Posts tagged: cooking

Homemade – Not So Perfect Taffy (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , June 8, 2009 12:03 pm

The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project was homemade.

My children had been asking me recently about saltwater taffy, wanting to know what it was.  I decided we should try to make some homemade taffy and have a taffy pull!

Well, as the title of my post suggests, this was not a tremendous success, but I am not giving up!  I think I know what went wrong and am planning on trying again one of these days, so stay tuned for the post: “Taffy Part 2 – Perfect Taffy!”

I found a basic taffy recipe here, at this wonderful website:  Science of Cooking.  The recipe is under the category, Science of Candy.

The ingredients are sugar, cornstarch, butter, salt, light corn syrup, water, and optionally: flavoring (we used vanilla extract) and food coloring.  The recipe also gives the option of adding glycerin which will make it softer and creamier, but we left that out.

First we mixed together the sugar and cornstarch.

Next we stirred in the corn syrup, water, salt, and butter.

The whole mixture goes on medium heat.  Constant stirring is required until the sugar dissolves, then continue stirring until the mixture boils.  This step takes a while and the children grew a bit impatient, but from previous candy making experience, I know it is important to leave it on medium heat and not “cheat” by raising the temperature of the stove to hurry things along.

Once it boils, add a candy thermometer and stop stirring.

Why must you stop stirring? Here’s part of the science of this process:

“At this point, you have dissolved the crystal structure of the sugar. Stirring or other agitation is one of the many factors that can encourage the fructose and glucose molecules in your syrup to rejoin and form sucrose—crystals of table sugar.”

While the mixture boils, it is important to wash down the sides of the pan with warm water and a pastry brush.  This prevents any crystallization on the side of the pan from falling back into the mixture and becoming a seed crystal which could also cause unwanted recrystallization of the sugar mixture.

OUR ERROR NUMBER 1: On the first attempt we forgot to wash down the sides of the pan which probably contributed to our rock hard result!

The recipe says to allow the mixture to heat to a temperature of 270 degrees Farenheit (the “soft-crack” stage). At this point you will notice that the bubbles are smaller, thicker and closer together. Here is what it looks like:

At this point quickly stir in your flavor and color should you choose to add any, then dump the very hot liquid onto a greased cookie sheet, or marble slab.  I just buttered our granite countertop and that worked nicely.  Warn the children that it is VERY HOT.

Have the children butter their hands (they loved this step), and when it is cool enough to handle, begin the pulling process.  Have the children stretch it between them (warning – DO NOT DO THIS ABOVE A DOG.  Our dog jumped up and bit some off!).

Once it is stretched, then they should fold it in half (like folding a sheet), turn it and stretch again.

Here is where it all began to go wrong for us on our second taffy attempt.  Normally the taffy should become harder and harder to pull, but keep on going until it is “light in color and has a satiny gloss” (about 10 to 20 minutes according to the recipe).  Ours got stiff and nearly rock hard in less than 5 minutes.

RESULT NUMBER 1 – An interesting geological specimen:

RESULT NUMBER 2 – A little softer, but still capable of killing an intruder with a single blow:

Oh well. At least it tasted good (like butterscotch!).

Here is where I’ll stop my narrative since we got no farther.  The recipe continues on to explain how to cut it into pieces and wrap it (we would have needed a power saw).

OUR ERROR NUMBER 2: On the first try, we heated to 270 degrees, but it took me a minute or two to get the food coloring and flavor in there, so it might have gone a bit above (the temperature rises very quickly when it gets that hot).  Result:  Rock hard lump, like a giant hard candy rock!

On the second try, I only heated to 260 degrees and worked much more quickly with the color and flavor.  Result:  Pliable at first (we thought it was going to work), but as the kids pulled, it got harder and harder until it was unworkable and was only slightly softer than the first try – still a hard lump.

My realization:  We live at an elevation of about 8,000 feet above sea level.  I had not taken this into consideration when determining the temperature at which to stop the cooking!  In order to avoid over-cooking, we probably need to heat to only about 240 degrees.

WHAT WE LEARNED: Altitude affects cooking time because water boils at a lower temperature here than it does at sea level (due to lower air pressure up high).  Pasta always takes about 3 minutes longer to cook here than the maximum time given on the box. The candy was boiling earlier (at a lower temperature) so it boiled much longer than it should have by the time it reached 270 degrees.  The molecular change was farther advanced at that temperature than it would have been at sea level, making for harder candy (more like “hard-crack”).  Any other high altitude cooks out there might be interested in this link that I discovered about adjusting candy temperatures for altitude: Candy Making Tips (scroll down to the very last paragraph for the high-altitude conversion).

As I said before, I want to try this again and I think we’ll have better luck.  I’ll be sure to post a photo of our “perfect taffy!”

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Did you do a homemade Unplugged Project this week?  If so, then please put a link to your post in the Mr. Linky below.  You had also better leave one in a comment too, since Mr. Linky has been acting up lately.  If you did not do a homemade project, then please do not link, but read more here about how to join in.  We’d love to have you!

Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:

Slippery

Enjoy!

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Hot – Edible Sugar Science (Weekly Unplugged Project)

comments Comments Off on Hot – Edible Sugar Science (Weekly Unplugged Project)
By , August 11, 2008 7:19 pm

caramel

Finally, here is my hot post that disappeared into the ether last night. Thanks so much to Julie K in Taiwan, Angi and Nature Mama for having the brilliant idea of emailing me the post from their Google Readers. That saved me at least an hour of rewriting! I was so down on computers this morning, but this evening I am uplifted by the fact that three people I have never met in “real life” can help me out! Thank you!!! Now, on to the post:

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The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project was hot. Finally, we managed to get back on schedule and do it, although we broke away from our usual craft project and went in a more scientific direction.

While away this summer, I found a number of good books in my Dad’s favorite thrift store (he’s a packrat too). One is called Science Experiments You Can Eat by Vicki Cobb (more about the book at the end of this post). While we were trying to come up with hot ideas, my 7 year-old daughter picked up this book and wanted to choose a food-related project. We decided on Caramel Syrup: Sugar Decomposes from the Kitchen Chemistry chapter.

Older children will find this scientifically interesting and fun to do. Younger kids will enjoy the end result!

The goal of the experiment is to teach about chemical compounds and how they can sometimes be broken down into completely different substances. Although I always liked science in school, I am not a chemist so forgive me if I am not 100% perfect in my description.

Since I am a terminal nerd, I didn’t trust the book’s very simple explanation, and actually researched sugar and how it decomposes. I learned that sugar and its breakdown process is rather complicated. (If the mysteries of caramelization keep you awake at night, then read this.)

I tried to keep it 7 year-old simple and explained to my daughter that sugar is actually carbon and water fused together. When you heat sugar, it breaks down into its original carbon and water elements. I showed her the scientific formula for table sugar (sucrose): C12H22O11 . She already new that H2O was water and could see that in the formula. After I explained that C meant carbon, she saw the carbon and water in the formula.

Heating the sugar would cause it to become watery (the release of the water) and dark (the carbon). It would no longer really be sugar.

What we needed – sugar, water, a heavy frying pan:

First my daughter poured half a cup of sugar into the frying pan:

We heated the sugar over medium-high heat and my daughter stirred it:

After about 5 to 10 minutes, the sugar started to melt:

As my daughter continued stirring, the sugar melted further and began to darken and become very watery:

Finally it turned “straw-colored” and we had transformed our sugar into a new substance – caramel. We turned off the heat and slowly added half a cup of water in order to create a runny, edible solution. I did the pouring as the caramel was so hot that it steamed and spattered:

The shock-cooled caramel formed a brittle sort of candy-lump that we just had to taste:

My daughter continued stirring the mixture on low heat for about another ten minutes – until the big caramel chunk dissolved into a solution:

This is what we ended up with: a delicious carbon-water mixture that we ate over ice cream!

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If you haven’t heard of Science Experiments You Can Eat and you have scientifically-inclined children (or you homeschool), you might want to check it out of the library. Ours is an old version (1972), but the new one is supposedly revised and updated. I haven’t seen the new one, but our book has the following chapters about the science of food: A Kitchen Laboratory; Solutions; Suspensions, Colloids, and Emulsions; Carbohydrates and Fats; Proteins; Kitchen Chemistry; Plants We Eat; Microbes; and Enzymes.


If you did this week’s hot Unplugged Project, please put your link in Mr. Linky below so we can all find you. If you didn’t, please read how to join in, and consider doing next week’s project.

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Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:

Trees

Have fun!

Birthday Books

By , February 14, 2008 10:18 pm

A quick post tonight. I have spent far too much of my little free time today trying to figure out what all this “tagging” business is about. I have categories, but I guess tags are meaningful for search engines??? I am learning a lot and that is good, but I have things to say that I don’t have time to say when I am learning a lot!

My sister just gave me these two books for my birthday: The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution (Alice Waters) and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Barbara Kingsolver). I am very excited about these books because I feel that I am in an unhealthy “meat and potatoes” cooking rut. Do any of you ever get in a cooking rut? Perhaps Alice Waters can assist me in thinking a bit more broadly (but simply). Also, I have been wanting to read the Barabara Kingsolver book for quite some time, so that is a happy gift too.

Have any of you read these books? If so, what did you think of them?

The Cure For Picky Eaters!

By , March 26, 2007 9:42 am

I never planned on having picky kids. Before my first child was born I decided I would introduce her to French cheeses, garlic, and strong spices right away. When I lived in France I watched little French toddlers devouring Camembert and Brie as if it was peanut butter, in fact they thought peanut butter was a disgusting concept! Therefore children learn to eat what they are given. Therefore, my child would eat EVERYTHING! Right? Wrong. I had not anticipated food allergies: milk allergy, egg allergy, nut allergy. I was forced to abandon my French cheese toddler diet and my children became PICKY.

However, today I am going to share a secret. This may not be a secret to some of you, and as usual, I may just be way behind the times. But…I have just figured out how to get my picky kids to try and to actually LIKE new foods! My secret? Let them cook it themselves.

It all started several months ago. I was making crepes for dinner one night and the children wanted to “help.” I grumbled to myself because, as all seasoned moms know, it is always easier and faster to do things yourself than to accept “help” from the kids. But, I was in the mood to try and be a Good Mom that night and I put them to work. Much to my surprise, we actually had fun!

Cooking for me has become such a necessary evil. I no longer take pleasure in cracking an egg or stirring batter. It is simply a daily task to be accomplished as quickly as possible so that I can move on to something more fun. It sounds awfully sappy to say this, but that evening I was able to rediscover the magic of cooking through their eyes. Children are so excited about every new experience, even those that are quite boring and mundane to us grown-ups. My kids loved every task, every smell, every texture of our crepe-making adventure!

Since then, we have been trying to do a “Kids Cook Night” as we call it, once a week. At first we just did crepes. But lately we tried a Rachel Ray recipe of pasta with ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, garlic, and broccoli. Saturday we made a creamy Tarragon Chicken recipe in the Crock Pot. The children announced that they wished we could eat Tarragon Chicken every night. That is when I had the epiphany: My kids would not have eaten the ricotta cheese pasta or the Tarragon Chicken if I had made it.
Of course I won’t tell them, but I think we shall gradually try more and more exotic dishes and see what happens. If I find a good recipe that I fear they will not eat, we will have it for the first time on a “Kids Cook Night!”

The “Kids Cook Night” is actually quite fun for all of us, plus I figure that if we do this once a week, by the time they are teens, they should be really good cooks. Maybe I could get them to cook ALL the meals! And clean the house…and do the laundry…

Thanks to morguefile.com and photographer Scott Liddell (www.scott.liddell.com) for this yummy photo!

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