Introduction: Incredible Edible Helium Balloon
This is an entry in the
Science of Cooking
What could be more perfect for any occasion than an edible helium balloon? This project was inspired by Alinea’s executive chef Mike Bagale who is the original creator of the edible helium balloon and earned 3 Michelin stars for doing so. The Alinea Restaurant is located in Chicago and specializes in making Molecular gastronomy recipes. When I discovered this amazing treat, I was determined to make some for our 49th year wedding anniversary celebration~
There were only three complete recipes I could find online for them and the videos were not very detailed about the process.
I made several batches using the Buzz Feed recipe and it failed. After a lot of research, I began to experiment by changing methods, water, and temperatures until I was happy with the results and consistently made beautiful edible balloons several times using the same ingredients except the water amount and adjusted for altitude and temperatures, which proved that a recipe's failure might not be the recipe ingredients but rather the science of altitude and temperature adjustments. After I knew I could make the recipe, I experimented using different liquids and food grade lemon oil to improve the flavor of the balloon.
I experiment a lot when I cook because, I like the challenge of creating something different. Although I am not a candy expert, I am a good cook and a great problem solver.
I will give a lot more details in how to make an Incredible edible HE balloon so you experience the Alinea edible balloon in your dining room, without making the recipe multiple times and going through two tanks of Helium.
I will share ways you can develop different flavors for the balloon to make the recipe more tasty.
Sometimes it pays off to do a little research especially when making a recipe like this. A person can glean a lot from reading the comments from readers who have made the recipe. In this case, the comments did not help, so I had to make the recipe several times to figure out what might have caused the recipe fail. Patience and determination can be a virtue.
Follow through and let's get started!
Step 1: Important Information to Know Before Making This Recipe
Clifford Endo from You Can Do This, tackled the Buzz Feed recipe and was lucky to get 1 out of 15 balloons to work properly and used more than 1 tank of helium, so he made a few phone calls and sent out a few emails to inquire how to make this recipe work. He added Xanthan to the ingredients and had better success, although he did mention the recipe was very difficult, a pain to make, and to expect failures and a few balloons might get away from you.
I tried Xanthan but the recipe was still very difficult to make. I think most of the problems with this recipe were because: They did not adjust for altitude, holding the heat to # 2 induction or 180% F, and mention anything thing about having to tie the balloon quickly before it floats to the ceiling. All of these things are important to note, especially holding the temperature! If the mixture is too hot or too cold the balloon will not form properly. The recipe needed tweaked because it tasted very sweet with no real flavor and for that reason, I made three different flavors using organic apple juice, coffee, and Kool-aide and the flavor was greatly improved.
It helps to read all the instructions twice though before making this recipe; to be sure you have all the ingredients and supplies. Please be safe and read the warnings on the Helium tank to avoid personal injuries to you and those you love and please beware when making this recipe, because it is cooked at very high temperatures and could cause severe burns, especially to children who might be in the way when you are cooking.
I strongly suggest watching the video and look at the texture of the mixture and watch very closely how they fill and tie the balloons as well as how they break away from the tube. The Alinea's way of tying off the balloon by twisting the string into the base of the balloon is the easiest most efficient way to tie the balloon, although I liked the looks of tying the balloon by crossing the string better, but it is a lot more difficult to accomplish. Notice how they twist the tubing while the balloon is filling up. It takes practice and if you watch the videos several times paying close attention to details, it will save you a lot of helium and frustrations.
You will need at least one helper when you fill the balloons because, one person will hold the helium gas tube and one will tie the balloons but 3 helpers would be even better, especially if you will be taking pictures or videos during the process. I did not have enough help when making this recipe, my husband was ill with the flu and just not able to help much. With that said I did not get a chance to take pictures of attaching the string.
Close attention is needed once the mixture has begun to boil because you need to keep checking the temperature.
I suggest to test the mixture using a straw, by dipping the straw into the hot mixture to form a small solid ball and then blow through the straw to form the balloon. If you can blow a balloon . . . with out it popping, it is a good indication that it will work using helium. This tip is helpful to save on the amount of helium you will use. I will cover this a little more later on. One of my balloons held the air over night but when I touched it, it shattered into small pieces, so it was not very edible. For now, I recommend making the recipe just before serving. This is not a dessert but think of it in relation to an after dinner mint. It is quite sweet.
Using a gas stove top will be more challenging than induction or electric heat, because you need to hold the temperature at 180F or 82 C for the mixture to hold its strength when filling with helium. I will be using a gas stove top and after the mixture is cooked, I placed the pan with the mixture into a larger pan with water and a colander to keep the mixture hot and pliable while I made the balloons. It is important to consider a narrow window to make the balloons because if the mixture is not kept at 180% it will begin to set and there is no re-heating it, if it has gone past a certain stage.
I noticed one recipe on youtube were using induction heat so I adjusted the heat recommendations he gave for my gas stove top. It is my guess that this is the original recipe from Alinea, although they did not list the measurements. The Alenia restaurant also makes green apple fruit leather for the edible string, which would be a great addition to this recipe, making the entire balloon edible. They also infused the helium with green apple to make it smell like green apples, how fun is that? The syrup method is called inverted sugar. I recommend reading this web page about inverted sugar especially the comment section to learn more about the process.
I have a very cool kitchen and had better results when I turned the oven on, to warm the kitchen. I made this on a cold day.
I noticed that it took a lot longer than I had expected for the mixture to reach the candy stage because of our high altitude, so I had to make adjustments for that. Most cook books are written for sea level but with the internet it is probably important to ask the author, what altitude the recipe was adjusted for, especially for a difficult one like this. You will notice a color change when the mixture is very close to being ready. I estimate it took about 30 minutes after the boil for the mixture to reach the right temperature. Definitely use a candy thermometer and adjust for your altitude~ I will include links that will be useful to make the adjustments.
It is best to make this recipe when there is not a lot of humidity in the air.
Sometimes switching ingredients to different brands can make a difference when making recipes like this. For instance, I recommend using pure cane sugar. I was always taught to use pure cane sugar when making candy because using different types could cause a recipe failure.If you are a candy maker this recipe will probably not be a problem but filling the balloon and tying it off will be a challenge!
Knox Gelatin is used most in the US and if you can't find it in your country and will be using the gelatin sheets you will need to make adjustments accordingly to get the right strength needed for this recipe. Here is an article I read about different gelatin's bloom strength that might be helpful.
I usually reduce recipes I have never made before, by half, but this recipe does not lend itself to reducing.
I also made an adjustment to the plastic tubing, I used the small size where it connects to the tank and used a larger size at the end because I noticed Alinea used a large size tube to make their balloons and it worked best for me.
I am listing the recipe ingredients and quantities from Buzz Feed but have made a lot of improvements and added more details, which I felt was necessary to the instructions, that will help everyone achieve the desired results. If you wish to make adjustments to the recipe, I would make the recipe the way it is written for the learning process and then you can alter the ingredients to make it tastier when you have more experience ~
You could try to make colored balloons but in my opinion it would take a lot of food coloring to make a noticeable difference. I would have liked to have tried edible gold leaf flakes but it was not available in my area and I did not want to order them online.
Step 2: Ingredients and Utensils
Here are a list of the ingredients and utensils you will need to make the edible balloon. I will list the recipe and supplies again later for your convenience:
1 package of Knox unflavored gelatin ( bloom 225 ) you may use gelatin sheets but will need to adjust the amount for 225 bloom strength. Here is a link that might be helpful.
2 Tablespoons distilled water ( this is for the gelatin mixture)
1 Cup Pure cane sugar ( I would not use a substitute )
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
2/3 Cup Light Corn syrup
1/2 Cup distilled water
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
When you are ready to try different flavors, substitute the water with unsweetened bottled organic apple juice, un sweetened pre-made coffee, I also used 1 pkg unsweetened Kool-aid powder to 1 cup of hot water or you could juice and clarify a green apple for the liquids. I might give fruit flavored tea a try next time. Another thing you can do is use organic food grade lemon oil, food grad lavender oil, or cream de ment and add it to the cooked mixture before you fill the balloon with helium. Start out using one drop because they are very concentrated. I would add just a little bit of the mixture to a small bowl and then add one drop of oil to the mixture and stir and taste, that way you will have plenty of extra mixture to try different flavors if you don't like it.
Utensils and supplies:
Candy thermometer, pot holders, lint free wet cotton dish towel, spoon or fork to weight the balloon, preferably a deep medium size stain-steel heavy bottomed sauce pan, large stock pot with colander and lid; if using gas heat; this is to hold the heat for better results, measuring cups, spoons, drinking straws,small glasses for testing drinking straw balloons; I added oil to the glasses to keep the air in the balloons so I could take pictures, and bowls, ( juicer, 2 strainers and cheese cloth for clarifying apples here is the methodif you would like to clarify green apples instead of using water. I did not get a chance to try all the things in the last picture but will give them a try the next time I make these.
Scissors, Scotch tape, String or ribbon; I used glow in the dark string for one balloon but did not get a picture of it with the lights off), vinyl tubing, and helium tank ( I got mine at Target for about $20.00 ). Please note: I used 2 different sizes of tubing as I mentioned in step 1. 48 inches of the smaller tube and 1 3/4 inch for the larger tube.
Step 3: Get Things Ready to Roll
The prep work is very important for this recipe to go smoothly:
Please remember to read the warning label on the helium tank for everyone's safety.
Cut the smaller tubing to 48 inches and tape the smaller tube to the helium tank. Then cut the larger tube to 1 3/4 inch and tape it to the end of the longer tubing.
Place the helium tank, drinking straws, ribbon, half fill the glasses with oil, wet lint free dish towel, pot holder, and spoon on a table to fill the balloons.
If you have a gas stove top, fill the large stock pot with plenty of water and heat on high until boiling. Turn down the heat to a simmer and add more water as it cooks down so the water will be ready when you need it. While you are waiting for the water to boil, go on to the next step.
If you have an ipod or laptop PC, open the video links I have shared so, if you need to refer to them; not much time will be lost if you fast fwd to the filling the balloon part . . . . watching the process if you need to.
Step 4: Measure Ingredients and Prep
Recipe: If you can use a shallow lightly oiled bowl to mix the gelatin in; this makes it easier for removal. It is helpful to oil the sides of the sauce pan to prevent crystallization while making this recipe or you can use a pastry brush dipped into water to dissolve the sugar along the edges of the pan or use a small spray bottle filled with water and spray the sides of the pan.
Place 1 package Knox gelatin into the oiled bowl and add 2 Tablespoons of distilled water and thoroughly mix it and set it aside to gel.
Measure 1 cup Pure cane sugar
Measure 2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
2/3 Cup Light Karo Syrup
1/2 Cup Water ( I used 1 full cup of water for 3600 altitude ) It was the only way I could get the mixture to reach the firm ball stage.
Add a little bit of the water to the corn starch and mix well and then add the rest of the water to dilute.
1/2 Teaspoon salt
Place the Karo syrup into the medium size (stainless steel) heavy bottomed sauce pan, use a deep sauce pan if you can.
Add the salt to the sugar and thoroughly mix and then add the sugar mixture to the Karo syrup and mix well.
Add a little water (from the 1/2 cup of water) to the Cornstarch and mix well and then add the remaining water to the cornstarch and then add it to the pan mixture and mix thoroughly.
Turn the heat to # 4 induction or Medium 240°F (116C°) and heat mixture until it reaches 124 C stirring as needed. Altitude conversion chart . This took my mixture about 30 minutes to reach 247 needed for my altitude. While you are waiting for the mixture to reach the temperature, take a spatula and carefully lift the gelatin from the bowl and place it back into the bowl until the mixture in the sauce pan has reach the right temperature to add the gelatin.
Step 5: Add Gelatin
Reduce the heat and hold at #2 induction or Medium-Low180°F (82°C) and add gelatin and stir stir stir into a homogeneous mixture. Please keep in mind that holding the temperature is one of the most important factors in making the balloon.
From here on out it is important to be efficient and prepared to make the balloons because the mixture may become too firm to make the balloon if the low heat is not maintained properly, which in my case using gas was quite difficult because I had to fill the balloons in my dining room because my kitchen is quite small to take the pictures. This is where the hot water helped a lot to hold the heat.
The last picture is the kool-aid flavor.
Step 6: For the Fun Part
Whew that was hard work! Now it is time to dip the straw into the hot mixture and test to see if a balloon will form properly.
Make sure to dip the straw into the hot mixture several times like the videos and make sure there are no small bubbles that form at the tip or the balloon will pop before the balloon is fully formed. Blow through the straw and watch the magic! If a balloon forms, the mixture should be good to try with the helium. After you make one or two balloons using the helium you will have a better idea how to turn the tube to prevent the balloon from sticking to the tube and ruining the balloon. The balloon will be quite sticky.
As soon as the balloon has formed you must be quick to twist the string to secure the balloon so the balloon does not escape to the ceiling!
Wishing you the best success for forming the perfect balloon~
Step 7: Sunshiines Final Thoughts
As the mixture cools in the pan it becomes very hard so I reserved the hot water from the large pot and poured it into the sauce pan to soak. You might have to boil more water if the residue has not completely dissolved.
When it is time to clean the ceiling, hold a small trash can under the balloon and gently whisk away the residue using your hand and then clean the ceiling using a soapy wet cloth.
The biggest challenges for me to make these edible balloons was using gas heat, figuring out how to achieve the 247 temperature needed for the mixture . . . by adding extra water for altitude, how to hold the heat once the mixture was made, reducing the amount of failures, and tying off the balloons~ I am happy with the results from problem solving and will be making these again for my family.
The last picture shows an edible arrangement similar in appearance that the Alenia Restaurant serves as one of their courses. I loved the concept; so I made it for our anniversary dinner. It was great fun.
I hope you give this recipe a try, they are fun to make and talking like Donald duck makes you feel like a kid again~
I am sure the extra details and links I have provided will be beneficial if you give this recipe a shot. If you have any questions please feel free to comment or send me a pm~ I would be happy to answer them.
Meanwhile Bon appetite ~
We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.
Sooooo, does the helium get ingested with the balloon, making YOUR VOICE REEEAAALLLY HIGH PITCHED WHEN YOU TRY TO EAT IT?
I ate at Alinea a few months ago. The guests are recommended to suck out the helium. They no longer serve it with something sharp tied to the string. No one ever used it.
The video shows customers biting into the balloon and sucking in the air and yes it changes their voice OR the string has a sharp tool to poke the balloon and then eat it after it has deflated. Thanks for commenting and do have a nice week~