Quick Update

Hey everyone,

I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I’m taking a break from blogging. I’ve had a rough time recently. First it was finals, and now I’ve ended a long term relationship. I don’t have a cooking partner anymore, and I haven’t felt inspired to make anything exciting. I might take up blogging again at the end of the summer, but for now, I’m on break. I need it.

Have a great summer, have great adventures, and I’ll see you all soon.

– the kitchen chemist

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Sucrose, Fructose, and Caramel Sauce

Introduction:

Caramel sauce is a delicious treat and can be served with ice cream, flan, or even french toast. Commercial caramel sauces often consist of high-fructose corn syrup and chemical flavorings, with little or no actual caramel –  homemade caramel is a treat like no other.

First, lets talk about sugars. A dissacharide is a type of carbohydrate which contains two

Sucrose Molecule

A sucrose molecule, containing linked fructose (right) and glucose (left).

monosaccharides, or “simple sugars” linked together. This isn’t the same thing as a mixture of the two sugars, just like water isn’t the same thing as a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. They are chemically bonded.  The most common dissacharide is probably table sugar, also called sucrose. Sucrose is composed of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose.

Unlike table sugar, corn syrup contains unlinked fructose and glucose. Ordinary corn syrup contains mostly glucose, but it can be chemically modified to produce high-fructose corn syrup. The most common type of high-fructose corn syrup contains 55% fructose and 42% glucose.

Caramelization is a complex series of reactions which browns sugar and releases volatile  compounds which give caramel it’s unique flavor. During caramelization, the dissacharaide sucrose is broken into it’s component monosaccharides, glucose and fructose. Some sugar compounds  may also isomerize, which means that the chemical bonds between atoms change. Water present in table sugar crystals will boil off before caramelization takes place.

Materials (makes one cup): Jar of Caramel

1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup heavy cream

thick bottomed pan, stove top, large spoon,

glass jar for storage

Warning:

Sucrose caramelizes at 160 C / 320 F, well above the temperature of boiling water. Be very careful, and use a deeper pot than you think you need to avoid splatter. At least 3 inches should be left between the top of the caramel and the top of the pot. If possible, use a thick bottomed pot to aid in heat distribution and avoid burning the caramel.

Procedure:

Set the burner to medium heat, place the thick bottomed pot on the burner and place a cup Caramelof sugar in the pan. Wait patiently for a few minutes while the sugar heats. The crystals will melt and the water will quickly boil away, then the solution will begin to brown. Don’t stir, it encourages re-crystallization. Turn down the heat to avoid burning the sugars. The finished caramel will be a bright, rich copper color like a penny, and it may smoke slightly. Remove from heat.

Quickly pour the heavy cream into the caramel, stirring as you go. If you are too slow some of the caramel may recrystallize. If Adding Creamthis happens, remove lumps of solid caramel from solution and gently reheat them in a separate pan and recombine with the majority of the caramel solution. It is possible to add flavors such as vanilla extract to the hot caramel. It is important to add enough cream to dissolve the caramel, however, the exact amount of cream is a matter of preference.

Serve hot or pour Stirring Caramel Sauce Sauceinto a small glass jar and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

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Special Report: Yeast and Kneading

Yeast is a type of unicellular fungus, and the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae is used to ferment sugars and produce the carbon dioxide needed to make bread rise. Related yeasts are used to ferment sugar into alcohol and to make soy sauce. Fungi are immensely important to humans. The most familiar fungus is the mushroom, but in fact, most land plants have fungi growing into and around their roots. These fungi allow the plant to take up water and nutrients more efficiently – agriculture as we know it would be impossible without mycorrhizal association. The first discovered antibiotic, penicillin, is produced naturally by a fungus.

As a living organism, yeast needs a certain environment to thrive (and make your bread rise). Inside the yeast packet, the living cells clumped together and encased in nutrients and dead cells. Rapid rise/Instant yeast is a special kind of dry yeast that uses smaller “clumps,” that dissolve quicker. You can use either kind of yeast, but remember that you may need to wait longer for traditional dry yeast to activate. In the dry state, the yeast metabolism is slowed but they can’t live this way forever, so be sure to check the expiration date on the packet. Once the yeast are rehydrated, they need nutrition and warmth to thrive. They do best around 100 F (that’s just a bit above body temperature) and shouldn’t be heated much above that, and definitely not above 120 F.

Once the yeast set to work producing carbon dioxide, the next important thing is to trap the gas and form “bubbles” in the bead. This is done with kneading!  Kneading bread means pulling, folding, and pressing the dough repeatedly. Stretch the dough out, fold it over, and press it down, working flour in as you go. When the dough has enough flour, it will have a smooth surface, and will hold itself together as a ball. At this point keep kneading to mix the flour with the wet ingredients. You may find that as the flour is better distributed the dough starts to appear sticky again. If this happens, add more flour. The exact amount of flour needed varies based on the humidity, the moisture in the flour, and the quality of the other ingredients (for example, how big the eggs are). There is no exact way to predict how much flour a loaf needs, so it’s important to be able to identify the perfect texture.  The dough ball should be smooth and bounce back when punched. The dough should not be sticking to your hands.

By mixing the flour and the wet ingredients, kneading  expands certain proteins in the flour to produce gluten, which gives the bread structure and elasticity and is thus able to trap the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast. If a bread is too flaky or crumbly it probably was not kneaded long enough to produce the right amount of gluten. Most beginning bakers under knead their bread – don’t worry, this is easy to fix! You will know that you over-kneaded if the bread comes out tough and rubbery.

Punching down is a special form of kneading used when the bread has already risen at least once. Begin with a few hard punches to remove air and reduce the volume of the bread, then knead as usual.

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Challah If You Knead Me

Introduction: Challah is a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish bread, generally served with dinner on the sabbath and other holidays. It’s sweet and eggy, and is really great in sandwiches, as french toast, or as a side with dinner. Challah is the first bread I learned how to make and is very representative of yeast breads. If you can make it, you can make tons of similar recipes.

The two things that define bread are yeast and kneading, and this recipe requires both.
If you’ve never made bread before, read my post on  yeast and kneading.

Materials (makes two loaves):

Medium, large, and extra large bowls. Two baking trays. BBQ brush. Oven.

1 package rapid rise yeast, 8 cups flour (probably wont use it all), 3/4 cups sugar, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 3 eggs

raisins, poppy or sesame seeds (optional).

Procedure:

Add 1/2 cup warm (about 100F) water to the medium bowl, dissolve 1 tbYeast Activatingsp sugar. Gently sprinkle one packet yeast over the water. Don’t stir. Leave alone for 10 minutes to allow yeast to rehydrate in peace.

While yeast is activating, sift 4 cups flour with 3/4 cup sugar in the extra-large bowl, then pour 1/2 cup warm water, 1/2 cup oil, and two large beaten eggs over top. Pour in the activated yeast, which should Kneading in Flourlook slightly frothy. Mix everything well using a large spoon.

Sprinkle in an additional two cups of flour, stirring as you go. When the mixture is too thick to stir, use your hands to knead the dough. You may knead on a flour covered counter top or inside the extra large bowl.

Continue to knead in flour until the dough is no longer sticky, this may mean using a few more cups of flour. The dough should feel smooth and bounce back when punched. If the dough is at all sticky you should add more flour. This is the ideal time to knead in raisins or other fillers. Be sure to knead for at least 10 minutes.

Oil the large bowl and transfer the dough into it, then Unrisen Dough in Hot Water Bathcover with a damp cloth. The dough needs to rise somewhere warm. You can put it outside in the sun, in an oven, or in a hot water bath. To make a hot water bath, fill the extra large bowl with steaming hot water and float the bowl containing the dough. Allow to rise for one hour, or until dough ball has doubled in size.

After the dough has Brushing the Braided Doughrisen, punch it down! This is very simple –  give the dough a few strong punches to reduce the volume then punch softly or knead the dough for about ten minutes. Separate the dough into two balls and place each ball on an oiled baking sheet. Separate each ball into three “snakes,” and braid together. Don’t worry about shaping perfect loaves, this wont affect the taste.  Allow the braided loaves to rise in a warm place for an hour.

Beat an egg yolk and brush it onto the loaves to glaze them. If you want to top with poppy or sesame seeds, you can beat them into the glaze or sprinkle them over top (or both). Preheat oven to  350 F and bake for 30 mns, or until crust is golden brown. Enjoy!

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Radioactive Banana Bread

Introduction:

This simple banana bread is one of the first things I learned to cook. I’ve been tweaking the recipe for a few months, and it seems impossible to mess up. Try it my way, or go to town with your own edits. Let me know how it goes!

You’re probably wondering why I’m calling recipe this “radioactive.” As it turns out, bananas are naturally radioactive. This isn’t a result of contamination, it’s a natural part of bananahood. Bananas contain the essential nutrient potassium, which is usually in the form of potassium-39, and contains 19 protons and 20 neutrons. A very small percentage of potassium is in the form of potassium-40, containing an extra neutron. This isotop will slowly decay over a very long period of time (after a billion years, only half of it will have decayed) and usually decays into calcium-40. Because of this long half life, and the very small amount of potassium-40 present in you’re typical banana (about 0.01%), you’re not in any danger from the radiation. It’s just another reminder that yes, radiation can be natural! Potassium-40 is thought to be the largest source of natural radioactivity in humans and other animals. For most people, natural exposure to radiation pales in comparison to exposure from medical scans and airplane trips, so don’t be frightened. The amount of radiation from food is very small, and potassium is essential to human life. All things considered, the largest health hazard in the food we eat is definitely from the fats & sugars :-D.

Materials (makes one loaf):

medium mixing bowl, medium bread tin, large spoon, oven

3 bananas, 2 eggs, 3/2 cups flour (whole wheat optional), 2/3 cups sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt.

Optional: 6 oz semisweet chocolate chips, 8 oz walnuts, 1 tbs lemon juice

Procedure:

Combine 3/2 cups whole wheat flour, 2/3 cups sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Mix evenly.

In a separate bowl, beat two eggs. Peal three bananas, smoosh with your hands, and add them to the large bowl. Pour the eggs over top. Wash your hands, then smoosh 1/3 cup butter and add it over the eggs. Mix everything with a long wooden spoon.

If desired, add about a tablespoon of lemon juice, up to eight ounces chopped walnuts, and up to 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips. Pour batter into a greased bread tin.

Beat one egg yolk and brush  on top of bread. Bake at 325 F for 50 mns. To prevent burning, check after 40 mns. If a toothpick goes in and comes back clean, you’re probably done.

Enjoy!

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