Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Temper-Spoon, a Device for Temperature Measurement While Stirring

Updated, June 4, 2016

Buying a Thermapen to handle temperature measurement in the kitchen was a bit of an extravagance, but since I've spent much of my professional career concerned with accurate temperature measurement (e.g., combustion products above a glowing ceramic tile, diesel engine exhaust), I'm very picky about temperature measurement.  Particularly, I like to know where the sensor is reading and like to get the answer quickly. The lower-priced devices that I have tried, such as a digital sensor from Taylor, fail on both counts.  The Thermapen, however, is fast and has its temperature sensing device at the tip of the probe, so it has passed most of my tests (though not always with A's).

But when it comes to liquids — like heating or cooling milk for home-made yogurt — I've been wanting an add-on device so that I can measure liquid temperature while stirring.  My hypothetical solution:  a clip-on spoon accessory, the "Temper-Spoon," which I have sketched below in a multi-view drawing (front, top and side views).  It is basically a spoon that has been modified to have a hole in its scoop and can attach to the thermometer.  The hole in the scoop allows liquids to flow across the temperature probe while stirring a liquid; its dimension should be large enough to let a good amount of fluid pass across the probe, while still having enough material remaining to stir the liquid. 

Soon after I bought my Thermapen, I tried to make a Temper-spoon by drilling a hole in an old wooden spoon and using block of wood to attach the two. Since I was dealing with two cylinders, I drilled two holes into the block of wood: one was the diameter of the spoon and the other was the diameter of the Thermapen probe. It was a minor success for a time, until the attachment block split apart.  The choice of a wooden spoon was sub-optimal, as I worried about the somewhat rough wood harboring bacteria (a stainless steel or silicone model would be preferable). ThermoWorks, the manufacturer of the Thermapen and other temperature measurement devices makes a stationary probe holder, but no spoon accessory. If you are enthusiastic about temperature measurement in the kitchen, have you tried building a spoon-thermometer hybrid?  Or seen any other good ideas?

Update:  I'm definitely not the only one to think of this:  while browsing the sale rack at Sur La Table one day, I ran across something similar to my Temper-Spoon idea in the form of the Mastrad Thermometer Spoon. It's a clever device that consists of a silicone spoon and removable electronic temperature probe with the readout at the top of the spoon.  The tip of the probe is in the bowl of the spoon giving you a temperature measurement as you stir. Since the probe is removable you could use it elsewhere as a normal probe. It was heavily marked down, so I bought one. 

I used it to make plum jam last weekend and the design was not quite right for me. As I stirred, the orientation of the readout was not visible — a rotation of about 45 degrees would have been great, but the spoon only allows for 180 degree readout rotation.  I'd also like to see a hole in the spoon to allow better fluid flow across the probe.

Random link from the archive: Sweet Potato Leaves

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chocolate Adventure 2010 is all about cupcakes

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an event* at Elizabeth Falkner's Orson in San Francisco to celebrate the launch of the fourth annual Chocolate Adventure, a contest sponsored and run by Scharffen Berger Chocolate and Tuttifoodie (with some help from the Tablehopper). The contest is all about experimentation and finding new flavor combinations for chocolate and/or cocoa. To participate, contestants submit a recipe before January 2, 2011 that contains Scharffen Berger chocolate or cocoa and one or more of the "adventure" ingredients. This year's list includes adzuki beans, coconut milk, saffron, Meyer lemon and ten others.

At the event, attendees enjoyed adventurous cupcakes from Orson's kitchen and some adventure-ingredient inspired cocktails from the bar (like the "English Breakfast," a concoction of tea-infused bourbon, molasses and oatmeal stout). In addition, there were blind tastings of current and previous adventure ingredients (like cocao nibs, bee pollen, and sumac), with the finalists going up against Chef Falkner.

In previous years, the contest was pretty much "anything goes" — desserts, main dishes, side dishes, cocktails — with subcategories for sweet, savory and beverage (but a different set of categories each year). This year, the contest focuses on cupcakes, a limitation that looks to me as a blessing and a curse for the contestants and judges. On the one hand, it focuses the mind and evens the playing field: instead of designing or judging two very different dishes —  like roasted chicken with chocolately mole sauce and a peanut soup with cocao nibs and a dusting of cocoa powder — it's cupcake vs. cupcake. On the other hand, it will be challenging for contestants to break away from "one from column A, one from column B, one from column C" formula and create cupcakes that can get the attention of the panel of expert judges (or perhaps the cupcake craze in recent years has created an innovative spirit among home bakers that will lead to entries without too much trouble).

I don't know if I'll be organized enough or persistent enough to create and entry. So far, I've been experimenting a little bit, appreciating the idea of focus, taking the chance to improve my baking in one small area instead of the usual scattershot approach of a wildly different baking project every weekend (my results so far have been "interesting" at best). The contest is yielding additional benefits, such as the great basic cupcake recipes from baking guru Alice Medrich (author of some of my favorite dessert cookbooks, including "Pure Dessert") on the Chocolate Adventure site (there isn't really a link, you need to click through a few pages, starting with the "Explore Ingredients" area at the bottom). The Interactive Cupcake Builder also looks handy, with tips on how to incorporate this year's adventure ingredients into batters and topping — for example, if using almond flour in a batter, for each quantity of almond flour you want to add, subtract one-half that much regular flour. So even if you don't have any interest in contests but like to bake, the Chocolate Adventure site is worth a look.

* Disclosure: I attended the event at no charge and received various products from the event organizers.

Random link from the archive: Tempering Chocolate