smart science: butter edition

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Okay. If I’ve ever said a science post is my favorite.. take it back, take it all back now. Butter is my favorite, this post is my favorite, and let’s all go to France and eat some butter.

Now, onto the science.

  1. Butter is a pretty cool substance, and has been around for a long time! A recipe for butter dating more than 4,000 years ago involves an animal skin, a small hole, and a contraption to swing the bag around a wooden pole until butter is formed! But – in order to get the cream to make butter, you’d have to let the milk sit out and still to let it separate, since the first mechanical butter separator wasn’t invented until around 1900. Why does milk have the potential to do this? It’s a liquid called a ‘colloid’, which means that there are tiny particles suspended in another liquid. For milk, this is a bunch of tiny fat globules. Once you let fresh milk sit undisturbed, you’re allowing all these molecules to float to the top, creating cream. Additionally, these fat globules are responsible for the creamy taste and mouthfeel of cream – they’re too tiny for us to detect as particles, but they bring the texture nonetheless.
  2.  Now, almost all butter is definitely made in factories, but you can still shake some cream up in a jar to see how it works for yourself. The agitation of the cream globules causes them to bundle up together, and eventually they clump up enough to make butter! This takes a lot of agitation though, and can be done in a variety of ways! Easy as pie, delicious as pie, essential ingredient in pie… we’ve got this.
  3. But – while butter may have had a place in human diets for a while, it’s recently gotten a lot of flack. If you walk by a dairy cooler, any frozen food aisle, or really any aisle at all in any grocery store, you’ll be flooded with low-fat and non-fat options. But, in 2014, an article was released saying that saturated fat (the ‘problem’ with butter) doesn’t actually correlate with heart disease the way that everyone was up in a tizzy about. And to put some buttercream icing on this cake, the study even suggested that in our craze to substitute fat in our diets, with sugars and and empty carbs – which are even worse for us.

Let’s make butter with heavy cream, and eat it all in one fell swoop. Stir some dill in and pile it embarassingly high on country bread if you want to be like me, but, no pressure. Check out this links to get butter-blissed out:

bittersweet chocolate pudding with earl grey cream

There comes a time where we all must revert to childhood and eat pudding. Even better if the pudding could possibly exist in a pudding cup-type ensemble, and possibly eaten with the foil top because oops you have no spoon. All jokes aside, though, I honestly don’t actively crave pudding most of the time because I’m too busy craving bread and whipped cream and rose italian sodas. Correction – I didn’t actively crave pudding, because now I sure as hell do. It’s on the list – for good. Here’s why.

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It’s at the point in summer where everything feels like one of those fast action videos – things are moving far too quickly and there’s also far too many things to do. Between real-life work, this delightful blog baby of mine, a temperamental sourdough starter and the impending return of a school year where the lab hours seem to keep multiplying… I’m ready to move to New Zealand for a while just to calm down. No joke – been researching working holiday visas and requirements and plane tickets.Let me know if you’re feeling like New Zealand is where you’re headed too. We can hang.

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In a snap back to reality yesterday, I was forced to stop googling New Zealand and instead had to make something to share with you all. Probably good, because I’ve been in such a whirlwind lately that blog baby has taken a hit because temperamental sourdough starter has taken all of my free time because there’s so much real life work so there’s limited free time…..okay okay okay breathe. Think of New Zealand. Loop back around. I decided to make you all pudding. Because pudding is easy and it is good and it is pure of heart.

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To class it up – add earl grey cream and swirl and feel as much like an adult as you can considering you’re moving to New Zealand. To summer it up, add peaches, which I’m sure grow in New Zealand. To enjoy fully, share with friends, to convince them to move to New Zealand. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Repeat.

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bittersweet chocolate pudding with earl grey cream 
adapted from salt fat acid heat

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 cups half and half
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 heaping fine sea salt
3 eggs

earl grey cream:

2 tablespoons earl grey leaves (about 4 teabags)
1 cup heavy cream, separated into 1/2 cup and 1/2 cup
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Splash of pure vanilla extract
Sliced peaches, for topping
how-to: 

Place the chocolate in a large, heatproof bowl and place a mesh strainer over it. Crack the eggs into another medium bowl and whisk lightly to break up and combine a bit. Mix the cornstarch, cocoa powder, salt and sugar in yet another medium bowl. Place the half and half in a medium saucepan – and now we’re good to go.

Heat the half and half on low heat until just steaming and simmering. Don’t boil this – it won’t ever be the same. Pour the half and half into the cornstarch mixture and whisk to combine. Return to the pot and cook over medium-low heat, constantly stirring, until visibly thickened and the pudding can hold a trail on the back of a spoon. While whisking, stir about two thirds of the half and half mixture into the eggs, and then return all of it to the pot. Cook on low heat until visibly thickened again. You’ll know when it’s ready. It might take a minute, it might take ten. Just keep stirring and let it take it’s own sweet time.

Pour thickened pudding through the mesh sieve and onto the chocolate. Use a spatula to push the pudding through. Let the heat melt the chocolate, and then blend with a stick blender (or a normal blender, do your own thing), until silky and smooth and it looks like you want to eat it up. Adjust salt as needed, and pour into whatever cups for serving. Let come to room temp, or put in fridge for cold pudding.

To make the whipped cream, heat 1/2 cup of the cream in a small saucepan over low heat, until just steaming. Turn off the heat. Steep the leaves in the cream for 10 minutes, and strain. Add the rest of the cream and chill until very cold. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip up to soft peaks.

Pile earl grey cream on pudding cups and top with sliced peaches or other fruit. Breathe in, eat pudding, breathe out.

 

smart science: yeast edition

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We’re gonna chat about yeast – mostly because I’m still obsessed with bread (see here), but also because yeast is an important part of a lot of home kitchens. I’ve been working on getting a starter for sourdough going – so yeast thoughts are front and center in my mind. Let’s break this down.

To start, there is a difference between yeast and bacteria molecules. Yeast is a fungus. Bacteria are… bacteria. They have fundamentally different properties, extending from the presence of a nucleus, the organization of DNA and how parts of the cell are displayed. While bacteria can ferment, and produce some flavor molecules while they do, the fermentation of yeast is essential for leavening – or raising – bread. So very many factors can affect the fermentation of yeast – and therefore your final bread product.

  1. Fast or slow? Fast fermentation is desirable in terms of speed – you’ll get to your final product faster. However, for more complex flavors, a longer fermentation is definitely better. Different things can make a dough ferment at different speeds – and all of those factors are primarily what affects fermentation! It’s all about speed.
  2. The temperature of dough leads to a simple speed equation: the warmer the dough, the faster the fermentation… to an extent. If you put yeast in a hot enough environment (think, 140°F), they’ll just die, and no one wants that. Optimum fermentation temperature is 78°F-82°F. Below that temperature, our bacterial buddies are more favored for fermentation. If you put dough in a fridge to slow down the fermentation process, you can get strong sour flavors – because of the level of bacterial fermentation.
  3. The amount of salt can also affect the fermentation of yeast! See, we knew salt was important…. didn’t we. Salt slows down (retards) the ability of yeast to ferment. Salt also plays into bread importantly if you choose to do a pre-ferment, which is essentially pre-fermenting a chunk of ingredients before mixing your final dough. The timing of the pre-ferment can be manipulated through salt percentage. Additionally – the amount of sugar can affect how the dough ferments. Some sugars ferment quickly (think sucrose, glucose and fructose… all very common sugars), and some sugars ferment slowly, like maltose. Some barely ferment, like lactose! Different combinations of sugar types can affect how fast dough ferments. Some strains of yeast can grow very well in high-sugar environments compared to other yeasts – though for the home baker it’s usually just normal yeast doing its own thing. The challah bread pictured is a sweet and buttery dough, and my very normal yeast survived just fine in it.
  4. While it may seem obvious, the amount of yeast can affect the fermentation rate. Generally, the more yeast, the faster the fermentation. But, you have to toe the line with how much yeast you add, since too much can definitely add a rough flavor – think eating spoonful of yeast (gross). If you add too much yeast, your dough might also ‘exhaust’ itself: aka the yeast eats all the food in the dough and has nothing to do! Most recipes call for a smaller amount of yeast and a slightly longer fermentation time in order to offset this problem.

The coolest thing about all of this is once you get comfortable (and if you do, please tell me how, I’m still not 100% there), you can mess around with some of these variables (as well as pre-ferment times, fermentation times in general, and ingredients) to create your very own bread! We all should have the luxury of our own bread. Here’s some links to keep you reading:

  • Basic differences between bacteria and yeast…just a good fun fact to throw out at parties.
  • Breadmaking 101 on Serious Eats… talking all about proofing and yeast and fermentation and also mostly just about bread. We like that.
  • Wild yeast inspires thoughts of sourdough, and still follows the fermentation rules. Here’s a bunch of sourdough inspiration: a list of links within a list of links for all the bread pictures you want to drool at as well as helpful tutorials, troubleshooting, and recipes. Let’s all make bread!

summer pavlova

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Let’s face it – when the summer fruit begins to roll in, we’ve got high expectations.  We’re making pies and tarts and jams and fillings. There’s a point, though, where the cooking is out of hand. This moment is usually pretty soon for me. Cooking fruit gets old. Fresh fruit is in, always.

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I’m also busy, since it’s August, and we’re all busy. Between work, this blog, trying to get my cat to like me, reading cookbooks and watching game of thrones…. you see how my days get eaten up quickly. Casual aside – did you see game of thrones yesterday?? I’m thinking dragon themed desserts for the rest of the summer. Lots of blowtorching, maybe? Scorched earth is what we’re after. All men must die, right?

This dessert is the best of both worlds – a super easy meringue and marshmallow-y base, rosy whipped cream, and piles of fresh strawberries and raspberries. Change it up if you want – I’m always feeling peaches. Feel free to also mess with the whipped cream – maybe some fresh mint or basil or even maybe chocolate?? Do what you will with that. I believe in your ability to improvise with what you’ve got.

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If you’ve always seen pictures of pavlovas on the internet and said – hey, that’s pretty – now’s your time to shine. Also, you’ll have some leftover yolks, and if you don’t feel like making ice cream with those I’m not totally sure we should be friends… at least give it a shot. Or don’t. It’s hot, and if you just want to sit on your couch and rewatch game of thrones… please invite me.

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summer pavlova
recipe adapted from alice mendrich

1 cup sugar (superfine works better, just whiz some sugar in a food processor for 15 seconds)
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
4 egg whites, room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar (or 1 teaspoon white vinegar)

1 cup heavy cream
1½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon rosewater

1 half pint raspberries, 1 half pint strawberries or whatever fruit you feel like

how to:

Preheat oven to 275°F. Trace a 7 inch circle on a piece of parchment, then turn it over. Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar and beat at medium-high speed with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat until egg whites are creamy and hold a soft shape. Add the sugar mixture 1 teaspoon at a time. When it is all in, it should be a stiff meringue.

Spread the meringue on the circle and use a spatula to spread it into a swirly, somewhat flat dome. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until it is browned a bit, pinkish and feels really crusty on the outside. The inside will be marshmallowy though, so don’t freak out (like I did). Cool it completely on a cooling rack. It is going to crack and settle when it comes out of the oven. Don’t worry – you’re just gonna be piling whipped cream and fruit on top, so it’s supposed to be rustic.

Make the whipped cream by whipping the cream, sugar and rosewater to stiff peaks. Pile whipped cream on meringue and top with fruit. Serve immediately. Once you put it all on, it’s only best for a couple hours, so eat up!

lox bagel salad

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You know when you feel like a bagel but should definitely eat some greens? Me too.

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I know that feeling oh so well – and I’m here for you today with a bagel salad, so that none of those feelings go without reward.

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Smoked salmon meets tender greens. Red onions get soaked in a bit of water to soften the bite (though go without if you’re feeling spicy). Capers get sprinkled and eggs get soft boiled and peeled. Here we go, it’s happening. Bagels get chopped into little pieces, drizzled with oil, sprinkled with salt and toasted up til golden.

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Mustard gets all mixed up with dill and oil to make a dressing fit for a king. You should probably start to make your own dressing – it’s easy and oh so good. My life has been one cake and event and work shift after another, so I can vouch for the simplicity of this salad. It’s easy. And it’s what you should have for dinner tonight. I’m not even going to give you perfect amounts for anything because it’s a salad and you can do this.

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lox bagel salad

Greens (mixed greens, baby kale, arugula, your pick).
Smoked salmon
Capers
Red onion, sliced, and soaked in cold water
Bagels, any flavor, cubed.
Mustard-Dill Dressing (recipe follows).

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss the bagel cubes with olive oil and salt and place in oven until golden, with a bit of give on the inside. This time can change based on how big your cubes are, so start checking at 10 minutes. Place salad, toppings, and croutons in the bowl (along with anything else you’re feeling like). Top with dressing and serve!

mustard dill dressing: makes a little over half a cup, multiply as needed

1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons chopped dill
1/4 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

 

smart science: gluten edition

Since gluten is a commonly used buzzword in our food world today, this week we’re going to dive into gluten – what is it, where does it come from, and what’s the deal with gluten and health.

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To start – what is gluten? Gluten is the combination of two proteins that are found in flours. When water is added to the flour, the two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, hop together to form a gluten molecule. As gluten develops (as the two proteins join together), dough or batter becomes less lumpy and becomes more smooth, elastic and bouncy. A common trick you might see in cooking shows tests if enough gluten has developed in dough in order to move onto the next stage: the windowpane test. Take a small piece of dough, stretch it between your fingers. If it can form a thin sheet that you can see light through without ripping (a ‘windowpane’), you’re good to go. Your dough has peaked in terms of a balance between stretch and strength.

When that dough is baked, most of the water evaporates, and all you’re left with in terms of gluten is a structure that holds its shape – giving essential shape and structure to bread. Different types of bread-making can result in different types of gluten development and therefore a different final structure in the baked loaf! We’ve got this down – onto the fun stuff.

Clearly, one of the biggest diet crazes right now is going gluten-free. People swear by it for both weight loss as well as increased energy, clearer skin, and any and all things to happen to a human body. To start off, reputable sources like the Mayo Clinic say that a gluten-free diet is not necessary unless you have a disease like celiac or a demonstrated wheat allergy that requires you stay away from gluten. They even go as far as to say that the weight loss often associated with a gluten-free diet is likely just the cause of a pretty restrictive diet – not simply because you’re not eating gluten anymore. I think it is essential to differentiate between good bread and bad bread – since it might just be the cause of all these ‘gluten stomachaches’ we keep hearing about.

  1. Bread, traditionally, is naturally fermented, like sourdough. In the endless fermentation that produces a loaf of sourdough, in addition to nutrients and vitamins becoming easier for our body to absorb, gluten becomes easier as well. Little microbes that are busy fermenting start to chew stuff up for you, which makes your body handle it a lot easier. And before you get freaked out about microbes in your bread – microbes are everywhere, helping us live and thrive. Check out the links at the bottom for more information and various cool facts.
  2. So, now that we know sourdough might be easier to digest, why does that make normal supermarket bread different? There is usually no fermentation in supermarket bread – so you are eating completely undigested gluten! That doesn’t feel good on bellies (think about eating a handful of raw flour), and people often associate that with gluten as a whole – but they shouldn’t. Gluten is healthy, and bread often brings about a host of other nutrients as well. Understanding the process by which your bread came to be helps break it down. Even people who have been demonstrated to be sensitive to gluten can often eat naturally fermented sourdough without ill effects. Important.

Now that you’re a gluten expert, go annoy your friends with this. Share the bread love:

  • Mayo Clinic breaks down diet myths here.
  • History of sourdough, including natural fermentation, health benefits, and an Ancient Egyptian bakery.
  • For those of you coming here because of my microbe comment: TED Talk on how bacteria talk, Bonnie Bassler exploded my mind when this came out. Watch and learn.

tahini chocolate chip cookies

I’m a recent lover of tahini and I’m never going back to the dark days of no tahini – no way.

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I put tahini sauce on everything from big bowls of roasted veggies to sweet potato fries to salad. I put tahini in cake (thanks molly yeh!) and I put tahini in frosting. I’ve yet to introduce my friend the choco chip cookie to tahini…. but that sad streak ended when I made these beauties!

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Tahini and butter pair up to play a fluffy game in the mixer, and then it’s same-old chocolate chip cookie game from there on out. These bake up nice and thin, with crispy edges and chewy centers (cliche cookie words, I know, but they still mean exactly what we want them to and we’re happy when we hear them). These cookies are the perfect thing to bake for your family when they’re done with the fancy stuff.

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They truly are best when they rest in the refrigerator overnight – but – in order to bake these guys I took pictures of I stuffed all the dough in my overcrowded freezer to firm it up, then scooped balls and froze those for a bit – and guess what? They were delicious! If you’re in a cookie rush I don’t judge you or blame you – every single shortcut you can think of I’ve probably done.  We’re in this together. Plus – Andrew can vouch for these lovelies – he doesn’t volunteer to hand model for any ole cookie. See below for photographic evidence.

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tahini chocolate chip cookies
recipe adapted from david lebovitz
makes about 25 cookies, depending on the size

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup  granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2ish cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks, or chocolate chips (I did a blend of chocolate chips, chopped up dark and milk chocolate – including all the little bits!)

coarse sea salt, for topping.

how-to

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, tahini, granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy looking – maybe 3ish minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl well, and then add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Slowly add that in to the mixer while it is running on low speed, and mix until just barely combined. Stir in the chocolate using a spatula or wooden spoon – being very careful not to overmix. Leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight (or, if you are feeling desperate like me, stick in the freezer).
Preheat the oven to 325F and line baking sheets with parchment. Scoop out any size cookie (I did a 1-2 tablespoon cookie scoop), and bake for 12 minutes, flipping the pans halfway. Bake until edges are starting to get golden brown but the middle still is very pale. Remove from oven, and cool on a cooling rack (I let them firm up a bit on the pan before I moved them to the rack). Sprinkle with the coarse sea salt. Enjoy with friends and family and maybe some milk.