By William Weir
The Hartford Courant
The "Hungry Scientist" comes with a subtitle "Electric birthday cakes, edible origami and other DIY projects for techies, tinkerers and foodies."
Though I'm neither chef nor scientist, the combination of science and cuisine piqued my curiosity. Dry ice martinis, LED cakes and pomegranate wine are among the projects in the book. I decided to try the chapter on edible origami. All it requires is wonton dough, vegetable oil and a deep fryer. And if you don't have the oil or the fryer, you can use a microwave oven.
I can also add "origamist" to the list of things I'm not. I practiced making cranes — one of the origami basics — with paper. It's harder than I expected, and I settled on creating approximations of cranes that had at least a bird-like resemblance. Of course, folding paper and folding sheets of wonton dough are very different things, and my vaguely bird-like creations became downright abstract in their wonton forms.
I resorted to making paper airplanes out of the dough. These — at least in their uncooked form — looked fine. But when I dipped them into the deep fryer, they immediately lost their folds.
When I microwaved them, they held their form perfectly. The only problem, though, is that nuked wonton dough is bland and cardboard-like. So I experimented. I placed a wonton plane in the microwave for about 25 seconds, and then put it in the deep fryer for the rest of the cooking. The new method worked; the form held much better than the first batch (fryer only), though a little less defined than the microwave-only batch. And they tasted like fried wonton dough should.
I told Patrick Buckley and Lily Binns, the authors of "The Hungry Scientist," of my modifications to the recipe, and they were fine with it. The recipes are really only starting points, they say, and readers should engage in their own experimentation.
Longtime friends Buckley and Binns decided to merge their backgrounds to make a very singular cookbook. He's a mechanical engineer, while she has the culinary knowledge ("I'm 'Hungry' and he's 'Scientist,'" Binns says).
"It was born out of these dinner parties that Lily and I put together with my engineer and science friends and with Lily's food expertise," Buckley says. "By end of the meal, people were whipping out blow torches and creating caramelized dishes."
They're both inspired by molecular gastronomy, a culinary movement that began in Europe in the 1990s. It takes a scientific approach to cooking, experimenting with different ways of processing food and how various flavors interact. Ingredients with names like methylcellulose and xanthan gum come into play. Sometimes lasers are deployed. "The Hungry Scientist" was partly Binns' and Buckley's attempt to bring this curious movement into the home, for people who might not have access to lasers and who have no idea what methylcellulose is.
Which isn't to say that everything required in the book is immediately accessible.
Though they insist that getting your hands on liquid nitrogen (to make whiskey-flavored cryogenic ice cream) is easier than it sounds, they admit it might require some well-placed connections, or at least mild deception, to make it happen.
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