I borrowed the book Cooking for Geeks recently from a friend. Overall I was disappointed in it – I was hoping for more rigor and less “heehee, we’re all coders here, let’s make some in-jokes that only programmers understand”. But there is an interesting tidbit in it about figuring out the temperature of your oven. Of course, the official way to check your oven temp is to use a thermometer, but not everyone has an oven-safe thermometer. They detail a simple and quick way to check your oven temp: sugar. The melting point of sugar is between 350 and 375 degrees F, so what you do is put an oven-safe bowl with a bit of sugar in it in your oven, and turn it on to 350 degrees. If the sugar stays looking mostly like sugar, with a bit of desiccation happening, your oven is pretty close to right. In comparison, if you do this at 375 degrees, the sugar should brown and caramelize.
I haven’t actually tried this myself yet, because August is real summer here in my corner of the Bay Area, and the last thing I want to do in my un-airconditioned house is turn the oven on full blast. But I definitely plan to try it the next time I have the oven going.
Speaking of geeky cookery and science, Harvard’s offering a free edX class this fall called “Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science” that looks at the interface between science and cooking. There’s a big list of names as guest lecturers and it looks pretty cool. I’ve signed up – I’ve never used a MOOC before – so I’m looking forward to trying it out.