Saturday, 6 October 2012

Magic in the kitchen

I was reflecting yesterday about the way some processes in the kitchen involve transformations of food that seem almost magical.

For example, I made yoghurt yesterday. I took milk, heated it, cooled it a little, put it in a thermos with a dollop of yoghurt, and left it for 6 hours. With bated breath I took the lid off, half expecting to find just milk, and lo and behold, there was yoghurt! My milk had changed into thick, creamy, tangy goodness.

I also made bread yesterday. My bread maker did the hard work of kneading, and the first proving, then I shaped the dough. I put in flour, water, yeast, oil, and a dash of sugar and salt, and got out a soft, pillowy wonder. I absolutely adore the feel of bread dough. It has a consistency which is hard to describe if you have  never handled it before. It gives to your touch, yet has substance too. I find it a joy to work with. I was standing at the bench yesterday, kneading and shaping with a ridiculous grin on my face, happy and content. I have not come across anything else in my cooking days that feels the way bread dough does. And when you consider what the raw ingredients feel like, it is bordering on magic with the result you get. Even more so when you take out of the oven delicious smelling bread with a golden brown crust and a beautiful crumb, and you think "my goodness, this is bona fide bread. This is just like I buy from the shop" - only better, because you made it yourself.

Butter is another example. Cream goes in, you shake/whizz/churn it around a bit, and suddenly you have lumps of butter floating in buttermilk. Wash it and shape it a bit, and you have butter, which is magic in itself, in the way it transforms the flavour of the most boring dish.

Obviously, there is actually cold hard science behind all of these things. I studied chemistry, physics and biology at university. I understand how the properties of food change given temperature, churning, or the addition of microrganisms. But despite this, I still find that there is magic in the kitchen. Not hocus pocus, rabbit-out-of-hat magic. I am talking about the miracle that these scientific processes occur at all. They are full of wonder, the magic that kids feel when they discover something new and say "Wow!". I hope I never lose the wow factor in my contemplation of food. May there be many more grins as I knead bread, and many more moments of bated breath as I open my thermos to see if I have yoghurt inside. It is things like this that make cooking fun.

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