Okay, bakers and scientists. Who among us has not had a recipe flop? After becoming inspired by the macaron class last week, I was excited to get into the kitchen and start practicing on my own. Let’s just say it didn’t go quite as well without the helpful pastry chef to guide me. Read on to see how you can use science to learn from your mistakes in the kitchen!
Problem #1: Meringue. We learned in the last post all about the tricky science of meringue and colloidal dispersions. The two phases (components) involved are liquid and gas. Proteins from the egg white are used to stabilize air molecules within the liquid egg. Sugar helps to stabilize this mixture even further by raising the viscosity (thickness) of liquid and also provides the glossy sheen.
The very first problem I ran into was that my meringue would not set.
This could be due to a number of factors:
- First, always keep an eye on the meringue. It can be easy to overwork and then you will have to start all over.
- Traces of egg yolk accidentally included in the egg white – fat from the egg yolk interrupts the protein matrix essential for a stiff meringue
- Dirty utensils – any traces of fat or other compounds on the bowl or mixer can also interrupt the proteins
- Weather – a humid environment means too much water in the air, which disrupts the important ratio of liquid:moisture in the meringue. It was pouring rain when I was baking.
How do I fix this? First, make sure you are using clean utensils, preferably stainless steel, and no yolk AT ALL is present in your egg whites.
A source of acid can be used to stabilize the dispersion. Cream of tartar is an ingredient often used by chefs to make meringue.
Did you know? Cream of tartar is powdered tartaric acid, which is a byproduct of wine fermentation!
Adding this ingredient lowers the pH (acidity/sour) level of the foam which changes how the proteins interact. The protein is now in “neutral” form and repulsion between proteins is reduced. This means the proteins interact more easily at the surface of the water and air molecules, which helps the air stay suspended in the liquid.
This one problem caused a multitude of issues. The macarons had thin, cracked tops and a very dense texture. Because the proteins were overworked, they interacted with one another to form many bonds, making the cookie tough. The thin and cracked tops were due to excess air in the batter. I overbeat the meringue because it would not set up.
For comparison, you can see how much more fluffy the first batch prepared at cooking school turned out. It has air incorporated evenly, which allows the texture to be chewy. It also has a nice “candy-like” shell that’s a bit crunchy.
Problem #2 Oven. shells were also very dry and crispy. Some even had brown spots. This means the oven was too high or the shells didn’t need to cook as long.
Remember when you are baking anything for the first time that your oven is a processing factor that should be monitored and adjusted for your specific equipment. Next time, I will shave a few minutes off the cooking process to determine my optimal bake time.
Overall, the macarons still looked nice and were pretty tasty. I just need to keep on practicing!