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Chemistry of Food & Cooking Project Reflection

“The Golden [Brown] Ratio of Homemade Bread”

I began the cooking process with six ingredients in several different forms: two

liquids, two granular solids, and two powders. My preparation process transformed these individual ingredients into one congenial dough substance, ready for cooking. Baking caused this dough to rise and become a structural loaf of bread with a golden-brown crust and soft center. The majority of the initial ingredients I mixed together for the dough wouldn’t have been particularly enjoyable to eat plain, yet when I brought them together I was able to make something delicious. My food underwent a drastic transformation during my cooking process, starting as multiple pieces and coming together into one loaf of bread. Macroscopically, it was most satisfying to watch the ball of dough rise and expand in the oven to become bread.

The cause of these observable macroscopic changes was a “cascade of reactions” known as Maillard Reactions (perhaps better known as browning reactions), after the French chemist. The dough that makes up the crust v.s. the center of bread are not fundamentally different, and yet macroscopically they taste and appear to have different properties. This is because a significant portion of most foods is liquid water, which cannot reach a temperature higher than 100°C (boiling) without turning into a gas. When bread is baked, the water in a thin layer along the surface of the dough evaporates into a gas. This dry layer now contains no water, and can get hot enough for Maillard Reactions to take place. This process starts out with a carbohydrate molecule (like a sugar) reacting with an amino acid on a protein. At around 120-130°C, this initial reaction leads to hundreds of small molecule byproducts such as “brown color compounds” and “flavor molecules”. These molecules are often volatile (easily spread in the air) and can quickly reach your nose. Because of this, a freshly-baked loaf of bread is observed to have a golden-brown and crunchy exterior, and soft/chewy interior.

I don’t believe that my experiment was especially successful or conclusive; because

I didn’t test a diverse enough range of temperatures and times to get significantly different results, and I didn’t run my test enough times. The accuracy of a scientific experiment increases with a larger sample size and multiple tests, so it could’ve been improved had I utilized more test subjects or brought in bread again. My two loaves of bread were also very similar both in taste and appearance, so I got very similar results from my survey. Had I made a third loaf or tried to differentiate them further, perhaps I could have discovered a different recipe that people enjoyed even more. Steve provided this feedback to me on my Recipe Card, and if I were to further refine my project and product, testing it more would be my first step.