While maple syrup is the ultimate pancake topping, it’s a liquid that pancakes absorb quickly. This means that the syrup doesn’t always deliver a pure burst of maple flavor like you want it to. Don’t you wish there was a way to have an explosion of maple syrup with every bite of pancake? Do you also want to impress your friends with cool science tricks? Look no further than a technique that started the avant-garde cooking movement: spheres!
Spheres are liquids encapsulated in a thin membrane using sodium alginate and calcium (we are going to use calcium lactate here because it has a neutral flavor). Sodium alginate will gel with the calcium, creating a thin gel around your liquid. Both sodium alginate and calcium lactate can be purchased on places like Amazon or my personal favorite spice shop, Kalustyan’s.
Spherification first came to light at chef Ferran Adria’s highly influential restaurant El Bulli. Chef Adria would spherify olive juice so that it looked exactly like a regular olive, and the sensation of the plain-looking olive exploding with olive flavor started a culinary revolution. The wonders of spherification are that you can turn any liquid into a tiny caviar-sized bite that bursts with flavor.
While words like sodium alginate and spherification can scare some people off, the process of making these maple syrup orbs is dead simple. The hardest part is sourcing the ingredients. Once you’ve procured your hydrocolloids (the fancy name for thickeners), you simply blend them into your maple syrup and a separate water bath.
For these spheres, we are actually going to use reverse spherification, which is a similar technique, but with the sodium alginate and calcium lactate swapping places. The maple syrup will have calcium lactate and xanthan gum added to it and it’ll be dipped into a sodium alginate bath. Reverse spherification provides a few advantages over direct spherification. You can make bigger spheres that will hold indefinitely and won’t continue to gel once you’ve made them. So you don’t need to be fumbling with your alginate bath and pancake griddle at the same time.
Here’s how to make your own:
Maple Syrup Spheres
- Yields: 8 to 10 servings
Make your maple solution. Blend the maple syrup. While blending, stream in the calcium lactate and xanthan gum mixture until fully combined. Let rest to dissipate the air bubbles anywhere from 1 to 12 hours, or pass gently through a fine sieve.
Make your sodium alginate bath. Blend water and sodium alginate until dissolved. Let rest to dissipate the air bubbles anywhere from 1 to 12 hours or pass gently through a fine sieve.
Make your spheres. Make sure everything has been chilled. Gently spoon ½ tablespoon of the maple-calcium solution into the alginate bath. Let gel for a minute. Scoop out and place in a separate water bath to rinse.
If holding for more than an 1 hour, add some maple syrup to the finishing water bath because the spheres are water permeable and will dilute in flavor over the course of a few hours.
Top your favorite pancakes with these maple syrup bombs.