Cooking is science and tradition

Cooking is all about science. In this blog our chef Peter Coucquyt will give you insights in the chemistry going on in the kitchen...

woensdag 8 december 2010

Crystallization of sugar

When making a caramel or candies we want a smooth texture and not a grainy one. Large sugar crystals will cause a grainy texture in confectionary products. How can we prevent the over-crystallization of the sugar and thereby prevent unwanted grainy textures?
Dissolving sugar in a liquid results in a sugar syrup. Most of the time the dissolution of the sugar is promoted by heating the mixture. When the solution starts to boil, water evaporates and the solution becomes more concentrated. Crystals start to form only when the sugar solution reaches a certain concentration. This state is called a supersaturated solution. Now the solution is in a state where not all of the sugar can be solubilised. So the sugar goes out of solution and forms crystals. The saturation point (the maximum concentration of sugar in water without crystal formation) is influenced by the temperature of the solution. It is possible to cool an unsaturated solution to a state of supersaturation. And vice versa, it is possible to heat a supersaturated mixture to an unsaturated solution. Far less sugar can be dissolved in cold water than in warm water, this is also the reason why we heat the mixture to obtain a fast and complete dissolution of the sugar. When boiling the solution, water will evaporate and the sugars will get more concentrated. It is possible to supersaturate the boiling solution, this can be observed when crystals form in the solution while boiling. In most cases this is unwanted. Better results will be obtained when the boiling solution is kept unsaturated and subsequently cooled down to a supersaturated state.
If you want to make a candy, like fudge, you need a creamy texture. This creamy texture comes from the formation of tiny sugar crystals. So when preparing fudge, you need to steer the crystallisation towards the formation of tiny crystals and avoid the growth of these crystals, because big crystals result in a grainy texture.
Agitation, stirring or beating supersaturated syrup incorporates air and promotes the formation and growth of sugar crystals due to the rapid movement of the molecules. If the solution is allowed to cool before it is beaten, only tiny crystals forms, which are not allowed to grow. This results in a creamy mass. So when making candy, like fudge, you should allow cooling the sugar syrup to 38°C before beating it, otherwise you will end up with crystals that are too large, resulting in a grainy texture. The beating must also continue until the formation of the tiny crystals is complete, otherwise the excess molecules, the sugar that is still in solution, will migrate to already formed crystals and increase their size. These large crystals will again produce a grainy product.
supersaturated sugar solution
supersaturated solution beaten above 38°C
supersaturated solution beaten below 38°C
Impurities in the sugar syrup may also result in the formation large sugar crystals. Impurities promote premature crystal formation, which will grow to big unwanted crystals. Some products can be added prevent the formation and growth of crystals. These products such as cream, butter, egg white, … are called interfering agents. The agents coat the crystals and prevent the growth of large crystals. Boiling the sugar syrup to the exact temperature is also very important, complete solution of the sugar is very important. Undisolved crystals can also grow out to big crystals, even at room temperature. That is what occurs when we make a “meringue italienne” with bad cooked sugar syrup. The present crystals will grow and result in a grainy texture.
Some sugars as glucose do not form large crystals that easily. By adding some glucose to the sugar for the preparation of sugar syrup or caramel, the glucose will prevent the growing of large crystals.
Sugar, sucrose, is formed from one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. By adding some lemon juice or cream of tartar to the sugar for the preparation of sugar syrup or caramel, we speed up the break-up of the sucrose in glucose and fructose and so decrease the formation of large crystals.

maandag 29 november 2010

Hydrocolloids in the kitchen

What are food hydrocolloids and what can we do with it in the kitchen?
Hydrocolloids or gums are waters dispersable products producing gels or viscous liquids.
There exist 2 different types of hydrocolloids: thickeners and gelling agents
Hydrocolloids disperse or “dissolve” in water. A hydrocolloid in solution can be compared with a strand where molecules of water are bound to. 
In a thickened product, these strands with bound water are moving separately and freely, which results in a product with fluid properties. In a gelled product, the strands are bound to eachother and form three dimensional network, in which the water molecules are kept. This product does not have fluid properties and is more like a solid.
In addition to their primary purpose of thickening and/or gelling, they often have secondary functions, such as emulsifier, whipping agent,… .
Gelatine for example produces a gel when cooled down. We can also use gelatine as an emulsifier (a gelatine based gel mixed with some oil gives a mayonnaise-like structure), a whipping agent (a whipped mixture with gelatine gives a marshmallow-like structure) or clarification agent (a stock lightly gelled with gelatine, frozen and defrosted gives a consommé).
In following examples the students made some dishes using different hydrocolloids.
Deconstruction of a crab cocktail: tomato paper, marshmallow of tomato, flexible gel of ketchup filled with crab mayonnaise, grapefruit fluid gel
Cod – aubergine/miso gnocchi – pork dashi – lemon zest
Deconstruction of a classic Foret Noir: chocolate flan, cherry crème, cherry crumble, cherry croquant, pâte de fruit of cream and Kirsh
Forest: chocolate/hazelnut espuma, chocolate powder, hazelnut powder, lemon merinque, pistachio/hazelnut sponge cake, cep ice cream, puffed quinoa
Deconstruction of a classic “Hutespot”: Brussels sprout sponge cake, pickled carrots, mustard sphere, leek mayonnaise, potato espuma, turnip, puffed pork fat, onion foam

dinsdag 19 oktober 2010

Influence of type of sugar on color of cookie

The reaction of Maillard is a reaction between a sugar and a protein. The sugar should be a reducing sugar, meaning that the sugar has to have the possibility to react with an amino acid (protein). Examples of reducing sugars are fructose and glucose. Saccharose or sucrose is not a reducing sugar. How comes?

As you see in the picture, glucose and fructose can react with a protein while sucrose should split first in glucose and fructose by heat or acid, which takes more time.
So, in the kitchen we can influence the color of a cookie by using a more reducing sugar or a less reducing sugar. The darker you want the cookie to be, the more reducing the sugar has to be. 
Fructose is more reducing than glucose followed by maltose, lactose and sucrose.

As you can see in the picture below, honey (contains fructose) and fructose itself provides a more darker cookie although it is based on the same recipe and baking time.

donderdag 16 september 2010

Our kitchen-lab

At our office in Bruges we have a kitchen and a lab, which is of course used by our chefs and scientists, but chefs interested in testing new equipment are also welcome...