Chocolate, Just Chocolate. Part Two: The Assembly.
Last night, it happened again.
I was just sitting there, doing my thing like any other night. Chatting about what a derecho is with my roommate, checking up on the world at large via Facebook, randomly typing away every now and then.. w hen it happened. It was there. And there. And all over there. I had chocolate in my hands, in my mouth, and (randomly) smudged on my cheek. Curses! Now I was left with nothing more than a pleasantly sweet aftertaste between my molars. It was as if I had lost time, going into a fold of the chocolate time continuum.
Once I had recomposed myself and wiped the chocolate off my face, I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror dramatically, like one of those moments in a movie where the protagonist has an epiphany (or a breakdown). I knew what I had to do.
I had to make my own chocolate.
I am also a champion at making my life more difficult than it needs to be in all cases. I mean, why would I BUY puff pastry if I could just fabricate my own laminated dough? Why would I buy a pint of ice cream when I could just laboriously crank a stupid little home freezer to get the satisfaction of a job well done? Why get a useful degree when I could go to art school? This time though I got lucky. Making chocolate really isn’t that hard to do, it just involves some time, sugar and cacao.
Currently I’m waiting on my order of beans to come in, so I can’t describe to you the
tedious fascinating process of chocolate making with any expertise on the matter. However, I can give you a primer on how easy it is to make a bar of chocolate from my exhaustive research on the topic. Next week, I believe that I should have a much greater appreciation for the chocolatiers of the world. In the meantime, lets dive in.
Making chocolate really isn’t difficult to do. The process really boils down to preparing the beans, grinding them with flavorings and sugar and tempering it. (Just think, all those years we’ve been just buying bars of it.) I read countless recipes and anecdotes on the subject, but here’s the straight deal on what goes on with making chocolate.
First, if you’re really going to be a purist, you’re going to need to dry and ferment the cocoa beans that you’ve harvested from the pods. Unless you live anywhere near where you can locate an actual cacao tree, this is probably going to be unnecessary as most of the beans that you can buy have already been dried and fermented for you. The fermentation period helps chocolate develop different nuances in its flavor, while the drying makes things easier to ship, store and use.
Next, you’re going to have to roast and peel your cocoa beans. This is not only easy, but fragrant! The cocoa bean roasting phase goes in two parts. First, the beans are roasted at a higher temperature to crack the shells on the outside of the bean (which you’re not going to use). Then the temperature is dropped to gently toast the beans enough so that more bloom of the flavor can come out. As an added bonus, when you toast your beans the air is wonderfully perfumed by the smell of hot chocolate. Aww yeah son.
After that, the toasty beans are going to have to be cracked and winnowed. Sounds technically complicated and fancy, right? Wrong. The easy way to do this at home really just involves whacking the toasted beans in a plastic bag to crack them all up, then putting them in a big bowl and blasting air on them to scuttle away the shells. It’s so easy that anyone with a hairdryer and some outdoor space can do it. Blast those shells seven ways to Sunday, annihilate them with your cold shot button!
So that part looks like the fast and easy part, despite that it sounds like a lot of work. The next step is to get down to the nitty gritty of actually making the prepared cacao beans into something that resembles a Hershey bar. That’s where the art and science of chocolate combine.
The formula for making chocolate is really quite flexible. As I am a horrible mathematician, I’m going to explain this out so that any art majors will understand it as well. Lets say you’re a freak (like me) who likes chocolate so dark and bitter that it’ll make your teeth sweat. If you wanted a 90% (or even 95%!) dark chocolate bar, you would formulate like this:
1 bar of chocolate= 100% (For example, 100 grams.)
Cocoa solids= 90% of the bar. (90 grams beans.)
Sugar= 10% of the bar. (10 grams sugar.)
That’s IT! Well, technically. Although this is all that you’ll really need to make chocolate, as you grind the beans and sugar things may get a little thick and gunk up the machinery you’re going to use. To remedy this, you can add 10-15% of the total weight of the bar in pure cocoa butter to help with thinning things out. I personally cannot vouch for if adding the cocoa butter solids will contribute to a waxy feeling and tasting bar, but its an option if you need to not burn out a food processor or spice grinder.
Aside from that, you can add in whatever you like to enhance the flavor of your chocolate. Cinnamon, vanilla beans, chili, nuts, whatever. That’s up to you, but I may suggest adding more solid things to the chocolate as you let it dry, just to prevent a headache.
So once you formulate, all you need to do is grind and scrape all of that stuff. In a food processor or non-burr coffee grinder, add your beans, sugar and (if necessary) cocoa butter solids. Pulse the whole shebang to grind it all up, then get things going on a full on puree. Periodically scrape down the sides of your processor or grinder to make sure that everything is getting ground up all at once. Keep grinding and grinding and grinding everything until your chocolate gets super soupy (thanks to the cocoa butter that is being released from the beans as you grind them.) It would really be tough to overgrind things at this point, so consider less being more. Also, you don’t want grit in your bar, so grind the bejeezus out of your beans.
Once you have the chocosoup ready, you need to conch it. Conching is a way of driving out any remaining acidic notes in the chocolate through slow and thorough grinding. If you were to see this being done commercially the process can take days and involves machines with tiny metal beads that keep stirring the chocolate at a controlled temperature for a very long time. However, at home you can do the same thing with a warmed mortar and pestle. You just have to pour in the raw chocolate into the warmed vessel and grind away at it until your arm feels like its going to declare mutiny. Seems legit.
Since you won’t be doing this for days at a time, you might consider straining your conched chocolate through a china hat before tempering it to remove any remaining lumps and bits, but that may just be more trouble than its worth. But now you’re at the very last step of chocolate making before you can eat it- tempering. This part is easy and fun.
To temper the chocolate, you need a marble slab and a thin metal spatula. Then all you do is pour the chocolate on the slab and use the spatula to keep the chocolate moving as it cools and begins to solidify. The tempering will give the chocolate a nice sheen,texture and snap, but if you’re really desperate for a chocolate fix it’s not entirely necessary. Keep moving and scraping the chocolate until its fairly solid, then put it in your molds to harden (or leave it on the slab). This should take between a few minutes and a few hours, I’m not 100% sure on this. Either way, it’s a nice touch and the tempered chocolate that you’ll have made can be used as a seed bar for future batches if you save a little of it.
Also, if you’re going to add any solid stuff to your chocolate, now is the time to do it, before everything hardens up.
Once the bars are hardened, they’re ready to eat them or store them in a cool, dry place. Impressive and (dare I say) easy?
Stay tuned, once my beans come in I’ll put this to the test when I make my own bars of Hannah Nordgren Private Reserve! Excitement!