Adventures in organic chemistry

Fear not, this will not involve adding colourless, odourless chemical A to colourless, odourless chemical B (via pipette) to produce colourless, odourless chemical C.  Or at least, that is my main recollection of organic chemistry at school – with only the blackboard to convince you that C had indeed been produced after the long minutes of titration.  Perhaps I’m being a little unfair, we did once make an ester which was not odourless.  I fear even this limited excitement may be denied students of chemistry today – part of my last OU Day School took place in a chemistry classroom and not a Bunsen burner or chemical was in sight, just a rather small (and empty) fume cupboard.  Where will the next Andrea Sella come from, if this is the way the young experience chemistry?

Oh no, my experiments took place in the moderately well-equipped laboratory that is the kitchen of Fish Towers.  Sadly, no Bunsen burner; a ceramic hob just isn’t the same.  Some of you may cavil that my works are mere cookery, and not organic chemistry at all – but I would respond by asking what is cookery other than applied organic chemistry with a (hopefully) delicious result?

The first took advantage of the sudden, miraculous appearance of summer, to make a semi-freddo – something I’d been meaning to do for several years.  This process used every bowl I own and every whisking device at my disposal – and I quickly decided this would be my one and only venturing into the world of the half-frozen.  Well, that was until I came to eat the fruits of my labour after it had spent some hours languishing in the freezer.  Sadly, it was seriously delicious – and so it should be, using as it did a pint of double cream, four eggs as well as a vanilla pod and a little sugar.  Given its very low sugar and almost non-existent salt content, from a certain perspective it could even be considered a healthy option.  I think halving the ingredients would make its future manufacture a more practical option (assuming further summer is delivered to South Cambs) – but perhaps I should also investigate the related concept of the parfait.  I’m not sure this is much lower in fat, but its construction does seem possible with a lower whisk and bowl count.

My other culinary experiment of this last week was the roll.  I’ll admit it may seem rather prosaic, but I’d never made them before – and I was looking for a home-made bread product that would allow the slow consumption of the still fresh article over an extended period.  I have made loaves, halved them and then frozen one half  – but dividing a load any further (without a specialised slicing machine) does not seem a very viable option: any middle portions of the load tend to lose too much structural integrity.  So, I turned to the humble roll   – the bread maker forms the dough and I then divide it into unevenly sized rolls, prove and then bake them.  A slightly more interventionist process than the basic loaf, but a more flexible end product.  At this stage, I am using recipes provided by Mr (or Mrs) Panasonic as I was breaking new ground – but greater customisation may be introduced in subsequent batches.  Once again, a highly successful and tasty experiment – and with very modest workload for the dishwasher in this case.  I may also have gained important insight into the proving process which may yield dividends in future bun making -it all comes down to air (or such is my current theory).

For those disappointed by my rather limited experimental palette, I can recommend the blog-work of James Devine: a very tall chap with an engineering bent who has the great good fortune to work for CERN (and had the less good fortune of meeting me when I visited 18 months ago).  He performs proper experiments for fun (not just work) of a form I have only dreamt about – and only occasionally do these exploit the fact that he has rather more access to particle accelerators than do I.  I am somewhat jealous of his perspicacity – though try and comfort myself with the fact that his essays on the art of Benin are probably less well reviewed than mine.  His latest work is on the subject of cooking – though he has gone for sous-vide whereas I usually balk at a the hassle of a mere bain-marie.  Once again I find I must try harder: should I be studying engineering rather than the Arts?  I suspect I have significantly more chance of becoming an engineer than I an artist – though who knows what hidden talents I may have…


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