Alumni Spotlight: Audrey Reid

img_9996Fun fact: There is such a job as Brewing Scientist. No, not a scientist that has taken up brewing, a scientist that studies beer and works with brewers to craft the perfect libation.

BU Gastronomy alum and self-proclaimed Gastronomical Chemist Audrey Reid started Imbibe Solutions, a Charlottesville, VA based laboratory that works with craft breweries and small wineries, to do just that. She found a need for laboratory testing by breweries and wineries who didn’t have a fully equipped lab of their own, so she opened Imbibe Solutions to fulfill the need and save the businesses from the large investment required to build one.

Breweries and wineries measure a variety of variables throughout their processes. For breweries, quality control testing is about consistency of product from batch to batch, process efficiency, elongation of shelf-life, and elimination of off-flavors. For wineries, QC tests help winemakers understand what their starting product is, monitor fermentation and aging, make adjustments, add preservatives, and prevent microbial contamination. Common lab tests you will likely be familiar with but may not have given much thought to, include: ABV, IBU, residual sugar, gravity, acetic acid, carbonation, and sulfites.

During her time in the Gastronomy program, Audrey relied on both classes and the amazing opportunities that Boston presents to shape her education. She studied national wine policies and flavors produced by yeast in beer at 808 Comm., while learning about fermentation from Boston Ferments, brewing with friends, and picking the brain of an intern at a local distillery. She thought she might do policy work for the wine and beer industry after graduation; never once did she think she would become an entrepreneur. It wasn’t until she moved to Charlottesville and spoke with a brewer about the need for chemists in the industry, that she realized she could do one better than beer policy, she could combine her love for food and science as a beer chemist.

One of the biggest lessons the Gastronomy program taught her, is you have to design your own path. The program certainly doesn’t dictate which classes to take (beyond the core); you take the classes that sound interesting and teach you what you want to know, whether in the program, elsewhere at BU, or at any of the other amazing schools in the city. And as students well know, this is a unique program relatively new to the world, which means you often have to create your own job upon graduation. Find what you want to do and convince the right people that they need someone like you.

For Audrey, that meant starting a laboratory to help brewers and winemakers succeed in their ever-growing industries.

Besan Laddoos Deconstructed: The Science Behind This Indian Sweet

By: Sonia Dovedy

Growing up in an Indian household, I was often handed a precious, round morsel to savor during any holiday, religious festival, or simply as a doting gift from a relative. Known as “laddoo,” which translates to “round ball,” these beloved confections of clarified butter, various flours, sugar, dried fruit, and nuts have always held a sweet place in my heart.  For my food science class (MET ML 619), I took on the exciting task of exploring the science behind preparing the laddoo.

Some History

Historically, laddoos were created for their medicinal purposes. Comprised of healthful ingredients such as desi ghee, dates, chickpea flour, nuts and seeds, these sweets were meant to invigorate the weak and nourish individuals. Additionally, they served as a perfect ration for warriors and travelers because of their ease in transportation and long storage life. Then, when the British brought sugar to India, the entire purpose of laddoos dramatically changed. Recipes were re-created with the addition of the addicting sucrose, and laddoos became ubiquitous treats, necessary for every celebratory occasion. Today, laddoos come in all varieties – from traditional besan (chickpea flour) laddoos, to coconut laddoos, date laddoos, and more. Yet their shape remains the same – a small, round ball, in adherence to their namesake.

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The Project

Within Indian households, cooking is not a science; recipes come from stories, directions come from instinct, and the perfect flavor comes from experience. Thus, when asking the culinary experts of my mother and grandmother for help on decoding the “science” behind one of my favorite sweets, besan laddoo, I did not receive much clear guidance. For example, when asking how long to cook the besan, my mother replied, “I don’t know? Just cook it until it smells roasted. You will know.” After many attempts and questions, I was able to patch together the following recipe:

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The Science: I will now explain the science within each step of the recipe as well as the role that the different ingredients play during the process of making besan laddoo.

The Roasting

The first step is to roast the besan, or finely ground chickpea flour in the ghee. Ghee is essentially butter which has been cooked for a long time, until the milk solids have browned and caramelized. These milk solids of casein, lactose, and whey, are then strained from the mixture, and the resulting product is a clear liquid of pure milk fat with nutty, burnt caramel notes. The use of ghee in the laddoo is important for the following reasons:

  1. It adds nutty, burnt caramel flavors.
  2. Its high smoke point of 450F is well suited to fry the other ingredients.
  3. It helps to preserve laddoos for a long period of time. Laddoos store well for up to two weeks!

When the besan undergoes the Maillard reaction, it takes on golden hues, emits a nutty aroma, and transforms into a rich, savory ingredient, essential for this sweet. During the roasting process, it is imperative to roast the besan on a medium-low flame while stirring continuously. This slow, careful process ensures that each granule of besan is exposed to even heat, providing for an even roasting of the flour; this also prevents the besan from burning and becoming bitter.

The next step is to add the non-fat dry milk powder to the besan/ghee mixture, and roast for five more minutes. The use of non-fat dry milk powder in this recipe adds important depth in flavor; here, the concentrated dose of milk sugar, lactose, facilitates the Maillard reaction even further and imparts a sweet, burnt caramel flavor to the laddoo. It is important to note that the milk powder is added to the mixture towards the very end of the roasting process for a short period of time. Otherwise, the milk solids would burn.

The Flavoring

Once roasting is complete, the mixture is removed the heat and allowed to cool minimally – just enough so that it is able to be handled while adding the rest of the ingredients: confectioner’s sugar, cardamom, and a pinch of salt. It is important for the batter to stay warm because sugar and salt are much more soluble in warmer substances than cooler ones, and heat allows for the cardamom spice to release its fragrant oils. There is no concern about over-mixing the batter, because there is no gluten in this recipe.

Regarding sugar, in this recipe, the use of confectioner’s sugar is essential, not only to sweeten this dish, but also to achieve the melt-in-your mouth, creamy consistency that this particular laddoo boasts. Confectioner’s sugar, or granulated sugar that has been ground to a fine powder, contains the same chemical structure as ordinary granulated sugar, sucrose. However, it has a small addition of starch, which helps it to absorb moisture and prevents it from caking. Thus, in this recipe, the confectioner’s variety of sugar is crucial for texture. In addition, cardamom, a familiar spice used in Indian cuisine, provides warming flavor notes to the besan laddoo. When crushed and heated, this seed emits floral, fruity terpene compounds and cineole, an essential oil similar to eucalyptus. Finally, salt (my own personal addition to the recipe), or sodium chloride, intensifies the sweetness and adds a depth in flavor to this dish.

The Formation

The last step of the recipe is to take about two tablespoons of the batter and squeeze it together in your palm a few times in order to form a small round ball. At first, the mixture crumbles, but with firm repetitive motions, it begins to glue together. Here, it is helpful to lightly grease your palms with ghee, as this provides a seal around the laddoo, preventing sticky moisture from entering.

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As the laddoos cool, they transform from a soft, crumbly consistency into a firm, solid mass. This change in structure is due to the redistribution of the chemical compounds from the ingredients. For example, as the ghee in the batter cools, it returns to its solid state. In addition, the amylose and amylopectin in the chickpea flour realign in different places around the ghee, producing a thicker, more solid formation. These laddoos can be stored in an airtight container for up to three weeks, making them a suitable travel snack.

The final product of this exploration is a collection of precious confections: dense golden balls, with a crumbly centers that melt into a soft, creamy texture on the tongue. Flavor notes include nutty, roasted, and burnt caramel profiles from the roasting, as well as warm eucalyptus notes from the cardamom. While it is not necessary to know the science behind these round treasures in order to enjoy their sweetness, I would argue that this research adds even more depth to their flavor. Enjoy!

Read more from Sonia at  www.bakewithsonia.com and www.cookwithsonia.wordpress.com.