How could I resist a free online cooking class with guest lectures from the likes of Momofuku’s David Chang, Flour’s Joanne Chang, and pioneering molecular gastronomist Ferran Adria? And featuring the work of famous food scientist Harold McGee? You know I couldn’t. So I didn’t. I signed up (and you can too, though the first homeworks are past due) at the edX.org website and waited for the materials to be available.
Finally in October the courseware became available. Scanning through the weeks – with themes like “Energy, Temperature and Heat,” “Phase Transitions,” and “Viscosity and Polymers,” I slowly started to become aware that this was a food SCIENCE class.
And then I started working on the first week’s materials. And thank heavens that my engineer sweetheart had already decided he wanted to take the class with me, because I might have run screaming for the hills.
This is a SCIENCE class. A chemistry class, essentially. Taught through the lens of cooking and with really cool famous guest lecturer-chefs and cooking insights and labs you can eat, but… this is a science class. I barely squeaked through chemistry in high school – much to the shock of my chemistry teacher, and owing entirely to freakish test-taking skills (and perhaps a guardian angel), and in no way to mastery of the material. I haven’t taken anything resembling a science class since. (Well, there was that college brain-science class, but I’m not sure that poorly taught thing actually resembled a science class.)
|This thing? It’s trash.|
This class has an equation of the week. The first homework threw us right into calculating the number of moles of baking soda and molecules of glutenin in a batch of Nestle Toll House Chocolate-Chip Cookies (chemistry lecturer Michael Brenner says the whole thing every time: “Nestle Toll House Chocolate-Chip Cookies” – I kept wanting him to say TM afterwards).
But Arne pulled me through it, and (sometimes with an awful lot of deep thought), helped me get all the answers right.
And then we got to the fun part: the lab. For the first week’s lab we used the phase change of sugar to calibrate our home oven. Since granulated sugar melts at 366 degrees, you can find the accuracy of your oven by putting a small amount (we used a half tablespoon) of sugar in the oven and slowly cranking up the heat, with 15 minutes between temperature changes to give the sugar time to melt. If the sugar melts at 376, your oven is 10 degrees high.
Or, in science-ese:
Your measurement suggests that your oven has the approximate calibration curve
= + – (if you use degrees Fahrenheit)
Our sugar melted at between 370 and 380 degrees – not too bad, probably between 5 and 10 degrees off. (What was bad was the oven thermometer I put in there some time ago, which was almost 100 degrees low! It is now failing to measure the temperature of the landfill.)
We filled out a lab report and sent in the above photo grid. Ready for next week! There were three labs to choose from for the second week, and we did two of them: homemade ricotta cheese and sous vide eggs. Tune in next week for all the details!