MHC Goes Molecular: Olive Oil Bonbons

November 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.

The Science:
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
candy thermometer

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!



  1. Wow! You say its simple, but it looks pretty tricky to me. I guess I will have to have much more experience with making confections before I attempt this one. Be sure to let us know what other oil-based ingredients you were able to capture in your sugar “bubble”.

  2. Wow, you are so much more ambitious than me. I’m jealous.

  3. Interesting…I’ve never heard of this. FYI, on a couple of your posts, some of the pictures have covered up words from your post. I don’t know if this is just my view or it other people have noticed. Hope the experimenting continues!

  4. wow. this is so cool. i definately know nothing about molecular gastronomy, but this is fascinating. it reminds me of glass-blowing and makes me want to take a stab at it. totally innovative!

  5. I’m still afraid of hot sugar… But I really liked seeing how this was made.

  6. Sorry folks I was slow to respond. I think I had voting-itis. Even though, my regular life has little to do with politics, living here in DC sometimes gets you all a tizzy.

    So, I love people are interested. I think the only reason I decide I can do this is because I know that I can do it. The more I cook the more I believe the biggest gap between myself and the professional is experience and access to cooler tools. So, seeing what most of you folks are doing, I know you can easily replicate and check my work. I think of it as holding myself out for good ol’ academic peer review.

    Since starting this blog, I’ve sort of looked at a number of things in restaurants as challenges to replicate at home, rather than they are doing kitchen alchemy. So my hope is to do more of these in time.

    Finally, I want to make an addendum to my post. My TiVo caught the episode of Diary of Foodie again. In the episode, the guys at Minibar were playing with “Isomalt.” According to the narrator, it is while playing with it that they came up with the Olive Oil Bon-Bon. I don’t know if they are now using Isomalt. They were not giving up the goods. So, I don’t want you to think its their exact recipe, but what I think is a fairly good facsimile.

    Oh, so what is Isomalt? I didn’t know either so I had to do research. It’s a sugar subsitute derived from the sucrose found it sugar beets. It in prinicpal is an industrial sugar free sweetner like Splenda (Please do not read that as the same thing as Splenda. I’m not a chemist or person in a position to make the comparison). So, it acts the same as sugar, has similar properties (hence why I can do the same thing with table sugar as the guys at Minibar can with Isomalt), and is meant for larger commercial scale productions. It seems like very neat stuff.

    You can read more about Isomalt from its manufacturer. It’s fascinating.

  7. What a lovely website! If you like “cooking” problems I have one that I have been looking for the answer for two years. How do you sweeten oil so you can make an edible massage oil. I was told that Splenda (sucralose) will dissolve in oil but I haven’t gotten it to work so far not even while adding heat? If you could help a soul with this it would be greatly appreciated? Thank You, Samantha E. Black

  8. […] This is the signature dish of a great chef – José Andrés and is served at his restaurant – Minibar. I first saw a visual on a ‘Discovery Travel and Living’ program. Wondered what it was, and definitely knew it looked interesting. Then saw it again on ‘Tastespotting’ a great site, and finally found the recipe at My Husband Cooks. […]

  9. What do you mean by “place the round in the hot sugar mixture” What is the round? Is it the pipe joint?

  10. yeah!!..thats what he meant by the round…it is the pipe joint..

  11. I’ve been to minibar and enjoyed the bon bons. I think they drop the bon bons into olive oil to get the tear drop shape.

  12. I’ve been wanting to try this for ages. Ever considered doing it over dry ice for quicker setting? What do you place your bon bons on when “set”? Sugar?

    • no dry ice needed. when you form them, “drop” them onto a silpat, and use a pallette knife (i use painting knives because they are thinner) to remove them and transfer to a piece of marble because its smooth. you can get isomalt off amazon if you cant find it in candy or baking stores

  13. Very excited to try this! I am a bit confused however on step 3. Can you explain what “placing the round” means? It looks like in the photo you put the round to your mouth? is this correct, are you actually supposed to blow in it? and then do you put the olive oil through the membrane or drop it on the outside? any tips on how to remove the membrane from the pipe? I plan on using a delicate orange olive oil..wish me luck.

  14. Looks delicious. Great post!

  15. take isomalt and heat to 317f. you need to cool the isomalt to 250f to make a bubble. use the pvc pipe end. ive made many of these in my own kitchen as well at work (im a catering chef). there you go, the recipe i use. oh yeah, the isomalt has to be at 250-255ish for this process to fully work. try it, i know what im talking about

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