13 lockdown cooking projects and the science of how they work
During this spell of enforced confinement, many of us have found a renewed enthusiasm for cooking and baking. Recipes that normally seem too time-consuming now feel like a thoroughly relaxing way to pass the time, and making yourself delicious things to eat is an easy way to bring joy in a period when we are deprived of many of the things we look forward to.
If you’re looking for ideas for fun kitchen projects to amuse yourself during lockdown, here are a few suggestions. The articles come from our Science of Cooking series, which provides instructions for making tasty treats and explains the theory behind the recipes. We hope you enjoy giving them a try.
Sourdough baking relies on wild yeast and bacteria in a living culture that you can start with just flour and water. It takes time, but produces delicious results – it’s no wonder there has been a surge of interest in sourdough baking during the pandemic.
What better to put on your sourdough than home-made butter? Encouraging a bit of microbial growth before churning the cream enhances the buttery flavour.
Another good option for spreading on toast. Dulce de leche is a caramel sauce that’s popular in South America. All you need to make it is a can of condensed milk and some knowledge of the Maillard reaction.
Use rennet (an enzyme preparation), lemon juice or vinegar to separate the curds and whey in milk. You can make two types of cheese, ricotta and halloumi, from one batch.
Making tofu is a similar process to making cheese, but you start with soya milk instead of animal milk. A magnesium salt is used as a coagulant, which you can easily order online.
Salting vegetables keeps most microbes at bay, but non-harmful lactic acid bacteria can flourish, preserving the food and developing a funky flavour.
You can also use salt to cure a piece of salmon, producing a luxurious treat in just two or three days.
This meat substitute is made from gluten, which forms when proteins in wheat flour join together in the presence of water. You can use it to make a vegan version of chicken nuggets.
Gluten is also the key to making stretchy dough that you can pull by hand into long noodles. This popular dish from central China is easier than you’d think to make from scratch.
When making shortcrust pastry, the objective is to limit gluten development, so that you get a crumbly texture rather than a chewy one.
If you don’t eat eggs, or can’t find any in the shops, you can make meringues from aquafaba, the protein- and starch-rich liquid from a tin of chickpeas.
Heston Blumenthal’s method for perfectly crispy chips takes a bit of effort, but the results are spectacular.
To make pork skin go crispy, you need to break down the tough collagen into gelatin. I tested four methods and all produced wonderfully crisp results.
More on these topics: