Baking better bread with steam

It’s not often we see a build that turns you into a better cook without any electronics whatsoever. [Chris]’s method of baking better bread with steam is one of those builds, and we’re more than willing to test it out on our own.

If you’ve ever tried to bake bread at home, you’ll quickly notice the crust is much thicker and harder than a loaf available at a bakery. The thickness of the crust can be controlled, however, with a careful application of steam. To make a better crust, [Chris] used a pressure cooker fitted with a valve to inject steam into an oven through his oven’s exhaust. Not only does this gelatinate the starches in the bread crust, but it keeps this gelatin from hardening too quickly.

The end result is a thin, golden brown crust that makes for the perfect loaf of bread. Of course, the proper application of steam does take a little bit of practice. If someone is up to the task of Arduinofying this hack with a few solenoid valves, PID sensors, and a high-temperature humidity sensor, send it in and we’ll put it up.

Ice on your turkey makes it tender, apparently

Turkey day is fast approaching and for those of us not cool enough to be rocking the deep-fried turkey this year we’ll have to suffer though a potentially dry oven-roasted bird. Chef [Justin] came up with a great way to prevent dried out white meat on a turkey using ice of all things.

The enemy of moist and tender breast meat is heat. Cooking meat for too long will dry it out. There’s a problem, though: the breast is the thickest part of the bird which means it will take longer than the legs or thighs to reach the necessary 160 degrees. [Justin] figured that if he could cool down the breast with ice, it will take longer to cook and both the white and dark meat will come out perfectly.

[Justin] set up a test with two 15-pound birds. Both turkeys were allowed to come up to room temperature, then ice packs were put on the breast of one bird for 15 minutes. This lowered the temperature of the experimental breast by a few degrees. Both birds were then thrown into the oven.

After coming out of the oven, both birds looked great. The bird treated with ice packs appeared to be more tender and moist. Sounds like the perfect thing to pull out of our bag of tricks next week.

Improving a cheap espresso machine

For those of us that would like a good cup of coffee but don’t want to put up with the ‘burnt butt’ taste of Starbucks and don’t have a decent coffee shop nearby, we’ve had very few options. Most of us have been made to suffer with an el-cheapo espresso machine. [Joe] sent in a great build that improves these el-cheapo models and brings them up to the quality we would expect from their more expensive brethren.

For the best pull from an espresso machine, the great [Alton Brown] says 200° F water must be forced through the grind at around 10 PSI atm. [Joe]’s espresso machine can’t build up pressure because the heating element is only active when the lever is in the ‘brew’ or ‘froth’ position. To build up pressure in the water reservoir, [Joe] simply added a pressure gauge to the frothing attachment. When the gauge reads the necessary 10 atmospheres, just move the lever over to the ‘brew’ position and enjoy a nice cup of espresso.

[Joe] has already tested the pressure relief valve of his espresso machine. With the gauge in the way, [Joe] can’t make use of his frother, but a secondary valve could easily remedy that. [Joe] hasn’t published his espresso hack anywhere, but he did email us some pics of his build. We’ve embedded them as a slideshow after the break. Check out the pressure gauge on the frothing attachment and the pressure relief valve below.

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Hacking a better pressure cooker

This pressure cooker hack on [Dave Arnold]’s great cooking blog was sent into us (thanks, [techartisan]!). Most pressure cooker recipes are written for pressure cookers that can go up to 15 PSI or 250° F / 121° C. At these temperatures, a lot of interesting chemistry happens in the food. The popular Cuisinart electric pressure cooker doesn’t reach these pressures and temperatures, so [Dave Arnold] set out to make his Cuisinart better.

After measuring the temperature with a thermocouple, [Dave] deduced that the Cuisinart cooker only reached 237° F and 9 PSI. After having a look at the electronics, he realized that adding a resistor to the temperature sensor circuit would give him the pressure he wanted. After soldering in a trim pot, everything went swimmingly and the cooker was able to reach 15 PSI.

[Dave] isn’t sure how his modifications will hold up – he doesn’t know how the cooker will hold up to overheating (and there are a few concerns about non-stick pressure cookers in the first place). That being said, it’s a great mod to get some more capabilities out of a Cuisinart.

Peltier powered sous-vide rig gets it right every time


It seems that sous-vide cooking is becoming increasingly popular lately. [Meseta] caught the sous-vide bug and wanted to try his hand at it, though he did not have enough money for a premade sous-vide cooker. After seeing a good handful of lackluster DIY sous-vide rigs online, he decided that he would design and build a sous-vide cooker of his own.

He already had a Forebrain microcontroller at his disposal to use as a PID controller, but what he really needed was a cooking vessel. Rather than use an old crock pot or similar device, he purchased a small personal refrigerator that could be used for cooling or heating. The unit ran off a Peltier cooler that could be switched between modes, making it quite easy for him to control.

In his blog, he discusses the modification from beginning to end, and even shows off the results of his cooking endeavors. He hasn’t posted code as of yet, but he says that he is more than happy to share it with anyone who might be interested in building their own sous-vide cooker.

Hacking cakes with LEDs, the sequel!

A few weeks back we ran a piece about the convergence of making and baking in an attempt to create a cake festooned with working LEDs. The moral was that not every creative idea ends in victory, but we applauded the spirit it takes to post one’s goofs for the whole internet to see and to learn from.

[Craig]’s LED matrix proved unreliable…and the underlying cake didn’t fare much better, resembling that charred lump in the toaster oven in Time Bandits. The cakes-with-lights meme might have died right there if not for a fluke of association…

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PID Sous-Vide Slow Cooker – Bon Appétit!

In search of a perfectly-cooked brisket, [Aaron] recently completed this DIY  PID-controlled sous-vide slow cooker. Sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”) is a cooking technique in which foods are typically vacuum-sealed and then cooked in a relatively low temperature water bath for an extended period of time. This is done to minimize temperature gradients throughout the food to ensure even cooking. Precise regulation of the water temperature is the key to ensuring that the results are exactly as desired – when cooking for many hours or days, even a few degrees discrepancy can greatly influence the final product.

A few months ago we featured a similar hack that utilized a simple switching temperature controller spliced into an extension cord.  Although probably sufficient for most aspiring “hacker-chefs”, the temperature was not as stable as it could be. The problem is that it takes time for the heat generated in the slow cooker’s heating element to reach the temperature probe (and food) suspended in the water bath.  By the time the probe reads the elevated temperature, the element is already too hot and the temperature overshoots the target. One way to mitigate this effect is to circulate the water to minimize temperature gradients, as is done in many of the expensive commercial units. In order to achieve similar results, [Aaron] instead created a PID controller that uses temperature feedback over time to precisely maintain the desired temperature and reduce any deviations resulting from outside disturbances.

The build is covered in detail and looks great in a custom acrylic enclosure. All of the board schematics, enclosure layout files, and source code are available under Creative Commons licensing at the bottom of his blog page. A good deal of time is also spent addressing the actual PID programming and tuning – something that could be useful for many different hacks requiring precise feedback control.

The end result is a professional looking control box and a slow cooker that is able to maintain temperature within 1°F even while using a DS1820 temperature sensor that is only rated as accurate to 0.5°C (0.9°F). From the pictures it looks like [Aaron] has finally achieved brisket bliss! Now the only question remaining is: what is the best setting for reheating left-over pizza?