One of the most important functions of eggs is to provide structure and determine texture. We saw this with breads, cakes, cookies, and muffins, with brownies, and also with meringue. But there’s one more category of baked good that depends on eggs: custards and creams. Eggs set and thicken crème brûlée, quiche, cheesecake, pastry cream, and crème anglaise. In this post, we’ll first review how an egg cooks, then explore how different ingredients and techniques affect this process to create smooth custards and creams.
Now that we’ve discussed what eggs do in our baked goods, let’s see them in action! For this experiment, I baked two batches of brownies that were exactly the same, except one batch had less egg than the other.
In the last post, we covered eggs’ many roles in cakes, cookies, muffins, and breads. But eggs are even more versatile when we consider what they can do with air. Think about it: egg whites on their own are dense and chewy. But with air (and sugar), they become light, crisp, melt-in-your-mouth meringue cookies. Add a few more ingredients, and we can make macarons, pavlovas, cake frostings, soufflés, and sponge cakes. In this post, we’ll explore how meringue forms and how we adjust its texture for different bakes.
In the last couple posts, we’ve seen that the temperature of cookie dough affects its spread and texture, which explains why many recipes chill the dough for a couple hours. But what about chill times that range from one to three days? That’s more than enough time for the dough to cool. These long periods of refrigeration, which are also called “aging” or “ripening,” are meant to improve the flavor and texture of our cookies. In this experiment, we’ll explore how significant these changes really are.
These buns are a twist on the classic Chinese egg custard buns (奶黃包, nǎihuángbāo). They still have the creamy custard and the fluffy steamed bun, but I added pumpkin and fall spices to both the filling and the dough to create a pumpkin spice version. Notes on ingredient substitutions and the science behind the custard filling, dough, and steaming process follow the recipe!
Red bean soup (紅豆湯,) is a popular dessert throughout China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. It’s made from red beans (紅豆, also called adzuki beans) which are incorporated into many East Asian desserts. Red bean soup itself is versatile. It can be eaten hot or cold, plain or with toppings, liquid or frozen. When my mom first dictated her version to me, she cautioned, “糖最後加，不然紅豆煮不爛！Don’t add the sugar until the end, else the beans will never soften!” Today, I’m sharing my mom’s recipe, adapted for a typical Western kitchen and pantry, then discussing the science behind her words.
Saltine cracker toffee, or Christmas crack, is a popular holiday treat. It’s a layer of saltine crackers coated in toffee topped with chocolate and sometimes with nuts. I enjoyed the rich, buttery taste, but I’d double the layer of saltines and use dark chocolate in an effort to cut the sweetness of the toffee. Even so, I could only take so much. In this version, I added miso for a salty note that elevates the toffee and complements the chocolate. I can’t get enough of it! As always, I’ll share the recipe and then talk science.
In the past few posts, we focused on sugar’s roles in baked goods and its interactions with other ingredients. But sugar is also crucial to candies like caramel, fudge, and fondant, for which careful control of sugar crystallization is paramount for texture. In this post, we’ll explore the chemistry of crystal formation in the candy making process.
In the last post, we discussed how sugar preserves the structure of cooked fruit. This comes in handy for fruit pie fillings, which often become a mushy and wet (but nevertheless delicious) mess. In this recipe, apples are tossed with sugar and drained. The drained liquid is cooked into a thick syrup that’s added back to the apples and baked. The apples maintain some crunch, not much water leaks into the pie, and the syrup adds an extra punch of flavor. Let’s take a look at the recipe and then discuss the science!
Over the last few posts, we discussed a lot of sugar’s roles in baked goods. It’s important for flavor, texture, structure, and color in cookies, cakes, and muffins. But sugar’s roles in baking extend further. Sugar is important in meringues as a stabilizer, in yeast breads as a source of energy for the microorganisms, and in fruit desserts to preserve the structure and texture of the fruit. In this post, we’ll explore sugar’s myriad roles in these sweets.