Blueberry Muffins

For my final project, I decided to make blueberry muffins. I chose four components of the recipe to focus on: the use of different leavening agents and the difference between yeast breads and quick breads; why recipes often instruct you to mix wet and dry ingredients separately; starch gelatinization; and antioxidants and free radicals.

Muffins are technically a quick bread, which means that they are leavened using something other than yeast. While the leavening agents used vary by recipe, in general quick breads require at least one acidic agent and one basic agent. When the acidic and basic agents combine, they will release carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide causes air pockets to form in the dough or batter, which will cause the bread to rise, similar to the way that it rises when you use yeast. As the name implies, quick breads rise much faster than yeast-based breads do. This is because when baking with traditional yeast, you need to wait for the chemical reaction that produces the carbon dioxide to occur before you bake your bread. When baking quick breads, however, the chemical reaction that causes the bread to rise actually occurs when the dough or batter comes into contact with a liquid and when it is actually being heated, which effectively removes one of the longest steps from the baking process. In my blueberry muffin recipe, I will be using baking powder as my leavening agent because it contains both acidic (baking soda) and basic (cream of tartar) components.

Oftentimes, baking recipes will instruct you to mix wet and dry ingredients separately and then combine them a little bit at a time. This is a crucial step that can dramatically improve the quality of your finished baked goods, for several reasons. Mixing the ingredients separately can make it easier for you to disperse the different ingredients throughout the mixture, which will result in a more consistent batter or dough. More importantly, however, mixing wet and dry ingredients separately will facilitate emulsion and prevent your batter or dough from becoming overworked. Most muffin recipes call for eggs, some type oil (often vegetable oil), and either milk or cream. Oil and milk do not mix with each other naturally, but the egg yolk acts as an emulsifier that helps bind the oil and milk together, which is necessary for a good muffin batter. Mixing the wet ingredients separately and then adding the dry ingredients incrementally will help create and preserve this emulsion. As we learned in the Breaking Bread lab, kneading bread dough can facilitate gluten formation, which makes the bread light and fluffy. However, when baking muffins, cakes, cookies, and other numerous other baked goods, excessive gluten formation can make the finished product very dense and crumbly. This is because gluten contributes to the batter’s elasticity, but overworking the batter can cause the gluten to become too elastic, which will prevent the batter from rising properly when cooked. Mixing the dry and wet ingredients separately reduces the likelihood that you will over mix the batter when you are trying to incorporate the ingredients into each other, which will prevent you from overworking the batter.

The muffin recipe I used, like many recipes for baked goods, called for a substantial amount of flour. Flour is an important ingredient because in addition to aiding in gluten formation, it also contributes to the structure of the muffins through the process of starch gelatinization. Starch is a major component in flour, and some varieties of flour can contain up to 75% starch. Starch gelatinization refers to the process by which starch molecules in the flour absorb water from the batter. This process begins to occur around 60°F, because starch is insoluble at lower temperatures. During starch gelatinization, bonds in the starch will break, which allows the hydrogen atoms in the starch to bond with water in the muffin batter. As the starch molecules absorb this water, the batter becomes firmer, which contributes to the baked muffin’s final structure.

Blueberries are often revered to as a “super food,” in part because they contain high levels of antioxidants that react with the free radicals in our bodies. The term “free radicals” refers atoms that contain valence (unpaired) electrons. Typically, an atom will contain electron pairs that stabilize each other and spin in opposite directions in the atom’s orbitals. However, when an atom loses a paired electron, the remaining unpaired electron will cause the atom to become highly reactive. The process of gaining and losing electrons occurs naturally in our bodies, but the resulting free radicals react with each other and with our cells, which can set off a chain reaction that results in even more reactions. The reaction with our cells can be detrimental to our health, and free radicals have been linked to cancer, autoimmune disorders, and a number of other diseases, as well as aging. Antioxidants are phytochemicals, vitamins, and enzymes that can prevent or stop the free radical reactions by donating free electrons to the free radicals so that their outer electrons are no longer unpaired. The pigments that give blueberries and other similarly colored berries their color contains anthocyanin, which is a powerful antioxidant with notable health benefits. This is why many of the foods that we typically associate with high levels of antioxidants are red, blue, or purple.



  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • ¼ cup granulated brown sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Mix flour, baking powder, and white sugar in a bowl
  3. Mix butter, egg, and milk in another bowl
  4. Gradually combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until just combined
  5. Stir blueberries into batter
  6. Pour batter into muffin tins; fill each cup approximately 2/3 full
  7. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top of the batter
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes







Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits By Ayanna Egbarin


Red Lobster’s cheddar bay biscuits are a delight that you would think you can only enjoy if you go to the restaurant. The buttery flaky outer layer compliments the fluffy cheesy inside so well, you would think that there is no way that you would be able to make this on your own. With the knowledge of the science of these biscuits and a little technique, anyone can make these dinner favorites in the comfort of their own home. Some of the chemical processes to be cognizant of include: gluten formation, taste and spices from the cayenne pepper, fats and lipids from the butter/buttermilk, the chemical process of mixing baking soda/powder and an acid (buttermilk), and Maillard reactions.
Gluten formation plays a big role in the making of these Cheddar Bay Biscuits. As we all know, gluten is a water-insoluble protein. For the making of biscuits, the gluten bonds are weaker than when compared to bread. Although we use the same all-purpose flour when making biscuits and bread, the difference comes in when it comes to the preparation of the dough. Making bread requires a lot of kneading and rolling. This is done in order to denature the proteins to increase the surface area to create cross-links between hydrogen bonds and disulfide bridges. It creates a lighter, fluffier bread with more gluten formation. Biscuits require no kneading or rolling so they don’t have the increased gluten formation within them from that process. Instead, you use salt to aid in the gluten formation. In this case we are using both garlic salt and regular salt. Salt is a positive ion that associates itself with the negative ions found in gluten. This allows the proteins to approach closer making for a stronger bond, which results in stronger dough.
A hint of spice is added to this recipe with the cayenne pepper that is added. Cayenne pepper is fairly high on the Scoville Heat Unit Chart with 30-50,000 scoville heat units. A small pinch of this will add a kick into the biscuits but the milk from the buttermilk and the cheddar cheese will make it so that the spice isn’t overwhelming. Since capsaicin isn’t water-soluble but can be taken up by the fat inside of both, the spice is a bit muted.
The key to making great biscuits is fat. Unsaturated fats like butter are great for the perfect biscuit because of their structural rigidity. At room temperature it is solid. The hydrocarbon chain in the lipid is straight, without any kinks, allowing for the lipids to stack on top of each other. When butter is added to the biscuit mix their responsibility is to melt, losing its structural rigidity, to leave behind small air pockets that release gas and creates a lift in the interior texture of the biscuit. Thus giving the biscuit a fluffy, layered texture as you break it open and bite into it.
Another process to consider is the mixing of baking soda/powder and an acid, buttermilk. The rising agent in biscuits is baking soda, also known as sodium hydrogen carbonate. When it is dissolved in liquid or heated, the sodium hydrogen carbonate breaks into sodium, water, and releases the gas carbon dioxide that produced bubbles in the dough, making it lighter. An acid, like buttermilk, aids in this process. For recipes that don’t call for buttermilk, baking powder is used instead because it is a mixture of a powdered acid and baking soda.
The Maillard reaction is a set of reactions responsible for the browning of the outer layers of any food item subject to heat. It also produces aromatic compounds for that “fresh-out-of-the-oven’ scent. The reaction occurs more in alkaline environments. Meaning it has a pH greater than 7. The more baking soda you add, the browner the product will be because of the Maillard reaction. This recipe calls for a table spoon of baking powder which is not an overwhelming amount of baking soda so the biscuits will be nice and golden.
The final result of understanding the making of biscuits is a cheesy, fluffy, golden brown biscuit, ready to be paired with any dish. The whole family will think that you bought it, but really it all boils down to the science.

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 2 teaspoons garlic powder
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1 cup buttermilk
• ½ cup melted unsalted butter
• 1 ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
For the topping
• 3 tablespoons unsalted melted butter
• 1 tablespoon chipped parsley leaves
• ½ teaspoon garlic powder

• Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with baking paper
• Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, garlic powder, salt and cayenne pepper into a large mixing bowl
• In another bowl mix all o your wet ingredients (buttermilk and butter). Pour wet mixture onto dry mixture and stir until moist. Add in the cheese
• Using a ¼ measuring cup, scoop the batter evenly onto the baking sheet and place in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown
• For the topping, mix together the butter, parsley, and garlic powder. Coat the tops of the biscuits with the mixture
• Serve and enjoy!


Cheesy Spinach Quiche

Recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction website

  • 1/2 recipe homemade pie crust(step-by-step photos included)
  • 1 (10 oz) box frozen spinach
  • 8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (or chopped roasted)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk*
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar + mozzarella)*
  • salt & pepper, to taste


Prepare the pie crust the night before to save yourself some time.

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. If your frozen spinach is not already thawed, thaw it in the microwave per box directions. Drain the spinach in a colander while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Place sliced mushrooms in a skillet coated with 1 teaspoon olive oil or nonstick spray, add the garlic, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Turn the heat on to medium-high and sauté the mushrooms until they release all of their moisture and no more water remains on the bottom of the skillet, about 6-7 minutes.

On a floured work surface, roll out the chilled pie dough. Turn the pie crust dough about a quarter turn after every few rolls until you have a circle 12 inches in diameter. Carefully place the dough into a 9-inch pie dish. Tuck it in with your fingers, making sure it is smooth. With a small and sharp knife, trim the extra overhang of crust and discard. Pre-bake the pie crust for 8 minutes.

While the pie crust is pre-baking, whisk together the eggs, milk, and parmesan cheese until combined. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Blot and squeeze the rest of the water out of the thawed spinach. After 8 minutes, remove the pie crust from the oven and spread spinach on top. Add the cooked mushrooms and shredded cheeses. Pour the egg mixture on top. If desired, sprinkle the top lightly with more parmesan cheese and/or salt and pepper.

Bake the quiche until it is golden brown on top and the center is no longer jiggly. Depending on your oven, this will take anywhere between 45 minutes – 1 hour. Mine took 50 minutes. Use a pie shield to prevent the pie crust from over browning, if desired. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing and serving. This quiche makes great leftovers! Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Baked quiche freezes very well, up to 2 months.

Final Project: Cheesy Spinach Quiche

I made cheesy spinach quiche for my final project. The recipe from Sallys Baking Addiction was used, but I changed a few things (the cheeses, premade pie crust, and no mushrooms). It touches on many of the aspects that were covered in this class, including taste, fatty acids, proteins, gluten, and the mallaird reaction.

There are two ways to taste food—binding to a receptor or passing through an ion channel. The quiche utilizes both with the umami and salty tastes. First, the umami taste that is associated with glutamate is present because of the cheeses that are used. This taste is present in protein rich foods and binds to the 7TM receptor. The salty taste occurs when sodium or potassium ion passes through an anion channel found on the tongue.

Saturated fatty acids are used to cook the quiche, including cheese and milk. These help to keep the quiche from drying out while it bakes. Also, the eggs in the quiche act as an emulsifier between the nonpolar fatty acids and the polar substances. The lecithin in the eggs is what allows it to act as the bridge between nonpolar and polar substances, forming micelles and an even mixture.

The eggs are a high source of protein. In order to eat most protein, it must be denatured. Here we use surface change by beating the eggs then mixing them. This physically rearranges the protein and adds air to the mixture. Then we use heat to break the protein bonds. The heat provides the energy to create new and stronger bonds. The elastic quality of the protein is lost when eggs are cooked. By firming the proteins, the eggs are able to bind with the ingredients in the quiche (Science of Cooking). The egg proteins will unwind during denaturation and bond to form a mesh that traps the milk (Science of Cooking).

Another aspect of the quiche is the crust. The crust is a type of bread that requires gluten formation. Gluten is a water insoluble protein made of glutenin and gliadin, which is found in wheat protein. It is formed through hydration, which changes the form and structure of the protein. Gluten has three types of bonds—hydrogen bonds, disulfide bridges, and cross links. The cross links are what give bread its elasticity, allowing it to rise. Without the elasticity, the bread is stiff and crumbly. Kneading the dough causes the protein to denature and flatten out providing more surface area to form cross links (surface change). The sheets trap the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast fermentation reaction. In this recipe, we would use soft wheat which is 6 to 8% proteins, resulting in weaker gluten formation. This is desirable for crust because it is not supposed to rise too much. Also, the addition of baking soda raises the pH level of the mixture, reducing gluten formation (more crumbly texture). The ideal pH of water for gluten formation is 5 to 6. Salt is a positive ion so it associates with negative ions found in gluten, allowing the proteins to approach more closely and creating a stronger dough.

The mallaird reaction is a type of non-enzymatic browning involving the reaction of simple sugars and amino acids. It changes the color of the food and creates flavor. Here it is present on the pie crust and the quiche. Hundreds of different organic compounds can form, creating different tastes and aromas.

My favorite part of any dish is the cheese because cheese is delicious. Cheese is made from milk; essentially, the water is removed from the milk concentrating the proteins and fat. The milk is then preserved for a long period of time under different conditions depending on the type of cheese. First in the cheese making process, the casein protein in milk is coagulated and then the solid curds and liquid whey are separated from each other. The curds are left to ripen. When acidifying the milk, the bacteria will sour the milk converting lactose to lactic acid and lowering the pH. The type of bacteria used will depend of the type of cheese that is being produced. Mesophilic bacteria is used for cheddar, gouda, and Colby cheeses, while thermophilic bacteria is used for gruyere, parmesan, and romano cheeses. Then rennet can be added to the milk to speed up coagulation of casein and produces a strong curd. Rennet has the active enzyme chymosin. Last, ripening occurs where bacteria breaks down proteins altering flavors and texture of final cheese. First it will break down to peptides and then to amino acids. Some cheeses are inoculated with a fungus during this step, which will produce digestive enzymes that break down large protein molecules in cheese. The addition of this fungus produces softer cheese like brie. Cheese making is like cooking because there are many different variables to change that will change the product. Depending on what you want, you can change the recipe. (Biotechnology Learning Hub)

These are just some of the chemistry relationships that a quiche has. There are many more and it is something that can be researched in much more depth depending on your level of interest and basic chemistry knowledge.



Works Cited

“The Amazing Multi-Tasking Egg.” Science of Cooking. Exploratorium: the Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <>.

“The Science of Cheese.” Biotechnology Learning Hub RSS. N.p., 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <>.



Crème Brûlée


There are two components to a crème brûlée. First, there is the custard that makes most of the dish. Second, is the dark caramel topping that we all are fascinated to see get made. The chemistry behind this delectable desert deals with the properties of the proteins in eggs and the caramelization of sugar.


  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 quart hot water


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
  2. Put cream, vanilla bean, and its pulp into a saucepan and bring to a boil
  3. Remove the mix from heat and allow to sit for 15 minutes
  4. Strain out vanilla bean
  5. Mix 1/2 cup of sugar and egg yolks until well blended
  6. Add cream in little bit at a time, while stirring continously
  7. Pour the liquid into ramekins
  8. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan
  9. Pour enough hot water to come half-way the sides of the ramekins
  10. Bake until creme brulee has set, which is when it just jiggles in the center (about 40-45 minutes)
  11. Remove and allow to cool
  12. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days
  13. Remove from refridgerator and top evenly with sugar
  14. Use a torch to melt the sugar and make a crispy top


Crème brûlée uses only the egg yolks. Egg whites are not used because they have a higher protein content. This higher content means that the proteins in egg whites will denature and reform stronger bonds (coagulate) more quickly and at a lower temperature than egg yolks. Egg yolks take longer to coagulate because their protein density is lowered by a higher fat concentration than egg whites. Egg whites are about 3% fat while egg yolks are 58% fat. The fat molecules act similarly to the interfering molecules in freezing point depression. They block the formation of new bonds between the denatured proteins, which slows down coagulation. By dragging out the process of coagulation and decreasing the amount of new bonds, we ensure that we get a creamy/silky custard, rather than a firm one like Jell-O.

The Importance of Cream

Egg whites begin to coagulate at 140 Fahrenheit, while egg yolks do so at 150 Fahrenheit. A mixed egg is in the middle at 145 Fahrenheit. Adding cream to our eggs raises the starting coagulation temperature to 170 Fahrenheit! This will further aid in slowing down the coagulation process, which will give a creamier custard. The cream is also important in tempering the eggs before they go into the oven. Tempering eggs is when you heat up the cream and then you add it very slowly into the egg mixture. This part is important because if you put a cold egg mixture into the oven there will be too much heat transfer at the beginning and it would heat up too rapidly, which would make the custard firm. By slowly adding in the cream, we get a warm egg mixture going into the oven. The warm mixture will not have as much of a heat shock and there will not be massive coagulation at the beginning.

Everybody Needs a Bath

Around 190-200 Fahrenheit, we start to get scrambled eggs. However, the recipe calls for the use of a 325 Fahrenheit oven. To make sure we get crème brûlée and not a mushy mess of scrambled eggs, we use a water bath. The water bath serves two purposes. Water cannot get hotter than 212 Fahrenheit in the oven, when it reaches that point it will use the extra heat energy to convert itself to steam. So the water helps bring down the temperature from 325 Fahrenheit to something closer to the coagulation temperature. And by doing so the water also helps the custard cook more evenly as well.


The brûlée part in crème brûlée means to burn. This is where we use a torch to burn sugar. Caramelization is a non-enzymatic browning that occurs between carbohydrates. It is an oxidation reaction that occurs at about 320 Fahrenheit for sucrose (which is the sugar we use). The temperature of the butane torch flame is around 2,600 Fahrenheit, which is definitely high enough to make this reaction occur. This reaction creates hundreds of different products that that give the top caramel layer the buttery (diacetyl) and nutty (furans) flavor. A torch is used because we need a concentrated source of heat, if we were to crank up the heat in the oven to where caramelization occurs, the custard would cook into a rubbery blob. Also, torching caramelizes the sugar instantly, so you get a nice thin layer of caramel.



Homemade Marshmallows


During the summertime, when surrounded by a fire, a common food found alongside a box of graham crackers and a Hershey chocolate bar is marshmallows. This gooey and essential ingredient of s’mores originated as early as the 1300s; however, a lot uncertainty remains in what exactly a marshmallow is made of (“Science Buddies”). Surprisingly, marshmallows must undergo several chemical processes before they can emerge as the white spongy product seen on store shelves. The steps to make marshmallows are rather simple and can be easily made at home with a couple of ingredients.

Step 1: Denaturing Proteins

The first step in making marshmallows involves simply adding two ingredients into a saucepan—water and gelatin (i.e. collagen; protein). Once these two ingredients are stirred slowly on low heat, the powdered gelatin will dissolve.  The water causes the special protein bonds in gelatin to expand and “dissolve.”  This is an example of denaturation at work, where the use of physical surface change and heat caused the breakage of protein bonds in the gelatin.

Step 2: Boiling Point Elevation & Caramelization

The second step involves two chemical processes: boiling point elevation and caramelization. By adding sugar to water, sugar ion interfere with lattice formation causing the boiling point of the water to be higher than the normal 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Boiling point elevation is key for the next step in making marshmallows—caramelization. Caramelization is one form of non-enzymatic browning that is crucial in the making of marshmallows. This chemical process takes place once the sugar solution reaches the temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit and the sugars are oxidized. This temperature is the prime window for browning to occur, causing the liquid sugar mix to turn into a thick sauce.

Step 3: Coagulation

Once caramelization has occurred, the thick sauce is then poured into a mixing bowl with the gelatin mixture where a third chemical process takes place. Coagulation occurs while mixing the ingredients with a blender allowing breaks and the integration of air into protein bonds. This chemical process is responsible for the marshmallow’s fluffy and foam-like texture. When the mix is poured in the bowl, granulated sugar is gradually added and as the entire liquid is mixed. However, while stirring the mix another chemical process is taking place with the help of sugar.

Step 3: Preventing Crystal Formation

Throughout the course we have learned that sugars play an important role in cooking and baking in general.  They are also essential in marshmallow formation.  If granulated sugars were not accompanied by corn syrup when added to the mix of dissolved gelatin, the final product would be hard.  However, when glucose is added, it blocks crystal formation, preventing the marshmallows from turning into a hard candy-like substance.

Step 4: Drying Agent

The last step according to the recipe is to pour the thickened sauce into a baking pan covered in vegetable oil and cornstarch.  Not only does the starch give the marshmallows their signature texture, but it also acts as a drying agent. Cornstarch helps speed up the drying process of the liquid by absorbing additional moisture, creating semi-soft shell while leaving the inside nice and gooey.

In conclusion, once these steps are complete and the chemical reactions have taken place, the marshmallows must sit for four hours. Afterwards the marshmallows can be enjoyed and used for s’mores or Rice Krispy Treats, which are also great chemistry-related snacks.  The ability to make these snacks using marshmallows is the result of a unique relationship between the evolution of food and chemistry.


  • 2 envelopes of plain, unflavored gelatin
  • ½ cup cold water
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar


  1. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and confectioner’s sugar. Grease the sides of a 9” square baking pan, and place a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper, cut to size, along the bottom and then grease that, too. Use a bit of the cornstarch mixture to dust the bottom and sides of the greased pan.
  2. Place the contents of the two packets of gelatin into a small saucepan, and mix in the ½ cup of cold water. Let it stand for one minute, and then cook and stir over low heat until the gelatin is fully dissolved.
  3. Now pull out a mixing bowl, and blend the granulated sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla. Add the gelatin mixture, and beat the whole mixture thoroughly—for up to 12-15 minutes—with an electric mixer. Watch the mix become thick and creamy. Pour it into the greased baking pan, and let it stand at room temperature for at least 4 hours.
  4. Afterwards, use a greased knife to cut and enjoy!


Blueberry Coffee Cake

I decided to make a relatively healthy blueberry coffee cake. I love desserts but I try to be healthy, so this was a challenge. I started off by using two different kinds of flour, one being whole-wheat flour, which is healthier than regular flour. Whole-wheat flour also affects the chemistry behind the cake. Whole-wheat flour has large amounts of glutenin and gliadin gluten in it, which we know affects how strong bonds are in the baked batter. This would seem to be the opposite of what a coffee cake would call for, but the “bran” part of whole wheat actually slices through gluten and prevents it from forming.

Next, I created an mixture of brown sugar, butter and oil. These mixed well together, but I needed to add eggs. I added the eggs one at a time, which is necessary in order to not break the emulsion, similar to what we did in class. Adding the eggs too quickly would break the emulsion because the fat in butter and the liquid water in eggs do not naturally mix. They must be suspended in one another.

Another aspect of the chemistry behind this blueberry coffee cake is the caramelization of the brown sugar in the recipe. While some people think brown sugar is healthier or much different from white sugar, brown sugar actually contains 97% sucrose, while white sugar is pure sucrose. They are very similar. Caramelization of sucrose occurs at 320 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Since the recipe calls for the coffee cake to be baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, there is plenty opportunity for caramelization of the brown sugar to occur. We know that caramelization adds hundreds if not thousands of flavor compounds and creates an entirely different molecule than the molecule pre-caramelization.
Finally, the recipe called for the use of baking soda.

We did not talk about this in class, but the pH of several items is very important in cooking. Baking soda and baking powder are similar, yet different. Baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, is a basic substance, meaning it has a high pH. Baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate as well as acids that react with this basic substance. As baking soda is used in the recipe, I will talk about it here. Baking soda is used to react with the acids in the recipe, which are the eggs, yogurt, and butter. When bases and acids come into contact, CO2 is created. This is similar to the grade school experiment of mixing baking soda with vinegar. The CO2 created through this reaction begins instantly, which is why it is unwise to leave formed batter out for a long time before baking it. During the baking of this coffee cake, the CO2 is useful in leavening, which is the process of the dough rising and becoming light. This gives the cake its airy texture. In addition, baking soda aids in the caramelization of the brown sugar in the recipe. This occurs because the higher the pH (the more basic), the quicker the caramelization reaction takes place. The outside of the coffee cake is very brown and caramelized.


Slow Cooker Taco Queso Dip

Slow Cooker Taco Queso Dip

1 pound ground beef
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1 large (or 2 small) jalapeños, seeded and finely minced
⅔ cup water
2 tablespoons taco seasoning
3 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 (10-ounce) cans Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies

1. In a large skillet, brown the ground beef and onion over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink and the onion is translucent. Drain oil. Add the jalapeños, water and taco seasoning, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat.
2. In a 4 to 6-quart slow cooker (set on low), add the cheeses by the ¼- to ½-cup, stirring well to incorporate each addition and ensuring that the cheese is melted before you add more. Continue until all cheese has been added.
3. Stir in the prepared beef mixture and the cans of Rotel. Stir well and cook on low until all of the cheese is completely melted and the dip is fully incorporated. Keep the slow cooker set to warm to serve.

The Chemistry:

Why does red meat (like the ground beef I used in my dip) turn brown when cooked?

  • The Maillard reaction! We’ve already learned about this, so I’ll refrain from going into detail.

Why does chopping onions make you cry?

  • The short answer: unstable chemicals. The long answer: during their growth, onions absorb sulfur from the earth, and this sulfur combines with amino acids in onion cells to form amino acid sulfoxides. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the onion cell, there lurks a natural enzyme called lachrymatory-factor synthase, or LFS. This enzyme specifically converts the previously-harmless amino acid sulfoxides into sulfenic acid. Sulfenic acid itself is highly unstable and can easily rearrange itself chemically to become a devilish little molecule known as syn-propanethial-S-oxide. When the onion is unchopped, these different molecules do not pose an issue because LFS does not come into contact with amino acid sulfoxides. However, when you chop the onion, you damage the cells, breaking them apart and releasing the contents of individual cell compartments to mingle freely with one another. The result of this molecular get-together is that LFS finds the amino acid sulfoxides and converts them into sulfenic acid, which then rearranges itself into the devilish syn-propanethial-S-oxide molecule I referred to earlier. Once this molecule is released into the air, it floats upwards towards your eyes, hits your cornea, and is detected by the ciliary nerve, which is partially responsible for transmitting sensations of touch, temperature, and pain from your face to your brain. A message shoots to your central nervous system, which interprets the stimulation as a sharp, painful burning sensation. This triggers a reflex pathway, sending another message back to the eye, specifically the lachrymal glands, telling them to produce water to wash away the irritant in your eye. And suddenly, you’re crying!

Why do onions turn clear and then brown when you cook them?

  • When cooking an onion, as I did in a heated skillet for my recipe, it becomes translucent for three reasons: 1) the cell walls are breaking down, 2) the sulfur compounds discussed in the previous question are breaking down, and 3) some of the water is evaporating out of the onion. After the onion has undergone the clear/translucent stage, it will begin to brown/caramelize. As you can gather from the caramel demonstration that Kevin did for us on the Lawn, the onion is caramelizing because the sugars contained in the onion are undergoing a type of non-enzymatic browning.

What happens when you melt cheese, and why do some types of cheese melt better than others?

  • When you melt cheese, two things happen. First, at about 90° F, the solid milk fat in the cheese begins to liquefy, the cheese softens, and beads of melted fat rise to the surface. Second, as the cheese gets hotter, the bonds holding together the casein proteins (the principle proteins in cheese) break, and the cheese collapses into a thick fluid. This complete melting occurs at about 130° F for soft, high-moisture cheese like mozzarella, around 150° F for aged, low-moisture cheese like the cheddar and monterey jack that I used in my dip, and 180° F for hard, dry grating cheeses like parmigiana-reggiano.
  • Several factors affect melting ability, such as the cheese’s moisture content (the more moisture, the better), its age (the more aged, the better), its fat content (the more fat, the better) and acidity (the less acidity, the better).

How do crock pots (or slow cookers) work?

  • A crock pot has three main components: an outer casing, an inner container, and a lid. The outer casing is metal and contains low-wattage heating coils–the component responsible for actually cooking the food. The inner container, also called a crock, is made of glazed ceramic and fits inside the metal heating element. The domed lid fits tightly onto the crock. When turned on, the electrical coils heat up and transfer heat indirectly from the outer casing to the space between the base wall and the stoneware container. This indirect method of heat transfer simmers the ingredients inside the crock at a low temperature for several hours, until the food is thoroughly cooked. As the food cooks, it releases steam, which is trapped by the lid. The condensation creates a vacuum seal between the lid and the rim of the crock, adding moisture to the food while helping the cooking process. This is the most integral part of the cooking process because without that moisture, you wouldn’t have such tender meat and smooth, cheesy goodness!

FlamBAE: Banana Foster

Do you love bananas? Do you love fire? Do you want to impress your party guests with your cooking skills? Do you want to potentially burn your eyebrows off? If you answered yes to all these questions, then you should try making this Banana Foster dessert. The Banana Foster dish was a creation of a New Orleans chef, Paul Blange. The two salient features that this dessert is known for is the flambé cooking technique and the use of rum. Although the rum does enhance the flavor and it does add a novelty aspect, the dish can be created without the use of rum. Also, the presence of alcohol can be very dangerous when in close contact to an open flame. So please be careful when creating this dessert.


The mixture of butter and brown sugar heating up in the pan creates a caramelization effect. Caramelization is a non-enzymatic form of browning. A chemical process that occurs while the mixture is caramelizing is pyrolysis. Heat is used to break down the chemical compounds within the mixture into smaller units. The disaccharides in the brown sugar are broken down into monosaccharides and fructose, because pyrolysis breaks the bonds that keep the disaccharides together.

Brown Sugar vs. Granulated Sugar

The use of brown sugar instead of granulated sugar somewhat affects the taste of the dessert. Brown sugar is made up of sugar crystals that are coated in molasses. Compared to granulated sugar, brown sugar retains more moisture. Because brown sugar contains molasses, it is not as sweet as granulated sugar. Therefore, in order to achieve the same level of sweetness, then more brown sugar must be used. Both white and brown sugars utilize the same 7TM taste receptor, because both sugars are fundamentally sucrose. An implication of brown sugar is that the browning temperature will be relatively lower, so you must be care not to burn it when caramelizing!


The technique of flambéing is one of the most popular features of the dessert. Flambé is a French word that means ‘to flame’. In the Banana Foster recipe the vapors that are produced from heating the rum are ignited. The proof of the liqueur used affects the ability to ignite it. A relatively low proof (less than 100 proof) would not ignite at all. On the other hand, a higher proof could be extremely dangerous because of the magnitude of the flame produced. The flash point of a compound is the lowest temperature where the substance will give off enough vapor to ignite. The substance that ignites in the rum is ethanol. The flash point of ethanol is 55 degrees Fahrenheit. However, since ethanol is not the only ingredient in rum, the flash point increases. A fifty-fifty mixture of water and ethanol has a flash point of 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the vapor is ignited, the flame will eventually disappear. At this point all of the alcohol would have been evaporated out of the dessert. So if you are worried about getting drunk off of this dessert, don’t be!

Volatility of Cinnamon

Cinnamon is made up of two components, cinnamaldehyde and eugenol. Chemically, these two components are volatile and will vaporize in room temperature settings. The result of this is the strong fragrance that emanates from cinnamon. However, this also creates high flammability and combustibility. So when powdered cinnamon is added to the flame of the flambé, sparks will be created.



  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup of rum
  • 4 bananas
  • 4 scoops of vanilla ice cream


  1. Place the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan on medium-low heat.
  2. Once the butter and brown sugar have melted and turned into a semi caramelized mixture, add in the bananas.
  3. Cook the bananas for about a minute, make sure all sides are cooked and coated with the butter/brown sugar mixture.
  4. Once the bananas are cooked, turn off the heat and add in the rum.
  5. Let the rum heat up in the saucepan for 30 seconds to a minute.
  6. With a long reach lighter, ignite the area above the saucepan, a flame should appear.
  7. Add in the cinnamon.
  8. Once the flame disappears, serve on ice cream immediately.



Grandma’s Dutch Treat Cake – “Monkey Bread”

For my project I will be making “Monkey Bread” using a recipe that my Grandma uses all the time and is one of the many reasons I like visiting her often!  The recipe features many of the chemistry in cooking concepts that we learned this semester.


1 cup milk, scalded                              4 cups flour

3 Tbsp. butter                                       2 eggs

¼ cup sugar                                         Melted butter

½ tsp. salt                                            1 cup sugar

1 packet yeast                                     1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ cup lukewarm water                        ¾ cup nuts (pecan or walnut)



Butter angel food or Bundt pan with melted butter and sprinkle nuts on bottom and side. Set aside

Add butter (3 Tbsp.), sugar (1/4 cup), and salt to scalded milk and let cool.  Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water, give it a few minutes to activate, and add to milk mixture.  Add 1 cup flour and beat well; add eggs and beat again.  Mix in remaining flour.  Cover, let stand for 5 minutes, and then knead until dough is smooth.

Let rise until doubled, punch the dough down to remove excess gas, and break off pieces and shape into walnut-sized balls.  Dip in melted butter, then sugar (1 cup)/cinnamon mixture.  Place in prepared pan, sprinkling chopped nuts between layers.  Sprinkle any remaining nuts, sugar/cinnamon mixture and melted butter on top.

Let rise for 1 hour or until doubled.  Bake at 375 °F for 35-40 minutes.  Take out of oven, let stand for 10 minutes, and turn out.

Chemistry Involved:

Scalding Milk:

At the very beginning of the recipe, I “scald” milk – this has profound impacts on the bread.  The process of scalding involves bringing milk to just under the boiling point of water and allow steam to be released (  This changes the molecular structure of the milk and its proteins – it denatures the whey proteins in milk (  Whey is one of the two proteins found in milk, the other being casein, and is a by-product of cheese making.  The denaturation of the whey makes it so that the protein unfolds and does not interact with gluten network formation, resulting in a better rise and typically “better bread.”

Yeast and Gluten Formation:

There are several things to consider during the process of bread.  The first is the kneading of bread.  Kneading facilitates the production of gluten and formation of gluten networks (  These gluten networks are important for holding the bread together (elasticity) and holding pockets of gas, making the bread fluffy.  This is where yeast comes in.  Yeast breaks down sugars and produces the carbon dioxide that makes the bread rise and become fluffy.  In this recipe, the first time the dough rises, I punch it down because I need to work with it again to make the dough balls.  However, the second time I let the dough rise, I don’t release the gas, so that fluffy, light bread is formed.

Crust Formation and the Maillard Reaction:

The temperature of the oven and the presence of the necessary reactants make for the perfect environment for the Maillard Reaction.  The Maillard reaction is one of the most important chemical reactions in cooking because it is responsible for producing flavors that make some foods so great to eat.  It a non-enzymatic reaction that occurs in the presence of amino acids and sugars and at a temperature of around 350 °F.  Most breads don’t experience the Maillard reaction quite as much as the bread in this recipe because there aren’t many free amino acids – most of the amino acids make up complex and stable gluten proteins.  However, since we have added chopped nuts, a great source of protein, and sugar in between the layers of the dough balls, there is assured be much Maillard reaction action!  The amino acids from the nuts combine with the simple sugars from the added sugar to create melanoidins (SOURCE), which are aromatic and flavorful.  This reaction also turns the reactants brown, resulting in a tasty brown crust on and around the dough balls (


At an oven temperature of 350 °F and with the presence of a lot of sugar, another form of non-enzymatic browning occurs – carmelization.  It is the “oxidation of sugar” and produces caramel and nutty flavors (  Unlike the Maillard reaction, it does not require another reactant other than sugar.  It is important to control the temperature because if the temperature gets too high, the sugar will burn and taste unpleasant and butter.  The process of carmelization begins with melting, followed by foaming, condensation and the formation of aromatic compounds that give the product its pleasantly sweet smell.



Paula Deen’s Best Bread Pudding


2 cups granulated sugar

5 large beaten eggs

2 cups milk

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 cups cubed Italian bread, allow to stale overnight in a bowl

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened

1 cup chopped pecans

For the sauce:

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

1 egg, beaten

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup brandy



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 9 by 2-inch pan.

Mix together granulated sugar, eggs, and milk in a bowl; add vanilla. Pour over cubed bread and let sit for 10 minutes.

In another bowl, mix and crumble together brown sugar, butter, and pecans.

Pour bread mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle brown sugar mixture over the top and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven.

For the sauce:

Mix together the granulated sugar, butter, egg, and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir together until the sugar is melted. Add the brandy, stirring well. Pour over bread pudding. Serve warm or cold.

Chemistry Explained:


For the very first step in the process of making bread pudding, one must allow the cubed Italian bread to stale overnight. Bread actually begins to stale as soon as it is taken out of the oven through a process called “starch retrogradation.” As the bread bakes, the molecules absorb water through the process of gelatinization at around 150 degrees, and then begin to become more firm. After the dough has been removed from the oven and cools below this temperature, the molecules harden and reform, which is the process of starch retrogradation. The bread hardens and becomes dryer as the water molecules present during baking are expelled from the bread. Starch retrogradation can actually be temporarily reversed by reheating the bread, such as in the toaster. As it goes back up toward the gelatinization temperature, the molecules are able to re-absorb some water and return its taste to a more palatable state, as with baking the bread in the bread pudding. The staling of the bread prior to using it in the bread pudding allows the bread to better hold its shape when mixed with the eggs and other ingredients in the recipe.

Water Baths

Many bread pudding recipes also require that it be placed in a water bath inside the oven while baking. This is a technique that is often used in more delicate recipes that could easily become cracked or overcooked during baking, like cheesecakes and custards. The water bath serves to insulate the bread pudding from the direct heat of the oven, and allow for a more even distribution of the heat. By using a water bath on this bread pudding, one can better keep it from drying out, cracking, burning, or curdling.

Maillard Reaction

Once in the oven, the maillard reaction takes over in order to cook the bread pudding. The sugars in the bread and brown sugar react with the amino acids in the eggs in order to brown and thicken the bread pudding, as well as introduce new flavors. One can easily see the browning of the tips of the bread not covered by the egg mixture, causing a toast-like flavor. Caramelization is also occurring in the bread pudding, especially within the clumps of brown sugar on the top.

Cooking with Alcohol

The use of the brandy in the sauce that tops the bread pudding can also have many functions other than simply the addition of flavor. It is similar to salt in that alcohol can help bring out different flavors through both molecular bonding and evaporation. Because alcohol is more volatile than many other substances we frequently use in cooking, it can easily evaporate and carry different aromas to your olfactory senses, enhancing your experience of the flavors. Alcohol is also able to bind with both fat and water molecules, which can make a big difference in the way you taste the food. It bridges the gap between our aroma receptors, which respond to molecules that can be dissolved in fat, and food, which consists primarily of water. As a result, one can perceive both more flavor and aroma when eating foods cooked with alcohol. When using alcohol in a sauce like the one used for bread pudding, less is more. Because the alcohol is so volatile and evaporates as it is reduced, only a small amount of the brandy is needed to achieve the flavor-enhancing qualities.

The Best Bread Pudding