Saturday, January 21, 2006

If There's Art, There's Science

Many people think of desserts as colorful and delicious artistic creations, but for the first three weeks of my program, I have two classes: Culinary Math and Culinary Science & Technology. We have 6 hrs of class that starts at 7am and ends at 1:30pm, which will be the same time frame we'll use when we get into the kitchen in our toques and chef's uniforms (right now, we're business casual). We are also have a rather gourmet lunch (after two weeks, they haven't even served the same protein twice) with desserts made by a class that started 6 months ago.

I often like to think of baking and cooking as science experiments, so I'm eager to build on what I've learned from Alton Brown. It is hard to sit in class for such a long time, but when I think about the Chef Instructor who teaches for 6 hours (standing the whole time), I try to sit up a little straighter and stop a yawn before it starts.

We also do experiments that would be appreciated by home bakers if they had the time, materials, equipment, and employed a full time dishwasher. For instance, as part of our lesson on starches, we made a slurry out each of six starches: cornstarch, potato starch, arrowroot, clear gel (a derivative of cornstarch), tapioca flour, and flour. A slurry means that you whisk the starch in a small amount liquid (in this case, water) to dissolve it before adding it to the larger amount of liquid so that it doesn't clump up. We then combined each with hot water and whisked --some for a few seconds off heat, some for a few minutes boiling on heat -- until they turned clear and gelatinous. After they cooled, we took tasting spoons and sampled each starchy result. They looked like pie fillings without any flavorings, and tasted as good or worse than you can imagine that tastes..... but it was a good lesson to see what these materials do before we play around with them in recipes. That way, we can anticipate how a recipe can and should turn out, and we can decide whether we want to use the suggested starch for a certain application or not, depending on our preference for taste, texture, and how we want it to react with other ingredients. Flour also contains starch, so it explains the gloss that it often takes on when heated.


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