How To Bake Brownies With A Perfect Glossy Skin

If you’re anything at all like this writer, you don’t spend a lot of time inspecting brownies past the initial object identification phase, preferring to insert them directly into the mouth post-haste. But those with more of an aesthetic focus take great care to produce brownies with a glossy, attractive skin. [Adam Ragusea] decided to find out what it takes to get a perfect brownie skin, time after time.

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.

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Cooking A Turkey With 880 AA Batteries

Cooking a turkey right is serious business this time of year. With major holidays on the line, there’s no room for error – any mistake can leave guests disgruntled and starving. [Stephen Farnsworth] took a risk, though, and attempted to cook a turkey using AA batteries.

The allure of the AA for such a task is precisely because it’s such a poor choice. Designed for portability rather than high power output, it was never designed to be the energy source for a major cooking job. To get things over the line, [Steve] busted out the math to figure out how many batteries would be required. This involved computing cooking efficiencies, battery thermal performance, and the specific heat of the bird itself. With the numbers coming together a 300W slow cooker was put on duty, in order to avoid over-draining the batteries.

With 880 AAs loaded into a custom carrier, [Steve] hooked up the power meter and the cooker and kept a close eye on the temperatures. After a couple of hours, the battery pack started to heat up, so additional cooling was brought in to avoid fire. At just before the six hour mark, the turkey was cooked through and ready to eat. Estimates are that the batteries still had plenty of capacity to keep going for a few hours yet, too.

It’s not a fast or effective way to cook a turkey, but it’s certainly achievable. We fully expect [Steve] to submit the coin-cell turkey cook-off next year, too. Remember, a little engineering always helps, especially in the kitchen. Video after the break.

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Open Source Smart Smoker Brings The Heat (Slowly)

Conceptually, cooking on a grill is simple enough: just crank up the flames and leave the food on long enough for it to cook through, but not so long that it turns into an inedible ember. But when smoking, the goal is actually to prevent flames entirely; the food is cooked by the circulation of hot gasses generated by smoldering wood. If you want a well-cooked and flavorful meal, you’ll need the patience and dedication to manually keep the fuel and air balanced inside the smoker for hours on end.

Or in the case of the Smokey Mc Smokerson, you just let the electronics handle all the hard stuff while you go watch TV. Powered by the Raspberry Pi Zero and a custom control board, this open source smoker offers high-end capabilities on a DIY budget. Granted you’ll still need to add the fuel of your choice the old fashioned way, but with automatic air flow control and temperature monitoring, it greatly reduces the amount of fiddly work required to get that perfect smoke.

[HackersHub] has been working on Smokey Mc Smokerson for a few months now, and are getting very close to building the first complete prototype. The initial version of the software is complete, and the classy black PCBs have recently arrived. Some simulations have been performed to get an idea of how the smoke will circulate inside of the smoker itself, built from a 55 gallon drum, but technically the controller is a stand-alone device. If you’re willing to makes the tweaks necessary, the controller could certainly be retrofitted to  commercially available smoker instead.

Ultimately, this project boils down to tossing a bunch of temperature sensors at the problem. The software developed by [HackersHub] takes the data collected by the five MAX6675 thermocouples and uses it to determine when to inject more air into the chamber using a PWM-controlled fan at the bottom of the smoker. As an added bonus, all those temperature sensors give the user plenty of pretty data points to look at in the companion smartphone application.

We’ve actually seen a fair number of technologically-augmented grills over the years. From this automotive-inspired “turbocharged” beast to a robotic steak flipper built out of PVC pipes, we can confidently say that not all hackers are living on a diet of microwaved ramen.

Preserved Lemons On A Hacker’s Budget

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” [Carl Sagan]. If you wish to make preserved lemons the same way as [Uri Tuchman], you have to start with that mentality. Video also below. The recipe for [Uri]’s preserved lemons involves two ingredients see sea salt, and sliced lemons, but we don’t expect you came here looking for a recipe and the food is less important than the journey.

Recipes take for granted that we have all the necessary utensils on hand, but what if you are missing one? What if you are missing all of them? Life’s lemons won’t get the best of us, and if we’re utensil-poor and tool-rich we will make those lemons regret trying to take a bite out of us. The first fixture for cutting lemons is a cutting board, then a knife, and finally an airtight container. We see him make all of them from stock material by hand. Does that seem like a lot of work? You forgot that if you’re going to eat up, you’ll need a serving platter and fork. If he ever opens a restaurant, don’t expect it to be fast food.

Maybe humans will only need one tool in the kitchen someday but at least one cat receives food from a single silicone-brained tool.

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Put A Smoke Detector To Some Use

While we’re certainly not denying that smoke detectors are useful, there’s a certain kind of tragedy to the fact that most of them will never realize their true purpose of detecting smoke, and alerting us to a dangerous fire. On the other hand, [Ben] really unlocks the potential hidden deep in every smoke detector with his latest project which uses the smoke-detecting parts of a smoke detector to turn on the exhaust fan over his stove.

The project didn’t start with the noble aim of realizing the hidden and underutilized quiescent nature of a smoke alarm, though. He wanted his range exhaust fan to turn on automatically when it was needed during his (and his family’s) cooking activities. The particular range has four speeds so he wired up four relays to each of the switches in the range and programmed a Particle Photon to turn them on based on readings from an MQ-2 gas-detecting sensor.

The sensor didn’t work as well as he had hoped. It was overly sensitive to some gasses like LPG which would turn the range on full blast any time he used his cooking spray. Meanwhile, it would drift and not work properly during normal cooking. He tried disabling it and using only a temperature sensor, which didn’t work well either. Finally, he got the idea to tear apart a smoke detector and use its sensor’s analog output to inform the microcontroller of the current need for an exhaust fan. Now that that’s done, [Ben] might want to add some additional safety features to his stovetop too.

The Quest For Perfect Croissants Via A DIY Dough Sheeter

Baking is a wonderful pastime, as much an art as a science. [Alex] pursues the craft with plenty of vigor, and had built his very own dough sheeter to assist in his work. Unfortunately, the design had several flaws, and came out of a recent move rather the worse for wear. Growing tired of having to deal with dough of inconsistent thickness, he went back to the drawing board to whip up a new version (Youtube link, embedded below).

The new model improves significantly over the predecessor, by directly addressing the engineering pitfalls of the first design.

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.

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3D Printering: The Quest For Printable Food

A video has been making the rounds on social media recently that shows a 3D printed “steak” developed by a company called NovaMeat. In the short clip, a machine can be seen extruding a paste made of ingredients such as peas and seaweed into a shape not entirely unlike that of a boot sole, which gets briefly fried in a pan. Slices of this futuristic foodstuff are then fed to passerby in an effort to prove it’s actually edible. Nobody spits it out while the cameras are rolling, but the look on their faces could perhaps best be interpreted as resigned politeness. Yes, you can eat it. But you could eat a real boot sole too if you cooked it long enough.

To be fair, the goals of NovaMeat are certainly noble. Founder and CEO Giuseppe Scionti says that we need to develop new sustainable food sources to combat the environmental cost of our current livestock system, and he believes meat alternatives like his 3D printed steak could be the answer. Indeed, finding ways to reduce the consumption of meat would be a net positive for the environment, but it seems his team has a long way to go before the average meat-eater would be tempted by the objects extruded from his machine.

But the NovaMeat team aren’t the first to attempt coaxing food out of a modified 3D printer, not by a long shot. They’re simply the most recent addition to a surprisingly long list of individuals and entities, not least of which the United States military, that have looked into the concept. Ultimately, they’ve been after the same thing that convinced many hackers and makers to buy their own desktop 3D printer: the ability to produce something to the maker’s exacting specifications. A machine that could produce food with the precise flavors and textures specified would in essence be the ultimate chef, but of course, it’s far easier said than done.

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