Kitchen Science As Demonstrated By a Bad Batch of Burfi

I wish I could have had Alton Brown in my kitchen tonight as I attempted to make my own recipe for chocolate/cardamom burfi.  Because he would have explained to me afterwards why my melted chocolate and reduced evaporated milk mixture turned into such an ugly, oily mess.

Let’s start at the beginning.  The recipe that I (loosely) followed was from and it was for regular burfi, nothing fancy.  It also uses evaporated milk as opposed to ricotta cheese, which is what I used the first time I attempted to make burfi (even though the first attempt came out relatively successful, I still have a few tweaks to do to it…but more on that in a future post).  My imagination started jumping in and said, “ooh, let’s add some of that Scharfenberger chocolate and some of that Nutella we have lying around…that’ll be great!”  I reduced the amount of sugar to only 1/4 cup since the chocolate added enough sweetness, and also added half a teaspoon of ground cardamom.  To balance the creaminess, I added 3/4 cup milk powder and 1/2 cup ground almonds.

I melted the chocolate first, just the solids with the Nutella and no additional cream.  After all, I wasn’t making a ganache out of it, just thought that melting it first would make it blend more easily with the liquids later on.  I then set that aside while I reduced the butter with the milk.  When the milk was thick enough, I added the melted chocolate, sugar, ground almonds and milk powder — and this is where things went awfully wrong.  The mixture looked rough in texture, and oil started to separate from the chocolate — the oil I can only assume was cocoa butter.  Utterly confused and getting more and more discouraged by the minute, I forged ahead and added the cardamom anyway and figured the show must go on.  I finished it, spread it into a glass pan, and threw it into the refrigerator to solidify, when what I really wanted to do was not look at it again until I had to.

What went wrong…

According to food scientist Shirley O. Corriher (who has been on several episodes of Good Eats), “Chocolate melts at a relatively low temperature — it literally melts in your mouth. When you heat chocolate, the cocoa butter crystals melt and the chocolate becomes fluid, but if you get the chocolate too hot, it can separate into burned, blackened cocoa particles and pale golden liquid.”  And that is what happened to my chocolate.  I overheated it.  It was already melted, and then I added more heat.  I probably should have taken the milk out of the heat, cooled it a little and then mixed in the chocolate and other solids.  I now think that everything else would have turned out just fine if I had only known this about overheating chocolate.  I’d seen the phenomenon happen before, only I didn’t know why it happened.  It once happened when I microwaved some chocolate chips for way too long.  To read more on working with chocolate, check out this article from The Elements of Chocolate: A Special Science Seminar for  Food writers, editors and Producers  From The American Chemical Society.  I have now also added Dr. Corriher’s book, BakeWise:  The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes to my library hold queue.

I also added too much cardamom.  Half a teaspoon = too strong.  I wanted a subtle cardamom backdrop to the more obvious chocolate foreground when it came to the taste.  The texture…forget it.  It was too creamy (the milk powder didn’t stand a chance against all that oil, and it probably didn’t help that I added almond flour, because almonds are nuts and what do nuts contain?  That’s right, oil.) and because of the separated cocoa butter, it was way too oily.  Not what I had envisioned.

I think the best way to approach this is to simplify.  One tweak at a time.  I think on my next attempt I’m going to use cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate and possibly even leave out the cardamom.  Using dry cocoa powder will reduce the creaminess and help me get closer to achieving that more solid texture.  I’m still going to use milk powder instead of the ground almonds/ground cashews used in the recipe, and for the sake of keeping it from being too dry, I’m reducing the amount of powdered ingredients to 1 1/2 cups.  I need to strike the perfect balance between creamy and solid.  The lesson here kids is not to throw all your “genius” ideas into one pot — literally.  A little creativity is fine, but too much too soon…well, you know the saying about too much of a good thing.

You know with the introduction of new ingredients into my life — first green tea, now cardamom, I’m starting to wonder what else I could use these ingredients in to make something unique…Burfi is great for experimenting and all, but that’s because it’s a new frontier in sweets making that I have never explored.  It’s new terrain for me.  So it’s easy to be creative with something I’ve never touched.  Maybe it’s time to revisit some of the old things and put a new spin on them…But what?

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