Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A Valentine's Day Experiment: When Chocolate and Water Actually Fell in Love

Sometime around noon, one of our student workers asked me if I had ever read Molecular Gastronomy by author, cook, physical chemist and fellow blogger Hervé This. I immediately thought of the frankly über-expensive but brilliantly gorgeous Modernist Cuisine: The Art of Science and Cooking by Nathan Myhrvold which I had first read of shortly after its release. (I can't remember the actual article, but check a few out here, here and here.) It's such an epic collection that many of the chefs of this season's Top Chef: Texas were adamant of their desire for their own copy. But who am I kidding? I can't afford (yet?) to own a used copy, let alone borrow one. That said, I was pleasantly surprised to check out the much more affordable MG on Amazon. No, I haven't read this one either, but after recently checking out M. This's blogs (here, here, here and here), I very well may get around to this text in the near future. Here's what originally hooked me in: apparently M. This thought of a way to make chocolate mousse with nothing more than just chocolate and water, two ingredients that don't typically go well together on their own. And especially after watching the YouTube clip above, I just had to try it for myself. If this actually worked, I may be making yet another book purchase to add to my collection. Speaking of which, I should note I recently added The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual, What's a Cook to Do?: An Illustrated Guide to 484 Essential Tips, Techniques, and Tricks, and What's a Wine Lover to Do?. [In addition, it's worth mentioning that I recently contact M. This not only for permissions to link his blog sites and referencing links to my blog, but to also ask him whether or not today's molecular gastronomy is any different than the molecular gastronomy he initially envisioned in the late '80s with Nicholas Kurti. At the time, the phrase being used was "Molecular and Physical Gastronomy" (coined in 1988); following Kurti's death in 1998, this was shortened to today's "Molecular Gastronomy". To check out his thoughtful response (in French), click here.]

Many a site (including here, here and here) talk about the dangers of mixing chocolate and water. Indeed, freezing melted chocolate, and storing chocolate in a moist environment, leads to discolouration ("blooming"); and typically getting water into your chocolate in itself yield a grainy texture (which in this case is not a good thing). However, if the Aztecs could figure out a way to make chocolate and water work together to fit their palates, certainly someone could make it work making to fit ours. M. This (aka, the Godfather of Modern Gastronomy), who gives the likes of Vatel a run for his money, did just that by making chocolat Chantilly in 1995. And so, having said all this, round 1 of experimenting began [2/15, ~00:45] with a bar of chocolate and some water; for the full-on recipe described in the video above, the ratio is approximately 12 oz chocolate for every 1 cup water. Here, I used a 3.5 oz bar and 1/3 cup water.


Into a small pot, get some water simmering (but definitely not boiling). Place on top of this the bowl with your water (i.e., create a double boiler), and then add in your chocolate, broken into smaller pieces.

Slowly, the chocolate will start to melt into the water. Start whisking the chocolate to better mix the chocolate and water until you get a smooth consistency as shown in the above photo.

Next, get the bowl of melted chocolate onto a pre-prepared ice bath, the cold water of which stops the chocolate from potentially cooking. Using a strong whisk, whisk like no other. Eventually, the consistency of the chocolate will transform into something that resembles heavy cream. Keep on whisking at this point; the goal is something that resembles the look and consistency of whipped cream that has been brought to soft peaks.

However, after nearly 45 minutes of whisking (and even switching the type of whisk as seen in the above photo), I started losing steam. In my attempt to see if trying to whisk less volume would be of any help, and playing off a hunch, I poured half of the chocolate into a small dessert glass and got this into the refrigerator to fully set.

After an additional five minutes of trying to figure out this recipe, I decided to call it quits on this first round of chocolate experimentation and get the rest of the chocolate into another dessert glass. As I began reflecting on what may have gone wrong, I posited that the fact the bowls I used were the same size eventually had the largest influence to this chocolate's demise (though I certainly wouldn't call this a complete failure as I did indeed end up with a "faux" de crème (get it? for those who don't, it's a play on the ever rich pots de crème). The chocolate itself was extremely flavourful and pure-tasting, and without the need for any cream or egg to muddle the flavour or thicken it. Having said this, I was still looking for a consistency closer to chocolate pudding (and not something that tastes like chilled ganache that would be used for truffles. In my next post, I'm aiming to get this technique correct later today. Until then, click here for photos!

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