Archive for the ‘news articles’ Category

No-knead bread

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Update: I’ve written up a short post about no-knead bread in Norwegian – Brød uten í¥ kna – to accompany my appearance in the popular science program Schrí¶dingers katt.

I know – since the NY Times article about Jim Lahey in 2006 the no-knead breads have been all over the internet, newspapers and now even appear in numerous books – this is really old news. But the no-knead breads are really tasty as well, so I hope you’ll forgive me! When I give popular science talks about chemistry in the kitchen the one thing I’m always asked about is the no-knead recipe I show, so I thought it was about time to publish a recipe. Surely, everyone can google it – but regrettably many (if not most?) recipes are given in non-metric, volume based units – even Jim Lahey’s original recipe. And for baking this is really a drawback because the density of flour depends so much on how tight you pack it. Oh yeah, and I will also try to explain why and how the no-knead bread works.

Nathan Myhrvold in NYT – news on upcoming book

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Nathan Myhrvold giving a TED talk about some of his many interest (click image to see video). Photo by Neil Hunt from (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Nathan Myhrvold giving a TED talk about some of his many interest (click image to see video). Photo by Neil Hunt from (CC BY-NC 2.0).

I usually don’t post about newspaper articles, but Jack Lang sent out an email on the molegular gastronomy maillinglist today about an article in New York Times: “After Microsoft, Bringing a High-Tech Eye to Professional Kitchens” featuring Nathan Myhrvold. I thought this might be of interest to my readers as well.

If you’ve played around with sous vide cooking there’s a good chance that you’ve visited the massive eGullet thread on sous vide (currently spanning more than 100 pages and 3000 posts), and in that case you’ll be familiar with Nathan’s many well informed posts on sous vide. There have been rumours about an upcoming book for quite some time, and things are getting more and more exciting. The last I heard was that he had a team of 5 people working on a book about sous-vide. This has now increased to a team of 15 people, including 5 professional chefs, a photographer, an art director, writers and editors. And there’s more:

“The project has grown in size and scope. Originally planned as a 300-page discussion of sous vide, an increasingly popular restaurant technique of cooking food in vacuum-sealed bags in warm water baths, the book has swelled to 1,500 pages that will also cover microbiology, food safety, the physics of heat transfer on the stove and in the oven, formulas for turning fruit and vegetable juices into gels, and more.”

Wow! Let’s hope that Nathan’s “one year left” statement is actually true this time. I’m really looking forward to see this book!

10 elements of basic kitchen knowledge

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Salt in oil. According to Pierre Gagnaire, this is Hervé This’ main discovery. It allows him to sprinkle salt on dishes without the salt dissolving in water from the dish. Thereby the “crunch” of the salt is retained.

Rob Mifsud, perhaps best know for his Hungry in Hogtown blog has interviewed Hervé This. At the end of the interview Hervé lists 10 elements of basic kitchen knowledge. Some may seem obvious, but they are not, according to Hervé. Here’s the list so you can judge by yourselves:

  1. Salt dissolves in water.
  2. Salt does not dissolve in oil.
  3. Oil does not dissolve in water.
  4. Water boils at 100 °C (212 °F).
  5. Generally foods contain mostly water (or another fluid).
  6. Foods without water or fluid are tough.
  7. Some proteins (in eggs, meat, fish) coagulate.
  8. Collagen dissolves in water at temperatures higher than 55 °C (131 °F).
  9. Dishes are dispersed systems (combinations of gas, liquid or solid ingredients transformed by cooking).
  10. Some chemical processes – such as the Maillard Reaction (browning or caramelizing) – generate new flavours.

Kitchen chemistry is changing the world

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008


A recent cover feature of Time magazine was “10 Ideas That Are Changing The World”. According to journalist Joel Stein ” ideas are the secret power that this planet runs on”, and guess what? Idea #5 is Kitchen Chemistry. Some are fed up with foams (why does everyone think molecular gastronomy is only about foams anyway?), but my guess is that scientific approaches in the kitchen will become more and more common in the years to come and I certainly welcome this focus on kitchen chemistry.

This paradigm shift won’t be such a big deal in practice. Your oven is pretty much an advanced science gadget already, you use meat thermometers, and that measuring cup looks an awful lot like a beaker. You’re just going to have to step it up a little: replace that liquid-measuring cup with a more accurate dry-weight scale; get a vacuum sealer like that FoodSaver gadget and a Crock-Pot that stays at a precise temperature so you can sous vide meat (which involves cooking it in a bag for a long time in a low-temperature water bath); learn how to use simple chemicals like agar-agar and xanthan gum (just better versions of gelatin and cornstarch, really); review a little high school chemistry. No big deal.

Edible cocktails with gelatin

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Recipes for Bluberry martini jelly shots (top right), B-52 jelly shots (bottom right), Prosecco gelée (middle left) and Gin and Tonic gelée (middle) are given below.

Just wanted to point you to a beautiful picture gallery of edible cocktails accompanying an article by Betty Hallock at LA Times, “Cocktails you can eat”.

The recipes (shortened and converted to metric units by me) are as follows:

Blueberry martini jelly shots
300 mL vodka (blueberry flavored)
60 mL simple syrup
25 g gelatin (6.9%)
35 fresh blueberries

Mix vodka and syrup in small saucepan. Add gelatin and leave for 5-10 min until soft. Gently heat saucepan and stir until gelatin dissolves (approx. 10 min). Strain to remove any undissolved gelatin. Place bluberry in cocktail mold and pour vodka mixture into each mold. Cool until set. Makes about 35 cocktails of 15 mL each. (Adapted from Bar Nineteen 12)

Prosecco gelée
1 length of a vanilla bean
140 g sugar
15 g gelatin sheets, bloomed (3.1%)
340 mL Prosecco (or other white wine)

Scrape seeds from vanilla bean and mix thoroughly with sugar. Mix water and sugar in saucepan and heat over high heat until syrup almost comes to a boil. Remove from heat and bloomed gelatin and stir until it dissolves. Add wine and stir gently. Pour into 20 x 20 cm pan lined with plastic wrap and cool until set. Cut into squares, turn upside down to display settled vanilla beans and serve. (Adapted from Craft pastry chef Catherine Schimenti)

B-52 jelly shots
170 mL Kahlúa
170 mL Baileys
170 mL Grand Marnier
24 g gelatin sheets (4.7%)

Place each liqueur in separate bowls and add 8 g gelatin to each. Cover and leave until gelatin has softened. Pour Kahlúa/gelatin into a saucepan and heat over low heat until gelatin dissolves. Strain to remove any remaining solids. Pour liquid into a 10 x 20 cm pan lined with plastic wrap. Cool for about one hour. Repeat with Baileys, and then with Grand Marnier, pouring the newly prepared liqueur on top of the set liqueur in the mold. Cut into pieces and serve. (Adapted from Bar Nineteen 12)

Gin and tonic gelée
170 mL gin
10 g gelatin (2.2%)
280 mL tonic water
finely grated zest of 4 to 5 limes
1 T citric acid
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 T powdered sugar

Let the gelatin soften in gin for 5-10 min. Heat over low heat and stir until gelatin has dissolved. Pour in tonic water carefully (to avoid it from bubbling over), swirl the contents to obtain a homogeneous mixture and immediatly pour contents into 40 mL molds. Cool. To serve, unmold the gelée and sprinkle each cocktail with lime zest and a little of the premixed citric acid, baking soda and powdered sugar. Serve immediately. (Adapted from Providence pastry chef Adrian Vasquez) For reference, you might want to compare this recipe with Eben Freeman’s Jellied G&T.

You might notice that the amount of gelatin varies over a pretty large range from 2.2-6.9%. This is also well above the typical concentration found in jellies (0.6-1%). A possible reason for the large range would be that alcohol interferes with the setting of gelatin, and a quick plot of gelatin vs. alcohol content suggests that this might be the case.


But as you can see from the B-52 jelly shots, the same concentration of gelatin is used for Baileys (17% alcohol), Kahlúa (26.5% alcohol) and Grand Marnier (40% alcohol), so there should be some room for variation here (I doubt that the resulting variation in texture was actually intended in this recipe). So if we round off, the linear regression yields the following correlation between gelatin and alcohol:

% gelatin to add = (% alcohol in final mix x 0.1) + 2

One thing that surprises me is that none of the recipes call for gellan? This hydrocolloid is said to have superior flavor release properties as it is more prone to break once you chew it. From what I know, it should work fine with alcoholic beverages. Has anyone tried this yet?

Blumenthal: “Molecular gastronomy is dead”

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

As a follow up to last weeks statement from Adria, Blumenthal, Keller and McGee (article, my comments) The Guardian have interviewed Heston Blumenthal. He now says that MG creates artifical boundries: “Molecular makes it sound complicated,” he says. “And gastronomy makes it sound elitist.”. And Heston isn’t keen on either (at least not anymore…).

According to Hervé This, there’s still some 25.000 cooking instructions left to test! And when it comes to the understanding of how the sense of smell works, we’ve just got started. So sorry Heston, I think it’s a bit early to dismiss molecular gastronomy already now.

Adria, Blumenthal, Keller and McGee with statement on “new cooking”

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

On Sunday, November 10 2006, in The Guardian, Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller and Harold McGee shared a statment on the “new cooking” with the readers. They feel “widely misunderstood” and argue that molecular gastronomy is “overemphasized and sensationalized”. Quite a surprising statement from people who have benefited greatly from the increased attention that molecular gastronomy has received lately. On the other hand – many journalists still tend to be stuck up with Heston Blumenthals snail porridge and egg & bacon ice cream, so I can agree that molecular gastronomy is not always properly understood. The four main points in their statement (with my comments) are:

  • Three basic principles guide our cooking: excellence, openness, and integrity.
  • Our cooking values tradition, builds on it, and along with tradition is part of the ongoing evolution of our craft.
  • Well certainly no one can disagree with the first statement… As for tradition – of course cooking has evolved a lot over the last couple thousand years – so again I would say that this is quite obvious. What molecular gastronomy (in my opinion) is about is, from a scientific viewpoint, to increase the understanding of what is going on. Tradition tells us nothing about this whereas science has told us a lot!

  • We embrace innovation – new ingredients, techniques, appliances, information, and ideas – whenever it can make a real contribution to our cooking.
  • I guess this is where molecular gastronomy (or the-science-previously-known-as-molecular-gastronomy as ABK&M might call it) comes in. I note that they only embrace it though if it “can make a real contribution” to their cooking. In other words, they embrace they technological aspects of molecular gastronomy which according to Hervé This’ latest definition isn’t really a part of molecular gastronomy.

  • We believe that cooking can affect people in profound ways, and that a spirit of collaboration and sharing is essential to true progress in developing this potential.
  • Again – nothing really new here… except that one could always wish for even more sharing and openness regarding techniques and ingredients. But all in all ABK&M have been good at publishing their recipes and findings (as should be evident from the books listed at Of course this also alludes to the intellectual property debate which was started of by this article.

    So what do we make of this? First thing is that none of them are scientists (save McGee who holds a BSc in physics and who BTW has defined molecular gastronomy as “the scientific study of deliciousness”). In a way it’s understandable that they don’t want to be viewed upon as scientists but rather artists. But it is a little strange though, because the article does have a negative stance on molecular gastronomy. This is surprising from a group of people who have both benefited from and contributed to molecular gastronomy by adding an artistic component to the underlying science. Secondly I wonder if it’s about fashion as well. Perhaps the air is going out of the balloon now? If molecular gastronomy is not í¼bercool anymore, it’s time to move on with something new to attract guests. But is it really time to “reject the cult of molecular gastronomy” (Vanessa Thorpe of The Guardian, in the article “Mad scientist? No, I’m just seroious about food”)? If you ask me, my answer is “No”!