Friday, June 20, 2008

Solar-Powered Oven, Courtesy of Honda

Today’s temperatures are supposed to reach as high as 113°F in the San Fernando Valley, and I know it will be considerably hotter inside my Honda Civic. So I'm trying an experiment. I'm going to attempt to bake meringues in my car. I put a thermometer on the dashboard early this morning, and by 9:20, the ambient temperature inside the car was already 115°F. A few minutes later, when the temperature passed 139°, the thermometer checked out on me. Since it’s made for use inside the house, I guess it didn’t take kindly to being treated this way. So I replaced it with an oven thermometer which doesn’t show an accurate reading until the ambient heat reaches 200°.

Please don’t make fun of my sloppy piping. I was just trying to quickly pipe an array of sizes of meringue and get the pan into my Honda-brand oven before I came to my senses and decided not to go outside at all.

My recipe calls for the meringues to be baked at 200° for two hours. Egg whites—one of two major components of meringue—begin to coagulate at 145°, but since sugar—the second of those two major components—raises the temperature needed for this process by another 30 or so degrees, I’m not sure this experiment will work. Some cooks set the temperature in their ovens really low and leave the meringues in there all day long, so we’ll see how my auto-meringues fare by the end of the day.

10:50 a.m.
I set a sheet pan of piped meringues on the front seat of my car, preheated to around 150°, as best I can tell. This temperature is low for an oven, but at least the eggs are well out of the bacteria-encouraging danger zone.

Borrowing from the Beach Boys, I have a particular melody in my head and find myself singing, “Stang-stang-stang-Mustang meringue . . .” as I wash the mixer and assorted meringue-making tools. How about a Volkswagen vacherin? I can’t find anything that rhymes with or plays well alliteratively with Honda. So much for a punchy, car-inspired title for this piece, unless I go with something generic like “dashboard dessert.”

11:40 a.m.
The needle on the oven thermometer is about to reach the 200° mark. I’d say it’s around 180° inside the car. No wonder the flashlight in the glove box is melting.

1 p.m.
It’s a mere 112° on the front porch, while the oven thermometer on the dashboard says it’s a solid 200° inside the car. Those meringues must be coming along nicely now. I’m so glad my car has cloth upholstery. Otherwise I’d need 'bestos for my ass . . .

3 p.m.
The temperature inside the car is beginning to drop, although it’s still dangerously hot in there, well over 100°.

8 p.m.
We bring in the sheet of meringues, let them come to room temperature and then give them a try. They're perfect, not one speck of moisture left inside. Good for meringues—bad for living things.

The finished products: I didn’t want to cook the blueberries and generate any more heat in the house, so I just poured the fresh berries right into the vacherin shell and we enjoyed them like this.

No, this is not an efficient way to cook--just an interesting thing to do with an uncomfortable circumstance. An upholstered oven certainly doesn't provide the best concentration of heat. But I think my experiment was pretty darn cool!

Can I officially call myself a food geek now?


Pat Sinclair said...

What an interesting idea! I always knew cars got hot but never saw numbers before. I was in Phoenix in June and it never occured to me to bake in the car. You finla result is lovely. Pat

Ken Albala said...

Carol, This is just delightful! I've seen gloppy stews cooked sotto dashboard, but this is truly novel!


Michelle said...

What a fun experiement. I also liked your post about the wine mixed with sprite or cola. Never heard of that one before. But I've always got wine and coke in the fridge. Come to think of it, I've also got some Sprite at the moment too. Think I'll have to get up now and try that out ...