This post contains affiliate links.
The chocolate fountain has become a staple in large events, both formal and informal. From business gatherings to weddings, a glistening fountain of liquid decadence always inspires a moment of awe and excitement in attendees from all walks of life. Thanks to the modern market, anyone can buy or rent a chocolate fountain for their own functions! The only issue with this awesome power of ours is the question of how much chocolate is going to be enough?
An easy formula to determine how much chocolate is needed for a chocolate fountain is to add 1 pound of chocolate for every 10 guests— or 20, if there are other desserts present.
|Chocolate||1 lb chocolate||2.5 lbs chocolate||5 lbs chocolate||10 lbs chocolate||20 lbs chocolate|
What kind of chocolate should I use?
A good fountain chocolate typically has a high percentage of cocoa butter, allowing for the chocolate to melt and flow evenly without adding oil to the mixture. The ideal chocolate for this is called “couverture,” which is a French word meaning “cover,” and generally contains 32-39% cocoa butter. (source) This natural fat content results in a silkier appearance and a better tasting chocolate. Thankfully, there are chocolates— usually sold in pellet or wafer form— whose formulas are calculated specifically for chocolate fountains. While these are easiest and most pleasing to use overall, they can get quite pricey.
Another option is to make your own chocolate mix. Semi-sweet, milk, or white chocolate can be melted and mixed with an oil, either canola or vegetable, or cocoa butter to get the same texture as the specially formulated wafers. However, this method comes with the risk of the final product having a slightly slimy, gritty texture, when the oil and sugar don’t quite mix properly. The ideal ratio for home concoctions is around 55% chocolate and 45% oil. (source)
A cheaper alternative to both kinds of chocolate is to use a chocolate syrup (or chocolate coating as it is called in the culinary world). Chocolate syrup, already liquid, still gives you the classic sweetness of chocolate without as much hassle. However, the drawback here is that syrup is much thinner than melted chocolate, and will not coat whatever dessert dipped in it as well as couverture would.
Where can I get a good chocolate fountain?
Since its transition from a delicacy only for the elite to a confection available to anyone in the mid-1800s, people have gone crazy for cocoa. In the 200+ years since then, as more candies are created and as modern technology makes distribution easier, our love for the stuff has only grown. Certainly our capacity to consume the sugary substance would confound and amaze our ancestors. None more so, it is safe to claim, than the invention of the chocolate fountain, which allows people of any class or background to taste the sweet treat at parties, galas, events— you name it!— with ease and style.
While there are several options for sourcing your chocolate fountain, the first question to consider is much the same as for other large purchases— to rent or to buy? Take a moment to assess the sugary situation at hand: how many people will it need to be capable of serving, and how frequently do you intend to use it? If the event in question is just a one-and-done experience, like a wedding or anniversary, renting from a reputable source might be the better option. Or perhaps this chocolatey affair is the first of many, sparking a previously undiscovered affinity for the extravagant (or a budding business) and owning a fountain of your own may be more practical in the long run.
Another element to consider is how many people the sugary centerpiece will need to be capable of serving. Sizes of fountains available vary from vendor to vendor, with some companies providing chocolate centerpieces nationwide, and some sourcing events more locally by city or state. For a smaller gathering, say, only 50 guests or so, a small self-service 19” fountain, fitting around 5lbs of chocolate at a time, would suffice.
Larger commercial fountains, traditionally intended for catering rather than personal use, like the 27″ that serves 50-150 people or the 44″ which serves 150-250 people, frequently come with full service, including a professional to run and maintain the apparatus for you and specified chocolate for melting. Some rental companies also offer package rentals of multiple fountains at once for large-scale events, which, together, are capable of serving up to 400 people with 30lbs of chocolate! Some of the more grand options feature chocolate that drips into cups, making chocolate consumption more efficient (and easier to clean!) than the traditional waterfall of candy.
|Small||50-100||7 pounds||2 hours|
|Medium||150-300||11 pounds||2 hours|
|Large||250-450||20 pounds||2 hours|
Fountains intended for personal use, either for small gatherings or just good old fashioned flamboyant fun, generally range up to 19 inches in height, and can hold around 6 pounds of molten chocolate. Frequently these at-home models are even dishwasher safe, making maintenance easier for the casual user, as they are made of plastic rather than the food-grade stainless steel of the larger catering models. These smaller units are available for purchase at local party stores such as Michael’s, or even superstores like Walmart.
What foods should I dip in a chocolate fountain?
The chocolate is flowing like gold down the streets of El Dorado, its sweet familiar scent floating on the air and warming the soul. Awesome! Now what? As a rule, the rule of hand to go by when selecting foods to dip requires two things: that the food taste good with chocolate and that the food be able to maintain its integrity while submerged in the heavy river of chocolate.
While taste is an opinion which varies from person to person, it is safe to assume that something with a very strong (and messy) flavor, like pickles, may not be a great candidate for the fountain-destined skewer. Not everyone appreciates the sharp bite of pickle with their dutch chocolate. Likewise, even more widely acceptable treats like cake or sweet bread should probably be saved for the more gentle fondue pot, as any fallen crumbs can clog the fountain or disrupt the carefully curated texture of the liquid chocolate. Typically things like fruit, candies, or donuts are safe fare for the fountain.
That being said, something important to note in a fondue type situation where many foods will touch the same substance is any allergies which might be present. Before all events where food is going to be served, it is a good idea to inquire of any food allergies that may exist, especially with chocolate fountains, as fruits or nuts, common components in sweets and dipping material, are also common allergens.
If the event is one where you know that all attendees are fine with any variety of food, go ahead and spread out whatever options your heart desires. However, if there is someone or some-two people present with a pertinent allergy, it may be better to have a small amount of chocolate set aside for them, or to leave any options that may causes a reaction out altogether if feasible. The one exception of course being the chocolate itself. It is likely safe to assume that someone with a chocolate allergy knows to avoid partaking in anything dipped in a chocolate fountain.
How to maintain a chocolate fountain?
The party is in full swing; guests are dancing, music is going, all that is left is to get the chocolate flowing. As previously mentioned, most commercial or catered fountain rentals come with chocolate specifically intended for melting to use along with a specialist to ensure the machine runs smoothly. However, this may not be true for all fountains, especially small fountains that do not require a professional to operate them, and certainly not for personally owned fountains.
Chocolate wafers sold for the sole purpose of fondue or fountains, it is completely fine to just place the wafers in the fountain and turn on the heat and mix function, allowing the fountain to do its thing. For home-curated fondue recipes however, it is best to melt the chocolate before mixing it into the fountain. This is done for two reasons. First, regular baking chocolate does not always melt as easily or evenly as chocolate with higher fat or cocoa butter content. It is for this reason that oil or cocoa butter must sometimes be added in order for it to flow properly on the fountain. Melting it beforehand not only makes the preparation go faster, it also helps to solve another problem with non-fondue chocolate: texture.
One common complaint about chocolate with oil added is the consistency being grainy or slimy; this happens when the oil and sugar don’t mix properly. Melting and mixing the chocolate and oil beforehand in a double-boiler— a pot where water boils below with a bowl or pot on top where the steam heats the chocolate— or microwave allows you to melt and blend it more evenly and completely, making the final product not only aesthetically pleasing, but more pleasing to the palate as well.
Once the chocolate fountain is up and running, it may need to be refilled or replenished after an hour or so, either due to cooling or consumption. At this stage, it is safe to add in additional chocolate pieces unmelted in very small amounts, as long as it does not exceed your chocolate to oil ratio (55% chocolate, 45% oil). For chocolate fountain wafers, it is especially safe to do this, merely ensure that the heating function is switched on once more. Even so, it may be smoother to melt the additional chocolate before adding it in anyways. Adding solid chocolate to a fountain causes it to slow its circulation, which may lead to unpleasing drips or clumps as it waits to be fully melted and incorporated once more.
How to clean a chocolate fountain?
For some chocolate fountain rentals, especially those that are maintained throughout the event by a professional, cleaning is handled by the company themselves. Nevertheless, for smaller rentals or personal fountains cleaning falls to the user. Dealing with chocolate can be a daunting task, especially melted chocolate, which can be especially hard to get out of fabrics or off of surfaces once dried. For this reason it is best to handle the cleaning while the chocolate is still fluid.
Assuming the guests have eaten as much as their stomachs can handle, and you have had as many shots of straight chocolate as you can handle, drain the remaining chocolate into a separate container with the aid of a rubber spatula. This can be for storage or disposal, but it is important it be transferred either to a container or the trash, not the sink, as solidified chocolate can block the drain.
Once that is done, run the fountain for a few minutes filled with hot, soapy water, ensuring that there are no remnants of chocolate left. When you feel confident that no dregs of chocolate remain, unstack the layers of the fountain— basin, auger, auger tube, and tiers— and wash them with soapy water. Some models can be machine washed, but it is absolutely essential to check that they are dishwasher safe first. The last thing you want is a melted basin.
After that, double check for any chocolate residue, carefully dry each component, and voila! The dreaded cleaning is done. At this point, either follow the rental company’s directions for returning the fountain, or store it safely in your own space for later use. Taking proper care of your machine keeps it in mint condition, allowing it to be used for years to come for work events, parties with friends and family, or Friday nights in with yourself.