Introduction: Any-Flavor "Magic Shell"-style Topping
Have you ever had a soft serve ice cream cone, that was covered in a thin crunchy shell of hardened chocolate? How about a bottle of "Magic Shell" that transformed smooth ice cream into something with a bit more texture to it?
As magical as those are, what if you could have more than the varieties (mostly chocolate) available? Now you can make a crunchy ice cream topping in any flavor you can think up!
Step 1: The Secret Ingredient Is Coconut Oil
Not to give it away all at once, but the secret ingredient is coconut oil, and that's pretty much it. Go home, we're done.
Step 2: A Little More Detail About Coconut Oil
The reason coconut oil is the secret ingredient is because it is just barely a liquid at a warm room temperature, unlike most oils. And if you get it a little bit cooler than that- it becomes a solid.
Coconut oil is full of saturated fat, and that means that it "wants" to be a solid at high temperatures than unsaturated fats, which want to be liquids. Unlike in every other recipe and diet cookbook, we want those saturated fats! Their ability to transition between liquid and solid is exactly the property we want.
That's why this topping can only be used on fairly cold desserts like ice cream. If you were to spoon this on top of a warm slice of pie, you'd just end up with a high-fat, oily sauce running down the sides. But put it on something around freezing, and it becomes a crunchy, crackling topping.
Step 3: Start With the Basic Chocolate Topping
Normally, I'd start with the simplest recipe, and work up from there. But in this case, I am standing on the shoulders of giants and others have worked out how to make a very appealing chocolate topping, and there is a reason it is the most common- it is a classic and is what people want. This is the most complicated recipe I will present here, so it's all downhill in case you were nervous.
Here are the ingredients:
- 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, just barely but completely melted
- 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon of honey
- 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla
Heat the coconut oil for about 10 seconds in the microwave, and let it melt completely. A little heat goes a long way, so heat in short bursts and let it melt, instead of trying to get it all in one go.
Add the cocoa powder, honey, and vanilla. Stir valiantly with a spoon to incorporate, but don't despair if you see that it isn't mixing well. The real secret is vigorous shaking, which is why I use very small mason jars with tight fitting lids. Shaking seems to work many times better than mixing with a spoon.
After you have mixed/shaken it, the oil will be approaching room temperature and will have a dull, matte finish. It is ready for use!
Pour it on top of the ice cream, and let sit until it hardens. If you are used to commercial "Magic Shell" or "Hershey's Shell", then you will need to wait longer than you are expecting. We aren't using the finely tuned mixture of oils they are, so this can take a terribly long time in dessert-land; up to 20 seconds!
If the topping has solidified to the point where it doesn't flow well out of the jar, put in the microwave for 5 seconds to melt it slightly. Remember that the warmer it is, the longer it will take to harden on the ice cream.
This chocolate has very little sweetness to it, relying on the ice cream for that. Children found it too bitter, adults enjoyed it. You can, of course, adjust this. Perhaps you could try hot chocolate mix, or some other sweetened chocolate powder?
Step 4: Variation 1: Root Beer Topping on an Ice Cream Float
I heard you like root beer, so I put root beer on your root beer, so you can float while you float!
You won't find this in stores, but it is simple and easy. Commercial syrups, of the kind used to make soda or add flavor to coffee, are easy to use. In this case, I used Root Beer.
- 2 Tablespoons melted coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons Root Beer syrup
Combine the two ingredients, and shake to combine. You will find that it is not as difficult to combine these two as the chocolate, but also that it separates out faster. I'll discuss that in a minute.
This has a distinct root beer flavor, which is very noticeable when you do as I did, and use too much. It formed a hard cap on top of the ice cream, which then lead to a float-splosion! A tasty mess to clean up. This lead to very large pieces floating in the soda, which were almost root beer candy-like; indicating there is room for exploration here.
Step 5: Variation 1.1: Maple Syrup on Ice Cream and French Toast
This is the same style as the root beer, except I have used maple syrup. It has a very rich, dark flavor which is very well balanced by the smooth creaminess of the oil- as well as the ice cream.
Step 6: Variation 2: Cold Pineapple With Pina Colada Shell
This is to show that it doesn't have to be solely an ice cream topping- anything that can be served well chilled is a candidate for a hard shell topping.
Here, I've used pre-made pina colada mix to serve as the flavoring agent.
- 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
- 3 tablespoons (maybe more) Pina Colada mix
Because I kept the drink mix in the refrigerator, it caused the mixture to form into a semi-solid paste as soon as it was mixed. This is not a problem, you need merely heat for several seconds to return it to a liquid.
This was a very mild topping, and though my taste testers liked it, they said they wished it had more intensity to it. This might mean adjusting the ratios, or finding a more concentrated mix. It might also just not stand out against the vibrant taste of the pineapple.
Step 7: Variation 3: Raspberry Fruit Spread
This variation was very popular, despite being the least tested. Who knew?
- 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons of raspberry spread (AKA Jam)
Like the pina colada mix, the jam was cold, so I warmed both jam and oil together. This was very difficult to mix together, and I think it never really blended, and can be seen by the nearly perpetual separation. The fruit spread remained thick on the ice cream, and the raspberry flavored oil pooled to the bottom.
However, taste-testers really enjoyed this one, probably because of the intense raspberry flavor. So the lesson to learn here is that even if you just flavor the coconut oil instead of mixing it, it can still be worthwhile.
Step 8: Failures, and What to Avoid
Not everything will go well, however. Some recipes will be failures. Here are two that did not make a pleasant dessert topping.
The lesson here is not to chemically sabotage yourself. You'll want to use simple, unprocessed ingredients as much as possible, because processed foods often have additives that are designed to prevent what you want to happen. In chocolate syrup's case, it is designed to remain silky and pourable even after the bottle has been stored in the refrigerator, and while in contact with ice cream. This means that it will not harden when it is used as the flavor in the mixture. Instead, what happens is that the coconut oil forms tiny crystals while embedded in the syrup, giving it an unpleasant gritty texture instead of a smooth creamy one.
The lesson here is to be careful with proportions. I used an entire package of koolaid, which, after all, is only a spoonful or so, and mixed it as best as possible with the oil. It never really incorporated at all, instead forming two elements- a watery lemon flavored sauce that seemed to have a high liquid point, and thus take longer to harden, and a sticky paste, with an overpowering lemon flavor. My niece was the only one who liked it, and she enjoyed it in more of the sense that children like candy labeled "Atomic" or "nuclear"- it's a challenge. It's pretty much inedible for normal humans.
Step 9: Separation- the Salad Dressing Principle
One of the biggest obstacles is getting everything mixed properly, which is why I recommend shaking in small containers. Stirring doesn't seem to work as well, and I also believe that whipping in some tiny air bubbles helps with the smooth, melt-on-the-tongue texture that comes across as creaminess.
I realized while experimenting with these recipes that they are, in essence, the same as a simple salad dressing. Oil and a water-based flavor ingredient. With the realization, I knew what the new frontier would be:
Emulsions are a mixture of two different things that don't normally mix- like vinaigrette, or mayonnaise, or Hollandaise sauce. They are often unstable, and will "fall apart" after a period of time.
However, there are agents called "Emulsifiers" that help blend the ingredients together and keep them from separating out. These chemicals bind together the differing ingredients and hold them together. There are a few very common food emulsifiers:
- Egg yolk
- Soy lecithin
There are also some foods that are a "fake" emulsifier, in that they are often sticky and heavy and they just bind the pieces together for long periods. Chief amongst those are honey, which is one of the reasons why the chocolate topping holds together the longest.
I've ordered some lecithin, which should be tasteless and unnoticeable in the mixture, except as it serves to hold everything together. Look forward to exciting news on this front in the future!
Step 10: Easy, Quick, and Simple
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible. Here are some suggestions from my taster-testers that they would like to see made:
- Peanut butter
- Nutella/hazelnut spread
- Sour apple
- Powdered Strawberry milk
If you try of these, let me know your recipe and how it turned out!
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