Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/841

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
821
THE CHEMISTRY OF COOKERY.

This return to the crystalline condition is retarded by adding vinegar or mucilaginous matter to the heated sugar, hence the confectioners' name of "barley-sugar," which, in one of its old-fashioned forms, was prepared by boiling down ordinary sugar in a decoction of pearl barley.

The French cooks and confectioners carry on the heating of sugar through various stages bearing different technical names, one of the most remarkable of which is a splendid crimson variety, largely used in fancy sweetmeats, and containing no foreign coloring-matter, as commonly supposed. Though nothing is added, something is taken away, and this is some of the chemically-combined water of the original sugar, in the parting with which not only a change of color occurs, but also a modification of flavor, as anybody may prove by experiment.

When the temperature is gradually raised to 420°, the sugar loses two equivalents of water, and becomes caramel—a dark-brown substance, no longer sweet, but having a new flavor of its own. It further differs from sugar by being incapable of fermentation. Its analogies to the crust of bread and the "brown" of cooked animal food will be further discussed in my next.

 
XIV.

In my last I described the dissociation of sugar by heat and the formation of caramel, to illustrate by simple example the "browning" of other kinds of food. I might have added, in connection with this cookery of sugar, an historical connection with one of the lost arts of the kitchen—viz., the "spinning" of sugar. Within the reach of my own recollection no evening party could pretend to be stylish unless the supper-table was decorated with a specimen of this art—a temple, a pagoda, or something of the sort done in barley-sugar. These were made by raising the sugar to 320°, when it fused and became amorphous, or vitreous, as already described. The cook then dipped a skewer into it, the melted vitreous sugar adhered to this and was drawn out as a thread, which speedily solidified by cooling. While in the act of solidification it was woven into the desired form, and the skillful artist did this with wonderful rapidity. I once witnessed with childish delight the spinning of a great work of art by a French cook in St. James's Palace. It was a ship in full sail, the sails of edible wafer, the hull a basket-work of spun sugar, the masts of massive sugar-sticks, and the rigging of delicate threads of the same. As nearly as I can remember, the whole was completed in about an hour.

But to return from high art to chemical science. The conversion of sugar into caramel is, as already stated, attended with a change of flavor: a kind of bitterness replaces the sweetness. This peculiar flavor, judiciously used, is a powerful adjunct to cookery, and one which is shamefully neglected in our ordinary English domestic