Introduction: How I Hacked a McDonald’s Happy Meal With Molecular Gastronomy

About: Hello! My name is Jennifer and I love to cook. Baking, grilling, smoking, and frying interest me. Creating my own recipe is even better!

In this instructable, I’ll show how I modified a McDonald’s Happy Meal using molecular gastronomy. Have you ever just done something just to see if you could? That’s how this project started. I just wanted to see what would happen if I used culinary techniques such as spherification, gelification and decorative plating on something pretty common. I have included a lot of the science behind the techniques to demonstrate that the food has been changed chemically versus just a visual alteration.
Let’s get started...

Step 1: The Meal Elements

In order to do this project, I ordered one Happy Meal with a cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato on the side, French fries, yogurt, and apple juice.
When I got home with the meal I began by separating out the different elements. Most importantly, I took apart the cheeseburger and extracted the different parts: 2 buns (one side had ketchup and mustard), pickles, cheese, and a meat patty.

Step 2: Utilizing the Elements of the Meal

My first step was to utilize the “clean” bun, the one without condiments. Using a glass with an approximate 3 inch diameter, I cut out a round piece of bread which left a bread ring. This became the dessert “crust”.
In a spherical mold sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkled with sugar, I pressed the bread circle. I placed this mold and the bread ring in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
The ring only took 5 minutes to crisp up whereas the bread circle took 10 minutes.

The science behind it:

When the bread pieces are placed in the oven, water in the bread is heated and leaves the bread as water vapor. This process is called evaporation.
This process leaves behind a crispier piece of bread that I was able to use as a dessert crust and as a sturdy ring in the entree portion.

Step 3: Utilizing the Elements of the Meal

For this meal, I made French fry “croutons”. I cut tiny pieces of the fries and sprinkled them with Parmesan cheese and a bit of garlic powder and placed in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes until they became crispy like a potato chip.
I wanted to not only change their appearance and flavor but needed to move away from the limp fry state.
I think it was a good move and an improvement.

The science behind it:

McDonald's French fries are sent to stores frozen, The potato pieces have been blanched but they are frozen when they arrive. The cook will place them in the deep fryer and the moisture in the outer portion of the fry will violently escape the fry leaving a crunchy, crispy exterior. The interior stays soft because the outer crust helps retain the interior moisture.

However, when they are allowed to sit in a bag, the crispy exterior will absorb moisture and become limp. In this project, I baked them in the oven removing some of the moisture in the fry by evaporation and made them crunchy.

Step 4: Utilizing the Elements of the Meal

To make the centerpiece of the meal, I had to transform the parts of the cheeseburger. I cut small circles out of the bun, patty and cheese and reassembled them into a tiny double cheeseburger.

Step 5: Utilizing the Elements of the Meal

After I inserted a long bamboo pick through the structure, I then dipped it into an egg and heavy cream mixture. It was then dipped into flour seasoned with salt and pepper.
I didn’t want my crust to fall off when I fried the tiny bite so I waited 10 minutes until the flour became moist.
Perfect! I fried it in vegetable oil on medium heat on the stovetop for about 5 minutes which was enough time to brown the crust.

The science behind it:

There are chemical reactions that occur between sugars and amino acids in the high temperatures of hot oil frying. These are called Maillard reactions. Components are broken down which changes the color of the element to a golden-brown color and give a complex flavor.

Step 6: Utilizing the Elements of the Meal

To make the ketchup sphere, I combined three packets of the condiment with 1 teaspoon of corn starch. After heating it up (microwaved 20 seconds on high), the mixture gelled and it became bouncy like a ball I was able to roll it in my hands and shape it.

The science behind it:

How does gelatinization happen?

Cornstarch is made from glucose molecules bonding together and creating a usable energy source for plants. Bonds are broken between the glucose molecules when corn starch is heated and water is added. When this happens, gelatinization occurs.

Step 7: Utilizing the Elements of the Meal

To make the apple juice spheres, I used a process called spherification. In a small saucepan on medium heat on the stovetop, I heated the apple juice with 1 teaspoon of agar agar. When the powder was no longer detectable, I used a syringe to gather some of the apple juice mixture.
Slowly, I dripped drops of the apple juice into olive oil that had been cooled in the refrigerator for thirty minutes. Tiny spheres formed and I rinsed them in cold water in a wire mesh strainer.
So cool!

The science behind it:

Spherification occurs when a gel surrounds a liquid. In this case, the carbohydrate polymer from agar agar encased the apple juice and created a shell around the liquid.


Step 8: Utilizing the Elements of the Meal

Ok. Ok. This one wasn’t in the Meal but I couldn’t resist using it. I did get it at McDonald’s though.
For part of the dessert garnish, I took some (1 teaspoon) McDonald’s Hot Cake Syrup and placed it on a non-stick mat on a baking sheet.
I baked it in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour. The end result was a really cool bubble decoration that stood upright in the dessert.

The science behind it:

When the temperature of sugar is raised, the water evaporates and the sugar becomes concentrated. In this project, the hot cake syrup, which is made primarily of corn syrup, was heated for an hour at 300 degrees Fahrenheit which is considered the "hard crack" stage when you are making candy. At this point, the syrup becomes very brittle because the water is mostly removed and the sugar concentration is 99 percent.

Step 9: Utilizing the Elements of the Meal

At this point, I wanted to finish with my warm ingredients before I started with the cold ones.
Using a white square plate, I used a silicon basting brush to paint a mustard stripe from edge to edge.
Next, I placed a dollop of ketchup on the edge of the mustard stripe and set a flat glass bottom on top of it leaving a nesting circle with ketchup “veins” running through it.

Step 10: Utilizing the Elements of the Meal

In order to make the salad roll, I filled the lettuce leaf with thinly sliced tomato pieces, and leftover cheese slices from the cheeseburger. I rolled it up and trimmed the ends off flat.

Step 11: Assembling the New and Improved Meal

For the dessert, I began with the sweetened and baked round bread and filled it with the strawberry yogurt. I then garnished it with apple juice spheres and a bubble decoration in a pretty glass dish.
After placing the dish on a long white rectangular plate, I finished the garnish by adding spheres to the plate. I also used a bit of yogurt with purple food coloring to add dots with a syringe.

Step 12: Assembling the New and Improved Meal

For the main course, I used the same long bamboo pick I used to fry the tiny cheeseburger.
I ran it through:
A pickle
The bread ring
The ketchup sphere
The other side of the bread ring
The fried tiny cheeseburger

The structure was very sturdy and plated easily on the ketchup circle on the plate. I placed the salad roll next to it and garnished it with some French fry croutons.

Step 13: The End Result

This was such a fun experiment. It was really awesome to see what would happen when I used some cool culinary ideas to modify a Happy Meal. It was a challenge because the food had already been cooked but it was neat to see what I could come up with to alter these drive thru purchases.
I considered a bunch of different techniques such as making noodles out of the salad with agar agar or using a smoking gun to smoke a part of the meal but my choices made the most sense to me as far as the end product.
In the end, the food was tasty and definitely transformed. I would have liked to have had some kind of sauce or dressing for the salad roll but alas, I only had ketchup and mustard. Lol.
Maybe next time!
Anyway, it was a cool experience. I decided it’s fun to play with your food! Give it a try sometime!
Science of Cooking

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Science of Cooking

Epilog Challenge 9

Participated in the
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