Flavored Chocolate

Happy new year!

I hope you all had as relaxing and enjoyable of a break as we did. We spent some quality time on the east coast with family, then a lovely week dog-sitting on the Peninsula.

And now that we’ve given away all our Christmas gifts, I can write about them here!

This year, we gave homemade gifts of… you guessed it… chocolate! And to tailor the chocolate to each of our family members, we adjusted the percentage and tried for the first time (successfully), flavors and inclusions. Inspired by Patric’s Red Coconut Curry bar and Cocanú’s Romulus Remus, among others, we broke into this unknown territory! We used flavor oils from Chocolately and spices from local ethnic grocery stores. It was quite an adventure in flavor!

Two caveats: up to this point, we’ve been very strict about sticking with the basic ingredients in order to stay true to our name: Root Chocolate. However, 1) these were gifts and really fun to play around with, and 2) we’re still discovering/defining our real niche and aren’t ready to limit ourselves to what our name implies. We’ll see where chocolate takes us!

Here’s a rundown of this season’s chocolate gifts:

  • Hot & Spicy: 80% Madagascar with Kashmiri spices
  • Smoky: 80% Madagascar with smoked paprika and hot chili pepper oil
  • Orange: 70% Madagascar with orange oil
  • Mint: 70% Madagascar with creme de menthe oil
  • Indian: 70% Madagascar with Garam Masala
  • Nutty: 70% Madagascar with crumbled pecans

We also, for the first time, used small molds of about 5 grams each, and wrapped the baby chocolates in foil. They look very professional, if I do say so myself!

Christmas chocolates

Christmas chocolates

In my humble opinion, the orange was the best. We learned that just a single drop of orange oil is enough for many many grams of chocolate. Similarly, the creme de menthe is particularly powerful!

According to our family members, the Garam Masala was a huge hit – both unusual and delicious. We’ll have to fine tune that one for future use!

What flavors do you suggest infusing into chocolate? What were your favorite tasty Christmas treats?

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Roasting with the Behmor 1600 Plus

This weekend we took our cocoa bean roasting to the next level: we christened our newest tool, the Behmor 1600 Plus! And already, we’re very happy with the investment. Thanks Dave Huston & John Nanci for recommending it!

This is the most technologically advanced piece of equipment we own for chocolate. And it comes with TWO instruction manuals, both of which I’ve read cover to cover multiple times and referred to throughout our first roast.

2014-12-14 13.51.00

Originally made for coffee, this roaster has come up in conversation with our coffee-addict friends (ahem, Kevin) more often than we expected! What we’ve learned from friends (Dave Huston, John Nanci, Eli Curtis and others), is that the cocoa bean adaptation is not hard. In fact, the advice we’ve gotten is that the best route is to double the coffee quantity and the best roasts are when the rotating drum is full. Not too hard at all!

After going through a clean cycle (which we had to try 3 separate times – the automatic-off safety feature surprised us a couple of times, but we’ve learned our lesson now), we tried our first batch. One of the operations manuals recommends starting with a small batch, just in case. The options on the machine are 1/4 pound, 1/2 pound, and 1 pound. That said, John Nanci recommends 2.5-3 pounds per batch. We combined the recommendations and put in 250 grams, just over a half pound. It doesn’t seem like much, but for a first batch, we’ll keep it small.

cocoa beans in the Behmor drum roaster

cocoa beans in the Behmor drum roaster

There are many many options for what the roast cycle should look like. Check out this Chocolate Alchemy post for the 5 temperature & timing cycles and more information on the Behmor 1600 Plus. We were roasting Madagascar beans and the manual recommends P3 for any African coffee beans. We know that’s a bit of a stretch, but we went with it. We’ll probably try the hotter program (P2) with more beans in the future, but I’m pretty proud of round 1 for now!

watching the Behmor roast

watching the Behmor roast

And let me tell you… it smelled amazing, especially as the roasting cycle drew to a close. We listened to the popping of the shells when the timer hit about 2:30 minutes remaining. And we watched the temperature stay relatively low for most of the roast, then rise to just over 300 right at the end, before the cooling cycle. We let the 8 minute cooling cycle run when the roast was over and just before it ended, I started to get that back of the throat sensation that John Nanci tells us means the roast is almost overdone.

When we were done, we emptied out the dust tray and put it all back in the roaster – so easy! The resulting beans were cooked all the way through, unlike anything we’ve ever done in our oven, especially the Venezuelan beans we tried to match to John Nanci’s roast. The shells came off almost whole and the crunch from the beans told us they were definitely done.

Bottom line, we highly recommend the Behmor 1600 Plus! What are your favorite ideas for roasting?

And now we’ll winnow away those shells and start a batch in the Premier Wonder Grinder… Look out for some exciting posts on winnowing coming up soon!

Thanksgiving Chocolate Tasting

Last weekend, we were thankful to have Richard’s parents in town to celebrate Thanksgiving. For the occasion, we hosted a true blind chocolate tasting adventure. We pulled out Eagranie Yuh’s The Chocolate Tasting Kit (Tasting Kits), Richard conducted a dramatic reading of the instructions, and we handed out pads of paper and pens. I noted the order of the chocolates and cut the bars into small pieces, then tried to forget which was which as I passed them around. The other 5 tasters were completely blind.

We tasted 13 chocolate bars (avoiding any flavored chocolate) and surprisingly, there were no truly clear winners. We are amazed by the variation of tastes and preferences among us!

Chocolate tasting

Dan & Sarah tasting chocolate

A few tidbits of learning we are taking away from this experience:

  • Thirteen is probably too many chocolates to provide detailed tasting notes on each all at once. Eight would have been a better number
  • Chocolate smell fatigue happened around bar 6 or 7, when all the bars started to smell very similar.
  • We are not very good at describing the appearance of small pieces of bars – they were either dark or light brown and either shiny or not shiny. We could not come up with many more descriptors.
  • The sheer difference between the taste of chocolate when it first enters our mouth and when it melts away is astonishing. We noted some that shifted from fruity to astringent or from buttery caramel to toasty.
  • Each of us used a slightly different overall ranking system. Some ranked 1-13; others high, medium and low; others with an A-D scale, and others with words like “meh,” “yum,” and “no.” In the future, we may encourage a single scale for the overall ranking, in order to evaluate them at the end!
  • We all had very different opinions, so the notes below are an amalgamation, not an average. We also tended to get harsher over time – perhaps because of our dislike of higher percentages or perhaps because of our gained knowledge as we moved through the tasting.
  • None of us are professional chocolate tasters. We all really enjoyed the experience and took it seriously while having fun (it’s basically required to have fun when tasting chocolate)! Don’t take our opinions as facts – rather as impressions of the chocolate we tasted under the circumstances in which we tasted it.

And now, the bars we tasted and what we thought… enjoy, pick up some bars, and let us know what you think, too!

Christopher Elbow 63% with roasted cocoa nibs

  1. Where did we get it: we picked this one up on a trip to Kansas City where we visited the shop and tried some very tasty chocolates
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 1 medium, 3 low
  3. Some notes: bland taste, earthy and nutty, crunchy bits

Ikea’s dark chocolate bar

  1. Where did we get it: we bought this for comparison recently to remind us of commercial chocolate flavor and texture
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 3 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: sweet, almost milky, hot chocolate, coffee finish

Lillie Belle’s 65% Whiskey in the Bar

  1. Where did we get it: we picked this up at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 3 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: faint flavor, caramel, dull, dry/bitter finish

Cocanu’s 68% Abeja: dark chocolate, baked milk, and bee pollen

  1. Where did we get it: visiting Sebastian in Portland a couple months ago
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 2 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: slightly grainy, melted quickly, creamy molasses

Root Chocolate 70% Madagascar

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 4 high, 1 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: fruit and citrus, nutty smell, raisin, dry but lingering flavor, complex

Dave Huston’ 70% Upala, Costa Rica

  1. Where did we get it: visiting with our buddy a few weeks ago
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: smells fruity, bold flavors, burnt ending, pirate, smoky

Root Chocolate 70% Siriana, Costa Rica

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: sharp, tart, very dry and astringent, roasted, cocoa powdery

Root Chocolate 70% Oko Caribe, Dominican Republic

  1. Where did we get it: this was our first batch in the Premier Wonder Grinder!
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 3 medium, 0 low
  3. Some notes: lots of flavors, milky, dairy, roasted marshmallow, earthy

Taza’s 70% Cacao Puro

  1. Where did we get it: we bought a mixed flavor pack at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago, I’ve been wanting to try Taza for a long time, since one of my favorite memories with chocolate was eating Mayordomo (a very similar style) in Oaxaca, Mexico
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 2 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: granules – polarizing, sweet buttery flavor

Castronovo 72% Criollo+Trinitario, Sierra Nevada, Colombia

  1. Where did we get it: I bought it at The Chocolate Garage during my first visit many months ago. We intend to go back and taste more chocolate there soon!
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 2 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: spices, buttery, toasted cream, black tea, not exciting, caramel

Root Chocolate 75% Venezuela

  1. Where did we get it: we roasted the beans with John Nanci in Oregon, then we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 3 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: generic, almond, plastic, intense deep chocolate

Root Chocolate 85% Madagascar

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 3 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: hard, tangy, acidic, chemical burnt, slightly grainy

Taza’s 85% Super Dark

  1. Where did we get it: we bought a mixed flavor pack at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago, I’ve been wanting to try Taza for a long time, since one of my favorite memories with chocolate was eating Mayordomo (a very similar style) in Oaxaca, Mexico
  2. How did it rank: 0 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: coffee, spicy, bitter finish, smell like dairy

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!

Matching the Roast

Last month, we visited John Nanci, the Chocolate Alchemist in Oregon. It was a lot of fun and we learned a ton about his process, ingredients, and recommendations!

One of our favorite parts of the visit was roasting a batch of cocoa beans with him. Check out our previous posts on roasting here. We picked out the beans after sticking our heads in all of his big barrels of beans and smelling the wonderful scent of raw beans over and over again. I wish I could share smell through this post, because it’s incredible how different (and delicious) each barrel smells. We decided on the Venezuelan Carupano Corona, 2014 harvest, which has a savory, almost spicy scent.

In the meantime, John had turned on his homemade roaster to start heating it up.

John Nanci's homemade roaster

John Nanci’s homemade roaster

This incredible device has two coupling thermometers which show the temperature inside the cylindrical drum of beans and outside the drum, where the heat originates. He filled the canister with about 5 pounds of beans and when the roaster hit about 400 degrees, he put on his heat-protective gloves and lowered the drum into the roaster. He closed the top and we started to chat.

Let me set the scene… we’re in an open garage/workshop with a misty rain keeping the humidity high, though temperatures were likely in the mid-50s. Everything in the workshop smells like a part of the chocolate-making process: from raw beans to the brownie smell of roasting to the almost syrupy smell of undeodorized cocoa butter.

As as chatted, every once in a while, John would pause, waft some of the rising hot air from the roaster over toward him, and comment on the smell. He glanced, every once in a while, at the coupling thermometers to gauge the difference between the temperature inside the bean canister and outside in the roaster, but the majority of his conclusions about the progress of the roast happened through his nose. He got excited when the smell seemed to waft over to us suddenly, letting us know that this is typically the peak of the roasting process. Around that time, we lowered the temperature and eventually he turned the roaster off entirely as they continued to roast. And he pointed out again when the smell shifted from our noses to the back of our throat. That was when he recommended taking them out. He waited even a few more minutes before pulling out the drum, dumping it onto his cooling table, and aiming a fan at the beans.

He emphasized that, unlike coffee, cocoa beans have more forgiving roast potential. In other words, if you leave them in too long, they are less likely to become disgustingly over-roasted than coffee beans. In fact, he made sure to point out that it is difficult to over-roast cocoa beans.

To be honest, this whole process was like watching a magician at work. His enthusiasm was contagious and Richard and I understood the intent but couldn’t necessarily recreate the magic in our own noses and throats.

That’s why we decided to attempt to match the roast. So, we brought home those roasted beans as well as a few pounds of the same beans, unroasted. And over the weekend, we brought out a bottle of wine and the two batches of beans, and did our best to recreate the process. And – believe it or not – we’re not quite as good as the Alchemist himself!

Matching the roast tools

Matching the roast tools

We set the oven to 400 F and prepared to follow our noses. A few caveats before we get started:

  1. Unfortunately, we were both recovering from a cold, so our sense of smell wasn’t quite up to snuff.
  2. We used our relatively old oven, not a self-engineered roaster.
  3. The temperature in our apartment was in the high 60s and not at all humid, compared to John Nanci’s colder, humid garage.

In other words, we may have been doomed from the start! That said, we did take some of John’s advice very seriously, including the following seemingly logical advice:

  1. Stir the beans regularly. That could avoid “tipping.” Tipping is when the part of the bean touching the hot pan will roast faster (and potentially burn) than the rest of the bean. It develops an uneven roast and could add extra toasting flavors to the chocolate.
  2. His other brilliant advice wasn’t possible this time. He suggested doubling the pans, so there’s a more even distribution of heat on the bottom of the beans. However, we have exactly two pans and used them both for this roast, so we’ll need to try this next time.

This process seemed to happen at full speed, as I was taking notes, flipping beans, checking the clock, sniffing to the point of hyperventilating, tasting hot beans, tasting pre-roasted beans, and hand-winnowing as we went. Whew! Here’s the run down…

We flipped the beans after 5 minutes and at 10 minutes, we started hearing the snapping in the oven and the smell of brownies pervaded the apartment. The taste of the beans at that point was still quite raw and chalky, but the cocoa mass felt softer than a fully raw bean.

We dropped the temperature to 250 at 10 minutes and by 12 minutes, it smelled like dark brownies and we started to get the sense in the back of our throats. We reasoned that they couldn’t possibly be done yet, and took John Nanci’s words to heart… it’s very difficult to over-roast cocoa beans.

At 14 minutes, we flipped them again and at 20 minutes tasted a second time. This time, they tasted bland, almost nutty, without much flavor development.

At 22 minutes, we pulled them out and did a full flip of the beans with a spatula rather that stirring them around in the oven (Richard advised me that I wasn’t flipping quite right, so this would be a more robust flipping system). We compared the taste to John’s beans at this point (starting to get giddy eating so many beans) and noted that ours tasted chocolatey and rich but the texture still felt raw – hard and not crunchy yet.

At 26 minutes we pulled out a really bad bean that tasted underfermented; not particularly helpful in our comparison. A minute later, we found a good one that tasted pretty toasty and nutty. We compared it to John Nanci’s beans and noted that his had more flavor at the end, almost caramelly.

At 28 minutes, we pulled out the tray to flip and put it back in 2 minutes later. As I flipped, Richard tasted and at exactly 31 minutes, we pulled out all the beans determining them definitely done, if not overdone!

We quickly used Richard’s brilliant newly engineered cooling system for about 15 minutes until they felt very cool.

Roasted bean cooler

Roasted bean cooler

And the result – our beans definitely taste different than John Nanci’s beans. Ours taste a little over-roasted and slightly bitter at the end, while John’s beans have that caramel finish. Whew, we’ll try again next time!

Any suggestions from the audience on how you train your nose for the perfect roast?

Sorting Cocoa Beans

This step in making chocolate does not usually get a lot of attention. Perhaps that’s because it’s such a tedious, manual process in most cases. Perhaps it’s because until recently, it seemed uncontroversial.

Well, let me try to make this topic as exciting as possible for our readers. I promise it’ll involve threat of violence, betrayed trust, and the potential for incredible flavor variety… Here we go!

First, When does this even happen in the process? Sorting is the very first step in making chocolate for most bean-to-bar makers. It happens as soon as we pour the beans out onto a surface to visually inspect them before roasting. Ok, now let’s dive into the intrigue around sorting!

The case for sorting

Let’s say your adorable 5-year old niece, Peggy, (let’s include a frilly dress and pigtails in this image) opens the wrapping of a high quality bar of chocolate (assuming you give children expensive chocolate bars…) and as she brings the bar of chocolate toward her mouth, you notice that one corner of the bar is shiny, and before you can run over and rip it out of her hands, her teeth are sinking into a piece of glass.

Ok, maybe that was a bit dramatic, but you understand the danger and violence in this example? Sorting would eliminate the threat of dangerous foreign objects in the chocolate far before little Peggy tries to eat it. Besides foreign objects, like this one found (and thankfully sorted out) in a batch of beans Dick Taylor intended to roast, sorting can also remove other undesirable items that could be included in your bag of chocolate beans. This image on Dandelion’s blog provides a useful list. We have some friends who are also testing the flavor of the germ (a tiny stick-like part of the bean that supposedly contributes either a bitter or woodsy taste to the chocolate).

My biggest concern, and not one included on Dandelion’s list, is actually bugs. Think about where the cocoa beans are coming from. In most cases, they sat out in long wooden trenches, in a farmer’s backyard, for days. That’s right – outside, subjected to the elements and whatever other living things wanted to check them out. Specifically, there’s a species of small moths that love to live in fermented & dried cocoa beans. They burrow into the beans, eat the cocoa mass, build a web, and lay eggs inside the husk. Ew, right?! That’s right. It’s actually pretty easy to see the beans that have moths in them, since they have big holes along the side of the husk, where the moth crawled in (not to be confused with a tiny hole at the tip, which we learned means that the bean has partially germinated and is not nearly as gross).

Moth-infested bean

Moth-infested bean

Many people believe that sorting cocoa beans leaves only the best beans and therefore makes better chocolate. You can read more on Dandelion’s blog about a machine they’re considering to do this for them.

Ok, pretty good reasons to sort. Why would anyone NOT sort? Good question… let’s discuss.

The case against sorting

To put it bluntly, there are two reasons: sorting reduces some of the flavor variation and sorting means you don’t trust your supplier. Let’s start with the second. If you have a wonderful working relationship with your cocoa bean supplier, you would hope they would provide you with beans that would make the best chocolate possible. We learned from John Nanci, Chocolate Alchemist, when we visited him in Oregon, that he screens his suppliers carefully before selling beans to his customers. He believes that any beans he sells you shouldn’t need to be sorted. Maybe he’d recommend a cursory glance for any obvious foreign objects, but other than that, we should trust him on the rest of the beans. He writes more on his opinion on sorting here.

Ok, what about flavor? Here’s where I start to understand the case against heavily sorting. I will say that there’s no doubt we will continue to remove the foreign objects, coffee beans, and anything that could be dangerous to the health of the eventual consumers (see Peggy above). However, jury is still out on whether we’ll sort out the abnormalities in the batch of beans we receive. This is for two reasons.

First of all, the really bad stuff should get winnowed away. The flats, moth-infested beans, and large pieces of shell should fly away with the husks, so it’s possible that sorting them out would be a waste of time.

Secondly, the flavor variation loss is a legitimate concern. Who would want to deny our consumers the potential for such incredible flavor?! Those doubles that are clearly unevenly fermented, the cracked beans, the partially germinated beans… these all contribute to the overall flavor profile of the batch and therefore, are integral to the ultimate quality of the chocolate. I’ll take it one step further, to market analysis. A fellow chocolate-maker did A/B testing with a group of consumers on their preference between chocolate whose beans he had sorted and chocolate made from unsorted beans. Unanimously, the consumers preferred the unsorted chocolate.

Sorted beans

Sorted beans

The Root Chocolate Conclusion

So, what’s our conclusion? We haven’t decided yet. This goes on our list of ideas to try. Maybe we’ll hold onto all the doubles for a while and make a batch of just doubles! Maybe we’ll do two some A/B testing ourselves. We’ll keep you updated on our findings either way!

Chocolate meet up

Over the weekend, we had the exciting opportunity to meet up with another local chocolate maker. Dave Huston of Confluence Chocolate, who lives up in Sacramento, agreed to come down to the Bay Area for a visit. We met at Bittersweet Cafe, and drank some absolutely delicious hot chocolates (similar to what’s offered at Dandelion). I recommend the Spicy hot chocolate!

We met up with Dave to chat about life as hobbyist chocolate-makers, to share stories of how chocolate sweetens our lives and get to know each other. I know… cheesy. And it was wonderful! Imagine if you could meet someone else who has the same strange hobby that fills your weekends and evenings! Yes, we learned a lot, but more importantly, we met a new chocolate buddy. As per the trend, people in the small batch bean-to-bar industry are awesome!

So, what did we learn exactly?

First of all, we have some new equipment ideas that will make our process even more streamlined and will increase our ability to consistently make good chocolate. Specifically, Dave recommended:

  • the Behmor 1600 Plus roaster – we’ve heard this before, specifically in Eugene with John Nanci. This will likely be our next investment in chocolate!
  • Chocovision Revolation x3210 tempering machine – this is a big one, so we’ll see! On the one hand, I feel like we should get good at table tempering before we buy a machine to do it for us, honing our skills in the craft of chocolate-making. On the other hand, I’m very tempted to buy a machine that almost every chocolate-maker uses to make their process more exact and repeatable.
  • a vibrating table for molding – this would reduce bubbles in our bars and improve the shine on both sides of the bar.
  • a 140 CC syringe for molding (see Cal Vet Supply) – genius! This would reduce a lot of loss we currently have from transferring chocolate between bowls with a ladle. And it would minimize the mess. Love it!

He also recommended attending the Good Food Awards & the FCIA event in January. We’ve heard this before and are even more excited now. Networking with the chocolate industry greats there will be quite a treat!

We are considering gathering a larger group of local chocolate makers early next year, to discuss best practices. Locally, we have so many amazing human beings who are also amazing chocolate-makers! Just in the Bay Area, besides industry giant, Guittard in Burlingame, there are:

So, look out for an invitation to gather and chat!

Another incredible benefit of meeting with Dave is that we bought our second Premier Wonder Grinder from him! Get ready for scaled up production from the Root Chocolate factory!

Double Premier Wonder Grinders

Double Premier Wonder Grinders

Happy Thanksgiving, readers! We’re feeling thankful for the chocolate community, our loyal fans, and an awesome set up for delicious & sustainable chocolate-making!

Our Chocolate Factory

It’s been about 8 months since we starting playing around with chocolate. And in that time, we’ve collected quite a bit of equipment, tools, and ingredients that now fill an entire area of our apartment. We like to call that area our Chocolate Factory.

We started with just a bag of cocoa beans from the Grand Central Market in LA and some white cane sugar. From our very first coffee grinder to the old fashioned grain mill to the melanger we use today, we’ve gone through more than a few iterations of our process.

I’d like to show off a little about our current set-up, in the hopes that it will be useful to other chocolate-makers or aspiring chocolate-makers out there!

Let’s start with our documentation board. Here’s where we keep track of our batch sizes, temperatures, and results. We also keep a list of interesting R&D ideas that come to mind.

Documentation board

Documentation board

Then we have our new peg board system that Richard built from Home Depot parts, where we store tools like thermometers, spatulas, molds, and safety goggles. We’re also intending to try out a new storage method for our finished chocolate. The Rubbermaids are drying out after an initial cleanse before we stuff them with chocolate bars! And finally, the beautiful homemade quartz table is for tempering.

Peg Board & storage

Peg board & storage

Here we have our current chocolate storage system. Have I mentioned we’re in the market for a wine fridge? We realize this method isn’t quite sustainable at our rate of churning out delicious chocolate bars!

Chocolate shelves

Chocolate shelves

What’s a chocolate factory without some fun decorations? Check out our map, where we intend to document the origins of the chocolate we’re producing. And this is our awesome cocoa bean bag given to us by John Nanci of Chocolate Alchemy, when we visited Eugene last month.

Wall decorations - cocoa bean bag & wall map

Wall decorations – cocoa bean bag & wall map

Here’s our fun bean cooling station, handmade by engineer Richard. I’m excited to use this for our next batch!

Bean cooling system

Bean cooling system

Our shelves full of tools, beans, and documentation, are topped by our beautiful Premier Wonder Grinder, one of the key pieces of equipment in our process. We also have a gorgeous marble display slab, which we bring to parties to show off our different varieties.

Shelves & Premier Wonder Grinder

Shelves & Premier Wonder Grinder

Our winnower, still very much a work in progress, has developed since the last time I photographed it. We now have an additional entrance spout and a much stronger shopvac than our home vacuum. Hold onto your horses, because a guest post from the engineer will provide more detail on the winnower soon!

Winnower

Winnower

And last but not least, a good chocolate factory must provide inspiration and guidance to its chocolate-makers. Take a look at our chocolate library to see what we’re reading these days. The books lean heavily toward entrepreneurship & chocolate science!

Chocolate & entrepreneurship library

Chocolate & entrepreneurship library

Here are a few of our favorites:

What does your chocolate factory look like? As I’ve mentioned before, even if your factory is just a coffee grinder and paint scraper, you’re a chocolate-maker in the making!

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!

Eight-five percent

Last week, we finished another batch of delicious chocolate. This time, we tried four distinctly new ideas: a new roasting profile, a higher percentage cocoa, a longer refining time, and finally, a different temperature range for tempering. And the result? Smooth deliciousness!

Roasting

Rather than our typical 400 degree hit, followed by 15-20 minutes at 250, we tried a roasting profile inspired by some comments Chloe made when we chatted at Dandelion a few weeks ago. This time, we let the initial 1249 grams of Madagascar cocoa beans roast at 225 F for 45 minutes. That’s the longest we’ve ever roasted beans, even for our first roasting test, when we came up with the Xtra Toasty chocolate! We quickly cooled the beans on our quartz board and let them sit there for about 15 minutes.

After passing the beans through mock 2 of Richard’s fancy winnower (see the beans in their hopper below) and a quick pass through with the hairdryer, we were left with 878 grams of nibs.

winnower

Percentage

Now comes the second experiment. We added only 155 grams of further refined cane sugar. The result is an eighty-five percent bar. This diverges from the seventy percent bar that many consider the most optimum way to experience chocolate. Dandelion did an eighty-five percent bar last year with Rio Caribe (Venezuelan) beans, and we really liked it! Dandelion even has gone so far as to develop a 100% chocolate bar – that’s no sugar added. Their cafe manager, Jenna, writes about her experience with the 100% bar here.

Our final eighty-five percent bars are definitely intense with a lot of really interesting flavor notes. We’ll continue to experiment with higher percentages, taking our chocolate even closer to its roots!

Refining Time

This time, we let the Premier Wonder Grinder run for a full thirty-three hours, nine hours longer than we’ve ever done before. We added the refined sugar about nine hours into the refining process, to let the nibs refine on their own first. Since then, we’ve learned more thanks to comments from Robbie of Ritual Chocolate on a previous post. We’ll continue to refine our sugar refining process and will try adding it sooner next time! Either way, these thirty-three hours made the chocolate quite smooth and creamy. I think we’ll aim for these longer refining periods moving forward.

Tempering Temperatures

The final experiment has to do with tempering temperatures. We tried to follow Mr. Van Leer’s advice and initially raised the temperature of the chocolate to 105 degrees. We brought it quickly down to 84 on the quartz, table tempering the chocolate liquor. Then, we raised it up to 90 degrees in the microwave. The result was a failed knife test. Clearly, this is still the most challenging part of our chocolate-making.

We tried again, taking the temperature up to 112 in the microwave, then dropping it to 82 on the quartz table, then bringing it back up to 92 before pouring into the molds. We still had a small amount of bloom, but it looks better than previous batches.

root chocolate poured into molds

We’re improving and learning so much! Please let us know if you have any advice for us, particularly around tempering!

Just a quick note of thanks to all of our readers – please let us know if there’s anything in particular you’d like us to look into, investigate, or experiment with. We’re open to ideas and very invested in keeping this a genuine and honest source of information for chocolate makers and afficionados everywhere!