Science of Food – Candies

Another cool part of my job is that I get to serve as the TA (teaching assistant) for the Science of Food class. This is a gastronomy class that is open for the public to take and is taught by a graduate of the program.

The class has a classroom component, to discuss the science of cooking, but I am only present for the lab portion, where the students conduct their experiments. These kitchen experiments are primarily baking tasks where the students perform certain variations to the control recipe to see how the outcome changes. Baking/pastry is a great way to show the science of cooking, since the measurements and procedures are very specific. Changing any aspect of the equation can dramatically impact the final product.

Last week, the students made some caramel, caramel brittle, and marshmallows. Each group  made a control caramel and brittle and a variation. Due to time constraints, each group only made one marshmallow recipe, with one group performing the control.

I have made caramel and marshmallows before, so I walked around the kitchen to give assistance where I could. My job is primarily to get everything prepped and ready to go, but I also stay through the lab to make sure all goes well. I know this is supposed to be work, but I have so much fun watching the process. I could tell that no one in the class had tried making caramel or marshmallows before, so it was cool for me to watch their learning process.

We saved all the candies for this week’s sensory lab where the students taste all the treats and compare them to the control. Here is a quick breakdown of what they made.

Group 1: The first group made a variation on the caramel/brittle where they left out the corn syrup. The result was a caramel that was much lighter in color and relatively flavorless. Their marshmallow variation used 1/3 less sugar. The marshmallows were very similar to the control, but slightly lighter and fluffier. I actually preferred these marshmallows to the control.

Group 2: The second group did not change any ingredients to their caramel recipe. Their variation was stirring the caramel constantly. Interestingly, this created a bunch of sugar bubbles and gritty texture in the caramel. Their marshmallow variation, on the other hand, was the most extreme. They used agar agar instead of gelatin to make vegan marshmallows. As expected, these candies were rather disgusting. I won’t even call them marshmallows, as they were just these flat, gritty, sugary blobs. They honestly weren’t the worst thing I’ve ever tasted, but if someone said they had a marshmallow for me and handed me this, I’d be rather disappointed.

Group 3: The third group made a caramel without baking soda. The baking soda was only used for the brittle, so in theory the caramel should have been the same as the control. It seems their caramel cooked a little longer the second time, so the texture was a little different. I had a difficult time seeing a difference in the texture of the brittles, just in the taste. The second brittle tasted burnt. This group made the control marshmallows, and I must say, their marshmallows tasted just like Jet-Puffed marshmallows.

Group 4: The final variation of the caramel was using half of the heavy cream. This did result in a lighter and highly gritty caramel. Their marshmallow variation used lite corn syrup. I found the marshmallow to be similar to the control, but a little more dense.

This lab was quite fun. Even though I am not in the class, I did learn quite a bit about candy making. I have a better understanding how about why the ingredients and procedures are what they are for these recipes. I have more appreciation for the science behind candy-making. Next week, we are making cakes and cookies!

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