adventures in craft beer and real food

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sugar High Friday: Liquer

I've been meaning to make a gelled sparkling wine dessert for some time now, but I hadn't really felt inspired. That all changed when I saw this months theme for Sugar High Friday, hosted by Lick the Spoon.

When I set about looking for a recipe, I was very disappointed by the results. A Google search revealed only one recipe, and that got poor reviews. (In the recipe's defense, most of the reviewers didn't actually follow the instructions correctly.) In any case, I decided that as a chemist I should be able to create my own recipe.

I opened up my trusty copy of On Food and Cooking and read that while a gelatin can be prepared with as little as 1% gelatin, a 3% gelatin solution is much more traditional and robust. Having a proper concentration in mind, I decided that I wanted to prepare two cups of dessert. I pulled out my balance and discovered that two cups of Asti weighed 450 g. Therefore, to prepare a 3% solution, I just take 0.03 and multiply it by 450 g to get 13.5 g. Since my balance doesn't read to that precision, I just rounded it up to an even 14 g. Having weighed out 14 g of gelatin (about 1.5 packets of Knox gelatin), I was all set.

I poured 3/4 cup of Asti into a heavy saucepan with 1/4 cup fined sugar (I fine sugar by grinding it thoroughly with my food processor, but a mortar and pestle would be even better). And yes I realize that I should give a mass here instead of a volume, but I was lazy and I forgot to measure it. I heated the liquid on my stove until the sugar was dissolved. I then added the 14 g of gelatin and mixed it in with a whisk. (The gelatin will clump, but you should be able to work them out with a whisk. I tried using a spoon and a spatula just for fun and neither of them were viable alternatives.) Following the manufacturer's instructions, I then let the gelatin solution cool to approximately room temperature. This would normally be what we call a "bad idea" because we're leaving a warm solution sit around for a long time, optimizing conditions for microbiological growth. If you boiled the solution first, though, this problem should have been obviated.

When the solution has cooled sufficiently, pour it back into the container with the remainder of the Asti. Use a whisk to gently mix. Then pour it into two chilled glasses so that the liquid runs down the side of the glass. Straight into the refrigerator with it and you should be all set.

The next day, I had a tasty gelatin waiting for me.

If you don't have a balance (otherwise known as a scale), don't fret. My sparkling wine had a density of about 0.95 g/mL. To find out how much gelatin you need, know that there are about 12 g in each packet of Knox gelatin. Know, however, that this density is dependent upon temperature, brand, how much carbonation has escaped, etc.

The bubbles were frozen in place, creating quite a beautiful presentation. My only complaint is that the gel was cloudy, leading me to wonder if the solution could be clarified some how.

...but how does it taste?

It's a very adult dessert, not only because it's alcoholic, but also because it feels very sophisticated. Having grown up on Jello, my mind was surprised to taste sparkling wine instead of, say, cherry. It's great fun to let to gel melt on the tongue, slowly releasing sparkling wine into the mouth. There may not be any carbonation, but the flavor that I enjoy was there in full force. The strength of the gelatin seemed to be appropriate, but maybe it was a little too much. Perhaps a 2% gelatin solution would produce a more delicate result.

Although the taste is good, I recommend using smaller size champagne flutes. I also wouldn't recommend using anything drier that brut sparkling wine, but it may take some trial and error to come up with an appropriate sweetness by adding more or less sugar.

As a caveat, the use of Knox gelatin or any gelatin derived from bovine products might carry a risk of BSE. Although the FDA has set strict standards for industry, they may not be enough.

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xenobiologista said...

Well, if you're concerned about BSE (or are making this for vegetarian friends) there's always agar-agar. In lab, we use 1-2% for DNA gels. In cooking, according to my aunty, it's "3 sticks into 1 liter" - the stuff comes in dried strands.

Christine said...

I love that you managed to capture some bubbles. Sounds like it was delicious!