MHC Goes Molecular: Olive Oil BonbonsNovember 6, 2006
I don’t think it’s shocking to anyone that I’m a bit of an experimenter. And last week, while making brittle and talking about molecular gastronomy in relation to Top Chef, I decided to adventure out on my own and try to replicate a molecular gastronomy dish—the olive oil bonbon. This experiment was cause for great debate between my wife and I, but being the intrepid and confident one I proceeded. And her being the loving wife, she assisted and was vital in my mad lab.
In recent months, Jose Andres has come up a great deal. I discuss my experience of eating at Minibar with friends. I read about him in magazines and the Washington Post. He was recently on Gourmet’s new television show Diary of a Foodie discussing food and science. So he’s been stuck in my mind for a while now.
In the episode of Diary of a Foodie, Andres discusses one of his signature Minibar dishes—the olive oil bonbon. It is a great, one bite dish that explodes with silky, flavor filled olive oil. For those who aren’t familiar with Minibar, it’s a six seat restaurant inside one of his large downtown DC restaurants, Café Atlantico. It is an amazing experience because it is 30 one-bite courses which are all very different and focus on presenting food in a very new way. Many are very effective and creative, some are just interesting. One of those that is most interesting is the one I’m going to reveal today.
I’m going to play culinary Penn & Teller now. If you don’t want to know how he does it, or don’t want to have something spoiled for you, stop reading. It’s not complicated. Figuring out how it works was the brilliance of the dish, and its simplicity cannot be under appreciated.
So here it is, there are two main science issues at work in this creation. First is the shell. What you are simply dealing with is the same candy combination they use in the creation of brittle or sugar-glass props in movies and TV. You are controlling the destruction and breakdown of sugar to create crystallized panes. The sugar when cooled becomes hard and glass like.
When you do this, be sure to monitor the temperature. You want it at the soft crack stage at about 270F degrees. Also make sure you add the corn syrup. This is important because it prevents the sugar from crystallizing too soon and causing it to harden too quickly.
The second piece of science in the project was stumbled on by accident. When I first imagined what I would do with the basic technique, I imagined I would create bonbons with other contents. But what I did not realize at first was the importance that the contents be oil.
When we began, I grabbed the nearest liquid available once I got the sugar to the right temperature. It was a diet root beer. I wasn’t going for presentation or flavor, I was simply grabbing for a liquid to test my theory on. What I found was the water broke down the capsules even when I had them perfect. The water in the soda was dissolving the sugar.
It clicked immediately that the oil was important because sugar does not dissolve as readily in oil (a fat) as it does water. Once we tried to strictly re-create the olive oil bonbons, the technique was clear and we started to get beautiful results.
We did this test in about 1 hour. Our results are not near as pretty as Minibar’s, but I suspect with some practice I can catch up. I’m experimenting with other flavors and I think I’m slowly driving my wife mad. But alas, she loves me so she’s tolerating my experiments for now.
Olive Oil Bonbons
1’’ Plastic Pipe Joint (Preferably something long so you can hold it in the liquid without burning your fingers)
straw or eye dropper
silicon mat or parchment paper
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup water
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Something very tasty.)
1. Mix in a small sauce pan or saucier the sugar, water and corn syrup. Heat the mixture to about 260F-265F degrees.
2. Turn down the heat to low/simmer and let the bubbles from boiling dissipate.
3. Place the round in the hot sugar mixture and slowly remove. Allow the excess sugar mixture to drip off. There should be a membrane like when you were a kid blowing soap bubbles. Hold over the silicon mat. Using a straw or eye dropper, drop about a half teaspoon of olive oil on the membrane.
4. The olive oil should drop through the membrane. Allow to rest and harden before moving. (5-10 min). It will take some practice but eventually you’ll get them. Serve as an amuse bouche or as a demonstration of your culinary superiority or simply enjoy!