Saturday, December 20, 2008


Merlin, cutting the dough for lussekaat

One of the truly lovely things about having older children is the way they run with family traditions.

Garry took the boys up to the farm up the road to cut our Christmas tree while I was at a conference. They did save the job of stringing the lights on the tree for me, but the boys did all the decorating.

We got together with homeschooling friends to make tree ornaments (another family tradition).  Malcolm also made snickerdoodles, a holiday tradition in this family. One of the children used to love to chant "snickerdoodle dough" and so it always makes us laugh when someone says "snickerdoodle dough."

On December 11, Malcolm and I mixed the dough for lussekaat (Santa Lucia day saffron buns). During the process, we had a long talk about yeast biochemistry, the importance of gluten, and how kneading and rising develop the stretchy gluten structure that makes wheat bread so wonderful.

As we were pouring the yeast into the warm oat milk, honey, and saffron mixture (heaven, in other words), I talked about how you can tell whether your yeast is still alive by seeing how much it bubbles up when you activate it. I asked Malcolm what gas he thought was in the bubbles.

"I don't know," he said at first.

"Well, yeast breaks apart carbohydrates to get energy."

"Oh. So the gas must be carbon dioxide then."

This led to a discussion about how the little air pockets in bread are from the carbon dioxide given off by the yeast, and how quick breads use a chemical process (which he knows well) to do the same thing that we're using a biological process to accomplish in yeast breads.

As we kneaded, I showed him how to gently pull the dough into paper-thin sheets to test to see whether the gluten was fully developed.

Malcolm has the science background now to visualize what's happening in the kitchen. This is fun and exciting for both of us; it gives us another way to connect over the creation of food.

He, Matisse, and Merlin rolled the bits of dough into kuse and lussekaat shapes.

I have really been enjoying the children and feeling blessed to be their mother.

1 comment:

Miranda said...

Glad to see a new post here! Thanks!

We recently purchased an amazing reference book about kitchen science which is the book I've been dreaming of since two decades ago when I first wondered why copper affected egg white whipping. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. I think it's the sort of thing that might interest you as much as it interests us. Our only problem is we don't know whether to keep it with the cookbooks or the reference books.