On Monday, March 8 our class gave a public presentation on three separate topics involving cooking with chemistry. Groups presented on the chemistry of flan, soufflés, and pancakes. While the topics all focused specifically on the importance (chemically) of eggs in their final products; the chemistry in each case wasn’t EGGxactly the same.
As any cook can attest, some dishes have a knack for bearing no resemblance to the picture accompanying a recipe. Regardless of how painstakingly a certain dish is prepared, it somehow never quite looks as perfect or as tasty as the picture suggests. One such dish that has plagued cooks for years is the soufflé. What is intended to be a light and fluffy treat ends up being a dense, dry mess that never rises as high as it’s supposed to. In an attempt to conquer the soufflé, cooks have experimented with many procedural remedies to help coax these devils up out of their ramekins. In examining a list of procedural tweaks reported to help a soufflé rise, the common cook may have limited chemical knowledge of what will work best and what that extra rise will cost them…But never fear, Chemistry 304 is here. With a little research, we found two ways to give your soufflé a little extra volume which are to beat your eggs white in a copper bowl, or to add a little bit of cream of tartar to your egg whites before foaming. But how do these tricks work?
It turns out, in using a copper bowl, copper ions are incorporated into the egg foam during mixing. These ions bind to specific proteins in egg whites, preventing them from getting too close to each other and squeezing out the air or water in the egg foam that gives the final soufflé its desired volume. Cream of tartar was determined to lower pH of the egg foam and thus slow down the reactions between proteins and prevent the formation of tight bonds which would squeeze out air!
In presenting to the public, the groups were able to explore the chemistry of their chosen topic and use videos, powerpoints, cooked samples (my favorite) and even macroscopic demonstrations to help address the chemistry of cooking to a very diverse audience. The presentations were fun, informative, and delicious (at least in my personal opinion).