One fun flourish that I’ve always wanted to make is dessert caviar, but as a home baker I’ve never had the overwhelming urge to delve into the world of molecular gastronomy (which is the usual way it is made). The whole process seems a little intimidating to me, and I can’t see myself keeping sodium alginate or calcium chloride stocked in my pantry just in case I get a craving.
I hoped for an accessible spherification recipe for the ordinary baker (like me) that used common pantry staples, and after a rigorous online search I found one! The recipe was simple but after making it I felt there were some visual cues that could help further explain the process, so I made a short video. I hope it will help and encourage you to try the technique for yourself!
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Making this was so much fun and not difficult at all! And it’s not all for looks, it’s tasty too! My first thought was to make unsweetened coffee caviar to go with a sweet cappuccino pudding. I really loved the balance the caviar brought to the entire dessert.
The major difference between this version and its culinary physics counterpart is that this one is a solid sphere of gelatin and most (if not all?) molecular versions are fluid-filled. Still, this version holds its own; it’s tender but just firm enough to create an interesting texture.
I am truly in love with the possibilities that could happen with this technique. I’m already dreaming up a basil infused caviar for some lemon pots de crème.
I know someone will ask if this can be done with a vegetarian alternative such as agar-agar, but I have not tried yet. When I do I’ll update here, so check back.
Gelatin “Caviar” 101
Choosing a liquid: These little pearls are made to impart big flavor! Ideal liquids are strongly flavored such as balsamic vinegar, strongly brewed coffee and tart fruit juices like cranberry and pomegranate.
Choosing an oil: The flavored gelatin gets dropped in chilled oil to give it a spherical shape. The oil needs to be kept overnight in the refrigerator, so it’s important to choose one that will not become overly cloudy when chilled. Canola oil, vegetable oil and grape seed oil are all good choices. Avoid using olive oil as it will become too firm.
Salt the water bath: The container of oil must be placed in an ice water bath. Adding salt to the water bath will help keep the oil super cold so the gelatin will set almost instantly (same effect as adding rock salt to your ice cream machine). Any salt will do, though you can see in the video that my salt is coarse and grey. Celtic sea salt is all I had at the time because I buy it in bulk. Regular salt will do fine!
With which to drop: I used a plastic squeeze bottle from Wilton (used for candy making), but you could certainly employ an unused or clean eye-dropper or even a syringe. All of these are very inexpensive and easy to find; craft and cooking stores will have squeeze bottles and culinary syringes and drug stores will stock medicine droppers (called pipets).
- Plastic squeeze bottle, unused medicine dropper (pipet) or culinary syringe
- Mesh sieve
- 2-3 cups vegetable oil
- 2 – 1/4 oz. packages powdered gelatin or 4 teaspoons
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- 3 fluid oz. hot liquid 1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp i.e. hot coffee, or other liquid heated on the stove-top or in microwave
- 1/4 cup salt for water bath
- Place oil in a 9×13-inch metal pan (or similar size) and store in refrigerator overnight. The oil must be very cold for the gelatin to set properly.
- In a medium bowl mix the gelatin and water until thoroughly combined and no lumps of gelatin remain. Let stand while you prepare the hot liquid.
- Warm 3 oz. liquid on the stove-top or in a microwave until very hot but not boiling. Pour liquid over set gelatin mixture and stir until gelatin is melted. This may take a few minutes and you can break up the gelatin with a spoon for quicker dissolve.
- When gelatin is completely melted transfer liquid to a squeeze bottle. You can also leave the mixture in the bowl and use a medicine dropper or syringe to draw the liquid for dropping.
- Let the mixture stand for a few minutes, if it’s too hot the gelatin will not set properly and the “caviar” will be misshapen. It should be just barely warm – almost room temperature.
- While you wait for your mixture to cool, prepare the oil for the ice bath. Transfer chilled oil to a 1 quart container (preferably metal because it will aid cooling, but glass will work too). Prepare the ice bath. Make sure the bowl you are using for the ice bath is larger than the container holding the oil. Fill bowl with ice and then add water until the bowl is two-thirds filled. Add 1/4 cup salt and stir until mixed. Rest the container of oil inside the water bath.
- Begin dropping gelatin mixture into the cold oil, 1-3 drips at a time. The amount of drips will vary according to the viscosity of the oil and type of dropper you use. As you can see in the video it took three drops for one caviar pearl to form. You’ll know the correct amount when the mixture forms a ball that rests on the surface for a moment then sinks to the bottom.
- When half the mixture has been used, wait for 3-5 minutes then scoop the caviar into a mesh sieve to drain. Place caviar in an air-tight container or a canning jar with a screw-tight lid. Resume dropping the gelatin mixture into the cold oil until all of the mixture is used.
- Personal note: I was too slow, so a little of my mixture solidified before I could pipe it all. Try to be quick but don’t stress. I still had plenty of caviar at the end.
- When finished, place caviar in a canning jar or in an air-tight container with a little of the oil poured over top. This may sound weird or gross, but it keeps the caviar moist for up to a week. Plus, if you don’t like the idea of oil being on the caviar you can rinse it in a sieve under cold water before placing on the dessert.
- When stored with a little oil poured over and placed in an air-tight container the caviar will keep for up to 10 days.
- 1 cup skim milk divided
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup hot coffee
- 1 tsp. instant coffee granules or espresso powder
- 1 -14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 egg
- Whipped cream for topping *optional
- Cinnamon for garnish
- Stir 1/4 cup of the skim milk, the cornstarch and salt together in a 2 quart saucepan until completely dissolved and smooth. Add remaining milk, coffee, instant coffee granules, and sweetened condensed milk. Cook over medium-high heat whisking constantly. The mixture will begin to gain volume and thicken slightly. When this happens, remove it from the heat source.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg and gently temper two tablespoons of the hot mixture into the egg. Return the saucepan to the heat source and gradually stir in the tempered egg mixture, whisking constantly. The addition of the egg will make the mixture lose much of it’s foaminess. Continue to heat the mixture until a few bubbles burble to the top. Cook for 2 minutes longer after this happens, again whisking constantly.
- Pour into 5 dessert glasses; cover and refrigerate. Top with whipped cream if desired. Sprinkle with cinnamon just before serving.