Perhaps one of the most amazing things about Heston Blumenthal is his lack of any formal training. He is entirely self-taught.
Growing up, every summer he traveled throughout France visiting restaurants and wineries to learn new flavor profiles and techniques that he could practice at home.
He augmented this experience by doing his own culinary research and reading books, especially ones about the effects science has on cooking. One book in particular, he has said, was an eye-opener and made him think about cooking completely differently. It challenged the traditional rules and notions about cooking that cookbooks and experts had always presented as undeniable facts. The book was On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee.
When Blumenthal read McGee’s assertion that searing meat does not in fact seal in juices, his curiosity was sparked and he decided to explore what other tenants of cooking might also be untrue.
McGee’s book influenced Heston’s cooking style and he began to question established culinary ideas by conducting his own scientific testing and experimentation as he developed his cooking voice.
Blumenthal’s scientific approach isn’t limited to food and cooking. He has put some thought into appliances, as well, to explain how they work and what makes them function better.
Videos: Heston Blumenthal’s Appliance Science
Heston Blumenthal is the most progressive chef of his generation. In these videos he explores the food challenges that Breville design teams have mastered through appliance science.
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Heston on proper mixing technique
A light fluffy and springy cake is a must in every baker’s repertoire.
A good sponge cake should literally spring back at you after you push it down. The secret ingredient to this fluffiness and springiness is air. If you don’t retain air in the mix, which is an easy mistake to make, light and fluffy becomes hard, dense and chewy.
When mixing, you can cleverly speed up the mixing process to make sure that you trap the air where you need it for the lightest, fluffiest cakes.
Whether you’re making biscuits, bread, pastries, or birthday cake, the process starts with creamed butter, which literally means beating butter and sugar together until the sugar dissolves while hopefully capturing as much air as possible. When you get it right, it should look smooth, pale, and fluffy.
Undermixing leads to lumps. So it’s important that you mix long enough to dissolve the sugar into the butter. However, after a few minutes you actually start to beat the retained air out of the butter, making it less and less aerated. So the key to aerated butter is to mix quickly, which is the base for baking glory.
The problem with traditional mixers is that much of the butter and sugar sticks to the side of the bowl and is missed by the beater blade, leaving it yellow and lumpy while the butter in the middle is overbeaten. You need to stop regularly to scrap down the sides of the bowl so the sticky unbeaten butter can be combined.
This challenge can be overcome with a mixer that has a rubber wiper blade on it. These mixers achieve 360-degree bowl coverage, wiping the sides and the bottom of the bowl with every rotation.
So not only do they mix more evenly and retain more air, they also mix up to three times faster than ordinary beaters. The result is a mixture that is much lighter and fluffier.
Heston on proper blending
It’s a universal truth that some things float and some things don’t.
To properly blend floating ingredients into liquid you need to pull them down toward the blending blades. To properly blend ingredients that sink in liquid you need to pull them upwards away from the food traps at the bottom of the blending jug. Finding a blender than can do either one or the other of these isn’t too hard. But to do both well is not as easy as it sounds.
Most blenders work by sucking ingredients down towards the blades. This is good for blending those ingredients that float, but it often leaves the denser ingredients like sugar or honey unblended. They can also leave lumps because they often suck the food into the dead zones under the blades.
Other blenders work by pulling ingredients up and using gravity to pull them back down. This is excellent when you’re blending dense ingredients, but leaves lots of lumps when trying to blend things that float.
Most professional-grade blenders are pretty good at managing these basic tasks, but you need to look carefully to find a domestic blender that can give you good results.
One solution is a hemisphere blade system. A hemisphere system has centered crushing blades that suck ingredients down. But it also features a bowl shape with long, curved, sweeping blades that scrape the bottom of the bowl to minimize food traps and push the dense ingredients up. So whether ingredients float or sink, food comes out smooth without any lumps.
But what’s even more magical about the hemisphere system is that the curved sweeping blades actively whip and aerate ingredients while blending, making creamier smoothies and allowing you to experiment on an array of new blending tasks.
Heston on toasting
There’s a wide variety of bread types to choose from today. Despite making breakfast a lot more interesting, it makes life a lot more difficult for the common toaster.
Consider two different types of bread that are toasted to the same shade of brown. It’s only natural to think that they were both toasted for the same amount of time. But believe it or not, the time it takes bread to achieve the perfect shade of brown can vary by as much as 25 percent. Now you’re probably thinking how can this be true?
The answer lies in the Maillard reaction. When bread is heated, it creates loads of delicious new flavor compounds as it browns. This is called the Maillard reaction and it happens when the sugars and the amino acids in a food are exposed to just the right amount of heat. The darker the bread the more heat it attracts, speeding up the Maillard reaction. Similarly, the more sugar the bread contains the faster the bread toasts. So fruit bread, which contains more sugar than white bread, will toast significantly faster than white bread.
Because the setting results vary by bread type, you typically end up having to watch your toast carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn. This is a problem, because with most toasters if you try to check the progress while toasting, it cancels the cycle and you have to start over. This could lead to burnt toast. A better way to get perfect results is to use a toaster that allows you to check the progress of your toast without interrupting the heat cycle.
Heston on easy risotto
Rice is enjoyed by millions of people every day, but depending on where you are in the world it can be made in a variety of different ways.
Popular Indian rice dishes are long-grained and dry. Chinese rice is shorter and moister, and in Italy of course they’ve perfected the risotto.
When it comes to rice and risotto, the biggest difference is that risotto is served in a thick and creamy sauce with the rice grains feeling soft and moist in the mouth. But fundamentally the creaminess of risotto comes not from what’s added to the sauce but from the starch within the rice grains themselves. The starch inside a grain of rice is held inside by the surrounding bran residue. As rice gets hotter, it absorbs water through the residue and often doubles in size once cooked. If cooked gently, most of the starch inside the rice is trapped inside leaving the outside of the rice dry and fluffy.
But if you agitate the rice grains against one another, usually achieved by a great deal of stirring, the starch oozes out of the rice and into the sauce around it. And that is what gives risotto its creamy texture. And to create the required agitation you usually need to stir non-stop for about 25 minutes, which just is not practical for the home chef.
An easier way to make perfect risotto is to use a modern risotto maker. Some cookers allow you to make an authentic tasting risotto without stirring. It also sautés meats and vegetables, makes fluffy rice, and slow cooks curries and casseroles all in one machine.
The secret to this machine is accurate pulsing temperature control so you can make dry fluffy rice just like other rice cookers. But when making risotto, it simmers stock in a controlled way that creates enough agitation to stimulate starch release. And all you need to do is stir in the rice and stock, walk away and let the machine do its magic. After 25 minutes you get tasty, creamy risotto without all the fuss.