Spherification of Butter

In the Modernist Techniques Forum
So my idea is to spherify butter; I do have good reasons, and will post a recipe when it works. But the spherification isn't working.

Version 1:
Clarified butter, warm, immersion blended with 2.5% calcium lactate, .5% xanthan gum. Drop in cold 5% sodium alginate water bath, etc.

Butter freezes in bath, no sign of gel formation. When heated in warm water, it melts to nothing.

Version 2:
Same process, but spherify in 140F alginate bath.

Gelling happens, but butter is white and gunky looking, does not form sphere, resulting taste is of wet, dilute butter.

1. Is there a way to spherify butter that draws on similar approaches?

2. Form half-spheres of butter and freeze, then dip in a high-temperature gel liquid to coat.

Any thoughts?

10 Replies So Far


I made a small butter half-sphere and froze it with a toothpick stuck in. I made a standard 1% agar solution and heated it and so forth as usual. I dipped the sphere in the solution to coat, then stuck it, toothpick down, in the fridge. After 5 minutes, I did another coat. Then I removed the toothpick, thinking to drip a last little bit of agar solution onto the hole. The agar skin adhered to the toothpick and pulled off. I re-froze the butter and tried again, this time without the toothpick, but the agar adhered to the surface I put it on to rest. I am considering trying again, no toothpick, and dropping the coated ball in ice water.

Any other ideas or thoughts?
Tried again. This time, following an idea from Wylie Dufresne, I let the agar solution drop to 118F before dipping the frozen butter sphere.

The problem is, if there is even the slightest break in the coating, the butter just melts out and you're left with nothing.

Next up, I'm going to try Dufresne's kappa-carrageenan coating that he used on his carrot sorbet. Maybe that will give me what I want.

At this point, unless Dufresne's version works, I'm stumped. Anyone have any ideas?
I feel like I need to put something in the butter to keep it from just melting out, but most of the chemicals I know don't disperse or melt in lipids (fat). The ones that do tend to make the fat either solid or opaque. I want liquid, transparent. But this thing is just insistent on not working!
I know trying to spherify fat is pretty tough since some of the ingredients don't actually dissolve in it. I think Ferran Adria did olive oil ones by freezing the olive oil in small balls, then coating with a mixture of water / calcium, which was then dipped into a sodium alginate bath to gel. That'd be my best guess, but not sure how feasible it is by hand.
While I continue to tinker with gel coatings, I have a new idea that might work. I'm thinking I'll cook butter very gently in water for a while, possibly sous vide. The idea is to get the flavor of the butter to infuse into the water, without the fat. Then this water will be thickened slightly with agar gel to give a creamy mouthfeel. Then I'll put in reverse spherification ingredients and spherify in sodium alginate. My theory is that because it's water and not fat, it'll spherify just fine.

For my first attempt, I'm just going to cook the butter water and see how that goes. If it tastes right, I will add the spherification chemicals, split the butter water into two, and in one of them shear in some agar gel, weighing it out as I go until I get a creamy mouthfeel. Then I'll try reverse spherification and see if it works.

Another thing I might have to do is add a teeny bit of anatto powder or something to get that rich yellow color, but it might not really be necessary--an interesting surprise: clear butter!

Wish me luck!
Okay, so this time I processed butter sous vide with water and a little white wine for 3 hours, 175F/80C. Then I chilled the bag overnight and strained the liquid. It tastes modestly of butter and wine.

Next I tried two approaches to reverse spherification.

In version 1, I dispersed 2.5g calcium lactate and .5g xanthan gum in 100g of the cold liquid, using an immersion blender. It became white and creamy, much like cream. I attempted to reverse spherify this (.5% sodium alginate solution). The stuff floated and would not drop, leaving me with a rather flattened blob rather than a sphere. When heated (3 min. @ 140F/60C), it remained white with a hint of translucency.

In version 2, I replaced the xanthan gum with 10g of premade 1% agar gel and sheared well. It is again white and opaque, but less so than with the gum. I am now waiting for it to settle and de-foam in the fridge; I wonder if it will become clear eventually. Then I'll try the spherification again.


1. I used Bob's Red Mill brand xanthan gum. Is that not pure, or in some strange way naturally opaque?

2. Why does this stuff float so insistently?

3. Why am I getting high opacity in general? The original liquid was slightly hazy, the agar gel is clear, and the calcium lactate is powder.

4. Could my problems come from having calcium ions in my water supply? Other than that I can't think why I'm getting such a different result from expected.
2 - In general, it's just heavier than water so it won't sink. Maybe you can freeze it in hemi-spherical molds before the spherification process so you can more easily push it under the surface without it losing its shape
Okay, I have sort of solved it. I didn't get what I wanted, precisely, but it works.

* 35g water
* 1g agar
* 1.5g xanthan gum
* 2.5g calcium lactate
* 60g butter
* Heat water with agar, gum, and calcium lactate, whisking constantly until fully dissolved. Cool. While processing fast, pour in melted butter slowly; it should emulsify into a mayonnaise-type consistency.
* Pour the result into shaped molds; I used hemisphere silicon molds.
* Freeze solid.
* Make up a .5% sodium alginate bath of cold water for reverse spherification. Let stand for an hour or so to be sure it clears completely.
* Drop hemispheres into alginate bath, making sure they don't touch at all. The hemispheres will float. As soon as possible, get them to float curved-side up and baste occasionally with alginate solution. Let them process about 8 minutes. Note that if you touch them directly with the basting spoon, the delicate gel skin may break.
* Scoop the gelled hemispheres into a bath of cold water. After about 1/2 hour, scoop very carefully into another bath. Leave them there and refrigerate until ready to use.
* To use, put the hemispheres into 140F water for 3 minutes or so, until quite warm through.

If all goes well, you should have little hemispheres of pure butter flavor. They will be white-ivory, soft, and rather delicate.

Almost there! It works. But it does take a good 15-20 minutes of warming at the end to get them hot through.

One more step and I'm ready to post a full recipe:

If I do flavor-infusion by sous vide (like Jason's rosemary-sage oil) using butter instead, is there anything I need to watch out for? I was thinking butter, garlic, and herbs, SV at 140F for 3 hours. Thoughts?
Sounds like you've almost got it figured out!

The infusion should work fine, be sure to wash and dry the herbs well though. And you should probably do a test with and without garlic, it doesn't always impart a great flavor at the lower temperatures. Though I did use it successfully in one infused oil at a low temp.

If you are interested in posting a "real" recipe, go ahead and take some pictures when you are done and I'd love to put it in the actual recipe section of the site, with full credit to you of course. If that is of interest to you, we can touch base when you're done with it.

Glad it's still moving along for you!

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