[LMB] Atheists in foxholes

Joel Polowin jpolowin at hotmail.com
Fri Jul 16 17:55:26 BST 2021

Sylvia McIvers <sylviamcivers at gmail.com> wrote:
> But are there atheists in the kitchen?
> Just came across this line.
> Baking is chemistry. If the recipe says 3 eggs and you only have 2, you
> have to reduce the quantity of the other ingredients by 1/3 AND PRAY.  It
> might work out, it might not - that?s chemistry for you: you need exact
> quantities for the reaction to work. But the best thing to do would be to
> find another recipe that only uses 2 eggs.

Experience and/or understanding are important in cooking (which can
indeed be viewed as applied chemistry).  In this case, prayer would
be much less likely to be effective than knowing what other changes
are going to be necessary to accommodate the decreased amount of egg.
In some cases it would be possible to make up the difference in the
amount of water-type liquid (vs. oil) by adding some other liquid -- a
quarter cup (~65 mL) of milk, perhaps.  If one really must decrease the
scale by 1/3, then one is likely to want to use a smaller baking pan and
bake at a higher temperature than the original recipe called for, and a
shorter baking time.

Baking is a matter of balancing time and temperature with the needs
of the food and the cookware.  One generally starts with the food at
(approximately) room temperature, and a hot oven.  When the food is put
into the oven, heat starts to work its way into it -- directly into any
exposed surfaces, by radiation and exposure to the hot air, indirectly
by heat working through the cookware.  The outside of the food cooks
more quickly than the inside.  The usual goal is to have the outside of
the food nicely browned, but not burned or dried out, at the same time
that the inside is fully cooked.  If the temperature is too high, there
isn't time for the heat to get into the interior before the outside
is burned.  If the temperature is too low, it takes too long for the
outside to brown before the inside is dried out or overcooked.

If the recipe is decreased by 1/3 overall, the volume of food will
be smaller.  It'll take less time for heat to reach the middle from
the outside.  So one would use a higher temperature and a shorter baking

Unless the food is cooked in such a way that there wouldn't be a change
in its thickness from a recipe change, of course.  Cookies, for example,
because the dough gets spread out.  In such cases, just decrease
everything by 1/3.

The cookware can have its own effect.  Metal is a good conductor of
heat; glass is less conductive.  Thin cookware doesn't take very long to
heat up, but also doesn't hold heat well; with thick cookware, one may
need to allow for the time for heat to get through it, but also consider
that the cookware will stay hot after it's removed from the heat source.

My chemistry post-doc ex-housemate was *really* *bad* at this kind
of thing.  She used to cook her TV dinners in the microwave, until
the day she saw me bake something in the toaster oven, and suddenly
realized what the knob with the numbers was for.  She started cooking
her TV dinners in the toaster oven, against the cooking recommendations
on the packages.  It's a thing that *could* be done, with understanding.
Since the food would be much closer to the heating elements in a toaster
oven than in a regular oven, it would be heated much more strongly.
The effective temperature would be higher than the numbers suggested.
So one would want to use a lower temperature setting, and probably also
keep an eye on the thing.  As opposed to what she actually did, which
was to use a higher temperature setting, and to slap the thing in the
oven and go off to watch TV until the time was up, or the smoke detector
went off, usually the latter.

*Most* people would have learned better, after the first couple of
times.  But she was special.


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