Lately every time I share a meal with my brother he makes me roll my eyes. He is intrigued by the recently released Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet. Me? Not so much.
If you don’t know who Nathan Myhrvold is, you may find his biography daunting. I sure do. Here’s the “head of a pin” version: started college at 14, PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics by age 23, formerly Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft, oh, and by the way, a master French chef who has finished first and second in the world championship of barbecue.
Ummmm. I can bake cookies and tie my shoes—although not at the same time. Oh, and I have to double-tie my shoes, because they tend to come untied if I don’t. My lack of intrigue with Myhrvold’s book is, I think, a classic case of projecting my own self-perceived short comings onto it. That and it is 2438 pages with a list price of $625—although savvy shoppers can snag it on Amazon for $477.93. You’ll have to wait though, as it is sold out.
The book itself deals heavily with the science of cooking. I never think of myself as someone who is interested in the science of cooking. Yet, as I think back on some of the things I‘ve written in this space I realize that my self-image seems to have been heavily self-censored. Anyone have a copy of that magazine quiz, “Are you a Geek”? I think it was in Popular Science. I need to be re-tested.
In the meantime your low-rent Mr. Wizard has brought you another food science lesson. Happily it ends with a dish of ice cream.
One thing I know about myself: you do not want to go grocery shopping with me. I am not a “quick run into the market to pick up a couple of things” kind of guy. The guy with the cart who is cruising up and down every aisle with extended stops in the imported food aisle? Smile and wave as you pass me.
Anyway, on one of those extended cruises I came across Junket rennet tablets. I think they caught my eye because I remembered my Mom feeding me Junket rennet custard as a kid. I’ve never been much of a milk drinker, and it was a way to get milk into me. (I’ve never even liked milk on my breakfast cereal.)
Rennet is an enzyme that is harvested from the stomach lining of cows, and it coagulates milk. Many cheese makers use rennet to separate milk into curds and whey. The curds are then treated in many different ways to make all the different kinds of cheese we love. The whey is used for many products from protein powder supplements to animal feed.
Truth is, these tablets have been sitting on my shelf for months. I bought them without really thinking of how I would use them. Reading through the attached pamphlet though, my eye was immediately drawn to a recipe for ice cream. Who knew? Rennet ice cream! Yes, I know: you’re just as amazed as me!
It makes sense. Ice cream needs an ingredient that will emulsify the mixture in order to prevent ice crystals from forming as it freezes. Many cooks use eggs. Commercial ice cream often has other ingredients to do this, including gelatin. But the coagulation caused by the rennet can be done without heat. No cooking means less time needed to chill the mixture, which means the ice cream will be in your dish that much faster.
Low-rent Mr. Wizard would like to remind you of one of his guiding principles: always read and re-read a new recipe before using it. I did not, so as they say on Twitter, #FAIL. This is science, so if the recipe says Whole Milk, do not use 2% Milk.
I think my other mistake was being a bit too diligent in following the cooking instructions. The recipe says to warm the milk and cream to lukewarm at 110˚F. I very carefully did so, but I think my thermometer may have been misplaced in the sauce pan. I’m guessing I may have overheated the milk because not only did the rennet not coagulate the milk and cream, the resulting mixture would not freeze, even when I stuck it in the regular freezer for a few hours.
Starting from scratch, I deduced that the reason the mixture is warmed is to dissolve the sugar in the milk and cream. What if I skipped the heating stage altogether?
On my second attempt, I decided to dissolve the sugar mechanically. I combined everything except the cream in the blender. After the sugar dissolved, the cream was added and mixed very briefly to avoid whipping it. This attempt was perfect and creamy. It is not as silky as custard-based ice cream. The flip side to that is that is not too rich or heavy either.
In the meantime, on another of those meandering trips up and down the grocery aisle I found Biscoff cookies. I was first introduced to these toasty, brown sugary, Belgian cookies when I was served one for breakfast on an airplane trip. (Yes. One cookie the size of two fingers. For breakfast. Well done, airlines! I remember thinking, “I hope they didn’t go to too much trouble.”) Printed on the side of the cookie wrapper are the words, “Europe’s Favorite Cookie With Coffee.” What could be better than coffee ice cream with Biscoff cookies crumbled in?
Uh oh. I think that was one of the questions on the “Are you a Geek?” test.
Click here for my recipe for “Biscoff & Coffee Ice Cream”
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