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Food science question: What metal for homemade chocolate dipping forks/spoons/etc?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Hi -- First post and a somewhat odd question. Pardon the epic saga; the impatient can safely skip past the long-winded exposition to the question in red text below. Moderators, this seemed to me inappropriate for the Equipment Reviews forum but y'all know better than I how you like things arranged, so feel free to move the thread wherever you please.

Here's the setup. I've had one episode of dipping homemade candies, using a toothpick to dunk buttercream-cherry-nut centers into molten chocolate (a melted-down 22-ounce Easter bunny my mate picked up for a dollar after Easter was over). It went okay, considering I didn't bother with tempering. I wasn't sure that could be done with a remelted commercial confection, for that matter, so I didn't bother. Anyway, I didn't mind keeping them refrigerated and they tasted great. The only not-so-great part was fiddling with those darned toothpicks.

Next time I'll get proper chocolate and temper it, meaning I'll need an accurate candy thermometer... and for the dipping itself I'll need something better than a toothpick for holding the centers. So I googled and looked at the many varieties of dipping forks, the loops and spirals they call dipping spoons, and so forth. Eeep! The prices! Can't justify the cost of even a tiny set.

Well, there's a reason why Agatha Heterodyne, Girl Genius, is something of a role model for me. :-} If I can't buy them, maybe I can make them.

Got plenty of doweling suitable for cutting into six-inch sections for handles, and tools for sanding them smooth and rounding the ends. Once they're shaped I'll stain them lightly and (after they're entirely assembled) give 'em a few coats of food-grade mineral oil. Easy.

But what about the business ends? Of what material should I make the actual forks, loops, and so forth?

Though it might be possible for a skilled craftsperson to steam-form bamboo skewers into the appropriate forms, realistically I figure metal's the only option. Some dipping utensils are formed of a single bent wire. Forks require a join, though, where the tines meet the "stem" that goes into the handle, and loop-shaped spoons might do well to be joined to close the loop. That join could be welded, soldered, or for forks, assembled using a tubular stem and epoxy.

* I'd hoped to get some Monel metal wire 'cos it's exceedingly non-reactive... but it's also expensive and difficult to work, well beyond my abilities.

* Stainless steel is an obvious choice, and I could cannibalize an inexpensive whisk to get plenty for my purposes. But I have no equipment that can make joins in SS. And I don't know how easily such reused wire can be bent to shape by hand.

* Silver wire is expensive but readily (and locally!) available in a variety of sizes, including a "half hard" temper that is bendable but stiff enough to hold a shape. I should be able to make joins using a hobby oxygen-butane torch and silver solder, and if I can't maybe the folks at the jewelry shop that sells it can. Though it's reactive, silver's been used in contact with foods of all kinds for ages so I reckon it's safe for this use.

* Copper wire is dirt cheap, easily formed, stiff enough when used in a heavy enough gauge, and silver solder should work with it too. (Wouldn't want to use standard electronic solder of lead and tin!) It's pretty reactive too but copper vessels are valued for heating candy-making syrups so I'd think it's safe enough for this.

For multiple-branched forks I could epoxy multiple wire ends into a little brass tube stem and insert that into the handle, rather than a length of wire being the stem. For stainless steel and Monel that'd be the only choice. But I'd like to keep things simple if possible, which means a soldered or welded join. That would be more elegant, and cheaper, too -- and coming up with a stock of these doodads really cheap is my motivation here. So I'm thinking silver and copper are the leading candidates, copper preferred because silver is comparatively costly.

Any ideas? I don't suppose anyone else here will have made their own dipping implements, but any experience you have with the effects various metallic vessels or utensils have on chocolate might be useful. And if (who knows? stranger things have happened) someone actually has done this, that would be beyond cool.

Thanks in advance for any advice,


[Changed title from "Food science question: What metal for homemade chocolate dipping forks/spoons/etc?"]
post #2 of 7
Stainless, cannabalized from a whisk, is probably the best. Cut one piece about 3 1/2 inches and bend in a "U", making the legs of the "U" about 1/2" apart. You only need to braze one joint, where you attach the "U" to the main shaft. Hammer one end of the main shaft flat, and epoxy this into the hole you've drilled into the dowel. Silver solder is about the best.

Copper wire is far too soft to use

I've seen some guys use paperclips in a pinch.....

Don't need a candy thermometer. Chocolate melts at body temperature, right? So you get a $5.00 digital fever thermometer at the local drugstore.

There are various techniques to dipping. One of the easist to master is to "warm" the fork by keeping it immersed in the tempered couverture, toss in your center, push it down, then use the fork to lift it out. Balance the dipped piece on the fork, so that about 1/3 of the piece is free. Lift out, an rest the edge of the piece on your recieving tray, then slide the fork out form underneath.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the quick, helpful reply. I've not worked with SS before -- it can be brazed with silver solder? If so, that's encouraging. It's probably the most economical choice short of copper, and won't tarnish as silver would. Would copper wire stiff enough to be reasonably rigid be too thick for candies to slide off easily, too big a step so to speak?

You mention keeping the fork warm. So chocolate won't accumulate on it?

The thermometer I'll need for other candy stuff as well, and frying; wouldn't buy one just for this. I've tried the drop-in-cold-water method for determining when a boiling syrup is at the right temperature, but don't seem to be a very good judge of which stage I'm seeing. I hope that'll come with experience... assuming I don't ruin things and swear off candy making for my, and the world's, safety. :-}
post #4 of 7
No, copper's far too soft, the fork will bend before you dip moe than 4 pieces.

You need warm forks so that:
1) Couverture won't accumulate,
2) the centers you're dipping won't stick to the fork
3) The tines don't drag and tear on the bottom of the dipped piece and leave "skid marks".

Candy thermometers start at around 80 Celcius (Don't know what that is in F, maybe around 180?) and their optimal working range is above the boiing point of water. Optimal working range of chocolate is around 32C (around 94 F). BEWARE THE THERMOMETER that claims to give accurate results in both ranges. Your best off getting a dedicated one for only chocoalte work, and like I said, these are cheap and available at any drugstore
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 
Great, many thanks for the detailed info. I'll have a rummage in the shop for that little oxy-butane torch, hope the silver solder and flux are stored with it, and have a go.

Best to you,

post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 
In case anyone's interested in this project, here's a progress report.

Getting SS wire: I bought a Hamilton Beach balloon whisk at Tuesday Morning (a closeout / bargain store near where I live) for about half price -- $4. The stainless steel wires are quite soft, easy to cut using regular cutters. To deconstruct the whisk I used end-cutting pliers to peel the ferrule from around where the wires are welded to the handle's SS spine. Next I nipped one end of a wire loose, straightened the wire by hand while one end was still attached to the rubberized handle; this is much easier than straightening wires after snipping them loose as I did for the first couple. One more clip and the wire's free, ready to do another. Five wires total, each about 13 inches (a third of a meter) long. Will keep the handle too, never know when I might need a big grippy thing like that for some other homemade implement.

Forming the wire: Using miniature pliers and my paws it was easy to form the wire into circular loops, a spiral, and so forth. Rather than bother with brazing -- or rather, delaying until I could find that packed-away mini torch -- I decided to redesign so as not to need any joins. For a fork I simply run all the tines' ends into the handle, enlarging the hole as needed to fit however many wires are required. For two- and four-tine forks all wires are folded double in the middle; the stainless is able to take a very sharp bend and even a little hammering on the bend itself without breaking. To bind each fork's tines together I formed a little staple out of the same wire and crimped that around the wires just below where they fan out. This makes an excellent fork stem, much more rigid than brazing tines to a single-wire stem. The drawback is that stuff can get in there, so after each use I'll have to wash carefully around the staple and between the bound-together tines; if I ever do find that torch I can remove the staples and run a little silver solder in to seal the joints, keeping molten candy out.

Making handles: Each handle is a six-inch (150 cm) length of 3/8-inch (1 cm) diameter wooden doweling, probably maple, with the ends rounded off for comfort and the whole thing sanded smooth with 220-grit (very fine) wet-dry abrasive paper. [edit: I sanded each full-length dowel once, then dampened it to raise the grain and let it dry, then sanded again and cut to length.] This gives each completed utensil a total length of about 9-1/2 inches (24 cm) which is longer than most commercial ones, but I found the size convenient because it's possible to grasp the handle several different ways, providing relief from cramping if the dipping goes on a long while.

I drilled a hole, of a size appropriate to how many wires will go in, in each handle's end. Soon I'll lightly stain the handles with Minwax "Colonial Maple" to bring out a little grain detail, 'cos the doweling is visually bland even when oiled. After that's completely dry I'll give the wood a few coats of the same mineral oil I use for bamboo and wooden implements and boards, taking care not to get oil deep in the holes where it would interfere with gluing.

Assembly: To hold the metal and wood together I'll use waterproof wood glue or Gorilla Glue. Before gluing I'll put a piece of masking tape over the end of each handle, then poke a hole through it to squirt the glue into. I'll also put some glue on the shank of the wire(s). After inserting the stem I can wipe any excess glue (Gorilla foams and expands, and any glue can get where it oughtn't) and when it dries remove the tape, reducing or eliminating glue mess.

Final touches: Single-wire stems get their far ends hammered flat (but a bit rough) so they won't twist in their handles, and to provide a little grip for the glue. I've bent each loop / spiral, and about half an inch of the end of each fork tine, upward by just a few degrees, just enough for comfort in handling. The fork tines I'll also hammer slightly to make the ends thinner, like tiny spatulas. Not too thin though.

The bottom line: I've made five so far and went back this morning for another whisk 'cos I ran out of wire. $8 worth of whisks should be enough to make a silly-big set, similar to the absurdly overpriced ones I see online but for 1/35 the price of the most absurd set. Mine won't be quite as fancy as those French-made ones, and they won't come in a custom-fitted case, but they'll work every bit as well, and somehow I suspect those huge sets are really aimed at gadget collectors. I don't consider myself anything like a pro, and do admit to being amused by gizmos. These are so easy and so cheap to make that I might as well go overboard and make a big assortment of 'em, though I'm aware that a "real pro" can do expert work with a throw-away plastic fork with two tines broken out!

What the hey -- it's a fun, easy, and genuinely useful craft project, I can make any shape I please rather than accepting what's in a given commercial set, and maybe someone else will be inspired to make their own... or if they're not into making stuff, I could perhaps be bribed into making some for sale. :-} Better to do it yourself, though. You get exactly what you want that way, and it's really yours.

If anyone's interested I'll post photos once they're complete. It'll be a couple weeks before I have a chance to try them, and of necessity (no money to spare, that is) that will be using reduced price post-holiday grocery-store chocolate rather than proper couverture. Eventually, eventually! I'll practice on the cheap stuff, then by Yule I should be ready to make some high-class candies to give as gifts.

Again, thanks for the advice. Much appreciated.
post #7 of 7
Thread Starter 

Photo of nearly-completed candy dipping utensils

Except for a final trimming and re-filing of of the forks' tines to be sure all tines on a given fork are the same length, they're done. Click the thumbnail image to see the full-sized photo.

Yuppers, I made way too many for a home cook. Two would probably have been sufficient. But hey, they're so easy and cheap, why not? Several of the steps don't take all that much longer for a bunch than for a few. And now I've had enough practice to feel confident I can do custom-made utensils of this kind in case anyone wants 'em.

From left to right are:
- Loose and tight spiral spoons
- Pretzel hook (haven't seen these in commercial sets but it makes sense)
- Forks / fourchettes having one* through four tines
- Circular loops, 22, 18, 14, and 10mm diameter
- Elliptical loops
- Teardrop / pear-shaped loops

(* What -- a one-tined fork? Well, it might come in handy and it used up a short bit of left-over wire and the last piece of dowel. Calling something that doesn't actually fork a "fork" might cause semantic or philosophical troubles but I doubt they'll affect the candies.)

I had the doweling already, as well as glue, wood stain, and mineral oil. The only cost was for the wire, $8 for two whisks. I already had all the tools needed: pliers (end-cutting nippers or diagonal cutters, needle-nose, plain old slip-joint), "Mouse" sander with fine sandpaper plus a few loose scraps of extra-fine sandpaper for hand-sanding, electric drill with small bits, hammer and anvil (used the anvil surface on top of my heavy vise), tapered triangular metal file, paper towels for applying stain and oil and for wiping off excess of each. No bending jigs, I formed all the shapes by eye. Close enough, I reckon.

Now I must wait until after Hallowe'en so I can buy some cheap chocolate to practice with. :-} And eventually, the good stuff.
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