Quite a bit of chatter these days about the all-vegetable, Bill Gates-funded artificial egg. This story and others prompted reader Rainey to ask if I had an opinion on it. I’d be very curious to test artificial eggs in a home kitchen, Rainey, since I have a strong feeling that their main utility will be in the packaged foods industry where manufacturers are forever looking to replace the functional characteristics of animal-based ingredients with vegetable alternatives that won’t spoil and won’t fluctuate as wildly in price. …

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Sweaty Undershirts + Hay = Mice

Watching a bread dough grow is a wonder. Or at least it is to me, a dedicated baker and consummate geek. I never fail to be startled when I peer into a cloth-covered bowl and find a completely inflated sponge, bubbly and rarin’ to go. Just two hours prior it was a lifeless paste of water and flour. What could be cooler?

Moments like this make one understand how the ancients (and a few not-so-ancients) came to believe that leavening was a miracle. Certainly no one had any concept of the tiny creatures we call microbes until the age of Pasteur. Europeans in the Middle Ages simply called fementation “goddisgoode”. Whenever I think of that I imagine two Medieval dirt farmers staring drunkenly into mugs of beer a the local mead hall. One says to the other: I wonder how this happens? The other shrugs and says: Hey, God is good!

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Well that was interesting.

I went to prison last night and, to my great surprise, they let me back out again. It was quite an experience to watch a group of convicts — many of them serving extended sentences for very serious crimes — perform Shakespeare. Quite honestly I’m still trying to decide what I thought of it. It wasn’t the best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen, though many of the performances and several of the scenes were jaw-droppingly good.

Over the years the Shakespeare Behind Bars troupe has performed a variety of different Shakespeare plays, many tragedies (Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Othello, Macbeth) but also comedies (The Comedy of Errors, Measure for Measure, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice). This year’s show, Richard III, was I think the first of the history plays they’d performed. You won’t be surprised to discover that the histories are generally my favorites, especially the so-called “Henriad”: Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. So…no surprise that I was keen on seeing it. …

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This week is camping week.

I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of camping. Oh I like the outdoors plenty, I just have bad associations with tents and sleeping bags. Being the nerd in my scout troop I was always the kid whose backpack got filled with rocks, or who climbed into his sleeping bag only to find someone had put a hundred of those little restaurant butter pats inside. Hey, you try sleeping in 40-degree weather when you’re greased from head to toe, OK?…

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On-the-Edge Q & A

Reader Silviu writes:

Reading [your posts on Michael Pollan] leaves me wondering what’s your approach to ingredients and food in general? Do you fit in any particular category (organic, local, etc.)? Do you have some never-touch-that rules? What do you think of sugar and pastry (I mean pastry is mostly not pastry without sugar)? I’d love to read a whole post on this.

Silviu, I try not to touch hot-button questions like this since they often lead to go-nowhere comment field combat, a lot like the trench warfare at Ypres. In the end, after all the shells and noxious gasses have been released, little has been accomplished and nothing has changed. But since you asked I’ll go for it. Briefly. …

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Filed under:  Pastry | 25 Comments