Soylent Gelatin

Soylent gelatin

PopSci.com reports in a headline calculated to get a lot of interest that "Next-Generation Gelatin Could be Derived from Humans Instead of Animals." For those who know how gelatin is made, the image that pops up is disturbing, indeed. After all, gelatin is generally derived by slowly cooking out the connective tissue from collagen-heavy parts of animals or, to put too fine a point on it, they boil down hooves of animals. So immediately one thinks of a pot filled with hands and feet or something equally ridiculous. After all, hands aren't particularly collagen-rich. It'd take far too many hands.

So, when you get past the headline into the article, you find that what's happening is that scientists have found one or more handy gene sequences that creates collagen, and they've grafted these genes onto the DNA of yeast, which can just pump out the collagen as long as there's food to eat and nobody tries to make bread or beer out of them.

So now we're at the interesting bits. Gene sequences are the same in a bunch of different species. Humans share a tremendous amount of DNA with mice, for example. The sequences used may or may not be available in other animals, and possible even the sequences exist in animals that we eat. So, if someone spent the money to discover that these sequences exists in not only humans but cows as well, is this less disgusting?

From the scientists perspective, genes are becoming better understood and more usable. After all, DNA is for creating proteins. DNA unzips to create RNA, and RNA bonds with molecules in the cell to generate a protein. Here's a video that describes the process:

In a really large system, like a person or a bacterium, it's hard to understand everything that is going on because there are so many things happening at once, and they're all linked. But for making proteins, it's relatively simple, as these things go. So scientists aren't necessarily super-concerned about where they found the genes, because they're just making proteins. If you were cloning dinosaurs and wanted to mix in some frog DNA, then you'd have more to worry about because the system is so complex you might get velociraptors that can change sex and have babies that will kill everyone in the theme park or something.

The end product is still going to have to be tested to ensure it's non-toxic and nutritionally similar to conventionally-derived gelatin before it's ever sold as something that could be ingested. It's still pretty weird, though, so I expect that we will not see this in food products initially. You're not going to get to choose between the regular Jell-O and the non-human Jell-O, at least to start with. Instead, it'll likely go into medical applications first, where there's already so many crazy science-things going on that one more weird application isn't going to make much of a difference. A few years later, once that's settled in and become normal, they'll start rolling out the Gummi people.

Dealing with living food

One of the interesting things about vegetables and fruits is that they're still alive when you're storing them. In fact, unless you cook them, they're still alive when you eat them. Raw food vegans had better be quite comfortable with their life choices knowing the sheer number of living beings that they consume just to live. I'm not judging, I merely mention because it's just occurred to me. The problem with the plants being alive is that they continue doing whatever it is that they would normally do under the circumstances. In some cases this means turning sugars into starches, in others starches to sugars. Colors may fade, cells might degrade. Life goes on. In some cases, life going on is great. Bananas, for example. Bananas are all well and good as a fresh fruit, but while they're green, they're tasteless, and only as the continue to age do they turn starches into sugars. Take it too far, and they become brown and generally unappealing. Of course, in the specific they become better, because brown and mushy bananas are perfect for banana bread. So it's great for the whole living thing to keep going on. Sometimes you'll slow down the living processes by reducing the molecular activity by slowing down all of the molecules. Though this sounds complex, I'm really just talking about putting something in the refrigerator or freezer. After all, temperature is just the average speed of molecules in any given substance, so to slow down chemical processes, you make it colder. Freezing is much more effective at slowing the processes than cooling, but that doesn't make it a good idea in all cases. After all, freezing will create ice crystals in the cells, and as they expend, it will rip through the membranes and cell walls of your plant, which will cause the cells to leak upon thawing. This is fine in some cases, but not in others, so use caution with the freezing. A general rule is that if you don't see it in the freezer aisle, it probably doesn't freeze well. Another useful rule is for whether to refrigerate a fruit or vegetable. The the plant in question lives in through cold weather, it's fine with the cold. If it's a tropical plant, it would be happier on the counter. Because the plants are still alive, if they hit some weather that they're not ready to deal with, then they don't know what to do and the chemical factories that keep them going will often fail. There are times when you really want to stop whatever's going on within the plant, and that usually means halting enzymatic actions. Enzymes are proteins that facilitate chemical reactions, and are one of the lower-level functions of a living system. If you can stop the enzymes from doing their thing, then you can stop the aging process. They way to do that is with heat. Of course, heating food is one way to cook it, and there are all sorts of other chemical processes that go on when you cook food. You might just want to stop the enzymatic stuff without seriously damaging the fresh taste or texture of a food. At this point, you're looking at a blanch. Blanching is cooking something for a brief amount of time and then halting the cooking process quickly. Traditionally, this is done by briefly putting it into boiling water, then transferring the food to cold water. If you're French, it would be ice water, but room temperature water will do just about as well. After all, we only need to change the temperature quickly, we don't need to freeze the food, and water's heat transfer ability will work nearly as well at room temperature as it will at the freezing point. If you're cooking a green vegetable, you may also take advantage of the blanching process to reduce the acidity a bit with some baking soda into the boiling water. This brightens up your greens. If it's a purplish vegetable, you would very much not want to do this, unless you want your vegetable to turn bright green. You could enhance the reddish-purple color by adding some acid, however. Another trick blanching is good for is allowing you to use certain tropical fruits in gelatin dishes. Papaya, mango, and pineapple all have enzymes that break down certain connective tissues in meat. Because gelatin is based on a connective tissue, collagen, the enzymes in those fruits will break down the gelatin, thus taking what should be a nice mould and turning it into a sweet, sticky puddle with some fruit at the bottom. As we know that blanching will stop enzymatic processes, though, we know that we could blanch the fruits before putting them into the gelatin, and we should have no troubles with the enzymatic baddies ruining the dessert treat.

Predicting the rise in bread: is it that easy?

Monika Bartyzel on Slashfood did an interesting article recently on altering the amount of yeast that you use for cold-fermenting bread. The idea behind cold-fermentation is that that you keep the dough cold so that the yeast aren't particularly active. This allows the various enzymatic activities with the dough to happen on their own over time, increasing the flavor of the bread. That works especially well with non-enriched breads. There was a post that Monkia refers to that discusses a specific recipe someone is developing for a cinnamon bread that slow rises. In the comments of that post, someone suggests the baker's formula:
Original Amount of Yeast * Original Fermentation Time
New Fermentation Time
Now, the commenter didn't say explicitly that this formula was for cold-fermenting breads. Also, I have to say that I'm a little suspicious of the simplicity of the formula. It could be that everything just works out fine with it, because there are a lot of close-enoughs that make it work out. But yeast don't reproduce in a linear fashion, they reproduce exponentially. Under ideal conditions, yeast will double in size every generation. So instead of starting with 2 yeast, then having 4 the next generation, the 6 the next, then 8, 10, 12, and 14, we start with 2, then 4,8,16,32,64,128,256. After a while, the yeast by-products, alcohol in particular, will kill off the yeast, so they can only go so far before they all die off. However, given their exponential growth beforehand, you can see that the amount of time that passes should eventually have a much greater effect on yeast reproduction than the amount that you reduce the initial batch by. So if I started with 30 yeasts instead of 60 yeasts, according to the formula I would be able to double the amount of time that it takes the bread to rise. But let's assume our target is 6000 yeasts, With the 30 yeasts it would take: 30, 60, 120, 240, 480, 960, 1920, 3840, and over 6000 the next generation, or about 9 generations. With the 60 yeasts, it would take: 60, 120, 240, 480, 960, 1920, 3840, and over 6000 the next generation, or about 8 generations. That's not a huge time difference, and it gets smaller the longer you let it go (to a point). Of course, there are other factors. There's the amount of food available (the sugars and the potential sugars), the temperature of the environment, and if there are any wild yeasts ready to jump on the bandwagon. With the cold-storage method, you control the temperature and the ability for wild yeasts to interfere, so that may help settle things down into what is, for all intents and purposes, a linear scale. So, while I'm not saying that the formula is wrong, I am saying that it looks suspicious. A little too easy. Quiet… too quiet. I've got a bad feeling about this. I do not think it means what you think it means. It's probably a good starting point, but I will do some experimentation in my own kitchen before I decide that I can put this dough in my fridge for almost exactly 16 hours and be ready to have perfect bread in time for my dinner party that night.

Tomato T-Shirt… for nerds!

This tomato t-shirt is perfect for the food geek or nerd in your life. If you make it to a taping of Iron Chef America, and it happens to be Battle Tomato, you will potentially save Alton Brown milliseconds of trying to remember the scientific name for the tomato. 1723-tee_large.png Plus, it's a Threadless t-shirt, vendor/creator of a hefty percentage of my t-shirt collection.

New on FineCooking.com: Beans and Salt Water

Another Thursday, another mystery solved. This week, I answer a question from twitter about a common bit of advice in cookbooks: should you avoid putting salt in the cooking water for beans? Although I love writing these, I need more questions from readers. Please comment, tweet, or send me feedback to let me know what questions you may have about food or cooking. I can't do it without you.

Fine Cooking Thursdays: Reducing Complexity

Another article is up on Fine Cooking's web site, this time from @megpasz about the temperature at which sauces reduce. I answered the question in my usual overachieving manner. Because, I ask you, how many other columnists will tell you what temperature really is?* Also, it should be noted that no kittens were harmed in the making of this week's metaphor. steamy-pot.jpg *- Probably only 3. Maybe 4, depending on the day.

On FineCooking.com: Sous Vide or Bust

A New article on Fine Cooking's web site is up: Sous Vide or Bust, where I describe the basic basic basics or sous vide cooking and whether all that equipment is necessary. Unlike here, Fine Cooking has some editorial sensibilities, so I didn't feel that it was appropriate to link to the following video on the original article. However, to illustrate what can be done with minimal equipment, I present Kamikaze Cookery with The Perfect Steak. Note that, as you may have guessed with the early part of this paragraph, there's some language in this video, and a little bit of suggestiveness coupled with putting the 'b' in subtle.

Understanding Ice Cream

Preview photo by Northeast Indiana under a Creative Commons license. In his post Doing the Math, Michael Laiskonis goes through an exercise where he looks at an old ice cream recipe of his and filters it through his knowledge of how to make ice cream now that he really understands what's going on with ice cream. I enjoyed this post for a couple of reasons. On the surface, because it explores what makes a good ice cream and points us in the direction of greater knowledge about ice cream techniques. More than that, I like this post because it sums up why I am terribly interested in what goes on inside the food, and why that makes it so much more interesting when food was just a collection of recipes or (heaven forbid) just something that came from a box. via Ideas in Food.

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?

Making Vinegar

vinegar.jpgThe Ideas in Food folk, Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, have a regular food science column called "Kitchen Alchemy." The most recent one I've seen is Making Vinegar at Home. As we have discussed, I'm a big fan of making things that people normally don't think they can make, and vinegar definitely qualifies. This is a good companion article to the Good Eats episode on the same subject. Via Make.

Coke Floats, part 2

Okay, so waaaaay back a long time ago I wrote this post about the floating properties of Diet Coke and Coca-Cola. The gist is that Diet Coke is supposed to float in water, and regular Coke is supposed to sink, but I got some different results. After that, I did some back and forth with another site (Science and Food-ucation) about why I got weird results. Eventually I rebooted the site and lost the comments, so half of the conversation was gone. It's been a pretty popular entry, though, and for some reason I would get the least literate of comments on just the one post. I couldn't really figure out why. This evening, though, it all came together. A man whom we shall call Jared* wrote to me to say that he has performed the experiment many times and that the results are consistently in the "Coke sinks, diet coke floats" realm, which is not entirely what I recorded. He suggested that perhaps I had an air bubble under my can, and that was causing the floating. He went on to tell me that whenever he teaches this for his science class… …And that's when I realized. Of course! This is a relatively standard experiment in a science class. It has cola, which kids relate to, and is inexpensive to acquire the materials. Also, once you're done, you can drink the subjects of the experiment, which is not nearly as common as aspiring mad scientists might hope. So what happens is that these kids get a science lesson about Diet Coke floating, and perhaps a bit of homework to find out more. They run to The google and type Diet coke floats and come back with the 5th result from the top saying "However, it should be pointed out that, despite the introductory picture for this quick note, Coke does not sink while Diet Coke floats." The kids are all like "Whaaaaa?" and rush to tell me that I suck.** So, mystery one is cleared up. Mystery two is pretty close to being solved by the likelihood of an air bubble trapped under the can, so I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a couple of cans of Coke, a big transparent container, and a video camera. The result is: And yes, I know the video kind of sucks, but I am not afraid to suck, so there. *- For that is his name. **- Incidentally, that should be a lesson for you kids. It won't be, but it should. All it took was a reasonably well thought out discussion to get me to re-examine the experiment. Those of you who suggested that I was a big liar, well, I pretty much ignored you.

Easiest, Least Expensive Way to Make Your Coffee Taste Better

Why is my coffee bitter? It doesn't make any sense. I mean, sure, it's got a lot of bitter flavor compounds in it, and sure, the tongue supposedly has those taste receptors just for bitter flavors so that we don't eat poisonous things or something, but my coffee can be tastier. I've had tastier coffee. What am I missing? Salt. That's it. A tiny bit of salt in the coffee. Did I just blow your mind? I found this one though Ideas in Food, who found out about it through Shirley O. Corriher. So, what's going on here? As mentioned before, we've been taught in elementary school about the taste receptors in our tongues that handle sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Perhaps even umami, though we probably weren't taught that in elementary school. Well, I wasn't. But we know that food is far more than the combination of those flavors. Flavor compounds combine in strange ways and float up through the nasal cavities and coat the tongue in more subtle variations to the simple way taught in schools. When I drink coffee, I'm not really all that interested in the bitter. Therefore, I'll use the espresso machine and make a double ristretto, which is effectively a full espresso's worth of water over two espresso's worth of beans. This extracts lots of flavor and not that much bitter. Still, the double ristretto uses a lot of beans. What if there were some magical substance that made flavors more noticeable? What if a simple, two-atom molecule could turn bland foods into taste explosions? Wouldn't the world be a better place if it existed? Wouldn't we all be happier? Yes, yes we would. Because we have salt, all of our lives are more fulfilling. Magic does exist in the world. And, if you sprinkle a little bit of this magical fairy dust into an espresso, so 10-15 flakes of kosher salt, for example, all of the flavors that aren't bitter are amplified. A single, normal cup of espresso tastes like a double ristretto. Seriously, how cool is that? The folks over at Ideas in Food will now be going crazy with experimentation on standard beverages with the addition of salt. I'm sure we'll hear new things as time goes on. Personally, I couldn't be more pleased learning about this one, except insofar as I did not think of it, nor even think to think of it.

High Voltage Cookin'

Make Magazine's blog tells us all about Raphael and Max who have set up a Jacob's Ladder*, staple of Mad Scientists everywhere, and they discover which foods cook… well, not better, but at least more easily with some high-voltage electricity. I say not better because there's a comment about it smelling like burnt hair, and you really don't have a lot of control over electricity, so repeatability is going to be tricky. On the other hand, it's unbelievably cool and dangerous. If someone tries to be all macho with their flambé, you can show them this trick and make them feel weak and timid. Seriously, high-voltage electrical projects are dangerous, so if you try this, learn about the appropriate precautions and take them. You'll likely hurt yourself or others, but nothing's really safe in life, is it? *- Not the movie

Bakewise initial impressions

I am reading through BakeWise now, partially because it's what I do, and partly because I am in the process of developing something special. A couple of special things, really. I'm reading through the Kindle edition I mentioned earlier, which is super cool. [amtap book:isbn=1416560785] My initial impressions are: 1) Awesome. 2) Okay, Shirley is definitely teaching me some seriously useful things about baking, and how to analyze and adapt recipes. I am into the first chapter so far, and the knowledge is just pouring in. It's not like On Food and Cooking, where it's a non-stop deluge of new facts. In BakeWise, Shirley repeats key facts and conclusions so that you can remember them, tying them together as new lessons are learned. It's a very useful teaching tool. [amtap book:isbn=0684800012] 3) The Kindle edition, while incredibly handy, is not going to be the only edition of the book I own. It's clear that the limited formatting of the Kindle causes asides to get mixed into the text, so that it seems as if she is repeating whole paragraphs of information, when it's probably just a sidebar. But having a searchable and portable version of the book is great. 4) Still awesome.

The mystery of the moister cake

One of my twitter friends posted what was, to him, a disturbing tale of a cake transformed. In 140 characters or less, here was the conundrum: From Twitter user Steve. Me: 'This (day-old leftover) cake is really moist!' Her: 'Wow. It was bone-dry yesterday.' #ulp After eating the cake, his mind was alight with frightening tales of adulterated coffee in offices and strange and weird ways that the cake could have become more moist over the course of a day. None of those possibilities made him feel particularly good about the thus-eaten cake. However, I know a food secret, and it's this: sugar loves water. Loves it. Sugar has a water tattoo on its shoulder, and when they're not dating, it hangs out creepily next to water's car when water is at work, writing little messages in the windows that water won't see until the dew hits the next day. Most substances, when they sit out in the open air, become dryer as time goes on. Bread goes stale, food sticks to the bottom of a bowl, dogs no longer have to shake the water off onto the entire living room, etc. With sugar, though, you've seen how it starts clumping together given half a chance. You let the sugar sit in the jar too long, and you'll have to break it apart. That's because sugar is hygroscopic, which, as I mentioned, means it loves water, especially water that is hanging around in the air. Cakes are sweet, what with all the sugar in them. So even a cake fresh from the oven that is dry has a chance to moisten up if there's any humidity at all. Generally, a cake is better the second day than the first for just this reason. Steve felt much better after I told him about that, and I performed another public service, so it was a good day all round.

How to cut baking prep time

Or:

How to make your baking turn out better.

Or:

Nothing to see; move along.

WarmingEggs.jpgThe title of the article is different depending on what kind of baker you are. When I bake, I rarely either have time to or remember to set the ingredients out to come to room temperature first. It's a really good idea to do so, unless what you're making specifies otherwise (pie crust, for example). I'm not going to go into the why right now, we'll discuss that another day. Let's assume for the moment that you want to and you don't at the moment. The big culprits for room temperature neediness are generally eggs and butter. Everything else is easy. Butter melts like a wicked witch on a water slide, and eggs cook when anything remotely warm is applied to them. So, what to do? Here water is your friend. Many of you may know that, in order to thaw meat in a short amount of time, the best way is to put it in circulating water that's right around room temperature or a bit warmer. The same works for eggs and butter, but it's easier. The eggs you can just put into water straight and they'll be warm in moments. For the butter, you might want to wrap it in plastic wrap first to keep the butter from touching the water. I will admit, though, that I happen to know that a fridge-temp stick of butter in my current, tiny microwave will behave properly if I put it in for 15 seconds, but that will be a trial-and-error procedure with you if you want to try it yourself. More powerful microwaves might require lowering the power setting, or lowering the time, or both. If you're willing to sacrifice the structural integrity of a couple of sticks of butter to keep from having to handle plastic wrap, it'll save you time down the road. Now, for all of you who put their ingredients out well ahead of time because you're with it and actually prepare for your baking, well, I hope you enjoyed the bit about the wicked witch. The rest of us will go about our extemporaneous ways.

Wise Cooking

Whenever I go to bake, I have two go-to books that I like to check first. One of them is Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food, and the other is Shirley O'Corriher's Cookwise. I imagine I'll be adding The Breadmaker's Apprentice at some point, but I don't have it just yet. What makes me so interested in the first two books? [amtap book:isbn=0688102298] [amtap book:isbn=1584793414] [amtap book:isbn=1580082688] Alton Brown's book is great because it divides up the cooking by preparation type, which I think all bakers should start doing. If you're using yeast, it's the Straight Dough method, and if you're making bubbles by incorporating sugar into solid butter, then it's the Creaming Method. You get a much more firm understanding of the different baking processes than you would just by reading the recipes. As an example, I was transcribing the family Coffee Cake recipe over Thanksgiving, and I noticed it used the Creaming Method. This saved me no end of writing, and I was able to grab the important information. Also, there was a mistake in the recipe as it was written, and I was able to fix it when I first went to make it (the chemical leavener was added to the wrong bit in the recipe). It's easy to use, and it has some great applications (what some people would call "recipes"). Shirley's Cookwise is a completely different beast. Her chapter divisions are based more on the material being studied, such as sugars, fats, or bread. What assured me that I made the right decision in buying her book, and the thing I point to whenever I want someone to know about it, is the thorough way she treated flour. Flour seems simple on the surface - All Purpose Flour, Bread Flour, Pastry Flour, etc. You pick one based on the recipe you're using, depending on how much protein your recipe needs. Pastry flour has relatively little protein, so it's a soft flour, and bread flour has much more protein, so it's a hard flour. However, Shirley points out that AP flours from different regions have different levels protein, so Southern brands are softer than Northern brands, and bleaching has an effect on the hardness, and so on. Then she shows you how you can determine, for any given flour, what the percentage of protein in it is. Not that you may ever need it, but if you do, it's there. The interesting thing about the recipes in Cookwise is that they are geared for success. They are not made to be simple, and they are not made to be quick. They are made to work. Every time. Any little trick that would increase the probability of your bread coming out perfectly is added in, and she makes notes of why the techniques or ingredients were added in to any given recipe, so you can understand what you would be doing if you left it out or modified it. In all, I highly recommend both books, and I would likely be lost without them at this stage in my baking. They're not books that you would use because you just need a quick idea of what you want to bake for breakfast this morning, but they are books to get you to the stage that you can master the concepts involved in baking.

Violet, you're turning violet, Violet!

Purple TomatoBiology at the beginning of the third millennium, the 21st century, the year 2006, is much like Physics was in the 1950s. We've recently uncovered the tools and built up the requisite knowledge to make huge strides in our ability to understand what happens with life, as well as our ability to control it. With that knowledge comes fear, legislation, potential, likely a severe catastrophe or two, some eventual wisdom (hopefully), and ... purple tomatoes? You may recall reading in the news that blueberries are a super-food, containing secret chemicals that help prevent cancer. These chemicals are called Anthocyanins, and aren't so much a secret as they are hard to remember. Still, anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants, and antioxidants are useful in preventing oxidation, which prevents molecular degradation, which prevents mutations in DNA, which prevents cancer. Tomatoes, on the other hand, are an extremely popular foodstuff, second most popular worldwide (next to potatoes, a cousin to the tomato), and so wouldn't it make sense to piggy-back on that popularity to bring even more cancer-fighting abilities to one of the most popular fruits in the world? There are two schools of thought on that: yes, and no. Okay, there are many, many schools of thought. Some people think that anything science can do to help fight cancer is great. Other people think that tampering with the genetic code is likely to cause us trouble in the future due to the law of unintended consequences. Other people think tampering with the genetic code is playing God, and therefore wrong. Alton Brown thinks that modifying foods to have healthy properties of existing foods is the wrong way of going about things. (Scroll to the bit about the Omega Pigs.) The gist, if I may extrapolate from his one rant, is that blueberries are already blue because they contain the appropriate anthocyanins, so why not just eat blueberries? Of course, if he feels differently about tomatoes vs pigs (and I have no idea if he does or not), it may be because it's a lot easier to grow tomatoes than blueberries (hence one of the reasons they're so popular). Generally, with genetically engineered crops, the idea is to give beneficial traits to crops that are easy to grow in areas that don't easily have access to whatever the genetic engineering is allowing. For example, adding vitamins to wheat or rice, so if the farmers in some area of the world can only grow wheat or rice, they receive far more nutrients than they otherwise would have. Alternately, if you don't have access to organic, human-safe pesticide, build it into the crop. Saves from having to spray (especially if you don't have easy access to an aerosolization technology), but with the exact same benefits. Do the researchers at the Oregon State University have the emerging world agriculture in mind, or commercial possibilities, or is it just to see if they can do it at all? Probably some of each, really. Interestingly, the seeds are apparently available for commercial growth as well as home growers. I'm very curious to know what a blue tomato tastes like, and if it's sweet and delicious, that's at least as important as whether it is heavy in antioxidants. After all, I can always eat blueberries, but an even tastier tomato is always worth finding.

Quick bread options

I made a batch of my Banana Nut Bread the other day, which is a relatively simple recipe. It's basically a cake, as it's assembled via the creaming method. It has some additional lift via baking powder, but primarily the lift is derived from the sugar making little pockets of air in the butter, which turns into slightly larger bubbles when heat hits the batter. If it were via the muffin method, then all of the lift would be chemical in nature. Whichwhowhaaa? Okay, with baked goods, there are several ways of assembling ingredients, and their ending texture is determined by, among other things, which method. All of the methods are intended to get air molecules to form bubbles in the batter or dough, which will harden around those bubbles, leaving something that is anywhere from fruitcake dense to angel food cake light. Bread uses yeast to make the bubbles, muffins use baking soda and/or baking powder mixed with acid or water respectively, and the creaming method has sugar puncture little holes in the solid fat (such as butter or shortening). In any case, there are more ways to affect the texture. My concern this weekend was with gluten development. With bread, you want a lot of gluten, because yeast are active critters that can generate a tremendous amount of gasses for leavening, so strong gluten development helps trap in those gasses. With muffins, you want very little gluten, because chemical leavening isn't so strong, and it wouldn't be able to push apart the gluten as easily. Of course, with years of eating breads and muffins, you'll want to match the texture of a tasty bread or muffin. If you over-develop the muffin's gluten, for example, you get tough muffins, which is not what people are really expecting. With the banana bread, there's a certain amount of gluten development that has to happen. Generally, the trick is in incorporating the wet and dry ingredients into the batter in such a way as to keep from either over-soaking the batter or over-drying it. So you mix in a few batches, alternating wet and dry, which means that gluten is going to be formed more than in a muffin, which you just barely bring together. If you want a lighter bread, something more cake-like, then your best bet is to use cake flour. It's nice and low-protein, so it won't develop a lot of gluten. If you want something more dense, use AP (All Purpose) flour. I was fresh out of AP flour, but I wanted something a bit more dense, so I mixed some cake flour with some bread flour. Not quite the same, but close enough for my purposes. I also worked the dough a bit more than was strictly necessary at the end, and I got a nice, dense bread. Mind you, I think Melanie would have preferred a lighter bread, so next time I probably won't work it so much, but it's nice to play around with recipes a bit.

Maillard Reaction Filk

This entry is extra-geeky, so be warned. I was playing with Google Books' full-text search feature to find information on the Maillard Reaction, and I discovered that someone made a song about the Maillard Reaction. It's sung to the tune of "On Top of Old Smokey." It starts: "The sugar and protein / all reacted till brown / I now had a mixture / in which protein was bound" and continues for about 18 more stanzas. It was published in 1990, and I'd be interested in discovering how Ted Labuza, the songwright, feels about having his song easily discoverable by the masses, or at least the masses who are interested in the Maillard Reaction. This book (which is available through amazon for $189, and so is a little out of my price range), appears to have been published for or in conjunction with the 4th International Symposium on the Maillard Reaction. The 9th International Symposium on the Maillard Reaction is in Munich in September of 2007, and I may just have to see if I can find some way to make it to that. My concern is that it would be very expensive and way over my head, but come on, how often do you get to go to a symposium, in Munich, about the Maillard Reaction? Not very often, I'd be willing to wager. You can also go to the International Maillard Reaction Society home page. The IMARS "was established in 2005 in response to a growing recognition of the role reactive carbonyl compounds play in food technology, nutrition and tissue aging in biology and medicine." That's seven kinds of cool (for the appropriate definition of cool, of course). So, you may wonder, what's the deal with the Maillard Reaction? Why are there societies, symposia, and songs about this chemical reaction? Well, it's very complex, first. Second, it affects not only food, but medicine. There aren't many chemical reactions that are so important to both fields that we have so much to learn about. It controls some reactions specific to Diabetes, and causes Diabetics to age faster. It makes toast tastier than bread. It's just very interesting. What's also interesting is Google and Amazon's various full-text search of books. I was able to do a search on this subject and discover something entirely unexpected out of it. Sure, I knew scientists were a little odd, but I didn't know that it would lead to a song about the Maillard Reaction. There's a great deal of information we have access to, and we're only just starting to figure out what we can do with it. It's the sort of thing that makes me excited for the future.