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sosa-caviar(a professional spherification)


Two months ago in this space I wrote about the vegan spouse’s Modernist Pantry cooking kit that she received for Christmas. If you didn’t catch it, there were references to Xanthan gum, sodium alginate, and uranium isotopes. Really! In a moment of whimsy, to prove to you and myself that molecular gastronomy is a real thing, I offered to concoct one edible thing using the kit.

Well, I lied. Enlisting my wife’s help, we made two things. Although, to say that either was edible could be debated. Technically, you could eat either creation, but the question is would you want to?

A spherification was first to jump off the pages of the cookbook. Although it sounds silly to me, we would use our caviar maker to create fruit-flavored orbs to use on ice cream, or, in my case, frozen yogurt.

To prepare, we watched a You Tube video of a spherification. A guy who hosts a show called “Ballistic BBQ” made it look easy. At the end, his son happily ate a sundae topped with strawberry banana spheres. We figured if someone who hosts a grilling show can do molecular gastronomy, any fool can do it. This is a literary technique known as foreshadowing.

Instead of canned nectar, we blended up some strawberries because we had some on hand. The only other ingredients are sodium alginate and calcium chloride. You combine the strawberries with the sodium alginate, put it into the caviar maker, and then squeeze out perfectly formed spheres into a calcium chloride solution.

Except, for us, it didn’t happen that way. Instead of little strawberry pearls, we got something that resembled jello after it’s been hit with an immersion blender (more foreshadowing). Our orbs were shapeless, one-celled amoebas scurrying away under a middle school microscope. Nicholas Kurti, one of the founders of molecular gastronomy, is rolling over in his grave.

Maybe, we thought, the strawberries needed more sodium alginate. Nope. Maybe the calcium chloride solution wasn’t cool enough. We dumped it out and started over. Nothing changed. Ultimately, it could be because we used real strawberries instead of a canned product.

Still, we saw it through till the end. We strained our strawberry amoebas, set them on a paper towel, and put it on the frozen yogurt. They were tasty and definitely added something. They just didn’t look all that appetizing.


DSCF4863(our masterpiece)

Our second attempt at molecular gastronomical achievement was a foam. We were so intent on succeeding, we went out and purchased an immersion blender for $20. According to the cookbook, foams are “easy to make, very versatile, and fun to use and eat.” If you’re waiting for me to add commentary here, you clearly haven’t been paying attention.

We chose to make a coffee foam. We love coffee and had plenty on hand. Additional ingredients this time around would include agar and xanthan gum.

You blend the three ingredients, heat them to a boil and let them simmer for 3-5 minutes, and then pour them into another container and let them set up. After it sets up, you hit it again with the blender, and….voila, instant foam.

We had no problems with blending, heating, or setting up. The immersion blender, if you’ve never used one, was fun. We even waited an extra-long time for the coffee to form a gelatin.

But the recipe could have cautioned us to blend the gelatin in a deep bowl. Or maybe really deep. Because hitting the gelatin with the immersion blender caused an explosion that sent bits of solidified coffee to the four corners of our kitchen.

The only thing dumber than spraying jello all over your kitchen is to continue doing it. I told you the blender was fun to use. I couldn’t stop pulsing it. I think I lost consciousness at some point. Sadly, we have no video evidence of the event.

DSCF4970Eventually, we transferred the gelatin that wasn’t on the floor or the counter to another bowl and I was relegated to adding more xanthan gum (or was it agar?) to get the mixture to look less like gravy and more like foam. After what seemed like several hours of blending, we finally got the coffee foam to become, well, foamy. Wanting to keep it simple, we didn’t sweeten it or blend in any cream, so putting it on frozen yogurt was not something we would submit dinner guests to.

DSCF4979But at least now molecular gastronomy is out of my system. I can’t speak for the vegan spouse, but I can pretty much guarantee that the next time the immersion blender gets used, I won’t be there.

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