This particular story on researchers successfully making yeast-free pizza dough has been making the rounds. As usual with stories written from a scientific angle, it’s worth digging into the details for some interesting bits. We took a look at the actual research paper and there are a few curious details worth sharing. Turns out that this isn’t the first method for yeast-free baking that has been developed, but it is the first method to combine leavening and baking together for a result on par with traditional bread-making processes.
Basically, a dough consisting of water, flour, and salt go into a hot autoclave (the header image shows a piece of dough as seen through the viewing window.) The autoclave pressurizes, forcing gasses into the dough in a process similar to carbonating beverages. Pressure is then released in a controlled fashion while the dough bakes and solidifies, and careful tuning of this process is what controls how the bread turns out.
With the right heat and pressure curve, researchers created a pizza whose crust was not only pleasing and tasty, but with a quality comparable to traditional methods.
How this idea came about is interesting in itself. One of the researchers developed a new method for thermosetting polyurethane, and realized that bread and polyurethane have something in common: they both require a foaming (proofing in the case of bread) and curing (baking in the case of bread) process. Performing the two processes concurrently with the correct balance yields the best product: optimized thermal insulation in the case of polyurethane, and a tasty and texturally-pleasing result in the case of pizza dough. After that, it was just a matter of experimentation to find the right balance.
The pressures (up to 6 bar) and temperatures (145° Celsius) involved are even pretty mild, relatively speaking, which could bode well for home-based pizza experimenters.
While it’s possible to make pizza from scratch at home right down to the dough itself, it’ll be a struggle to replicate the taste and exquisite mouthfeel without a pizza oven. Pizzas cook best at temperatures well over the 260°C/500°F limit on most household ovens while pizza ovens can typically get much hotter than that. Most of us won’t have the resources to put a commercial grade wood-fired brick oven in our homes, but the next best thing is this portable pizza oven from [Andrew W].
The build starts with some sheet metal to form the outer and inner covers for the oven. [Andrew] has found with some testing that a curved shape seems to produce the best results, so the sheet metal goes through rollers to get its shape before being welded together. With the oven’s rough shape completed, he fabricates two different burners. One sits at the back of the oven with its own diffuser to keep the oven as hot as possible and the other sits underneath a cordierite stone to heat from the bottom. Both are fed gas from custom copper plumbing and when it fires up it reaches temperatures hot enough that it can cook a pizza in just a few minutes. With some foldable legs the oven also ends up being fairly portable, and its small size means that it can heat up faster than a conventional oven too.
This is [Andrew]’s third prototype oven, and it seems like he has the recipe perfected. In fact, we featured one of his previous versions almost two years ago and are excited to see the progress he’s made in this build. The only downside to having something like this would be the potential health implications of always being able to make delicious pizzas, but that is a risk we’d be willing to take.
After many, many trays of brownies, [Adam], with the assistance of [Dr. Pia Sörensen], determined that the key seems to be making a brownie mixture with very finely dissolved sugar, in sucrose form, with a carefully controlled amount of water in the mixture. This produces a thick mixture which can hold together against the gases bubbling out during the cooking process, and produces a nice glossy skin. Too much water, and the mixture isn’t viscous enough to hold up, leading to brownies full of pock marks, while alternative sugars like fructose and glucose likely disrupt the ordered structure of sucrose molecules necessary for a shiny surface.
Together, [Adam] and [Pia] do a great job of exploring the molecular chemistry behind the process, as well as ruling out several myths that have been perpetuated in the viciously insular brownie subculture. All they’re missing is a set of standardised reflectivity tests executed with an Arduino and some photodiodes, but we’ll assume that was just cut for time. We’ve seen other hacks in the realm of molecular gastronomy before, like this homebrew kitchen centrifuge. Video after the break.
Baking cupcakes is a fun pastime, and one which we imagine many people took up in this year of quarantine and lockdown. However, anything a human can do, a machine can certainly make an attempt at, as [Skyentific] shows with this roboticized cupcake machine.
The build will be familiar to anyone who has worked with 3D printers or DIY CNC machines before. A series of stepper motors move a carriage carrying a regulation-sized patty pan. This is filled with dough from a tube, squirted out by a modified electric caulking gun. The carriage then transports it to a small microwave chamber of custom construction. After a minute or so of cooking, it’s then removed, and topping is applied from a further two caulking guns. An Arduino is in charge of the operation, running the show with some stepper drivers, limit switches, and a bank of relays.
The final product isn’t the prettiest cupcake we’ve ever seen, but it’s perfectly edible. We can imagine with some small modifications the device could probably cook batches of four at a time without too much trouble. We’ve seen other baking robots before, too. Video after the break.
More people are making sourdough at home than ever before, and while it may not take a lot of effort to find a decent recipe, it’s quite another thing to try using recipes to figure out how and why bread actually works. Thankfully, [Makefast Workshop] has turned copious research and hundreds of trials into a dynamic sourdough (and semi-sourdough) bread recipe chock-full of of drop-down options to customize not just ingredients, but baking methods and other recipe elements as well. Want to adjust quantities or loaf styles? Play with hydration or flour type? It’s all right there, and they even have quick-set options for their personal favorites.
In order to do all this, [Makefast Workshop] needed to understand bread at a deeper level than is usually called for. During research, they observed that the format of recipes was often an obstacle to understanding how good bread actually gets made. The reason for this is simple: recipes are presented as standalone documents describing a fixed process; a set of specific steps that, when followed, yield a particular result. What they do not normally do is describe the interplay and balance between ingredients and processes, which makes it difficult to understand how and why exactly the recipe produces what it does. Without that knowledge, it’s impossible to know what elements can be adjusted, and how. The dynamic recipe changes all that.
[Makefast Workshop] performed hundreds of tests, dialing in parameters one by one, to gain the insights needed to populate their dynamic recipe. It’s got clear processes and drop-down options that dynamically update not just the recipe steps, but also the URL. This means that one can fiddle the recipe to one’s desire, then simply copy and paste the URL to keep track of what one has baked.
Computer graphics have come a long way since the days of Dire Straits and their first computer animated music video in 1985. To move the state of the art forward has taken the labor of countless artists, developers and technicians. Working in just that field, a group from UCLA have developed an advanced system for simulating baking in computer graphics, and the results look absolutely delicious.
We propose a porous thermo-viscoelastoplastic mixture model.
The work is being presented at SIGGRPAH Asia, and being an academic paper, is dense in arcane terminology. To properly simulate baking, the team had to consider a multitude of interdependent processes. There’s heat transfer to consider, the release of carbon dioxide from leavening agents, the browning of dough due to evaporation of water, and all manner of other complicated chemical and physical interactions.
With a model that takes all of these factors into account, the results are amazingly realistic. The team have shown off renders of cookies in the oven, freshly baked loaves of bread being torn apart, and even muffins full of melted chocolate chips.
The core of the machine is a moving platform combined with a rolling pin, that can be set to a desired height to roll the dough into a set thickness. This is key to baking top-notch croissants, which [Alex] takes very seriously. His initial model used a table leg for a rolling pin, fitted with a threaded rod down the centre. This had significant issues with both runout, and uneven diameter across its length. Additionally, its frame had not held up after a recent move, and [Alex] was keen to start again.
The new model starts with attention paid to the basic engineering issues. The table leg is replaced with a professional-grade rolling pin, fitted with 3D-printed gears that accurately align the axis of rotation to the centre of the pin. A rack and pinion drive is also added to move the dough platform. Finally, a locking pin system is used to set the desired height of the dough.
It’s a useful project for the keen baker, and one that leans heavily on additive manufacturing methods. Producing such a tool in the years before 3D printers would have required significant effort to produce the required gears and mating components, so it’s impressive to see how easily something like this can come together these days. A hacker mindset can always be handy for baking – don’t forget, you can improve your bread crusts with steam! Video after the break.