Sometimes the most unlikely sources can spark culinary innovation.
Microwave. Egg whites. Water. And a bit of wizardry. The result is a delicate, puffy, almost cakey creation now dubbed the vauquelin
The microwave, in particular, is an oft-scorned appliance that usually gets a bad rap in the kitchen. Sure, it’s convenient, but it’s also harsh and imprecise, turning crusty bread chewy and tender meat into elastic. But flash-cooking has its uses—as Hervé This, father of molecular gastronomy, knows.
, a new method described in a recent article for the European Molecular Biology Organization
, could be considered a cousin to the meringue. Any chef worth his whisk knows that whipping egg whites increases their volume dramatically—up to a point, when the expansion stops. Determining that water was the limiting factor, This began adding liquid along with sugars, creating an almost endlessly expanding foam. His next step? The microwave.
A quick nuke will set the proteins that hold up the water and air, producing a “chemically jellified foam” that, when done right, is lighter than a meringue. Setting the foam is an acquired touch. Cook the foam too little, and it won’t set; nuke it a bit too long, and the foam will collapse, leaving you with, essentially, a floppy fried egg. But hover over the “cancel” button, and you’ll pull out something soft, airy, and surprisingly tender.
In one of its first public debuts, the vauquelin
(named for an 18th-century French chemist) appeared in a cooking demonstration by a former Top Chef contestant. Marcel Vigneron whipped peanut butter, egg whites and water together, poured them into a plastic cup (slit on the bottom for proper aeration), and popped the whole thing into the microwave. The resulting vauquelin
was somewhere between a bread and a cake, almost disappearing on mouth contact, but first releasing the faintest puff of peanuty air.
From a cranberry juice dessert foam to a peanut butter bread, the vauquelin invites experimentation. And unlike other crazy-chef techniques, there’s no sodium alginate or liquid nitrogen involved—a carton and a microwave is all you need.