Chocolate Making Classes

A few weekends ago, we invited over a few friends for an evening for fun, for education, and for a delicious sensory experience. After months of requests to learn more about our chocolate hobby, particularly after our friends spent hours listening to us gush about all the nerdy parts involved, we agreed to put on a chocolate-making class for a few of them!

Richard is particularly good at explaining very complicated engineering and scientific concepts to laypeople like me, so he was excited to show off his gear and teach our friends about the complexities of the process. I love to train people and get them to buy into a process, so I was excited to make our chocolate-making relevant and interesting to our friends with such diverse interests. The challenge was on and we were pumped!

Richard took charge of designing the class: the timing, the components, and the results. I played assistant/back-up resource on the day of. (Side note – it’s very important to divide the labor clearly when working with your spouse. We’re learning how to do that effectively, and this was an excellent example in action.)

Our friends, Julie, Eric, Alex, and Alex, arrived in the early evening, carrying bottles of wine and their favorite spices, which we encouraged them to bring as chocolate flavors. After a lesson on where cocoa beans come from, we taught them about sorting and they divided into teams: girls vs. boys. For the rest of the night, the girls tracked and made decisions about their batch while the boys did the same with their own batch.

They each roasted a batch, operated the winnower, and set their batches in the melanger within the first few hours. After 5-10 minutes of roasting, each group got to taste their beans and decide whether to continue or not. We like do things hands on!

using the winnower

using the winnower

smelling the cooling cacao beans

smelling the cooling cacao beans

We headed out to dinner to let the two batches grind and conche for a little while. Dinner took longer than expected, but that only meant more time in the Premier Wonder Grinder, so it was a blessing in disguise. We came back to the apartment to the delicious smell of grinding chocolate. While we added ground sugar and let it continue on in the melanger for a little while longer, we tasted a variety of other chocolates and drank our wine. What a delicious and relaxing way to make chocolate!

It was time to pull out the liquor! The girls and the boys tempered their separate batches and I must add that though it wasn’t technically a competition, the girls won this part of the process! Our temper turned out beautifully crisp and shiny, while the boys had some technical difficulties. The girls made a plain 72% batch and then a few squares of salted chocolate. The boys decided to make an 85% batch with chipotle flavoring. Both turned out delicious and each couple went home with almost a pound of chocolate.

Overall, the class was a huge success! That said, we learned a lot and have a few adjustments for our next chocolate making experience with friends:

  • Go to dinner for only 1 hour. Yes, the chocolate will be smoother with more time in the melanger, but this made the whole night last longer than expected.
  • Prepare a seed to make tempering easier. We know that sometimes the most frustrating part of making chocolate is having to start over again multiple times when we accidentally allow the temperature to get too high when tempering. To avoid that frustrating for new chocolate-makers, we’ll start with a seed of tempered chocolate, as recommended by the Chocolate Alchemist here.
  • Provide appetizers during the first couple of hours to offset the amount of cocoa beans being tasted. And provide bread or crackers during the chocolate tasting after dinner to eat in between tastes.

Would you be interested in a hands-on chocolate-making experience? Let us know!

Or do you have any tips to energize and spruce up a chocolate-making class? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

single origin chocolate bars

Chocolate Wine Fridge

A few weeks ago, we could no longer close the plastic containers where we stored our chocolate. We realize Rubbermaid containers were no longer a viable solution for the massive amount of chocolate we produce and purchase. It was time for a new addition to our chocolate factory!

So, we found a fancy wine fridge on craigslist that the owner said no longer cooled. Perfect! We hooked it up at home and determined that it is not easily fixed, but the light still works, the door still seals, and the shelves still slide in and out. In other words, we suddenly were in possession of a beautiful and well-organized space to store our chocolate!

chocolate fridge

chocolate fridge

The only hitch in the plan was that the drawers were made for wine bottles, not chocolate. Well, a quick trip to the hardware store and some creative tubing/wiring solved that conundrum! We now have seven shelves of chocolate.

lighted chocolate fridge

Here’s the shelf just for our own chocolate (not the prettiest, but definitely the proudest!):

Bags of Root Chocolate. Packaging soon to come?!

Bags of Root Chocolate. Packaging soon to come?!

And the shelf for our friends’ chocolate (Arete, Confluence, Cocoa Logos, Endorfin, Dandelion):

Chocolate from our friends

Chocolate from our friends

Our single-origin bars from all over the world (Askinosie, Fine and Raw, Raaka, Marou, Castronovo, Manoa, Amedei, Lonohana, Lillie Belle, Vintage Plantations):

single origin chocolate bars

single origin chocolate bars

And the flavored bars (Manoa, Elbow, Antidote, Mast Brothers, Patric, La Colombe Workshop, Cocacu, and Il Morso):

flavored chocolate

flavored chocolate

Some mainstream bars and delicious truffles from our friend, Belinda:

Mainstream chocolate bars and truffles

Mainstream chocolate bars and truffles

And finally, Mexican chocolate (Taza, Guelaguetza)!

Mexican chocolate

Mexican chocolate

Visiting Manoa Chocolate Hawaii

One of our favorite moments on Oahu took place in a traditional Hawaiian establishment in Kailua called Hale Kealoha, with slack key players on stage, hula dancers called up from the crowd, many bowls of delicious and traditional Hawaiian food on the table, and surrounded on all sides by locals. Two of those locals, Dylan and Tammy, sat across from us and shared both a piece of birthday cake and a lot of knowledge. Dylan is the chocolate-maker and founder of Manoa Chocolate Hawaii, and Tammy, his fiance, manages the front of the house, the wholesale accounts, and much in between!

In business for just over two years, Manoa Chocolate Hawaii has taken on the massive task of educating the general population about bean-to-bar chocolate. Tammy leads an interesting and educational tour of their factory, starting with the exciting revelation to their guests that Hawaii is the only state in the country that has a climate hospitable to cacao. When Richard and I participated in the tour, we were the only non-Hawaiians. Part of the Manoa challenge is building the pride that local Hawaiians feel for their burgeoning chocolate industry.

Tammy opens the door to the bean room, where the new winnower, large modified coffee roaster, and bags upon bags of beans are stored. Here’s where Dylan takes over! Introduced as the Manoa chocolate-maker, he starts to explain the process of making chocolate from the bean. Our fellow tour participants are thrilled by the smell of raw beans in the bag, shocked by the flavor of plain nibs, and fascinated by the tempering machines jerry-rigged in the molding room.

The tour ends with a tasting in their front room. I liked a lot of their bars! Richard and I both loved the Breakfast bar (brilliant naming & contents!). And I found the goat milk bar and the lavender bars really creative and delicious! (You can purchase any of these and others here.)

We were particularly interested in the dynamic of a couple like ourselves running a chocolate business together. When we had dinner with Dylan and Tammy later that night, we learned about how they divide the labor wisely between them and how they really do love chocolate and its industry quirks.

Manoa and me

Manoa and me

Overall, we had a great time at Manoa, learned a lot from Dylan and Tammy, and look forward to staying in touch with our new Hawaiian friends!

Happy Saturday!

Happy Saturday, readers!

You may be asking, “Doesn’t she mean happy Valentine’s Day?”

The answer is sort of. I’m torn on the value of today’s holiday. On the one hand, what a wonderful concept – a day dedicated to reminding us of the love that surrounds us, both romantic and otherwise. On the other hand, I think every day should be a chance to show and demonstrate the love we feel for others.

The repercussions on the chocolate industry of this Hallmark holiday are clear – this is probably the busiest time of the year for many chocolate-makers and chocolatiers. And I welcome the almost institutionalized occasion for the general public to buy and appreciate chocolate. Then again, many of those Valentine’s Day chocolate gifts come in the form of Hershey’s kisses and other interesting shapes of mediocre chocolate.

So, here’s my call to action:

Sure, take today to shower your loved ones with love and if that love takes the shape of chocolate, I’m sure my fellow chocolate-makers will thank you! In addition to that, I have two requests:

  1. Don’t stop at midnight tonight. Continue to show your appreciation and love tomorrow and the next day and so on.
  2. Be intentional about your chocolate today and in the days to come. Don’t buy the prettiest package. Buy the chocolate that resonates with you – maybe from an origin that has meaning to you or your loved one, maybe a Rainforest Alliance bar, maybe a truffle with passion fruit for the implications of the name… Or even better, make chocolate an experience rather than a gift. Attend one of Dandelion’s Chocolate 101 classes or visit your local bean-to-bar chocolate shop with your partner. Let them choose their favorite bar or confection.

So, happy Saturday. Go spread the love (and the chocolate!)

Dark dark chocolate

When I was in college, one of my closest friends told me that she only liked chocolate that was 80% or higher. I didn’t understand the concept at the time and was still a predominantly milk chocolate eater. I’ve since learned significantly more about the meaning of percentages and the virtues of dark chocolate.

Our chocolate creations have ranged from 70% to, at the highest, 85%. Well, we’ve tasted the ridiculously dark 100% bar from Dandelion and Endorfin’s 98% bar (2% vanilla). Personally, I think such high percentages taste more muddy than chocolatey. But, Richard is a huge fan. And more importantly, our neighbor, Jude, has personally requested a low-sugar bar to mimic the high percentage, bitter chocolate she knows and loves from her hometown of Barcelona. And given her current pregnancy and her self-proclaimed (and incredible) heightened taste buds, we’re excited to comply!

So, we set out to make a truly dark chocolate. We know it’s important to consider the cocoa butter content of our beans. And we have not measured the exact percentage of our Madagascar beans, but we’ll assume 50% for now. They seem pretty oily and our 85% was successful (though quite strong) when we tried previously.

We started, as usual, by measuring our initial cocoa bean batch (after sorting, before roasting). It came in at 1128 grams. We roasted in our beautiful Behmor, indicating 1 pound on the P2 program minus 2 minutes (as recommended by John Nanci). We took the beans (and nibs) through 4 passes of our homemade winnower, reducing the mass to 943 grams on the first pass (when we noticed lots of big shells), followed by 836 grams on the second pass (when we noticed that the nibs and shells had a lot of static energy), followed by 756 grams on the third pass (when it looked pretty good despite a few shells), followed by 722 grams on the fourth pass, which we deemed finished enough. In other words, we had a 64% yield on winnowing. Richard is still working hard on improving our winnowing process and tools!

We took some advice from the Industrial Chocolate Manufacture and Use book and immediately winnowed the beans, rather than waiting for them to cool. Then we tried a new step in our process: we put the nibs through a quick pre-grind in our new Vitamix 5200 Series Blender, when it turned the discrete nibs into smaller chunks with a slightly oily finish. We heated the stone wheels and reheated the beans, then started the melanger with the 722 grams of nib mush and 100 grams of sugar.

Vitamix

This resulted in an 87.5% dark chocolate with no added cocoa butter. We let it conche and refine for 24 hours, then tried the Chocolate Alchemist’s suggestion for tempering. We poured about a third of the chocolate onto plastic wrap and let it cool slowly in the oven, while the melanger continued conching. This created an effective “seed” chocolate. About an hour or so later, the seed had cooled, and we introduced it back into the warm liquor (at that point around 99 degrees). As the chocolate chunks mixed with the liquid, the temperature dropped significantly, and when we turned off the Premier Wonder Grinder, the temperature of the chocolate had just hit 90. We quickly doled it out into molds with our quick refrigerator pass to complete the tempering process.

And now our dark dark chocolate is ready for gifting!

What’s the highest percentage chocolate you’ve enjoyed eating? Any recommendations for low sugar, high percentage chocolate-making?

Chocolate Covered

Welcome to my new favorite 100 square feet in San Francisco, besides maybe Dandelion’s cafe with a cup of Mission hot chocolate… Chocolate Covered. Thanks, Dave Huston, for the recommendation!

This tiny hole in the wall in the Castro/Mission is packed to the gills with chocolate and reminds me of a more crowded, cozy, and even more extensive Cacao in Portland. Jack, the owner, introduced himself and let me know that he’s been selling bean to bar chocolate since the concept began over 18 years ago! He used to sell every bean to bar chocolate available, but he told me that now there are too many for him to fit into his tiny store. We chatted about homemade chocolate, where we buy our beans, the upcoming FCIA event and Good Food Awards, and the additional activities put on by Dandelion that week.

As Clay Gordon informed me way back when, people in the chocolate industry are awesome. It’s impossible to be a grouch when surrounded by so much deliciousness!

chocolate covered 1 chocolate covered 2 chocolate covered 3

As I walked around the store, I spotted all the big names in small batch chocolate, and more that I had never seen before. I picked up a couple Marou bars and some Askinosie bars and promised to come back another time. Oh yes, we will be back!