Search Results for: science

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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Filed under:  Pastry | 13 Comments

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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Filed under:  Pastry | 8 Comments

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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Filed under:  Pastry | 4 Comments

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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Filed under:  Pastry | 29 Comments

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

Can sugar really “cook” egg yolks?

Reader Lily writes:

Joe, the other day I left some egg yolks that I was about to whip into pastry cream sitting in a bowl with some sugar for too long. The yolk sides that were touching the sugar turned pale and hard. My instructor said that it was caused by sugar cooking the eggs because sugar and yolks together create heat. I’m skeptical, but what do you think?



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Filed under:  Pastry | 16 Comments

On The Physiology of Taste & Other Amusements, etc.

Reader Allen wants to know if Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste was more a book about science and physiology or more about philosophy and other intangibles/ineffables. The answer is yes. You really have to read the book to get a feel for it, Allen, or at least a few parts of it. To me it’s really about fun.

When you set out to tackle Physiology it’s important to remember that it is very much a product of its time: the mid-Enlightenment. This was a period when most learned people took a keen interest in science and the physical world, but practiced science rather informally. Yes the scientific method was around, but techniques for conducting experiments were still evolving, so more than a few of the “science” books written around the time were simple collections of observations, anecdotes and speculations. …

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Filed under:  Pastry | 2 Comments

Flatbread Science

Many experienced chapati makers have observed that I’m fiddling with tradition here. It’s true. Indeed I am varying the flours and the liquids in order to get to a softer, more toothsome homemade product. Don’t infer from that statement that I don’t think traditional recipes give good results, but ingredients and…ehem…the manipulators of those ingredients, vary highly from place to place. I should be using atta, traditional Indian chapati flour, but I can get any. As a result the all-whole wheat flour and all-water recipes weren’t delivering bread anywhere near as good as I remember from the real Indian meals I’ve had. …

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Filed under:  Pastry | 14 Comments

(Un)Melted Chocolate

Reader Amanda writes:

I received a gift of some good quality, too-dark-for-me-to-want-to-eat chocolate and I decided to turn it into hot chocolate instead of eating it straight. I followed some recipes from the internet and the advice was to heat up a bit of milk, melt chocolate into it and then add more milk and heat the whole thing up. The taste was actually great but there were lots of tiny flecks of chocolate that wouldn’t melt into the milk with the rest of the chocolate and I was wondering what was up with that. I was hoping you might, as the only guy who answers questions about the science of ingredients that I’m familiar with, be able to answer my question.



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Filed under:  Pastry | 9 Comments

Yellow Fever

Yellow No. 5 has also seen it’s share of controversy, not so much because it’s ever done anything much to anyone (most countries outside of Norway consider it safe, and “sensitivity” complaints against it are about on par with other coal tar dyes) but because it became the most widely used food coloring after Red No. 2 was de-listed due to public pressure. Once that happened, Yellow No. 5 was simply the next color on the target list. However no serious complaints — only urban legends — have ever sprung up around it….

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Filed under:  Pastry | 9 Comments