Love Potion No. 9: DC Duby's Science Kit
Do you long to seduce your beloved by plying them with chocolate confections and whispering sweet nothings such as "Hydrocolloids are hydrophilic polymers that generally contain many hydroxyl groups and may be polyelectrolytes" into their ear? Would you invite the object of your desire to explore tensioactivity back at your place? Does your ideal date culminate in "science gel"? And would you invite friends to join the two of you?
Would you know what a hydrocolloid is if you hadn't read that first paragraph? If the answer is no, the Science Kit will be a disappointment.
For Valentine's Day, I gave Rob a Science Kit from the revolutionary chocolatiers at DC Duby, thinking it would be a perfect fit for his interest in molecular gastronomy. Billed as experiments involving chocolate from a "multi-sensory perspective," the kit contains the instructions and most of the ingredients needed to prepare four chocolate-based dishes, each with a hot and cold preparation. We lost no time inviting friends over for our Weird Science/Wild Sweets day -- after all, many of the ingredients had short shelf lives.
And what ingredients! Chocolate caviar, orange gel/chicory emulsion packaged in test tubes, "Exploding Crunch"... we were excited. The date was set, and we went about gathering ingredients and kitchen equipment. Though the Dubys promise that the experiments require only basic kitchen tools, we still had an extensive shopping list. For example, we had neither a French coffee press nor eight Chinese soup spoons, and while we do own a mandoline, we had to dig it out and dust it off. We were also sorely lacking two ounce shotglasses, as the kit requires at least sixteen. The grocery list was a little simpler: cider, fresh fruit, whipping cream, and eggs. Renowned for their dessert/wine pairings, the Dubys suggest specific wines for each experiment, so we invested in a French Muscat Beaumes de Venise and a late bottled vintage port.
Each experiment has its own recipe card and colour-coded ingredients, and the instructions are very clear, particularly since the Dubys demonstrate techniques on the accompanying DVD. The cards identify a scientific concept for every experiment: tensioactivity, hydrocolloids, encapsulation, and science gel. This is about as scientific as the kit gets. There is no explanation of the concepts, what they involve, or even which portion of the multi-part confections demonstrate the concept. Acronyms such as "TNT" are used without any definition. I'm guessing that the delicious cumin gel that comes with the kit -- to be drizzled on homemade chocolate-and-wine flavoured mousse served with raisin confit and a gourmet version of Pop Rocks -- is the "Science Gel," but I don't know for certain. It would have been more fun, and much more informative, to create a gel rather than simply use it as an ingredient.
Granted, the purpose of some of the experimentation is simply to try new and unique flavour combinations, paying fresh attention to the sensations of the food. One dish consisted of strawberry-champagne chocolates (excuse me, strawberry/champagne emulsion chocolates), topped with strawberry carpaccio, exotic fruit pearls (imagine tropical fruit gelatin balls). Version A used frozen chocolates, version B built upon chocolates microwaved just long enough to melt the insides but keep the exterior mostly intact. The difference in temperatures emphasized completely different components: frozen, the fruit flavours were distinct; heated, warm chocolate dominated the palate. The misting of exotic fruit pearl oil added nothing.
Some parts of the kit were simply delicious. I really enjoyed the orange gel/chicory emulsion, sucked from a test tube using a straw, accompanied by an orange segment sprinkled with fleur de sel aromatized with coffee. That test tube is something we would likely never do at home. Yet the oranges were a revelation, and so easy to do that they made the fussiness of the kit seem redundant. We actually went off on a tangent, making our own mini taste experiments: sprinkling fresh strawberries with good balsamic vinegar and others with black pepper, and putting fleur de sel on quality dark chocolate. There are lots of really tasty combinations out there, and it takes only an educated guess and a heightened awareness of what you are tasting to awaken culinary exploration.
That's not to say there isn't a lot of scientific thought put into the kit. Creating a tasty blend of chocolate and wine for a ganache is challenging, as the two are notorious enemies, but the Dubys succeed. Matching cumin to these flavours is an additional and wonderful surprise. Another scientific achievement is chocolate caviar, tiny beads of chocolate jelly. I can't say that they were a flavour success, as their odd sour taste made me scrunch up my face with every bite, but it was apparently good entertainment as my fellow experimenters found my head-shaking reaction hilarious.
All in all, we'd love to see Version 2.0 of this kit provide much more scientific background and much less chocolate caviar. As it was, it was a mixed success. The kit did not lead to seduction, however. Washing several sinkfuls of shot glasses, wine glasses, blender attachments, and Chinese soup spoons by hand tends to kill the magic.