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Why do soufflées collapse so often? What happens when sauces thicken? Why does meat sometimes turn tough or hard? If your hunger for knowledge inspires you to think about topics like these, then Peter Barham’s “The Science of Cooking” is the perfect book to satisfy your appetite.
Honestly, now: who really knows what happens in an egg when it hardens during cooking? Or what process takes place with meat when it grows crisp? Why does meat stay red when most of the blood has cooked out of it? And why is fish meat white? It is true that while you are actually cooking, these questions hardly ever come up – usually you don’t have time to think about them. And very few people spend any time pondering the physics or chemistry involved in why something works (or doesn’t). For the most part, it doesn’t seem to be that important.
This is a pity, according to Peter Barham, who teaches physics at the University of Bristol. If you know more about the scientific background of what happens when you cook, bake and fry foods, you will understand more and can become more involved. Beyond that, you can also come up with useful ideas about how to improve and refine recipes.
For all of his excursions into scientific topics, Barham always stays close to the original recipe. He only leaves the kitchen for a moment, as it were, at the beginning of the book so that he can explain some of the scientific fundamentals to lay people. But don’t let that affect your appetite – the author has a way of making the chemistry and physics of cooking palatable even to people who had never been able to sink their teeth into them until now. And if reading about the differential equation for heat transfer is too much for you, you can flip past that and go straight to the practical heat transfer that takes place when you cook eggs.
Once you have grown used to the scientist’s somewhat stilted style, you are in for a real treat. For example, you will learn that hot water freezes more quickly than cold water. You will learn how to create your own non-stick pan and how to reduce the amount of gluten that forms when you bake. And last but not least, you will learn how to make every soufflée perfect.