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Chocolate Fountains

This year (2006) there is a vogue for chocolate fountains as a part of the wedding reception refreshments. Here is a typical inquiry:

Dear Ellen
I was wondering about chocolate fountains. We would like to have one or two or possibly three. I thought it might be nice to have an array of chocolates - dark, milk, white, possibly caramel. So, I was thinking it may be better to buy a few small ones rather then renting a large one. We will have about 150 guests. How much chocololate would I need?

As I wrote Jenny, while I am not opposed to food as entertainment, I have a prejudice about chocolate fountains at large events such as wedding receptions. ALL of them splash chocolate, they also drip and splatter, bad for dressy clothes. Cheap ones jam and are hard to clean up. People stick their fingers in, intentionally or unintentionally, or "double dip" their items. I think a good chocolate fondue in a chafing dish allows for much better quality chocolate and is safer to boot, especially if there are kids in the party. All the usual fountain sauces are tastier with dessert fondue pots, crockpots or chafing dishes... Rent a punch fountain instead! Make dipped strawberries, so they will taste like chocolate dipped strawberries/dipped fruits and be CLEAN. Platters of these would be a lot prettier than the fountain.

That said, one simple way to have a chocolate fountain for an event is to hire a person to bring, run and cater the fountain. You MUST have a continuous attendant for a chocolate fountain.

In the fountain, the chocolate is heated in the basin and then carried to the top of the fountain via a rotating internal shaft or "auger". So any fruit or other "dipper" dropped into the chocolate basin can cause an astonishing disaster. The person attending the fountain must IMMEDIATELY turn off/ unplug the fountain from the electrical outlet, retrieve the sinking piece of fruit or cake with a perforated/ slotted spoon to prevent it from plugging the fountain pump, then plug the fountain back in.

The usual charge for catering this (2006) is around $5.00 per person including fountain, attendant, chocolate, and dippers, with about a $150 minimum. It really does take one whole person's worth of time to manage it. Instructions will be included with the chocolate fountain on operating, dismantling and cleaning. If you rent one yourself to operate, you are responsible for cleaning the chocolate fountain after use before it is returned, and it is a painstaking, rather finicky job.

If you are considering buying a fountain, you MUST do a test run as long as the wedding. Part of the problem is successfully maintaining the dessert for the whole service. Again, it will take one person's attention almost continuously for the entire event. With chocolate fountains, it's vital that temperature control is precise, that the pump is silent and silky smooth, that the flow tree is plastic or stainless steel and not chrome (the chrome will flake off), and that the chocolate is of the best quality. "Sephra" is a reliable home brand.

Fountain Safety

Like punch fountains, these are large, relatively heavy electrical appliances that require some special safety considerations.

Chocolate fountains are inside events. Remember that the chocolate has such an aroma that it will attract gnats and other little flying creatures. In addition, wind can blow chocolate all over your guests! Maintaining a constant warm temperature of chocolate is critical for continued smooth operation of the chocolate fountain, so outdoor weather can interfere with operation.

Supply plenty of disposable plates and napkins at the serving table. Use decorations that will not be harmed by spattering, dripping chocolates. Also, place a small garbage can near the fountain so your guests can easily discard their disposables. A patterned or dark colored tablecloth for the base of the fountain will help hide any chocolate drips.

If possible, set up the fountain on its own round table just large enough to reach across easily. The fountain is placed on a table that is sturdy enough to hold up to 85 pounds (40 kilograms) of weight and is close to a power socket.

Make sure the fountain tiers are correctly assembled with the curves up. They do not catch or pool the chocolate like a bowl; it runs off.

Plug the fountain directly into a wall outlet on a 20 amp circuit. It needs its own circuit; it CANNOT be used on the same circuit as percolators, microwaves, or other appliances. TAPE DOWN THE CORD TO THE FLOOR with heavy duty duct tape. The use of an extension cord is not recommended. If you must use an extension cord, please use a heavy-duty (at least 12 gauge) extension cord. If one must be used, refer to the national and local electrical codes. Do NOT use an adapter to get around grounding requirements.

Select the correct size of fountain. A home fountain is OK for up to 25 people, while the largest ones, nearly 4 feet tall, hold 20 pounds of chocolate and serve 200 to 250 persons.

THE UNIT MUST BE LEVEL TO OPERATE PROPERLY. Level the fountain: On most commercial fountains, the feet on the fountain are adjustable to allow you to level the fountain for consistent flow. Uneven sheeting of chocolate over the fountain tiers is usually the result of the chocolate fountain not standing level or of chocolate fondue is too thick and needs additional oil or cocoa butter added. A loud ”knocking” noise when the chocolate is running in the machine shows the machine is not level.

Never cover the vent holes that are located on the base unit directly under the bowl that holds the chocolate. Blocking these holes with linens, flowers or other decorations, will cause the mortor to overheat. The fountain should sit at least 1⁄4”from the surface on which it sits to allow sufficient airflow to enter the base and cool the motor.

Plug in. There is usually an on/off switch, a heat control switch for melting the chocolate and a separate switch for turning on and off the "fountain" part, called the auger. Set the temperature control for 250° ONLY if you prepare to melt your chocolate in the bowl itself. Chocolate chips or callets can be added directly to the pan in the fountain base and heated until melted. After your chocolate is melted, reduce heat to 150°.

When you first turn the auger on, as the chocolate reaches the top tier, turn the Chocolate Fountain off! Leave for ONLY one minute. This will get rid of any air bubbles on the auger.

DO NOT start the auger before the melted chocolate is ready in the bowl.. The auger motor generates heat and is designed for approximately 2 to 3 hours of use. Operating the fountain for a substantially longer period or operating the fountain with the auger running and the heat on at a higher setting could cause the motor to overheat. If the auger is turned off for more than a few minutes, the chocolate in the auger tube will harden. The auger tube will need to be cleaned out before the auger can be restarted. Forcing the auger to spin with the hardened chocolate in the auger tube will cause damage to the motor. If the motor is strained, the reset breaker will turn off the motor. Once the auger tube is cleaned, the motor can be restarted by pressing the reset button that is usually under the on/off switch.

It must be melted/made/mixed on site as the auger and fountain are warming up.

You need 5 to 20 pounds of melted chocolate in place before starting the fountain, depending on the size of the fountain. You CAN melt the chocolate directly in the bowl, but it takes over an hour, so you have to start about 2 hours before you want to use the fountain. MICROWAVING or DOUBLE BOILER PREHEATING IS RECOMMENDED.

Add chocolate carefully. Beginning to melt chocolate you should stir the chocolate frequently, and you may have to melt what the basin can easily hold, and then briefly pump it up into the central cylinder to create enough room to add and melt more chocolate in the basin to complete the proper amount of chocolate needed for smooth even curtains of cascading chocolate.

MICROWAVING THE CHOCOLATE Pre-melting your chocolate or sauce recipe in a microwaveable zip-lock bag speeds the maintenance of the fountain. The chocolate MUST be placed in the microwave in the bag with the proper amount of oil added (a good estimate is 1/2 cup of vegetable oil per 5 pounds of high quality chocolate) on medium power for 3 minutes. Then the chocolate should be stirred by smashing the bag around- hold in oven gloves, it will be hot- or with a rubber scraper and put back in the microwave. Microwave again on low power for an additional one to three minutes. Carefully pour the melted chocolate into the preheated fountain, preheated 3-5 minutes at 100 .
Any blackening of the chocolate hints that it is burnt, if this occurs, discard it. It will spoil the entire batch.

DOUBLE BOILER METHOD: For 20 pounds of chocolate, you will need a heat resistant plastic, metal, or stainless container with similar dimensions to 30x12x12, ALSO a metal container with slightly larger dimensions for the hot water bath.

  1. Place 20 pounds of chocolate tablets or pieces into the container measuring 30x12x12.
  2. Then place this container inside the container with the larger dimension on top of stove.
  3. Fill the outside container with water.
  4. Turn on the stove to a medium high flame.
  5. Constantly watch the water bath, refilling as needed to make sure the water does not evaporate.
  6. Stir the chocolate occasionally throughout the melting process.
  7. As it melts smoothly, pour 4 cups of canola oil into the chocolate and stir well.
  8. Your chocolate is now ready for the fountain.

Additional melted chocolate can be added to a chocolate fountain while it is in use. Also, it is necessary to turn machine off and on for a minute every 20-30 minutes to re-prime the pump, to remove air bubbles and keep the flow consistent.

If the chocolate starts to harden once the fountain is in operation, turn the heat dial to 180 for several minutes, and add a little bit of vegetable oil. NEVER turn the dial to high heat when using chocolate, as the machine will overheat.

Cleaning the Chocolate Fountain

Warm/hot water is best to clean the fountain. The usual fountain disassembles into four parts, the auger tube, the auger, the bowl and tiers, and the base. DO NOT immerse the base of the fountain in water!!! It is electrical and will be ruined.
  • First, clean the machine as soon as you turn it off. If the chocolate hardens, it will be very difficult to clean. Wear short sleeves, put on a long apron or a garbage bag tunic, and plastic gloves. Gather your equipment and get ready to empty the fountain. You need a ladle and spatula, several garbage bags, empty containers, approximately 30x12x12 to hold the parts; a couple rolls of paper towels or about six clean dish towels
  • Turn the fountain off. With the spatula, scrape off as much excess chocolate as possible into fountain base.
  • Lift off top hat and place into empty container. Pull the auger off of the t-shaft, remove tiers if applicable, and place it in one of the containers. Remove the auger tube by simply pulling it up off the four stainless posts.
  • Clean all parts except the base with hot water, rinse off the parts in the container and place in dishwasher.
  • Empty the base. With ladle, empty all possible chocolate into another container or zippered freezer bags. Wipe out any remaining chocolate with wet clothes.
  • The INSIDE of the bowl can be filled with water for cleaning. DO NOT IMMERSE THE BASE IN WATER!!! Once excess chocolate is out and the base is clean, dry with a cloth or paper towels.
  • Either discard the leftover chocolate or use for other desserts. DO NOT try to reuse/reheat the chocolate in the fountain, it will not work the second time. Never dispose of left over chocolate down a sink drain.

    Dippers- Foods to dip in a chocolate fountain

    Make everything bite size so no double dipping is necessary. You need about 40 bamboo skewers for each pound of chocolate to be served. Don't try to use toothpicks- fingers get messy and bites fall off and need to be fished out of the bowl. Crumbs are the chocolate fountain's sworn enemies, so avoid crumbly dippers such as regular layer cake.

    You want about 8 pieces of various dippers per person for a full dessert, or about 5 pieces for a reception.

    • 2-5 fruit pieces per person, usually including 2 strawberries (see the fruit tray page for info on how many pieces in various types and sizes of fruit). Can be fresh or dried, but all fruits need to be air dry before being dipped. I never use bananas for a large crowd, they look so bad after a short time out, even with Fruit Fresh. Cherries, large seedles grapes, pineapple chunks, apple chunks, melon chunks, rainbow skewers consisting of raspberries, blackberries, and kiwi; the fruit should be a bit firm to carry the weight of the chocolate. Among the dried fruits, try glaceed (softer) dried apricots, figs, pineapple, mango or papaya. Try to avoid maraschino cherries- the fountain is messy enough, and these cherries fall off the stems with a messy "plop"- between the red and the chocolate, the stains never come out.
    • 2 large marshmallows or large caramels or small fudge squares
    • 2 pretzels rods (short twists)or potato chips
    • 1 nut cluster, peanut brittle, mini praline, small coconut macaroon, mini cream puff, Rice Krispies Treat squares, or S'mores.
    • One to 2 ounces (one to three nice squares or fingers) of firm pound cake or angelfood cake or other starchy sweet can be added (mini biscotti, lady fingers, deluxe cookies, graham crackers, oreos, ginger snaps, animal crackers, mini donuts or glazed donut holes, brownie bites, cheese cake bites) per person if no other cake is being served. They look great and reduce costs. USE A LADLE TO COVER THESE ITEMS WITH CHOCOLATE, to avoid crumbs and broken pieces in the bowl.
    • Unusual items, such as hard frozen ice cream balls can be used. USE A LADLE TO COVER THESE ITEMS WITH CHOCOLATE.

    Chocolate Sauces and Other Options

    Dark chocolate is the most popular, and Belgian is usually recommended. It provides a good flow of chocolate for many hours and it looks beautiful in the chocolate fountain. Dark chocolate is served and melted at a higher temperature which allows the chocolate aroma to fill the room and makes scorching less likely. Milk chocolate and white chocolate are served and melted at much lower temperatures because they are very heat sensitive and require special attention to ensure the milk doesn't scald or thicken in the fountain.

    The sauce/chocolate depends on the fountain, but allow for at least 1/4 cup per person. As a general rule, 20 pounds of chocolate will feed 200+ people. It must be high fat "couveture" chocolate (cocoa butter 33-60%). If using chocolate chips, you generally must add oil or cocoa butter.

    Here is a recipe that can be used in a small fountain. You need to triple it for a 5 pound fountain.

    Chocolate Almond Fondue

    1 1/4 cups half-and-half
    1 teaspoon almond extract
    24 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
    1/2 cup amaretto In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine half-and-half and almond extract. Heat until bubbles begin to form at edge of cream. Do not boil. Reduce heat to low and stir in chocolate chips, stirring constantly. Once all of the chocolate is melted and incorporated, slowly stir in amaretto until combined. Pour chocolate mixture into fondue pot or preheated chocolate fountain and serve with goodies for dipping.

    NON-Chocolate Sauces and Other Options

    Because these sauces are not as smooth as melted chocolate, the fondue curtain will not always flow the same way it does with chocolate. Any fondues with “chunks” can jam the machine and will cause gaps in the curtain as it comes over the tiers. For best visual appeal, choose fondues that are smooth.
    You can check the mix by pouring through a large funnel. Fondue should run through funnel within 8-10 seconds.

    Suggested dipping items: apples, pears, chocolate-covered pretzels, cookies
    5 parts liquid caramel plus 1 part water
    Mix caramel and water in saucepan over low heat and then transfer to the fountain. Caramel naturally thickens as it is heated and worked with. Periodically thin out with water throughout event (approx every 45 minutes). Caramel should be stirred occasionally in the basin to help prevent air bubbles from forming
    Heat: Low for best results

    Nacho Cheese
    Suggested dipping items: tortilla chips, mini tacos, breadsticks, cocktail sausages
    5 parts canned nacho cheese plus 1 part water
    Start with any store-bought liquid nacho cheese. Large cans are available at many wholesale stores. Mix cheese and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently to achieve the correct consistency, and then transfer to the fountain. Add more water as needed.
    Heat: Medium

    Alternative: Homemade Queso for the Fountain
    10 pounds velveeta cheese
    2 quarts of heavy cream
    2 quarts of picante sauce
    a little cumin and other spices of your choice

    Puree the picante sauce in a blender, pour picante through a fine mesh strainer to remove any large chunks.
    Place in a large heavy pan, add cheese, heavy cream, and salsa to a stock pot and heat over medium flame stirring frequently so it doesn't scorch.
    Once it begins to melt, reduce the heat to low and simmer until completely melted.

    BBQ Sauce
    Suggested dipping items: buffalo wings, ribs, chicken strips
    6 parts medium-grade * BBQ sauce plus 1 part water or apple juice
    * Premium-grade BBQ sauce will require additional thinning.
    Mix BBQ sauce with water or apple juice in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir well and add to the fountain.
    Heat: Medium

    Ranch Dressing
    Don't turn the heat on!
    Suggested dipping items: fresh veggies (carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, celery), potato skins, chicken strips
    light ranch dressing plus water (if needed)
    Use light ranch dressing for best results. Some brands of ranch will need to be thinned out with water in order to flow properly. Add to fountain.
    Heat: OFF