Last night was only the second lecture of the season for Harvard's Science & Cooking series, but Joanne Chang's talk undoubtedly smelled better than any of the others possibly could, thanks to a simple demonstration of sugar water heating up. (Plus, attendees got to eat sugar cookies, buttercream, and caramel sauce.)
When Chang gave a lecture last year, she illuminated some of the science underlying four types of baked goods, from cream puffs to pie crusts. This time around, she delved into one of the key building blocks of nearly all desserts: sugar. It's a subject she's been thinking about a lot lately; next spring, she'll release a cookbook called Baking with Less Sugar, featuring recipes that call for low amounts of sugar or use alternatives like honey or maple syrup.
To begin the lecture, Chang examined sugar's numerous roles in desserts (no, it's not just for adding sweetness.) Then, she explained (and demonstrated) the different stages of heating sugar, from the thread stage to caramelizing.