Now for the home: chocolate fountains

This holiday season, the tabletop chocolate fountain emerged as the product so ubiquitous you could barely swing a shopping bag without hitting a pyramid of the things.

Versions of the appliance - really the return of the fondue pot with a cascade function - range from the deluxe Sephra model ($245.95) on the cover of the new Williams-Sonoma holiday catalogue to a plastic, battery-operated toy from Rose Art (less than $20 at Wal-Mart). We spotted variations at BJ's, including one for $49.99 from Living Home and a $90 Sephra. (A Sephra model is pictured at left.)

Big commercial fountains continue to be rented out at bar mitzvahs and weddings. But a handful of manufacturers have now "massified" the device. Instant fad.

A higher price indicates more stainless-steel parts and quieter electric motors. We tested a Chocolate Fondue Fountain (Nostalgia Electronics) for $29.99 at CVS. It turned 24 ounces of microwave-melted Nestlé chips - with 3/4 cup of vegetable oil to ensure fluidity - into a veil of chocolate. (Chocolate with higher cocoa-butter content works without the oil.) Cleanup involved a lot of paper towels; you can't put chocolate into your plumbing. Still, you'll only pull this out a few times a year. So let the cocoa flow this New Year's Eve.

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