Boxed truffles I made a couple of years ago.
So some of you might be wondering why my blog is named The Mad Scientist Confectioner’s Club since I mostly post about science-y and academic subjects. Well I also make candy. Mostly I make truffles every Christmas for friends and family and I’ve been doing that for nearly 30 years now- hopefully this year I’ll actually get around to posting recipes and procedures I use for those. I also like to make other kinds of candy and bake and cook (here’s a link to the recipes I’ve made up and posted).
I titled my blog (and my Twitter handle too, @BioDataGanache) this way because I see parallels in confectionary and science. Blending ideas, using simple ingredients in complex ways, working and reworking recipes, and producing something cool and sweet in the end (hopefully).
or this post I’ve collected a whole list of amazing and science-related candy from around the WonderWebs, channeling up a little bit of the old Willy Wonka. Enjoy!
This is really the recent news item that inspired this post in the first place. This is from a Swiss company that uses specially-developed chocolate molds (like, something that you shape with, not the fungus) to etch microstructures on the surface of the chocolate. These microstructures reflect light in a certain way to give the colorful 3D pattern. Very cool science.
The color-changing flavor, Xamaleon. (Credit: Manual Linares, Cocinatis)
Ice cream that changes colors
OK- so not a candy, but I’ll make an exception for this really cool (cold) confection. A physicist developed this ice cream that changes colors in response to changes in temperatures and pH (acidity) – which means that it changes colors when you lick it! I guess that the trick of how this is done is something he’s not revealing, so hopefully it’s not toxic or anything.
No, eating these candies while drinking a coke won’t blow your head off (at least I don’t THINK it will)- but these, now vintage candies are still pretty interesting. According to this post they are made by allowing the sugar to crystallize under high-pressure CO2. This causes pockets of the harmless gas to be trapped inside the candy. So when it starts melting in your mouth it makes a popping sound as the gas is released.
Syrah ice cream in mid-mix
Wine-flavored ice cream with no alcohol
A winemaker near Portland Oregon used some enological magic to create a wine ice cream with no alcohol and no sugar. I’m not sure how this is accomplished, and I actually like the alcohol in my wine-flavored ice cream, though it did make the freezing process a bit more difficult. Here’s a link to my attempts at making a Syrah ice cream along with my recipe.
3D printed confections!
So the idea of a 3D printer is that a print head is controlled by a computer and extrudes some kind of substance that is liquid in the machine and then turns solid after it leaves. For the standard 3D printers this is generally some kind of special plastic, but why not food? In fact MIT students have created a 3D printer that actually prints ice cream! I’ve linked to the video here:
I like the diagram of their contraption to do this too- it really looks like something we would have put together in lab, but ours wouldn’t have produced tasty things. At all.
Of course you can do this with chocolate as well- which might be a perfect medium for 3D printing because of the ability of tempered chocolate to be liquid one minute and semi-crystalline solid the next, with a small change in temperature. This has actually been done enough that there are a couple of companies Choc Edge and Moving Brands that offer 3D chocolate printing services.
Chocolate Brains! Braaaainnnnsss!
This DIY recipe tells you how you can take an MRI scan of a brain- it could be your own brain- print a 3D latex mold, and make up some chocolate brains that are anatomically correct (at least from the outside). Cool and creepy.
A chocolate company in Australia made this incredible chocolate cake that has an animated scene when it spins. I’m betting that some of the parts of the cake might be good to eat, but others might be mostly for show- any cake that is capable of withstanding the g-forces necessary to spin it at high speed may not be that great to eat.
The ice cream topping is indeed pretty magical. If you’re not familiar with it it’s a syrup that comes in several flavors. Shortly after you drizzle it over ice cream it hardens up forming a crunchy chocolate (or other flavor) shell on the top. According to Chow, the secret of the magic probably lies in the coconut oil in it. Coconut oil is very high in saturated fats, and these will be liquid at room temperature but a solid at lower temperatures. Probably the magic is in how this transition point is tuned with other ingredients in the bottle- normally coconut oil is a solid at 70° F, which might be warmer than some households.
Chocolate itself is pretty amazingly complicated. The chemistry of chocolate is complicated; it contains many different compounds including an alkaloid called theobromine, that is a stimulant and a vasodilator, meaning that it increases your heart rate and dilates your blood vessels. In humans theobromine is actually somewhat toxic- you could, in principle, die from an overdose of chocolate. I think that would be pretty unlikely since the LD50 (the dose of a compound that is lethal in 50% of patients) is about 1000 mg/kg – so if I (at ~95 kg) ate dark chocolate (~400 mg theobromine/oz) I would have to eat about 237 oz (the equivalent of about 155 Hershey’s bars- if they were made of dark chocolate) before I would be in the LD50 range. On Amazon I could buy 99% dark chocolate for $4.50 for 3.2 oz- making it about $350 to buy enough chocolate to possibly kill me. Of course, eating all that chocolate would be really difficult. If I were a dog (and about 30 kg) it would take a lot less since the LD50 is 300 mg/kg- so about 9000 mg or about 20 oz of dark chocolate- still a lot, but if the dog is determined (or much smaller and determined) it could be an issue.
It’s history is complicated as well. There was no chocolate as we know it today until about around 1847. The process of making powdered chocolate by removing half the fat and adding alkaline salts to cut the bitter taste was developed by a Dutch chemist in 1828. This produced what is known as Dutch cocao. Soon after, in 1847, Joseph Fry found that he could make chocolate paste by introducing the cacao butter (the removed fat), back in to the chocolate. This has some interesting effects in terms of what you can do with the chocolate.
Tempering chocolate is the process of melting the chocolate to a temperature that breaks the cacao crystals (yes, crystals) then cool the chocolate back down to allow the proper form of crystal to form. It’s a nitpick process that has caused me hours and hours of frustration. However, if you do it right you can then dip your centers (like the truffle ganache) in the pure, tempered chocolate and it will form a hard coating that has a characteristic glossy look to the outside and has a ‘snap’ on the teeth. If you mess up, even by a couple of degrees when you’re reheating the chocolate for dipping you’ll end up with untempered chocolate in your truffles. These will dip great (even easier than tempered chocolate- maybe too easy actually) and will cool to look fine, but then hours to a day later they’ll form streaky grayish lines on the surface and the consistency will be bad- kind of powdery and grainy. The weird thing about it is that the cacao butter in the chocolate (which is some kind of particulate suspension is my guess) can take on about six different types of crystal form (I’m pretty sure they’re using the term ‘crystal’ loosely here). And each of these has different properties for appearance and texture. Amazing. The photo I use for the header of my page is one I took of tempering chocolate.
And here’s one more for the DIYers. You can make your own light-up lollipops. Sounds like tasty fun!
So thanks for hanging out with me and exploring the intersection of two of my favorite things, candy making and SCIENCE! (OK, so some of it is actually engineering and not really science at all, but still) If you’ve got suggestions for additions let me know in the comments.