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What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained Paperback – August 14, 2008


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What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained + What Einstein Told His Cook 2: The Sequel: Further Adventures in Kitchen Science (v. 2) + Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (August 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393329429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329421
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Why do recipes call for unsalted butter--and salt? What is a microwave, actually? Are smoked foods raw or cooked? Robert L. Wolke's enlightening and entertaining What Einstein Told His Cook offers answers to these and 127 other questions about everyday kitchen phenomena. Using humor (dubious puns included), Wolke, a bona fide chemistry professor and syndicated Washington Post columnist, has found a way to make his explanations clear and accessible to all: in short, fun. For example, to a query about why cookbooks advise against inserting meat thermometers so that they touch a bone, Wolke says, "I hate warnings without explanations, don't you? Whenever I see an 'open other end' warning on a box, I open the wrong end just to see what will happen. I'm still alive." But he always finally gets down to brass tacks: as most heat transfer in meat is due to its water content, areas around bone remain relatively cool and thus unreliable for gauging overall meat temperature.

Organized into basic categories like "Sweet Talk" (questions involving sugar), "Fire and Ice" (we learn why water boils and freezers burn, among other things), and "Tools and Technology" (the best kind of frying pan, for example), the book also provides illustrative recipes like Black Raspberry Coffee Cake (to demonstrate how metrics work in recipes) and Bob's Mahogany Game Hens (showing what brining can do). With technical illustrations, tips, and more, the book offers abundant evidence that learning the whys and hows of cooking can help us enjoy the culinary process almost as much as its results. --Arthur Boehm --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Wolke, longtime professor of chemistry and author of the Washington Post column Food 101, turns his hand to a Cecil Adams style compendium of questions and answers on food chemistry. Is there really a difference between supermarket and sea salt? How is sugar made? Should cooks avoid aluminum pans? Interspersed throughout Wolke's accessible and humorous answers to these and other mysteries are recipes demonstrating scientific principles. There is gravy that avoids lumps and grease; Portuguese Poached Meringue that demonstrates cream of tartar at work; and juicy Salt-Seared Burgers. Wolke is good at demystifying advertisers' half-truths, showing, for example, that sea salt is not necessarily better than regular salt for those watching sodium intake. While the book isn't encyclopedic, Wolke's topics run the gamut: one chapter tackles Those Mysterious Microwaves; elsewhere readers learn about the burning of alcohol and are privy to a rant on the U.S. measuring system. Sometimes the tone is hokey (The green color [in potatoes] is Mother Nature's Mr. Yuk sticker, warning us of poison) and parenthetical Techspeak explanations may seem condescending to those who remember high school science. However, Wolke tells it like it is. What does clarifying butter do, chemically? Answer: gets rid of everything but that delicious, artery-clogging, highly saturated butterfat. With its zest for the truth, this book will help cooks learn how to make more intelligent choices.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

I found this book to be a very easy and entertaining read.
Charles Palmer
The book is in the form of question and answer, and I can't help but think he even rewrote the questions to make them extra dumb.
Brian P. Linzy
This book explains the science behind just about anything in the kitchen--from food to cookware to you name it.
L. Taylor

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

326 of 339 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a most delightful book, full of kitchen wisdom and chemistry, good and bad puns, and many, many clever witticisms. It is a flat out pleasure to read, but what really makes it such an outstanding piece of work, and a book every kitchen should have, is that it is so full of information, from why and how corn syrup ends up in sodas to why and how to wash your mushrooms--and yes, they are indeed grown in manure, but not to worry, as Wolke explains on pages 286-288 in a little essay entitled, "You Can't Wash Your Car with a Wet Mushroom." (I believe that.) This is the kind of book you'll find yourself reading from cover to cover instead of peeling the potatoes. Speaking of which, Wolke advises that there is a very slight problem with green potatoes, but that reports of their poisonous nature are greatly exaggerated. (See pages 117-120 for the true scoop.)

I have just one problem: nowhere does Wolke say how many sesame seeds are in a teaspoon. However, inspired by Wolke's labor-intensive lime squeezing experiment on pages 281-284, I was able to work it out myself. The answer is 840. I found this by counting the number in a half teaspoon and multiplying by two, genius that I am. (Alas, this was before I realized that I could have counted the number in a quarter teaspoon and multiplied by four.) Which reminds me of the joke about a guy on a train counting cows in a field. When asked how he could do this he explained that he counted their legs and divided by four.

Now you may think this was an idle exercise and wonder if I am not slyly making fun of Wolke's book. Au Cointreau! What I learned by counting sesame seeds exemplifies one of the lessons in the book, namely how hard it is to measure anything exactly.
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98 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Dinubabear VINE VOICE on November 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I might have liked this book better if I read it before I read On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. But I read that one first and enjoyed the technical explanations. Some of the same questions are explored in both books, and in McGee's book you will get a detailed explanation suitable for a college student. This book you will get an explanation suitable for about 7th grade. It's more like Mr. Wizard or Bill Nye asked these questions instead of Einstein. If you want easier reading and simple answers, this book is for you. But I felt it was dumbed down compared to McGee's book.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Kristen on June 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Excellent writing! I used to love the sciences growing up but now I've entered the "real world" complete with a sit-all-day-looking-at-a-computer-screen job. Because of that, I have recently found cooking (something to invigorate my mind and senses in the evening). Wolke's book is the perfect combination of both cooking and science, with just the right amount of humor and sarcasm. I just finished it last night and am already online to buy his other works. Happy reading!
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By T. Lewis on May 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most semi-competent amateur cooks will find this to be an informative and entertaining read. It will likely appeal to fans of Alton Brown's Food TV show "Good Eats".

As well as explanations of many foodie things that you will never see explained in run-of-the-mill cookery books, it includes a decent number of fairly straightforward recipes.

It is broken into many short sub-chapters, making it easy to read in bursts of 3 or 4 minutes.

What it is not, is a comprehensive explanation of all kitchen science. If you are looking for a manual of cookery science and techniques, or a book aimed at budding professional cooks, then look elsewhere.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Brian P. Linzy on August 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
Sorry for the rewrite, but I realized my earlier review really didn't explain just how bad this book is. There are a few bits of useful information sprinkled here and there, mostly in the form of corrected wives-tales. Potatoes won't soak up extra salt in a soup, and adding salt to your pasta water will only raise the boiling point by something like 1/700 of a degree (but you should do it anyway because it tastes better). But to get these few bits of information you'll have to suffer through the wildly insulting tone of the book. Now I realize I should have stopped when he described a molecule as "one of those eentsy-weentsy things that stuff is made of," but it was early in the book and I thought he was just trying to make the point that anyone can read this book.

But no - he really assumes you're an idiot, which seems odd give the subject, or even the title. He continues to talk down to the reader throughout the book. He uses the word "Techspeak" to warn you of anything vaguely scientific. For example, "We all learned that matter comes in three physical forms (Techspeak: states of matter)" or "...liquid water can hold more heat (Techspeak: it has a higher heat capacity)". And instead of bothering to explain things he often just resorts to onomatopoeia. What is energy? It's oomph.

The book is in the form of question and answer, and I can't help but think he even rewrote the questions to make them extra dumb. While he apparently does receive questions from the public you can tell they've been reworked because they were clearly all written by the same idiot. The questions all follow the same format ("I heard..." followed by some reasonable question or statement, with a punchline at the end.)

In addition to thinking you are stupid, he really thinks he is funny.
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