Chocolate Just Got More Interesting

Chocolate- and/or sugar-extruding 3D printers have existed on the margins of the pastry world for a year or two. Beginning this week they may just become commonplace, following 3D Systems’ unveiling of the ChefJet at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The cheapest models cost about $5,000, which means only high-end pastry departments will be able to afford them for now. And maybe that’s for the best. I’m not sure I’d eat something like this in front of the TV on a Tuesday night. Photo from Make Magazine.

19 thoughts on “Chocolate Just Got More Interesting”

    1. 3D printers are cool in their own right. Watching one work is a lot of fun. Being able to eat the results…that’s just the icing on the cake!

      – Joe

    1. Hehe…have you ever worked with a regular 3D printer? They’re a blast. They take forever to work, but wow are they fun!

      – Joe

  1. Oh what fun! We’re back to chocolate. }=>

    And everything stays in good temper and has the familiar mouth feel? That example, while a most impressive achievement, seems to have an odd velvet look rather than the crisp shiny surface we might expect.

    1. Yes, well observed, Rainey. It almost looks a little bloomed, no? I’m honestly not sure to what extent tempering is factored into the printing process. I know the melt heads for plastic-extruding printers can be set to very precise temperatures. Of course as we all know chocolate tempering isn’t about a single target temperature but rather a cycle from solid to very warm and back down again. i have a hard time believing that anyone could have designed a 3D chocolate printer without taking tempering into consideration, but you never really know. I’d like to see one in action up close!

      – Joe

      1. I swear I’ve read somewhere that if you take chocolate up to a certain temp it will melt, and if you don’t go past it will technically stay tempered. Nooooot sure though, that certainly screamed not tempered to me.
        However… why not build your own 3d printer, and then use it to make a special extruder for chocolate 😀 A diy 3D printer is more cost effective, I would know.
        We built one, sure its annoying to calibrate and a little costly at first but it’s… been rather fun. And when I say we I mean my man, but when I have a job I have plans on a bigger better one.
        It prints faster than I expected it too as well, and is rather… hypnotic to watch. I thought it would be like watching paint dry, but the damn thing draws you in.

        1. Hey Kitty!

          In theory if you melt chocolate at precisely 89 degrees (a little more or less depending on the type of chocolate), then it will maintain its crystalline structure and firm back in tempered form. In practice that’s pretty much impossible. I’ve succeeded in melting (or at least softening) chocolate at exactly 89 degrees in my sous vide cooker, but it’s still too stiff at that point to shape it into much. The heat needed to make it truly spreadable/pourable will take it out of temper, sadly.

          But yeah 3D printers are fun to watch, aren’t they? Pretty soon an hour has gone by and your object is another 10% closer to being done! 😉 I joke, they really are fun. But it makes me wonder how practical a 3D printer is for even the most high-end pastry department. Shapes can take hours to render in any size. Is it practical in a kitchen?

          Thanks for the comment!

          – Joe

          1. ‘tempered’ refers to a state where you have a certain amount of the beta crystal in the liquid chocolate. IIRC it’s something small like 5%. If you temper chocolate, and hold it in a tank at precisely the right temperature, say, 32C for a nice dark couverture, over time it will still thicken, even though it is sitting at exactly the right temperature. The thickening is the propagation of the beta crystal until the whole liquid has turned into a crystallised mass, still perfectly the right temperature, just far too many crystals in it to do anything with!
            easy way to fix: fire your heat gun (or hair dryer!) at the chocolate every now and then to melt out some of those excess crystals.
            Now, back to the topic at hand :p

      2. Do you think they have to add something to chocolate to make it manipulative for their process? I’ve never seen chocolate that looks quite like that. It looks less bloomed to me than flocked like the top of the first Ken dolls’ heads. =o

        1. Ha! Love that comparison. My guess is it’s less about what’s int he chocolate than the nature of the extrusion process. But I’ll try to find out!

          – Joe

    2. Rainey, what you might be observing is an effect of the method by which 3-D printing works. Specifically, when a layer of “ink” is laid down, it’s not necessarily fully contiguous. Rather, it’s comprised of a multitude of small droplets, each of which is deposited at a specific location. If you look at some of the traditional plastic 3-d printed products, you’ll see similar artifacts in the surface finish of the raw construct. Many times, the folks who produce these objects will go over them with a bit of sandpaper to smooth out the appearance. I think that might be unrealistic with an edible construct, although, once printed, I suppose one could dip the whole thing in a thin couverature chocolate simply to smooth it out.

      As to the temper of the chocolate, I’m not sure how it would be maintained, but I suppose that if 1.) the source for the printer were liquid and held in temper, 2.) the temperature of the print chamber were close enough to prevent cooling and clogging of the depositor jets, and 3.) the depositing mechanism was either able to maintain the correct temperature of the “ink” or have heaters precise enough not to break the temper, it should be possible to print a construct in full temper.

      Honestly, for $5,000, I’d hope the designers had put some thought into these issues, and would be able to print a design without breaking temper.


      1. Amen, Chris. For $5,000 I’d think it would be essential.

        3D Systems isn’t the most reliable vendor of printers in my experience, however. So it’s a question worth asking!

        – Joe

          1. Thanks for the tip, Chris! I found an LA Times piece as well. Cheers,

            – Joe

  2. Concerned about you, Joe. I’m hoping you’re just doing other more interesting things than continuing to feel sick or weak.

    1. Honestly not too much, Rainey!

      The flu put the hurt on me but good. I’m over it not but still have a pronounced wrung-out-rag feeling (as my doctor warned me I would). I hope to get back in the swing tomorrow!


      – Joe

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