When it’s ready to mold, dark chocolate is just barely warm enough to flow.
To level chocolate and ensure it fills a mold evenly, we often lift and drop the molds several times. It’s tedious, messy, and doesn’t always work as the chocolate cools.
The Chocovibe CV100 is an experimental vibration table cobbled together from scrap plywood, a silicone mat, springs, screws, nuts, a vibration motor, and an ESP8266 microcontroller (yes … it has wifi).
It quickly levels the chocolate. The vibration also helps nibs or other toppings sink into the bars. We’ve used it a couple of times so far and it’s a real help to our process. I may find myself building a more kitchen-friendly version of this in the future.
Inevitably, when you add nibs to the chute … a lot of them fly back up the chute and land all over the kitchen.
So I built this hopper and plunger system to help. It has three parts:
A collar that fits on top of the chute and enables nibs to be added perpendicular to the chute..
A hopper that holds about a cup of nibs that are gravity-fed into the collar and chute.
A extended plunger to push nibs down the chute.
To operate: Lower the plunger to cover the collar opening, add nibs, lift the plunger to open the collar opening and gravity-feed some nibs, lower the plunger when the chute is part-way full. No nibs should escape.
I printed the parts on a Form Labs Form 2 SLA printer. Form Labs doesn’t make a food safe resin (though they do make dental-grade resins). In fact, I’m not aware of any food-grade resins or filaments for 3d-printing. This is a topic the Internets have a lot of opinions about. I chose to coat parts in many layers of poly-urethane, which is food-safe when fully cured.
So what does one do with these flavor spheres? Are they strictly novelty? I sure hope not because they’re pretty cool. From my first encounter, I knew I wanted to do something with Spherification, but I wanted it to be useful.
My first idea was to make an ice cream with alcohol. Here’s the idea: Normally, mixing alcohol and ice cream will yield a cold soup, since alcohol has a very low freezing point. Can spherification provide a barrier around alcohol that will enable it to be mixed with ice cream? I set out to find out.
The inspiration for this ice cream is a cherry cordial: dark chocolate, almond liqueur, and cherry.
Custard ice cream base, slightly tweaked from Alton Brown:
Making ice cream isn’t for the impatient. It’ll take at least 2 days.
Day 1 Steps:
Follow Alton Brown’s recipe for the custard base, with adjusted ingredients. When the custard is finished on the stove top, it needs to cool and be refrigerated for several hours, preferably over night.
Prepare the alginate / water mixture in my spherification recipe and set it aside for a few hours. This can go in the refrigerator, covered, overnight.
Day 2 Steps:
Follow David Lebovitz’ recipe for candied cherries, but scale the recipe back to 2/3. Take the cherries out while they still have some structure so they’ll hold up better in the ice cream. Quater the cherries and set aside.
About 30 minutes before freezing the ice cream, start the chocolate and amaretto spheres:
Use a double boiler to melt the chocolate.
Prepare the calcium chloride bath for spherification.
Add some of the alginate / water mixture to amaretto. Test. Repeat until spherifying takes, but don’t make your spheres just yet.
Begin freezing the custard in your ice cream maker.
Make the spheres. Make lots of them. The volume of the ice cream after freezing will be 7-8 cups (300-400 teaspoons). If you want some spheres in every spoonful, you should make at least 400 spheres.
Freezing time varies, but mine usually takes ~20 minutes. Right before it finishes, take the melted chocolate and drizzle it into the mixing chocolate to make stracciatella. Don’t add the cherries during the freezing process or they’ll get beaten up and muddy the ice cream. Don’t add the spheres during the mixing process because they won’t hold up.
Finish freezing the ice cream. As you are transferring it to a container, sprinkle in the cherries and spheres.
Seal it up and put in the freezer for a few hours, preferrably overnight.
Day 3: Ready to eat.
Alternative serving suggestion: Use spheres as a topping.
Spherification is a “Molecular Gastronomy” technique for making small edible spheres out of just about anything. Since my first flavor sphere experience I’ve wanted to learn more and make my own.
I had the Willpowder kit for basic spherification. The instructions sound straightforward:
Stir a quantity of Sodium Alginate into the target mixture for your spheres.
Fill a dropper or small squeeze bottle with the alginate mixture.
Drip the mixture into a bath of calcium chloride in water. The droplets will become spheres.
But it wasn’t that easy. I chose to start with alcohol and I had a hard time blending the sodium alginate into amaretto. They just didn’t want to mix and my repeated attempts to blend them resulted in lots of air bubbles in the mixture. Worse, when I dropped the amaretto/alginate mixture into my calcium bath it splattered on the surface and spread out into a thin film. Fail.
I had read that others had more luck using “Reverse Spherification” with alcohol. I gave this a try but I could only produce large amorphous non-spheres by dunking a spoon of the mixture in the bath. Dropping from any height had the same issue as above. Also note, reverse spherification is done with calcium lactate gluconate and NOT calcium chloride. I tried. You don’t want the taste of calcium chloride in your spheres!
After some trial and error, I came across an article in Make Magazine that saved the day. The key was to first blend a mixture of sodium alginate and water to create a stable suspension. Here’s a short recipe:
2g sodium alginate
3g calcium chloride
1 1/2 C water
1/2 C amaretto
An immersion blender.
A slotted spoon (with slots small enough that you can pick up your spheres).
A squeeze bottle or plastic syringe.
Blend sodium alginate and 125g (about 1/2 C) of water with an immersion blender.
Set aside for a couple of hours to let bubbles disperse.
Meanwhile, make a calcium chloride bath, with 1.5g calcium chloride to 1C water*. I usually make 2 cups to fill a medium bowl.
After most of the bubbles have dispersed, add a small quantity (perhaps 1/8th) of the sodium alginate / water mixture to the amaretto. Mix with a spoon or small wisk. Load some of the amaretto mixture into a dropper or squeeze bottle and test.
If the drop disperses on the surface of the bath, clean it off the surface, add more of the alginate mixture to the amaretto and try again.
Once the spheres start to hold together, you’re all set. The longer the sphere sits in the bath, the more the alginate and calcium will react so you’ll get thicker walls.
Remove spheres from the bath within a few seconds to prevent the whole sphere from going solid. Dip in a water bath. Slosh around. Remove from water and use within a few minutes.
I’ve found that the contents of the spheres leach out if they’re left to sit for some time. You want to use them as soon as you can to preserve color and flavor.
* Some people insist on using distilled water for the bath, since impurities in tap water might prevent the alginate and calcium from bonding. I took this suggestion and haven’t yet experimented with tap water.
Some other things I learned while spherificating:
Sodium alginate is useful both for creating the bonds that form a membrane around your spheres and for thickening your target mixture. Your mixture will need to be thick enough to break the surface tension of the calcium chloride bath.
Dropping height matters. Again, it’s all about breaking the surface tension. Experiment by dropping from different heights. Dropping height can determine whether you break the surface and dictate the shape of your spheres.
While creating an alginate suspension in water makes it easier to introduce alginate into your target ingredient, it will water it down. This recipe provides a 1.6% alginate solution. A thicker solution can provide a similar result while adding less water.
Now to find something useful to do with these spheres…