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Deconstructing Food

May 15, 2013

My husband Graham is a really good cook. I’m not bad myself, but he applies his more extensive knowledge most often in extraordinary ways. One of his favorite things to do when we go to a restaurant and taste a marvelous dish is to start to “deconstruct” it. Once he figures out all the flavors on that fork, he then begins to consider how to replicate it at home. Yum.

On the Cafe Cimino Team Cast Iron Cook-Off 2012

On the Cafe Cimino Team Cast Iron Cook-Off 2012

Deconstructing a dish is not that unusual with really good cooks,  but Steve Ettlinger took it to new heights in his 2007 book   Twinkie Deconstucted. Ettinger’s quest was not to bake a replica at home but to understand, and help us begin to comprehend, the many many ingredients that go into making a Twinkie and how those ingredients enter our food system.121116_2_twinkie_ap_328

You probably know that on a food label, the ingredients are listed in diminishing order; in other words, if flour is the ingredient of highest volume, it is listed first.  And so it is with a Twinkie. Ettinger explains the different kinds of wheat that are available and why the one is selected to produce the cake.  Then he describes how the selected wheat is processed, bleached and then enhanced with added vitamins to replace what was removed in the processing. He goes on to explain where the sugar comes from, how corn is used in several ways for several of the ingredients, the leavening agents and how they are mined underground and more.

It is a fascinating book that sounded like it would be a sleep aid but Ettinger writes with humor and enough (but not too much) science to allow for several aha! moments.

For example:

  • Flour dust is explosive
  • Glucose, the form of sugar that adds bulk and sweetness to Twinkies crumb and filling, also adds glossiness to shoe leather and prolongs concrete setting.
  • The iron compound in enriched flour is also used as a common weed killer
  • When cooked, cotton cellulose is transformed into a soft goo, perfect for lending a slippery sensation to the filling in snack cakes and also to rocket fuel.

While Twinkies is often used as the epitome of snack food worthless in nutritional content, I have to admit my personal Hostess favorite is Snowballs, and I’m sure it also is made of similarly startling ingredients.

I’m glad I am the baker in the family. Since I have a sweet tooth at least I can control the ingredients!  By the way, there is NO cream in that filling.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dubrovniklady permalink
    May 15, 2013 1:32 pm

    Please do not tell us what that filling is made with!

  2. May 15, 2013 5:11 pm

    Years ago long before I had awareness of all that I know now, I got a book from the library on “Secret Recipes”. Some guy had deconstructed well selling foods and came up with a home cooked recipe that would provide a great substitute. I copied several but when I got to Oreos, I paused,,,,that cream filling…….no cream in there either…….

  3. May 16, 2013 3:21 am

    Have you read Pollan’s newest… “Cooked”… I bet Graham would love it. You, too. This time Michael deconstructs the southern BBQ, stews, then I think he does bread and beer (I’m only about halfway through it.) Written in his usual fun and informative style of course.

    • May 16, 2013 11:52 am

      We’ll have to look for it! With Pollan writing it, I know it will be an interesting read!

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