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!

Roast test + Taste test

I know you all must be biting your nails, waiting for the taste results of our roast test last week. Well, I won’t make you wait any longer!

First a quick note on the process… We made 4 batches of chocolate, differentiated mostly by the roast profile, but also partially by grind time (purely due to circumstance). This was the first time we had both of our Premier Wonder Grinders going at the same time, which was quite an experience. Together, they are significantly noisier than one on its own, and they have slightly different frequencies, resulting in interesting table vibrations all night.

two melangers of chocolate

We also left the liquor in the melanger for less time than usual. This worried us at first, but upon tasting the chocolate, we’re pleasantly surprised that our micron size seems to have reached the point where the tongue can no longer distinguish them. After melanging, we also left each batch in a container for a few days before tempering the whole lot. We usually temper immediately, so that was a bit of a change from our typical process as well. Our tempering method was mostly that of heating the solid batch slowly to about 90 and pouring quickly then. If we accidentally raised the temperature beyond 90, we carefully dropped it again to 80 before reheating to 90 to pour.

Though we’ve successfully avoided bloom since we learned the refrigerator method (thanks again, Thomas, for your tip!), we still have some white markings on the final chocolate bars. We think it’s related to one or more of these issues: watermarks from the molds, the shape of the original pour before we shake the molds, or the way we pop the chocolate out of the molds when it’s done hardening. Any thoughts, readers?

What are these white circles?

What are these white circles?

Keep in mind, these are all Madagascar beans and each batch started with 1 kilo of beans in the Behmor 1600 Plus. My notes below begin with the basic stats on the batch and end with our comparative tasting notes on the final chocolate of each. The notes come from the tasting palette of Richard and me, as well as Dan & Sarah, who shared a picnic in the park with us yesterday (thank you California weather in February!). A quick disclaimer: Richard thinks these are all too sweet – he prefers dark dark chocolate!

4 batches of roast tests

4 batches of roast tests

Batch 1: P2

  • Roast Profile: P2
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 500 grams
  • Sugar: 166 gram
  • Percentage: 70%
  • Grind/conche time: 11 hours and 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: toasty, less fruit flavors

Batch 2: P4

  • Roast Profile: P4
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 500 grams
  • Sugar: 166 grams
  • Percentage: 70%
  • Grind/conche time: 11 hours and 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: quite fruity, bright pop, lots of interesting flavor highlights, cherry, Landen’s favorite

Batch 3: P5

  • Roast Profile: P5
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 500 grams
  • Sugar: 166 grams
  • Percentage: 70%
  • Grind/conche time: 14 hours 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: almost too sweet, slight acidity at back of throat

Batch 4: Blend

  • Roast Profile: P2, P4, and P5
  • Roasted & winnowed cocoa nibs: 522 grams
  • Sugar: 164 grams
  • Percentage: 76%
  • Grind/conche time: 14 hours 30 minutes
  • Flavor notes: slight bitter on the back of the throat

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?

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!

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!

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!

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!

Advice from Experts

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with two true chocolate experts. The first was Chloe Doutre-Roussel, author of The Chocolate Connoisseur: For Everyone With a Passion for Chocolate. We sat at Dandelion in San Francisco, where she was doing a book signing on her way up to the Northwest Chocolate Festival last weekend.

I felt honored to spend some time talking to Chloe about her vast experience with chocolate. I sat down with a Mission hot chocolate from Dandelion and when the chocolate-making staff at Dandelion joined us, I felt totally surrounded by experts. I had the opportunity to show them my bean to bar activities at home, and we discussed roasting and winnowing issues.

Landen and Chloe Doutre-Roussel

The second expert was Tad Van Leer. I’ll go into detail about my conversation with Mr. Van Leer – I learned a lot! Mr. Van Leer grew up and worked in his family’s chocolate manufacturing company, Van Leer Chocolate, until selling to Barry Callebaut in 1999, and more recently worked as General Manager of J. Emanuel Chocolatier, in Chester, NJ. His Van Leer chocolate was named the top chocolate in the world in a blind taste test at Chez Panisse in 1995 by Cook’s Illustrated also our cocoa powder was the top choice by Cook’s in 1999, and was the chocolate provider for the White House from Carter to Clinton’s presidency.

I also happened to go to high school with Mr. Van Leer’s daughter, Liz. So, it was an honor to be able to reconnect and discuss his background and recommendations in the world of chocolate. And some of what we discussed melded well with some of the lessons I’ve previously learned and other parts were entirely new and different! There is a wide range of advice out there as far as how to make chocolate, and we’re open to learning it all!

Let’s go through the chocolate-making process and I’ll highlight the new and different bits from my conversation with Mr. Van Leer.

Beans

Mr. Van Leer recommends getting cocoa beans from Ghana. He loves the Accra beans; they have “the cleanest flavor” and ferment better than anywhere else. Ghana beans also have the best yield, have more cocoa butter, and have the truest “chocolate flavor”. They are also the beans that went into the chocolate that won Van Leer Chocolate all its awards. Previously we had heard that most of the best bean genetics (Criollo) are in Latin America. Now we’re looking forward to expanding our bean sourcing horizon! He suggests that everyone develop their own taste rather than taking the advice of others.

Winnowing

Using screens to filter the nibs and husks could improve the speed and quality of the winnowing process. Using screens after cracking allows the nibs to go through the screen while keeping the shell above. One can then easily “blow” the shells away. Using a series of smaller screens mimics a true winnower, and will give you the cleanest nibs.

Roasting

Rather than our intensive kill step at 400 degrees, then dropping to 250 degrees, Mr. Van Leer recommends a completely new way of roasting (two step process): one to pop the shells, and again after winnowing and cracking the beans, never taking the temperature above 212 F. This allows for a more even roast with more of a consistent sized nib. Cocoa beans are of varied size- roasting them as whole beans over roasts small beans and under roasts larger ones. He suggests roasting with steam in a drum, something we haven’t heard before and are curious to try. Some of the roasting devices used by other bean-to-bar makers look like engineering feats out of Star Wars, particularly Art Pollard’s creation at Amano Artisan Chocolate. I encourage anyone interested in this to check out the documentary, Bean to Bar, which can be viewed on IndieFlix. If you roast in an oven ensure that the nibs are even on the pan. Coffee drum roasters also work well.

Refining

Mr. Van Leer’s refining recommendations were the most different from our previous advice. He suggests using a mill only to make the chocolate liquor. From there, the best refiner for uniform particle size is the three roll refiner. We’ve seen these before – Ritual Chocolate uses one, and goes into more detail on it here. Mr. Van Leer recommends a particle size of less than 25 microns, and encourages us to refine sugar to small particle size as well! He suggests refining the chocolate liquor and the sugar together. This makes for more uniform mass and also improves the conching flavor. Using a three roll refiner allows more fat release from the bean which makes the mass flow better, reducing the viscosity.

Conching

Another idea is to remove the chocolate from the Premier Wonder Grinder for further conching in a Kitchen Aid mixer, placed on a heating pad at about 145 F for 12 hours. At the moment, we’re conching directly in the grinder, so this could provide an alternative method! We learned that “cheap” chocolate is conched in a grinder- you usually get a less consistent flavor and the particle sizes are not uniform. He suggests tasting a cheap Easter Bunny from CVS or Walmart as an example.

Tempering

Tempering seems to be a point of agreement (besides the exact temperatures) among chocolate-makers. Mr. Van Leer recommends starting the chocolate liquor at 105, then cooling rapidly to 85 degrees, then heating it back to 90-92 F. He suggests a microwave at power level 3 (for about a pound of chocolate) and stirring often. His recommended test is not paper or a knife, but rather to pour it into a small flat mold and see if it shrinks with no discoloration. If that works, then the chocolate has been tempered appropriately.

Molds

Finally, Mr. Van Leer suggests using polycarbonate molds, found online at many sites including TomricMicelli, and Chef Rubber among others. At the moment, we’re using some polypropelene and some silicone molds – neither are amazing, so we’re definitely open to alternatives.

This was quite an educational conversation and we’re excited to stay in touch as we build out our recipes and process further! Let us know if there are additional chocolate experts you’d like to hear from, and we’ll try to get in touch to share their knowledge as well!

roaster and new winnower

Madagascar batch

This week we made chocolate again and this time, it was delicious, fun, and scientifically documented. Who am I kidding – that’s always what our chocolate-making process looks like!

(Side note – we wish we could be in two places at once, but we will not be able to attend the Northwest Chocolate Festival this weekend. Instead, we’ll be celebrating our wedding anniversary and attending a good friend’s wedding in Kansas City. For all you chocolate-makers out there, let us know how it goes, and we’ll see you there next year!)

We started this batch on Friday the 26th with the roast. Using the Madagascar 2012 harvest that our friends, David and Leslie at Arete generously donated to our “research and development” fund, we put 932 grams of beans on our two new trays into the oven.

roasting Madagascar beans

We roasted them for 5 minutes at 400, then 15 minutes at 250, then finally 10 minutes with the oven off. Then we removed them from the oven and placed them to quickly cool on our new homemade (!) quartz table. (Richard re-designed our entire apartment to include a chocolate factory in our former dining room a couple weeks ago while I was away at a wedding, including building our new tempering table from a beautiful chunk of quartz and some Ikea table legs – wow!)

quartz tempering table

On Monday night, we had our next chance to work on chocolate. It was time to test the winnower that Richard built out of our vacuum cleaner, a bucket, some serious tubes, duct tape, and the champion juicer. Check it out! This is mock 1 and we definitely have some ways to go on improving this, but I’m super impressed with the speed and ease of winnowing with this! Our first batch had a 65% yield of 607 grams, which we intend to improve with some adjustments to the engineering.

roaster and new winnower

We sent the nibs through our trusty Nutribullet to make them into a powder, then put the grinder, rollers, and resulting cocoa powder in the oven to heat. We set the oven to 200 F then turned it off before putting the items in. We’ve learned that the refining process is a lot smoother (and less noisy) if we heat our tools and ingredients first!

I then spooned in the cocoa powder slowly over 45 minutes, using a heat gun to warm the powder and the grinder as the cocoa mass began to liquify. By 10:35pm, all the powder was in the wonder grinder and we were off to bed!

The next morning at 8am, the liquid looked beautiful (and tasted like chocolatey mud)! Richard added 236 grams of sugar, which he had previously ground in a coffee grinder, making 72% chocolate.

Tuesday night, we finished it off with an hour and a half of conching with the spring-loaded grinder unlatched, so the wheels turned freely in the cocoa liquor without the pressure of refining as well. At 9pm, we turned off the wonder grinder and started tempering! We tried some new tempering scrapers and abandoned them halfway through for our trusty Home Depot plastic paint scrapers. Sometimes fancier doesn’t equate to more functional. That said, the quartz table worked perfectly!

tempering table

To temper, we raised the temperature to 112 in the microwave, then poured the liquid out onto the table. We agitated it and spread it around, reducing the temperature to 81 F with very few chunks. In previous batches, when we hit the low 80s, the chocolate tends to chunk off, which makes it difficult to later reintegrate as a liquid. This time, we encountered much less of that for some reason.

We tried a knife test to check the temper, which was inconclusive. Maybe we don’t wait long enough to see if it hardens with a shiny, hard coat. Maybe we eat it off the end of the knife too quickly. We’ll never know!

We decided to go for it – we poured the chocolate into our molds and for the first time, it oozed into them easily without clumping at all. We tried vibrating the molds by hand, to ease the chocolate into every nook and cranny, and in the process were able to successfully remove bubbles as well!

Madagascar bars

Overall, I’m pretty pumped about this batch. We simplified some of the steps and were more successful at most of them as well. Here’s what the final products look like – much less bloom than previously, beautifully shiny (especially that big one on the right), and delicious. We still have lots to learn, but we’re definitely improving!

Madagascar chocolate