Monday, September 3, 2012

From bean to bar....second time around!

Making chocolate from the bean is not easy.  I have learned this the hard way. But after the second chocolate-making session yesterday, which included roasting and shelling the beans, the messy process of grinding the sugar and the cacao nibs in a tiny coffee grinder, then using my blender to mix the ingredients together, I have learned that it is a rewarding process. Doing this has not only provided me with a tasty treat, but has taught me why chocolate makers are so passionate about their craft. 

A friend brought some cacao beans back from a recent trip to Costa Rica and dropped them off at my door along with some Costa Rican-made chocolate (yes, that's right, I do have great friends).  They gave me about eight ounces of beans, which was just enough to roast, grind and make about 6 small chocolate bars and some tasting squares. Check out my step-by-step process below if you want to try the same thing at home.

So this was my second time roasting cacao beans.  The instructions that were provided in Madre's Bean-to-Bar chocolate making kit said to roast the beans about 10-20 minutes until they smell like brownies and no longer taste "green".  They did smell like brownies and I honestly could not taste a difference between the beans before and after roasting (part of me wondered if they had already been roasted? Since I did not have the original packaging for the beans, I had no information about them other than they were from Costa Rica and possibly Criollo beans). I left them in the oven at 280 degrees for 25 minutes.  I did not burn any, so that was a great start.

Once cooled I, and my summer student who was wonderfully patient, shelled the beans.  She cracked off the shells off by hand as they were, and I tried the cool air technique (I used a hair dryer to blow cool air on the shells to help crack them off).  It seemed to take us about the same amount of time to crack the shells off, which was about an hour (yes, that`s right, an hour to crack the shells off of 8 ounces of beans!).
Like the first time that I made chocolate from the bean, I still only had a small coffee grinder to grind the beans.  Unfortunately it only grinds about a quarter cup at a time, and it heats the beans a bit too much which causes them to stick to the sides of the coffee grinder.  And because they were sticking, I could only grind them to a fine gritty level, about the same as a finely ground coffee bean. So I knew the chocolate would not be perfectly smooth. But it did the job.

I added the beans to my trusty old blender, along with the scrapings from one vanilla bean, about an ounce of melted cocoa butter (which took at least 2 minutes on half power in the microwave) and sunflower lecithin (I prefer it to soy lecithin for a few reasons, read more here on that).  Then the blender miraculously turned the beans, sugar, vanilla bean, lecithin and cocoa butter into a liquid form. I threw in some sold, tempered chocolate (about 25% of the total weight of chocolate that I made) and stirred until the temperature was just right (about 90 degrees F for dark chocolate).

I waited almost 24 hours to pop the chocolate out of the moulds so that they would have a nice shine, and voila! I have made some beautiful, smooth looking chocolate.  To me, it tasted wonderful.  Admittedly it is slightly gritty, but smoother than I thought it would be and in fact, it was smoother than my last batch and smoother than Soma`s 'Old School' chocolate as well as Taza's Stone Ground chocolate.

Since the solid chocolate that I used was tempered, organic chocolate from Peru, it likely changed the flavour a bit from the true Costa Rican bean flavour, but it also smoothed out my chocolate a little bit.

Do not get me wrong, I am not out to compete with any bean-to-bar chocolate makers any time soon.  In fact, probably never. But I am sure that I will be making more chocolate from the bean in the near and not-so-near future. With two tries, I seem to have caught the chocolate-making 'bug'. Admittedly the first time went well, (well, except that tiny error when I got the spatula caught in the blender and small pieces of rubber ended up in the chocolate, but don't worry, I was the only one eating it!), then the second time went a lot better.  So now I want to learn how to make the chocolate smoother, while not over processing it.  I would also love to use beans from different countries and see how the origin of the beans affects the flavour.  And I would like to try different roasting times as well as a variety of other ways that I can improve my own method of making chocolate.  See?  Clearly I am becoming addicted to bean-to-bar chocolate-making.

Now I would like to share my new addiction with all of you. If you would like to try to make chocolate at home using your own household appliances, here is how you do it step-by-step:

Step-By-Step Guide to Making Chocolate From the Bean At Home

Step 1: Roast the cacao beans in the oven between 250 and 325 F for 15 to 30 minutes (this is according Chocolate Alchemy, but Madre's instructions said 280 degrees F for 15-20 minutes).

Step 2: break off the shells by hand and separate the husks from the beans.  Your nibs may crumble a lot, but that is okay.

Step 3: Grind some sugar and the scrapings of one vanilla bean (or not, this is your choice) in a coffee grinder until sugar is very fine.  You can decide how much sugar.  Basically you want about an ounce for four ounces of beans to give you approximately 70-80% cacao solids.

Step 4: Grind four ounces of shelled beans.

Step 5: Add the beans to a blender or food processor (from what I understand, a food processor is better because you can run it for longer, but I have no experience with it) and add the sugar and vanilla with the beans.

Step 6: Melt some cocoa butter (about 3/4 of an ounce) in the microwave at half power for about 2 minutes.  I had trouble melting it and had to add a little time to the microwave, but as long as it is stirred, melted together and slightly warm, you should be okay.

Step 7: Add the cocoa butter and lecithin to the blender (for the lecithin, about 0.08 oz or just 1% of the weight of the total recipe)

Step 8: Blend on high, stir, then blend on low for as long as you think your blender can handle it (20 minutes or so).  If using a food processor, mix for 20 minutes to one hour.

Step 9: The mixture will be hot.  Transfer to a glass (or other microwavable) bowl.  Add about 1 oz of tempered, solid chocolate and stir until melted and the chocolate is about the same temperature as the back of your baby finger.  If too cold, put in microwave for about five seconds and stir until it is the right temperature.

Step 10:  Pour into chocolate moulds (or plastic containers if you have no moulds).  Wait 24 hours before popping them out.  Then eat and enjoy!  Or package up in an airtight container and maintain in a cool, dark cupboard until you are ready to eat them.

Don't have the supplies?  Purchase Madre's Bean-to-Bar kit online!  You just need some cocoa butter and lecithin, which you can buy at your local health food store.  Oh, and maybe a vanilla bean too.  There is also a great step-by-step chocolate making guide on Hummingbird Chocolate's website at:

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