The idea behind a chocolate fountain is essentially the same as for chocolate fondue: You melt chocolate, and you dip stuff into it. The big difference is that in a straightforward fondue, the chocolate sits in a pot over a warmer and waits for you to come and dig in. In a fountain, the chocolate is pumped up and out over two or more levels, so it makes a sort of waterfall. Sometimes, you’ll see it referred to as a “chocolate fondue fountain,” for that reason.
That means the chocolate in a fountain has to be thin enough to flow evenly without over-working the electric motor that moves the chocolate. Relatively few kinds of chocolate are thin enough to flow, right out of the package, so usually the instructions that come with your fountain will suggest thinning it with vegetable oil.
Basic Proportions of Oil and Chocolate
Plain old supermarket chocolate chips are usually the most cost-effective option for semi-sweet chocolate, but unfortunately, they’re also pretty thick when they’re melted. Four of the standard 12-ounce bags adds up to 3 pounds of chocolate, and a basic chocolate fountain recipe might specify up to 1 3/4 cups of oil for that much chocolate. That’s enough chocolate for 10 to 15 people. If you have a smaller gathering of eight to 12 people, cut back to three bags of chips and 1 1/4 fluid ounces of oil.
If you’re using higher-quality bar chocolate or baking chocolate, those usually contain more cocoa butter than chocolate chips, and they’ll be thinner when they’re melted. That means they often don’t need as much oil to make them flow properly. Start with about 1/3 cup of oil for every pound of chocolate, and then increase the quantity slowly until it’s just slightly thicker than heavy cream.
Melting the Chocolate
The instructions that come with your fondue machine will usually call for the chocolate to be melted and mixed ahead of time. The unit has a heater built in to keep the chocolate warm enough to flow, but it’s not strong enough to melt the chocolate in any kind of reasonable time frame. Instead, you’ll pour already-melted chocolate into the unit’s main reservoir.
For small quantities, you can melt the chocolate in a bowl at half-power in your microwave. Measure the chocolate and oil into a microwaveable mixing bowl, and stir it every 20 to 30 seconds as it melts. When it’s nearly done and just a few lumps remain, take it out and stir it as the retained heat finishes melting the chocolate. This reduces the risk of scorching the chocolate.
You can also melt the chocolate on your stovetop or over a double boiler or an open water bath. Make sure the water is just simmering, and not boiling. Stir the oil and chocolate together until they’re melted and smooth, taking great care not to splash any water into the chocolate. Water can make the chocolate “seize,” or harden, and if it does, you won’t be able to use it in your fountain.
Chocolate Fountain Ideas
Once your chocolate is melted and your fountain is operating, you can move on to the fun stage: finding things to dip. Fruit is always a good choice, ideally served with skewers or fondue forks to keep fingers out of the flowing chocolate. For younger partygoers, marshmallows are another good choice. You can even provide graham crackers to sandwich them to make a kind of s’more.
Various baked goods work well for dipping as well, though you’ll want to choose things that are solid enough to hold together in the stream of chocolate and not break or shed crumbs, which could interfere with the flow of chocolate through the machine. Cream puffs are a good choice, as are ladyfingers, portions of dense pound cake, or shortbread cookies and sugar cookies.
Alternatives to Vegetable Oil
If you’re not keen on using vegetable oil in your fountain, you do have a couple of alternatives. One is to use an alternative fat, such as coconut oil or even cocoa butter, that you’re less uneasy about eating. Another choice is to buy chocolate that’s specifically formulated for fondue or fountains, which costs a bit more but already contains the added fat you’ll need.
One final alternative is to substitute hot cream for the oil. The mixture of cream and chocolate will flow just as easily as an oil and chocolate mix, but the cream mixture – known to chocolate lovers by its French name, ganache – is a tasty ingredient in its own right, usable as a glaze for cakes or as centers for truffles.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.