Experiment Number One: Caramelization

Introduction:
When cooking, it is important to note that there are different types of browning reactions that are of the utmost importance to not only professional chefs, but to anyone attempting to make a mouthwatering meal. These are the reactions that take simple flavors, sum them up and divide by delicious. They create the mysterious lingering and luscious flavors of onions sautéed in butter over medium heat or the tangy bite on a roasted red pepper. But the reaction that gives a buttery topping for ice cream and a bottom layer for a tart is done by a process called caramelization.

Caramelization occurs during the heating of foods with a high concentration of carbohydrates, or sugars. In layman’s terms, it is basically the removal of water from a sugar  at high heat followed by a couple of isomerisation (rearranging a molecule’s atoms while keeping the same molecular formula) and polymerization (reacting monomer molecules together to form a long chain molecule or a polymer) steps in which the sugar molecules change into the substance known as caramel. Unlike the other browning reactions, caramelization takes place a much higher temperature. When the high temperature is reached, the first step in the reaction is the melting of the sugar involved which will then begin to boil. During the boiling stage, the sugar (sucrose) decomposes into glucose and fructose which both go through a condensation step to lose water molecules, after which they react with each other to polymerize and isomerise into the longer, different molecules. They are then quenched with cream, if making a caramel sauce, to complete the process.

During caramelization, the complex reactions involved lend themselves to creating a change in flavor and color. However, it is important to note, when making a caramel, that the color (light, medium or dark) of the browning will lead to a distinct taste of the caramel and that the color corresponds to the temperature that the sugar has reached. In this experiment we tested the addition of cream to caramels of varying colors (or temperatures) to see what would happen.

Hypothesis:

If the temperature (or corresponding color) of a caramel when cream is added is related to the taste and texture of the caramel, then a caramel with minimal heat or too much heat will not develop the correct characteristics of a proper caramel when the cream is added.

Experiment Materials:

-a heavy bottomed sauce pot

Type of pot used to make the caramel sauce

-gas burning stove

-wooden spoon

-measuring cups and spoons

-4.5 cups sugar

-3.75 cups heavy cream

-1 cup water

-1.5 teaspoon vanilla

Procedure:

In a heavy bottomed sauce pot, 1/3 cup water and 1 ½ cups sugar were combined.

Then they were cooked over low heat, without stirring. After approximately 12 minutes the sugar had completely dissolved, free from any sort of agitation. Once the sugar had dissolved the heat was increased to medium and the mixture was allowed to boil. As the mixture began to boil white foam began to form around the edges although the syrup in the middle remained clear, though full of bubbles. The mixture only smelled sweet, but not very distinctive. Then we began swirling the pot (71 rotations per minute) in a counterclockwise motion for 10 more minutes. After the 10 minutes, the mixture had turned a medium golden brown, though still transparent. It smelled like buttered popcorn.

After the 10 minutes, we took the pot off of the heat and added a mixture of ½ a teaspoon of vanilla and 1 ¼ cups of cream to the boiling mixture. The cream bubbled, steamed and hissed and the sugar mixture formed a solid mass in the middle of the pot that was sticky and golden brown.

We then returned the pot to medium heat until the solid mass of the sugar mixture had dissolved, after about 10 minutes. The end color was a golden brown with a consistency that was more viscous than the initial cream or sugar mixture. It smelled buttery and creamy and had developed a more complex taste, as though it had been infused with butter. The mixture was then transferred to a glass bowl and allowed to cool over night.

The same procedure was followed for the other two types of caramel except for the following differences and observations:

Light caramel:

-after the sugar mixture began to boil and swirl, it was taken off of the heat after 7 minutes instead of 10, after which the cream was added.

-the light caramel final mixture was a light yellow, opaque that smelled of sweet cream without the distinct butter aromas and it had a thinner consistency.

Dark caramel:

-after the sugar mixture began to boil and swirl, it was left on the heat for 13 minutes instead of 10, after which the cream was added.

-the dark caramel smelled slightly blackened, richer in a denatured buttery smell, very dark brown with a thicker consistency.

Results:

After all of the caramels had cooled, each one was observed carefully and discussed based on its sensory properties: sight, taste, smell and touch. Sound was not applicable to the results of the caramels.

Light Caramel: The color of the light caramel was similar to a pale yellow butter as soon as it came out of the pan, and after it was allowed to cool, the liquid began to separate with a clear liquid on the top of a thicker syrupy bottom that maintained its yellow color.  It smelled sweet, although a scent of each of the added ingredients could be detected separately as though they were not a complete unit. On the tongue, it was very thin feeling and did not maintain any sort of body for the palette. As for the notes of taste in the light caramel, it was sickly sweet without the distinct “caramel” element. The taste was likened to unfrozen ice cream.

Medium Caramel: The color of the medium caramel was a golden brown, similar to the skin color of an almond as soon as it came out of the pan and after it was allowed to cool, the liquid gained viscosity and darkened in color to a caramel brown. The mixture smelled buttery, sweet and rich while hot and had no smell after it was cooled. All of the smells were harmonious in the way that they worked together and could not be completely distinguished. On the tongue, the mixture melted at normal body heat and incorporated the flavors of sweet cream butter and toasted nuts along with a rich sweetness. The body of the caramel was thick yet light and flowing even after it had been cooled.

Dark Caramel: The color of the dark caramel was a very dark brown, almost like a walnut or cherry wood when finished with lacquer as soon as it came out of the pan and as it cooled it grew a shade darker. It smelled very rich and a bit burned or blackened which covered the rest of the odors. On the tongue, the caramel had distinct burned notes as well as an underlying taste of scalded milk. In the pan when it was hot, the mixture was very thick, and after it had cooled it was so thick that it could not pour from the bowl. The consistency was likened to that of a pudding.

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