SHF #26: El Bulli's frozen chocolate air
It's here! It's finally here!
After countless delays, El Bulli 2003-2004, the latest English language cookbook from the Catalan masters of molecular gastronomy is finally available in North America. And what a marvel it is. Ferran Adria and his acolytes continue to push the boundaries of food, adapting new techniques to new flavours. This edition is notable for the advent of liquid nitrogen, liquid ravioli, dehydration, and the star ingredient in frozen chocolate air, soy lecithin.
If you're wondering what soy lecithin is, you're not alone. Lecithin, regardless of its origin, is a powerful emulsifier. If you love the rich texture of salad dressing, mayonnaise, or even Nutella, you owe a debt of gratitude to lecithin, the magic ingredient that stabilizes and thickens them.
Lecithin can be derived from a number of sources. In most savoury applications, lecithin comes from eggs, though, as any devoted creator of homemade salad dressings can testify, mustard also has excellent emulsifying properties. I hope I don't need to specify where soy lecithin comes from (but you can learn more about it here).
One of soy lecithin's most appealing characteristics is that it is plant-based, thus suitable for vegan diets, and can be cultivated organically. For these reasons, it is easy to find in many health food stores, including Vital Planet, a natural foods store in the north St. Lawrence Market where I bought mine. It is usually available in granulated or liquid form.
It is not, however, usually available in frozen chocolate air form, though it should be. Frozen chocolate air is little more than unsweetened hot chocolate with soy lecithin, which is then frothed using an immersion blender. The resulting foam is spooned into a parchment-lined loaf tin, frozen, and served with a sprinkling of powdered chocolate caramel made from chocolate liquor melted in a molten mixture of fondant, glucose, and Isomalt.
Unsweetened dark chocolate is robust and slightly bitter, but serving it frozen smooths some of its rougher edges. Taste aside, frozen chocolate air is about contrast: crunchy, room temperature caramel versus a cool, lighter-than-air foam that dissolves on the palate. The ultimate trick to this dish -- the contrast that makes it so ingenious -- is that it is simultaneously light and airy, as well as rich and complex.
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention this preparation's visual appeal. The theme of Sugar High Friday #26, hosted by Danielle of Habeas Brûlée, is sugar art. Danielle's challenge to food bloggers everywhere is to create a dish with visual appeal, something fun to look at. Part of what I love about frozen chocolate air is its underlying visual conceit: though it looks solid and even -- literally -- earthy, it is mainly air: nothing more than a matrix of frozen chocolate bubbles in suspension. Trompe l'oaf, if you will.
And that's not hot air.