Great Balls of Fire

The other day when Chris was flopped on the couch with a fever of 102, battling whatever brand of Hanta virus he contracted at work, I spent a lot of time dutifully mopping his forehead with cool towels and sticking a thermometer in his mouth about every 10 minutes to see if it was cooking his brain.

I had run to Walgreens for a thermometer when he first started to get all burny and hot and sad-looking. The only thermometer they had was a basal body temperature thermometer, which I think is the kind that people put in their yoo-hoos when they’re trying to get pregnant but don’t want to have sex any more times than they ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO to make that happen. The thermometer was pink and had a little picture of a stork on it. I don’t think Chris noticed, since his brain was slowly roasting in the All-Clad roasting pan of his skull.

He had a serious fever. He was not, however, ovulating.

But when I wasn’t being all wifely and sweet and caring, I was in the kitchen cooking away. Was I plucking and boiling a whole chicken carcass so that I could spoon little droplets of nutrients and Jewish medicine into his infectious little mouth? No. Was I baking chocolate chip cookies in hopes that the smell would be a comfort to an otherwise very uncomfortable, achy ball of sweat? No. What I was doing was so, so much more.

I was spherifying alcohol. Not just one kind, either, but many, many kinds. And it wasn’t even hard, really.
This is a sphere of rum cream and a sphere of butterscotch schnapps. There’s a very thin skin on the outside making the bubble, and then, when pressed against the roof of your mouth, it bursts and all the alcohol just whooshes onto your tongue. They’re very pliable and easy to work with when done correctly.

Here is the basic, easy recipe for spherifying alcohol, plus some tips and tricks to make it work:

.5 C of some kind of alcohol (not milk-based, but we’ll discuss that later)
1 t calcium lactate gluconate
2 lbs water
4 g sodium alginate

Step 1- Put your water into a blender. Stronger blenders are better for this (think Vita-Mix).
Step 2- Turn on your blender, and sprinkle the sodium alginate in as it runs. Continue to run for 30 seconds so there are no lumps of sodium alginate left and it’s a homogeneous, cloudy mixture. Pour into a glass bowl.

Now wait 1-2 hours until the sodium alginate mixture is clear and the bubbles are all gone. You want a still, not-cloudy solution to work with.

Now take your alcohol and whisk the calcium lactate gluconate until it’s completely dissolved. Take a tablespoon (or chinese soup spoon or other deep-ish spoon) of the mixture and submerge the spoon slowly into the sodium alginate bath. Right as the spoon is about to be totally engulfed in the water, gently turn the spoon over to allow the ball of liquid to slide out of the spoon and into the bath. It should settle at the bottom.

Leave it for 1 minute and gently remove from the bath. Dip in clean water and shimmy it a little to clean it. Remove it from the clean water and place it in a dish. It can be set aside for a few minutes while you assemble the rest of your spheres.

Tips and tricks for spherification

1–Always let the sodium alginate bath rest. It takes time.
2–calcium lactate can be used, but calcium lactate gluconate works best for alcohol. You can get it at any of the molecular sites, including Willpowder and L’epicerie.
3–Use a colored alcohol your first time around. Dark rum is a good, easy one.
4–play around with your proportions. If the sphere isn’t setting a firm enough skin, either you need to add more calcium lactate gluconate to the alcohol mixture, or you need to let it sit for a bit longer in the solution.
5–Use distilled water. Not mineral water, not tap water, not Brita filtered water, but distilled, plain water. The minerals in regular water can seriously mess with your alginate bath.
6– And I cannot express how important this is:

Do not use this recipe to spherify anything with milk, like Bailey’s or the delicious rum cream that we brought home from our honeymoon in Jamaica. Or you will get this:
which looks like any number of horrifically unpleasant things that could burst in your mouth and ohmygoodnessI’mgagging.
I tried to serve these to Chris, but he was all sick and ungrateful and slept right through my little miracle. It’ll be done again soon, though, never you fear.

7 thoughts on “Great Balls of Fire”

  1. I am in love with the balls of alcohol. I want to play with them. And drop them in drinks for that special little oomph. Or just eat/drink/smoosh them. :-)

    That milk based one looks like that vile thing that people do with peanut butter and syrup. BLECH!

  2. I'm fascinated by the whole idea of doing spherification, but I'm curious: can you taste any of the calcium lactate gluconate or sodium alginate? Or are they such small quantities that you can't taste those?

  3. Basal therms freak me out. I have so many friends that are trying to get pregnant, and talking to me at length about everything baby-making related, that I can't even look at egg whites anymore without getting the heebs.

    Also, I LOVE that you spherified butter and alcohol, which might be my two favorite things in the world. If you could also just spherify cheese, beef jerky and sour patch kids I might start camping out in your front door and fanning you with palm leaves every time you walked outside.

  4. Hi there,

    Great post. I've been looking for something to spherify spirits. I thank you for your post and will give your recipe a try.

    Despite this technique being around for a couple of years now, its still hard to get info on all the different applications. I guess someone will write a proper book one day….now there's an idea! Just remember you saw it here first!!

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