Harvard SEAS lecture, 11/12/12, Jack Bishop and Dan Souza

Tonight, Jack Bishop and Dan Souza came to visit Harvard from America’s Test Kitchen. The general topic was the “Science of Good Cooking” (which is also the title of their latest cookbook).

Jack started off talking about the pitfalls of home cooking. Just looking at the recipe for Toll House chocolate chip cookies, there are 40 different variables that will determine your results. Variables like the amount of protein in the flour, the brand of vanilla, the oven rack position, and what tool you use to cream butter and sugar. The variables can be categorized as 1) ingredient variables, 2) equipment variables, and 3) technique variables.

Jack also talked about the different ways home cooks learn. He categorized those as 1) apprentice mode – learning to cook with parents/adults as you grow up, 2) Independent Study Mode – ie. cooking from a Julia Child cookbook, and 3) Passive Observer Mode – ie. watching a food cooking show. In today’s environment, home cooks are more often learning from method 2 and 3. In addition, we’re trying to learn more recipes from more cultural backgrounds than ever before. In short, on average, today’s home cook is probably lacking in skills. America’s Test Kitchen aims to create the best recipe, but it’s not actually always the best. It’s the best recipe with the highest percentage of replication by a home cook.

Other conversations of the night?
-when’s the best time to add minced garlic to a vinaigrette
-how to keep a basil pesto green
-blooming spices in heat oil increases flavor
-precooking apples in a dutch oven with the lid on before putting them into a double crust apple pie results in less apple shrinkage and firmer apples, as opposed to putting raw apples into the pie
-dry aged steaks
-measuring meat tenderness by seeing how well they can hold a sink weight

-marinades fail if they are too acidic (acid squeezes moisture out of meats)
-marinades should have salt and fat
-egg whites won’t whip into peaks if there is any fat/oil present (so don’t use plastic bowls – plastic tends to hold onto oils)

-omelets are more tender if cooked with [cold] butter than no butter
-bread tastes better with a longer rise
-autolyse will help with kneading bread (this is the rest period between mixing ingredients and kneading the dough)

The final topic of the night was ATK’s quest to improve Toll House chocolate chip cookies:
-Brown the butter. Dan recommends using a silver-colored wide skillet because you can’t see the color well in a dark non-stick skillet. Also, transfer the butter into a bowl just before it’s finished – butter will continue to cook even after you remove it from the heat.
-Use a mixture of brown sugar and white sugar. White sugar is just sucrose. Brown sugar is made up of sucrose and invert sugar. Invert sugar holds moisture better than sucrose. A cookie made of brown sugar left to cool over a rolling pin will bend over the rolling pin. A cookie made of white sugar left to cook over a rolling pin will eventually break. White sugar creates a more fragile cookie.  Having said that, ATK didn’t like 100% brown sugar for this cookie recipe because the cookie came out too floppy.
-for leavener, ATK chose to go with just baking soda because baking soda increases browning

The best part of the evening though? Getting a chocolate chip cookie made by ATK on the way out. (^_^)

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a Toll House chocolate chip cookie, but this was a pretty tasty cookie.  It was definitely soft, and most likely the best chocolate chip cookie to have on the go.  I ate it on my way out of the Science Center, and it didn’t crumble at all.  Good cookie is good!

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