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?

Advertisements

Marketing or Education?

Occasionally, while I sit at a Vietnamese restaurant, cautiously eating my standard Pho, I can’t help giggle to myself as Richard sweats and guzzles water to counteract the powerful sensations coming from his inevitably extra spicy dish. Similarly, I pass on the japapeños in Mexican cuisine and the Sriracha at Thai places. A coworker’s kid only eats food that is white and my cousins, while growing up, ate solely Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, with hot dogs.

You may laugh and say that people who refrain from eating delicacies like spicy Pho, caviar, or kimchi have unsophisticated palettes. We must not know or understand the intricacies of such delicious foods. Richard may say that my Vietnamese food is bland and that I’m not gaining the full experience of these cuisines.

I would respond that I like what I like. My taste buds have their own preferences and there’s not too much I can do about that. I’m not being stubborn on purpose; I’m sure you can identify with me in having a particular taste for something that may be considered unpopular.

So, what does this have to do with chocolate?

Let’s start with the basics. What is the definition of “fine flavor cacao?” In their book, Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate, Williams and Eber explain the definition along the lines of Justice Potter Stewart who was asked to define obscene pornographic material: “I know it when I see it.” The Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative‘s objective is to identify and classify heirloom flavor to better understand fine flavor cacao and propagate it for the future.

As we’ve discussed in this post about genetics, there are a million ways to differentiate among chocolate bars. Labels like Fair Trade, Organic, and Single-Origin as well as particular ingredients like cocoa butter or flavors, and processes like stone-ground or table-tempered also differentiate among the supply.

The craft chocolate industry is suffering from a plight of its own making: our product – fine flavor chocolate bars made from the highest quality cacao in the world – is not understood or even necessarily liked by the general public. The chocolate bars that highlight the distinctive flavors of each cocoa bean and origin taste very different than the chocolate that most people grew up with. These craft chocolate bars are typically more expensive, darker, and significantly stronger than the Hershey’s or even Lindt of their youth.

What can we, in the craft chocolate industry, do about this disconnect?

We set up education campaigns! Rather than a Marketing Department, the Mast Brothers has an Education Department. Instead of convincing people to buy the chocolate, they share information about where chocolate comes from, how it is made, and why it has such different flavors from mass market chocolate. We, here at Root Chocolate, are particularly drawn to chocolate companies like Askinosie that share the history either of their company’s traditions or of their connection to the farmers abroad. In other words, taste is NOT everything to everyone.

In fact, the story of the chocolate, an understanding of the recipes and a guide to the potential flavors identifiable in each unique bar of fine flavor chocolate are the key to connecting consumers to high quality chocolate. Plus, as we’ve heard many times before, just eat more chocolate. With more chocolate tasted, the consumer will better be able to identify his or her personal preferences.

How about those of us who just like what we like?

Back to my initial story – I’m not going to start ordering the spicy curry that I dislike just because someone explains the history of Vietnamese spices and their rare availability in the world. In other words, education isn’t the silver bullet solution. Some people are going to keep eating the chocolate they are most familiar with.

In our next post on a recent chocolate tasting, you’ll noticed high marks for the relatively generic Ikea bar. Ikea likely uses a lot of cocoa butter and some soy lecithin, imitating the smooth textures and specific mouth feel of a Hershey’s bar. For some, clearly, that is more appealing than, for example, Taza’s gritty crude grind. Joe Whinney, founder of Theo Chocolate, is quoted in Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate:

“I don’t find a lot of broad relevancy to the concept of fine flavor. I understand it. But I don’t think the consumer is thinking about that. They think about origin. They think about percentage a little big more than they used to. But ultimately they are still seeing chocolate as this sweet treat that if it’s dark it might be a little bit better and better for me and what kind of nuts does it have in it…?”

Perhaps with more knowledge of the ingredients, process, and origin, those individuals would try more exotic bars, but it’s possible that they will always prefer a smooth, lower percentage bar.

What is the bottom line?

Both the picky eaters and the craft chocolate-makers can survive in this complicated world! While I encourage people to follow my food policy – I’ll try anything once – I do not believe that everyone will be or should be a fine flavor chocolate aficionado. If you prefer Hershey’s, go for it!

On the other hand, the bean-to-bar chocolate-makers of the world should continue on our path of education rather than marketing, because there are plenty of potential converts out there. I, for one, have learned a ton about chocolate and now prefer more complex dark chocolate bars. That said, I still enjoy my sweet milk chocolate on occasion and see nothing wrong with that!

To cocoa butter or not to cocoa butter?

That is the question.

We did an experiment to provide an answer to this time old question (ok, sure, we’re borrowing from Shakespeare). For this experiment, we used our favorite Madagascar beans. I think we’re now about halfway done with the giant bucket!

Let’s post some hypotheses about the two batches:

Cocoa butter

This batch we’d expect to be smoother. We’d also expect it to pour better for tempering and have a more “chocolatey” taste. That’s the case for our first batch with cocoa butter, the Venezuelan batch.

Without added cocoa butter

(creative title, I know…) This batch should have a darker flavor, since it has a higher ratio of cocoa mass to cocoa butter. Remember that even chocolate without added cocoa butter still has cocoa butter in it. Usually, chocolate without added cocoa butter sits at around 50% cocoa mass to 50% cocoa butter, plus any additional ingredients like sugar. We go into this in more detail in this post.

So, what really happened?

We started with 654 grams of winnowed Madagascar beans plus 174 grams of sugar in the Premier Wonder Grinder from 9:40pm Monday night until 7:40am Wednesday morning. That said, we had a 2.5 hour break Tuesday night when Richard’s parents came over for dinner. (It was nice to listen to some nice jazz for a little while rather than the whirring of the melanger.)

On Wednesday morning, we poured out 303 grams of the mixture and started the tempering process for what we’ll call Batch A. Richard’s plan was to imitate a tempering machine by stirring continuously as the temperature slowly drops. He got it all the way down to 82 by spinning the bowl on our quartz table, allowing the chocolate to seep up along the much cooler sides of the bowl. While he stirred and cooled, I melted the cocoa butter for the other half of our experiment (Batch B).

Tempering and cocoa butter

Tempering and cocoa butter

Our enthusiasm to get the temperature back up to 90 after successfully dropping it to between 80 and 82 in the bowl (without table tempering) unfortunately led to three consecutive tempering failures, where we raised the temperature significantly too high in the microwave. Once to 122 and twice more to about 100, requiring us to start the process over again. I guess the fourth time is a charm, because that time we got the temperatures and power levels right, ending up with a 90 degree batch to mold.

The mixture seemed particularly thick when we were molding, but our thermometers were telling us we had the right temperature. And in the end, the molding process ended up pretty lumpy, but we have beautifully tempered 79% chocolate in Batch A.

Meanwhile, for Batch B, we poured about 38 grams of cocoa butter into the melanger and released the pressure on the stone wheels. We let it keep running for the next hour while we worked on those many tempering attempts. With 427 grams that came out of the melanger at 86 degrees, we stirred in the same way as the previous batch and reduced the temperature to 81. This time, on the first try, we got it back up to 90 in the microwave and were ready to temper!

We poured it out into the molds and it came out the perfect molding consistency – dripping evenly into the molds and easily adjusted with some wiggling to get the bubbles out. The final product of Batch B is an 81% chocolate (154g natural cocoa butter + 38g added cocoa butter + 154g cocoa mass + 82g sugar).

So, what is the ultimate difference in percentage between the two batches? Batch A is considered 79% with about 40% each of cocoa mass and cocoa butter. Batch B, on the other hand is considered 81% (just 2 measly percentage points higher than Batch A), but has 45% cocoa butter and only 36% of cocoa mass. Big difference!

percentage chart

And once again, both batches were beautifully tempered, despite some funky shapes in Batch A:

Can you guess which have the added cocoa butter and which have just two ingredients?

Can you guess which have the added cocoa butter and which have just two ingredients?

 

You may be wondering, how we went from such tempering issues to the gorgeous, shiny, hard bars you see below. Well, besides our new version of table tempering (in a bowl), the big winner of our tempering challenge is Thomas Forbes with the brilliant suggestion of about 10 minutes in a refrigerator immediately after molding. We know many of you seconded his idea, but he was the first! Thomas, message us privately (through the Join the movement page) to claim your prize!

Our hypotheses were mostly correct, though we have a hard time telling the difference in flavor between the two batches. We’ll have to invite some friends and family to give us their honest opinion. We’ll keep our loyal readers updated!

Venezuelan batch

Last week, we made a batch of chocolate from some very special beans. They are Carupano Corona from Venezuela, 2014. The Chocolate Alchemist describes them as “Criollo/Trinitario with clove and soft fruity high notes and very low bitterness.”

And the exciting part – John Nanci roasted them right there in his workshop with us watching (and smelling) on! In his homemade roaster with temperature gauges inside the drum roaster and in the oven itself, these beans smelled amazing. I’ll write another post just on his roasting style and tricks, but for now, suffice it to say that it was quite an experience!

John Nanci's homemade roaster

John Nanci’s homemade roaster

With these beans that Richard describes as spiced, we’ve made our most recent batch of chocolate. Since we brought them back from Oregon in our suitcases (we’re shocked that TSA did not even double check our bags full of cocoa beans), they had almost 5 days to cool after being roasted in Eugene. We used the winnower Richard has been working on (guest post to come soon) with a slightly lower vacuum power and ended up with an incredibly 80% yield of nibs! We did a little hand sorting after roasting, which resulted in this beautiful picture (if I do say so myself!).

Venezuelan cocoa nibs

Venezuelan cocoa nibs

We put the 802 grams of nibs into the Premier Wonder Grinder at 7:45pm on Wednesday night and added 283 grams of sugar as soon as the nibs had taken their liquid form. Thanks for the advice in your comments, Dave and Olivier and Ritual Chocolate! The grinder ran overnight, smelling delicious and creating that white noise that puts us to sleep.

Thursday evening, we added the two new ingredients – soy lecithin (0.9 grams) and cocoa butter (50 grams) – and waited another hour and a half before pulling out the chocolate to temper. With these ingredients, our final chocolate is 75% cocoa mass + cocoa butter, assuming a 50% cocoa butter content in the beans themselves. See more on our two new ingredients here.

Venezuelan chocolate liquor - yum!

Venezuelan chocolate liquor – yum!

Tempering is now the trickiest part. I brought the temperature up to 128 in the microwave, then lowered it to 122 by stirring continuously before pouring it onto our tempering table. I agitated the liquor (which was quite liquidy) for maybe 5-10 minutes while it dropped in temperature. It dropped to 82 on the tempering table and I raised it quickly to 90 with just a few seconds in the microwave. Then, I poured the liquor out into the molds, filling them faster than we’ve done before and shaking them by hand to raise all the tiny air bubbles.

bloomed Venezuelan chocolate

bloomed Venezuelan chocolate

The final product – 947 grams of 75% Venezuelan chocolate! The final taste is amazing – almost savory with the fruity spicey flavor of the beans coming through and the mellow earthy tones from the cocoa butter. The texture is crisp and smooth – no grains and with a solid break. Visually is where we’re still having issues. As I mentioned earlier in the week, the lecithin and cocoa butter did not prevent the white swirls of fat bloom from occurring. I felt great about getting the temperatures right the first time.

Final Venezuelan chocolate

A challenge to the small scale chocolate makers of the world… what do you recommend? The one who provides the tip(s) that results in successfully tempered and bloom-less chocolate gets a prize!*

*exact prize TBD, but it might just be a shipped sample of our finished chocolate of your choice!

New ingredients

One of the areas of innovation in chocolate where we have not yet ventured is that of ingredients. Well, that’s not totally true… When we first started out, we tried a bacon batch, but we added way too much bacon. Another time, we tried a salted chocolate batch, but we added way too much salt. (Noticing a trend?) We’ve strayed away from new ingredients since then.

However, our visit to John Nanci in Oregon taught us many things. One of them was the appropriate use of cocoa butter and soy lecithin. Cocoa butter is the fat of the cocoa bean. Most beans have about a 50% cocoa butter content compared to cocoa mass, though the percentage varies by genetics, origin, and even roast profile (which can dry out the beans). See John Nanci’s post on cocoa butter percentages here.

The percentage you see on many chocolate bars is an indicator of the amount of cocoa butter + cocoa mass in the bar. That means a bar that advertises 70% could have 20% cocoa mass and 50% cocoa butter or the opposite: 50% cocoa mass and 20% cocoa butter. It is not required for chocolate makers to publish the amount of mass vs. butter on their bars. You can read more about this complicated practice in Clay Gordon’s post on The Chocolate Life.

It was that discovery that led us to stick with just two ingredients up until now, for the most part: cocoa beans (natural combination of both cocoa butter and cocoa mass) and sugar. However, John asked us a tricky question as we stood in his workshop, waiting for a batch of beans to roast: “Which will taste more chocolatey – a bar with 55% cocoa butter or a bar with 50% cocoa butter?”

Richard and I looked at each other, understanding this was a trick question. I ventured, “They taste the same amount of chocolatey?”

John laughed and informed us that cocoa butter actually provides more chocolatey flavor than the chocoa mass! We were very surprised, which is why we’re making our very first batch with the addition of cocoa butter now. Cocoa butter also should help smooth out the cocoa liquor, making it easier to temper and pour into molds.

50 g of cocoa butter

50 grams of cocoa butter

The other ingredient, soy lecithin, has the effect of reducing the viscocity of chocolate liquor, causing similar results as cocoa butter – making the chocolate easier to pour and temper. Its added benefits include preventing bloom (related to its tempering improvements) and increasing the shelf life of the final chocolate. All of this has to do with improving the tempering process. There’s some controversy, since it’s basically a soy byproduct and not a natural part of chocolate, but we decided to try it out to see how it really works…

After some research, we’ve noted that most people recommend adding the cocoa butter and soy lecithin an hour or so before refining is complete. Since we started at 7:45pm on Wednesday night, we added the melted cocoa butter and soy lecithin around that time Thursday evening, and pulled it out of the Premier Wonder Grinder shortly afterwards. We read that the soy lecithin should only be in the melanger for up to 2 hours, or else it will grind out all its properties.

The result? A delicious and creamy chocolate with a slightly more chocolatey flavor, as John Nanci promised! The jury’s still out on whether these ingredients contribute toward reducing bloom and improving temper, since our chocolate still has the telltale streaks of fat bloom. What do you think about using these extra ingredients? Are we diluting the final product or are we adding functional benefits? Comment with your thoughts!