Baking in a Storm

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I was perusing the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion [affiliate link] and I came across a tip about humidity and baking. It started out with the relatively common advice that, in more humid weather, flour will absorb more liquid and will consequently need less added for any given recipe. However, tucked away under that was another hint that I'd never heard before.

One of the common symptoms of rainy weather is lower atmospheric pressure. The thing I'd never considered is that the lower pressure will affect cooking. It'll have a small effect on the temperature needed to bake, which the King Arthur folk didn't mention because it's probably pretty negligible. This is the same thing that happens to high-altitude bakers and the opposite of what happens in a pressure cooker.

The important thing is that your cake/bread/whatever will rise higher because there isn't as much pressure on it. It's obvious when you think about it, and I'm sure bakers who have travelled to different elevations to practice their craft have noticed the difference, but it's news to me.

What I wonder is if there's anyone who would want an oven that could control its pressure. Not necessarily to pressure-cooker levels, but for people living near the edge of the atmosphere (I'm looking at you, Colorado), they could keep it at 1 ATM. For those who just want the tallest souffles ever, they could dial down the pressure just a smidge.

There's a problem that happens with chemically leavened products like muffins and quick breads. If you put too much leavener in, the quick bread will collapse before it's done baking. This happens because there's not enough structure in the confection to hold it up. Specifically, the atmospheric pressure is pushing it down when the tiny amount of gluten isn't ready to hold it up.

With the fancy atmospherically-controlled oven, you might be able to dial back the pressure enough to allow the structure to set before removing the pressure. There will be limits, of course; a soufflé is going to fall eventually, and if you make your structure too delicate, no amount of reduced pressure is going to help unless you're going to somehow eat it in the reduced pressure. Which seems unlikely.

Still, I'd bet someone talented to could work some magic with a system like that. I doubt it would end up being useful, certainly not compared with the work of actually creating such a device, but I wouldn't have really figured out any good uses for the anti-griddle either, so who can say for sure?

Doctor Delicious

I love the new path that Popular Science is taking, adding in more and more food to their science culture. From the Ideas in Food articles to working with Ted Allen on his show, Food Detectives, they have been making the science of food even more popular.* Speaking of Ted Allen, in July he wrote an article about Dave Arnold, dubbed "Doctor Delicious." Dave is the mad inventor of molecular gastronomy, coming up with equipment and techniques to do amazing things with food. He's not the chef; he's the guy who's giving the chef's their boost in the science and technology department. *- See what I did there?

chadzilla: making vodka pills in 24 hours

chadzilla: making vodka pills in 24 hours: "Recently, Chef Fabian was experimenting further with the Adria/Torreblanca technique of making 'vodka pills.' I use this word to describe the process of making liquid-filled candies by pouring flavored alcohol syrups into cornstarch and letting it set until a hard outer shell forms. The process is simple, but requires great attention to certain details and a clean approach."

The general idea is to make a soft, syrup-filled candy that is primarily based on a distilled spirit. The process takes a full day, and the end product doesn't have much shelf life, so it would be keen for a party, for example. I would probably lean towards a more flavorful spirit such as bourbon, but that might be a bit strong for some guests. If you read through to the comments, there is a, um, energetic discussion (mustn't say 'spirited') about different spirits to use, possible ways to increase durability and shelf life, and how to measure.

(Via Make.)

Podcast 13 - Molecular Gastronomy Primer

Finally. As millions of teeming fans have requested, I'm doing an episode on Molecular Gastronomy. Woo! Okay, nobody asked, but it's been on my mind, so I figured I'd give the basic ideas behind the concept, what it means today, an what it might mean in the future. Show Links

The Anti-Griddle

Anti-GriddleThere aren't very many new ways of cooking that have been introduced in the past several hundred years. After the oven, things stagnated until the microwave and eventually the Easy Bake Oven and its related ilk, such as GE's Advantium. So it's nice when something kinda different comes along. In this case, it's the anti-griddle. Technically not useful for cooking, since there probably aren't too many changes to protein structures and the like associated with it, but it does allow for a new type of food preparation. The anti-griddle is a -30°F surface that sits in your kitchen like a griddle. You place something liquid on it, and it will become solid, or solid with a liquid core. The important thing is that this happens very, very quickly, unlike your basic freezer. This lets you do some interesting things with shaping frozen foodstuffs, though it's probably a bit overkill for working pastry dough. It would be interesting to see what happens with things like meats and fruits, where the slow freezing process causes relatively large ice crystals to form and damage cells. If this could do your initial freeze very, very quickly, then this would be a great addition to, if not everyone's home, at least mine. My guess is that, since it appears to work via conduction, it will not be useful for as many applications as one might hope. This technology is brought to us by the same people that make the swank thermal circulators, so they get the thumbs-up from me. But for goodness' sake, don't stick your tongue to it! via Boing Boing.