Dippin' Dots, the momentarily dead but then thankfully resurrected novelty ice cream, are fun to eat. But the flavors are, well, a little childish? Wouldn't you rather make dots that taste great and help numb yourself to the world? Of course you would. Right this way.
It's Friday afternoon, you've made it through the long week, and it's time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo's weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. When I dip, you dip, we dip.
You are going to be dealing with extremely cold substances here and there's the very real possibility of injury and even death in extreme cases. You need to do your research and take every safety precaution possible (above and beyond what is mentioned in this article). Liquid nitrogen is no joke. Don't believe us? Just ask the T-1000 here. Wear thick (rubber) gloves and eye protection. Got it? Okay then. Onto the fun.
How It Works
This idea comes to us from Brennan Adams, beverage manager at A Bar in Washing D.C. He originally called them "Drinkin' Dots," but Dippin' Dots threatened litigation, so they became "Cryo-Spheres." As Adams demonstrates in this video, the technique is pretty simple:
- 1. Pour some liquid nitrogen into a wide-mouthed container. Ideally, you use a tall, somewhat narrow metal container, as that will allow for larger batches. However, even a small styrofoam cup will do, as long as it can hold a few inches of liquid nitrogen.
- 2. Put your ice cream mixture (liquid) into a condiment container. You can get these for a couple bucks at any kitchen supply store.
- 3. Drip the ice cream mixture into the liquid nitrogen. You want to drip it nice and slowly and from a reasonable height so the beads separate and don't clump. Nobody wants dippin' dumps.
- 4. After a few minutes, fish the dots out of the container with a long-handled spoon or a strainer, and put them in a glass. DO NOT reach in there with your fingers.
- 5. This is important. The dots are far too cold to eat immediately. They will only stick to your lips and/or tongue and cause frost-bite; think licking a metal pole on a cold winter day. You have to let them warm up to where they're almost as soft as normal ice cream. The alcohol in them should help expedite this, but you should also stir the dots every minute or so to ensure even warming (they will warm from the outside in).
And that's the high-level view of what happens. Now let's break down the pieces a little.
So, obviously, the key ingredient here (aside from alcohol) is liquid nitrogen. In order to get the dots into little spheres, they must freeze very quickly. The average freezer can only go down to about 25 degrees F. Liquid nitrogen, on the other hand, is between -346 degrees F and -320.44 degrees F. That is absurdly cold. Any warmer than -320 degrees and it "boils" and reverts to its gaseous state, and any colder than -346 and it turns to a solid.
Liquid nitrogen is actually pretty easy to get your hands on. They generally have it at your local welding supply store, and it's usually pretty cheap. The price will vary depending on how much you buy, but you probably expect to pay 50 cents or so per liter for a smallish amount. The catch is you've gotta bring your own container, and you can't just pour liquid nitrogen in a Nalgene bottle and call it a day. You need a dewar, which is basically a large thermos purpose-built for transporting and containing liquid nitrogen.
Dewars can often be rented if you're just looking to try this once or twice, but if you think you might want to do this on the regular, you should look into buying one. The best advice we found on purchasing dewars actually came from Yahoo! Answers (we know, we know):
eBay is the single best place to find one of these. They range in price between $50 (for a low quality used one if you're lucky) to $3000 for a large, new and high performance version. A good size to consider buying for making ice cream is around 20 liters, but something between 10 and 30 would work. Aside from volume, the "static evaporation rate" is very important to consider. This determines how much liquid nitrogen will evaporate per day while you're storing it. Look for a dewar with 0.1 liters/day. For this size of dewar .08 is the best out there, but for a low quality dewar, may be as bad as 1 liter per day.
For this, we go all the way be to our very first Happy Hour installment: How To Make Alcoholic Ice Cream, the Greatest Dessert of All Time. You could easily just take the recipe from there for White Russian Ice Cream, and you don't have to deal so much with the chilling and the setting that you do when you're using an ice cream maker. Valerie Lum, one of the authors of Ice Cream Happy Hour, was kind enough to share another recipe with us.
How about the ice cream version of a Manhattan?
- 2 cups sweet vermouth
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons Angostura bitters
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 packet (1/2 tablespoon) gelatin
- 1/3 cup cold water
- 1/2 cup cold (refrigerated) rye whiskey
- maraschino cherries, for garnish
(adapted for dots)
- 1. Reduce the vermouth. In a small saucepan, simmer the vermouth over medium heat, uncovered, until reduced to about 1/2 a cup (about 20 minutes). Set aside.
- 2. Scald the milk, cream, sugar, and bitters. Mix the milk, heavy cream, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved Continue heating until the mixture is steamy and makes a slight sizzling noise when you move the pan. This is called scalding. (Note: Scalding does not mean simmering. Overheating the milk may cause curdling.)
- 3. Whisk together the egg yolks in a medium bowl until they're light in color and slightly fluffy. Then gently stream about one-third of the hot milk mixture (above) into the eggs while whisking continuously. This is called tempering. It's important to whisk while streaming the hot milk. If you just pour in the hot milk and then whisk, you may get scrambled eggs.
- 4. Thicken the custard. Pour the egg mix into the rest of the milk mixture that's in the saucepan and stir continuously on low heat. Make sure you scrape the bottom evenly while you stir. The custard is thick enough when you can draw a line on the back of the spoon with your finger and the line retains its shape.
- 5. Whisk in the reduced sweet vermouth.
- 6. Strain and cool the custard. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh strainer and into a heatproof container. Cover with plastic wrap so that it's directly touching the surface of the custard. This prevents a skin from developing. Transfer the bowl to an ice bath (a larger bowl full of ice and water) for about 30 minutes to stop the cooking process.
- 7. Dissolve the gelatin. Pour the water into a small saucepan and evenly sprinkle the gelatin on top. Allow to sit until the gelatin appears to have absorbed as much water as it can (about two minutes). Gently warm over low heat and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved into the liquid (about three minutes), then pour it into a medium bowl.
- 8. Spike the custard. Slowly whisk the cold (because it's been in the frige, not the freezer) rye whiskey into the gelatin until thoroughly combined. Then pour the mixture to a fine-mesh strainer and into the custard. Whisk until it is thoroughly blended. Then transfer the custard to your condiment container (the finer the tip the better), and follow the instructions above.
If any of those steps are confusing, refer to the video in the aforementioned Happy Hour for some guidance. Any of the 50 recipes in that book should work really well for these dots. It's highly recommended reading.
There are a lot of other things you can do with this concept. For example, if you don't want to go through all the trouble of making ice cream from scratch, you could just buy some at the store (a non-chunky type), melt it, mix it with some booze, and then toss it in the condiment container. Or you could freeze droplets of straight booze, and then add them to your cocktail. Frozen rye in your manhattan, for instance, would make the drink cold, and not dilute as it melted.
The point is, you can get very creative and have a lot of fun with this stuff. As we said, though, do some reading up on working with liquid nitrogen, because there's a fine line between "cool" and "I just froze my fingers off."
Top image credit: Flickr/newwavegurly
Dewar image credit image credit: Flickr/USFWS/Southeast