More Parisian Yummies

April 28, 2009 at 8:47 am (dessert, food, moroccan, restaurants, review)

The best meal that we had in Paris was at Chez Omar, I think it’s in the 3rd Arrondissement.  I’m still not sure if you’re supposed to pronounce the ‘z’ in “Chez” cause “Omar” starts with a vowel.  Pronouncing French confuses me.  I’ve had very good tutors and I’m okay with the rules and the exceptions to the rules.  But I get frustrated when I learn that there are actually exceptions to the exceptions to the rules.  Back to Chez Omar – Moroccan.  We had an amazing chicken bastilla.  Any version of this dish (chicken, spices, flaky pastry, cinnamon and sugar) is always yummy, but the spices in this one were especially deep and rich and the pastry was especially light and crispy and fried.  I’m sorry that the photo is fuzzy.  I’m not apologizing to you, the person reading this, I’m apologizing to the delicious bastilla that doesn’t deserve to be photographed so terribly.

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We also ordered an entree that came with couscous, a vegetable stew, and roasted chicken.  Then you can mix and match on your plate.  Simple, but very well done.

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Back to the macarons, we got more macarons from Laduree to confirm that I like Laduree’s better.  But actually think I have to get some more from Pierre Herme as well.

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So the reason why the Laduree vs. Pierre Herme debate is still unsettled for me is that part way through the comparison, I realized that I prefer macarons with creamy fillings over macarons with fruity fillings.  If I were just comparing the fillings by themselves, I would prefer fruity, but the fruity ones seem to make the cookie part too moist and soggy.  I actually got all fruity macarons from Pierre Herme, but I got a mix of fruity and creamy from Laduree, so everything is all mixed up.  Maybe I can do a better, more controlled comparison next time I’m in Paris – that depends on the scheduling of Mark’s current project.  We’ll see!  I hope he can come back to NYC soon, but I also hope that he stays in Paris!

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Parisian Carb Count…

April 17, 2009 at 2:03 am (bread, dessert, food, international, travel)

… so far

Baguettes: 2

Croissants: 3

Pain au chocolat: 2

Macarons: 7

Assorted other pastries: too many to count

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This baguette is from Boulangerie Julien.  It’s the pain de tradition.  So amazing!  The crust is perfectly crispy and the inside is flavorful and chewy.  The worse “crispy” and “chewy” don’t really capture how amazing the textures are.  When you break into it, it sounds and feels like heaven.  And that’s even before you bite into it.

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More on the macarons later. I’m off to take advantage of the beautiful spring day and explore and eat more.

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Brooklyn’s Test Kitchen

April 8, 2009 at 6:00 am (cooking, dessert, food, recipes, science)

Here’s some of what I’ve been up to.  I baked up some cupcakes for the class I’m teaching.  The idea was to explore acids and bases in baking, and baking soda and baking powder as well.

The textbook explanations:  Baking soda is basic and requires an acid somewhere else in the recipe to create the reaction that generates CO2.  Baking powder has both the acid and base together.

There were 4 different recipes for the cupcakes, all modified from the All Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake from the Cake Bible (R.L. Beranbaum).  All four versions of the cupcakes had these ingredients:

  • unsalted butter
  • sugar
  • egg yolks
  • vanilla
  • cake flour
  • salt

And then I varied whether I used baking soda or baking powder and whether I used buttermilk (acidic) or milk (less acidic).  And then I baked up 12 cupcakes for each combination.

Cupcake A – milk, baking powder
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These smelled like vanilla and butter.  The bottom is considerably darker than sides.  The crumb was fluffy, but a little dry.  The top is pretty wide and flat.  Flavor is sweet.  Top was crispy.  A few students liked this one the best.
Cupcake B – milk, baking soda
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These smelled like vanilla, but not very buttery.  The color is a darker yellow towards the bottom.  The crumb is tight and non-uniform (worm holes).  The top is has a hump and the top’s texture is not as crispy as A.  The flavor was not as sweet as A, and there was a bitter aftertaste.  This was more moist than A and C, but not as moist as D.  One student said that this was her favorite.
Cupcake  C – buttermilk, baking powder
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These smelled like villa and butter.  The bottom is a little darker than the sides.  The crumb is fluffy and uniform, and maybe slightly more tender than A.  Top is flat.  Slightly citrusy aftertaste.  The texture is a little dry.  The top crust is crispy.  Most students found this to be their favorite.
Cupcake D – buttermilk, baking soda
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The smell had vanilla and butter.  The color is a darker yellow than A or C, with the bottom slightly darker than the sides.  The texture is tender and moist.  Top is high and rounded.  There was a slight tingly feeling that was left on my tongue.  The crust was not as crispy as A or C.
Cupcake A Cupcake B Cupcake C Cupcake D
Diameter, bottom of cupcake (cm) 5.1 4.9 5.0 5.3
Diameter, top of paper (cm) 6.8 6.6 6.9 6.6

Discussion

I’ll make it short so that the post doesn’t get too long.  And it’s not peer reviewed either.

I did my best to control for everything except for the variables that I was interested in (mixing order and time, baking time, etc), but I only had one oven and one kitchen and a limited amount of time, so I let a few things slide.  I was concerned that the color of the paper cups might affect the outcome, so I used a strategy somewhat inspired by bioinformatics and randomized the color of the cups.  I was also thinking about small molecule docking screens and how you can rank the hits and compare the ranks.  So I was thinking about how you could rank all the cupcakes of the same type and compare cupcakes at the same rank.  I didn’t do that.  And I didn’t do a number of other things that would have made this a better experiment, but would have also driven me insane.

The differences between the cupcakes were way more complex than what I was expecting.  And more complex than what is reported by people talking about food science.  Buttermilk seemed to make things more moist (acid is supposed to prevent gluten development) and baking powder made things more fluffy.  But it’s not this simple.  All of the cupcakes rose – something was acting with the baking soda, even though there wasn’t anything very acidic in the batter.  I probably should have made one without any chemical leavening, but remember my comments about insanity.  The shapes and colors and flavors were quite different and I don’t know how to explain that.  I think that using double acting baking powder complicated things as well.

I’ll leave it up to you guys to do more interpreting and further investigations to resolve the issues that come up with this one.  Let me know how it goes!

I’m not sure I understand cupcakes better, but this was a good lesson about the scientific process for my class, I think.  And cupcakes are always yummy and fun, even if some are yummier than others.

References

Not for this report, but I thought this was an interesting link about food myths.

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It’s April, time to go to Paris

April 4, 2009 at 12:17 pm (dessert, food, international, marriage, travel, wedding)

Mark’s on a project based in Paris now and I get to go visit him!  I leave next week.  Maybe I’ll have some stories about April in Paris soon!

Here’s a little preview.  They’re some treats that Mark brought back a few weeks ago:

Macarons from Laduree in Paris

Macarons from Laduree in Paris

Iowa, check!  47 more states!  We’ve already picked a wedding venue, in Massachusetts, but it’s nice to know that now there are 3 states where everyone can get married!

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