Although our kitchen is stocked with top-of-the-line equipment that allows us to create fantastic dishes, all in-house, there’s one tool that we don’t have: a 3D food printer.
Last year we collaborated with 3D Systems Culinary to create 3D-printed sugar sculptures, shaped like the colorful chimneys atop the Güell Palace, designed by Antoni Gaudí. The sculptures were used as “sugar cubes” during the absinthe service for our dinner honoring chef Ferran Adrià. We watched the sugar chimneys dissolve through a 3D-printed slotted spoon, designed to cradle it perfectly, as the absinthe was poured—a striking way to end the 50-course meal.
Those sugar chimneys fueled our fascination with reproducing architectural marvels and our continuing partnership with 3D Systems Culinary.
When 3D food printers are discussed, comparisons are frequently made to the technologies and gadgets that are depicted in science fiction. It’s hard to avoid, after all. Many of us remember the replicator from Star Trek that could instantly prepare a single martini or a full meal by rearranging subatomic particles. It was perfect for voyages into deep space and seemed especially appealing after a long day at work when a materialized drink or warm meal would hit the spot.
3D food printing doesn’t work like a replicator, though. 3D printers work to create foods in different ways, but the process starts with a digital design. The design can be original, made with software, or scanned using a 3D scanner. Before the design is uploaded to the printer, a program slices it into thin, horizontal layers that the printer can read. To create the sugar chimneys, 3D Systems Culinary used the ChefJet Pro, the first professional-grade culinary 3D printer. The ChefJet Pro works a lot like making frosting in a bowl; it adds the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, just very, very precisely, layer by layer. It can incorporate food dyes into each layer, to produce photographic-quality color pieces. When the print is complete, compressed air is used to remove excess dry ingredients, revealing the finished sculpture.
3D food printing is still novel to most of us, although foods like frozen pancakes are made in a similar way. Some of the applications of 3D food printing are similar to its science fiction counterpart. NASA is investigating how 3D printers can feed astronauts on long missions. 3D food printing already has practical, terrestrial applications—some German nursing homes use it to create softer foods for patients with dysphagia, a difficulty in swallowing. 3D printing has created a new world of pastry applications, expanding what we can create with sugar and chocolate. We can create shapes and designs that would be impossible by hand, including elaborate architectural structures.
Let Them Eat Brioche
When 3D Systems Culinary reached out to us about a new collaboration, we were just on the heels of constructing Casa Batlló in gingerbread. A 3D-printed structure made out of sugar was the perfect way to highlight what 3D Systems Culinary can do. We also happened to be deep into the development of our brioche recipe, so we had the buttery bread on our minds. We connected the dots, from an ornate building to a sumptuous French bread, and found ourselves transported to the opulence of Versailles.
Bread is irrevocably woven into the history of Versailles. If Marie Antoinette said anything to the hungry peasants and sans-culottes it was to advise them to eat brioche instead of cake. Brioche was incredibly expensive, a luxury for the rich, and a far cry from the crusty whole-grain loaves that were eaten by the poor. Although the famous quote most likely belonged to a princess who lived 100 years before the revolution, bread still plays an important role in the history of the château. By October 5, 1789, the undercurrents of the French Revolution were already in motion, and flour and bread had been scarce for some time. Louis XVI and his family remained blissfully, and purposefully, ignorant at Versailles, a symbol of the disparity between the immense wealth of few and the poverty of the masses. Prices were high, tensions had escalated, and a crowd of angry working-class women was close to rioting at the market. The crowd grew into a mob of thousands that then began the long march to Versailles, armed with pitchforks and whatever they could find. Their siege forced Louis and his family to leave the picturesque castle to return to the realities of Paris. On July 14, 1789, less than a year later, a crowd of revolutionaries laid siege on the Bastille, signaling the beginning of the French Revolution.
Our sugar Versailles began with a sketch by head chef Francisco Migoya, which 3D Systems Culinary transformed into a 3D digital model that could then be printed in sugar. The design of the enormous château was simplified because of the scale.
The structure had to fit around a brioche, even if the brioche was somewhat larger than normal. The 3D structure captures the incredible detail of the architect Louis Le Vau’s work and grandiose Baroque architecture—the repetition and symmetry of the windows and gates as well as the detailed moldings of filigree and foliage. Back at The Cooking Lab we designed an acrylic foundation, which we laser cut to resemble the grounds of the château.
Once the 3D printed sugar structure was delivered by the 3D Systems Culinary team, head chef Migoya baked an incredibly rich brioche. True to the project, it’s totally decadent—eggy, buttery, subtly sweet, and utterly delicious. He began construction by coating the brioche in a glaze of pectin and water, then topped it with gold leaf as a nod to the façade of Versailles. Gold leaf is safe to eat and has been consumed throughout history; ancient Egyptian royalty mixed gold in with their food, even incorporating it into breads.
Next, he painted a glaze on the base and covered it with grass (panko) to incorporate even more bread, mixed with Chlorella for color. The panko was patted down to fix it to the foundation, the brioche was centered, and, finally, the 3D-printed detail was placed over the loaf. Meringue rosebushes were added to the garden as a final flourish.
We served the brioche as it would have been eaten in 18th-century France—with a fat dollop of whipped cream (because everything is better with whipped cream), and then we added farm-fresh raspberries for a bright pop of color.
We hope you enjoy our latest collaboration with 3D Systems Culinary, and we look forward to our next sweet construction project!