Saturday, February 16, 2013

From Bean-to-Bar: a Month of Do-It-Myself Chocolate Making

So how does a wanna-be-chocolate-connoisseur spend the coldest months of winter? Making chocolate of course! And not just any chocolate either, I have made chocolate from bean to bar. That's right folks, once again I have roasted cocoa beans, shelled them, and ground them until they have liquefied into real chocolate and I have done this nearly every day for the past month.

So why would someone go to all this trouble? Well, certainly not to start my own bean-to-bar chocolate business since I have no plans to invest in costly equipment any time soon. Nor do I plan to figure out where to order beans from and try to winnow the darn things in my tiny commercial kitchen, even if I would love to fill my garden this summer with cacao shells instead of mulch. Nope. No way. Those certainly are not the reasons why I have been making chocolate from bean-to-bar. 

The reason is as it always is: learn more about chocolate, understand the process by doing it myself and become a better chocolate connoisseur.

Another reason was to brush up on my skills and to develop a few new recipes.  I was giving a class last weekend on making chocolate at home by using simple, inexpensive appliances like a blender and a coffee grinder, so I wanted to go beyond my usual recipe and test several different ones in preparation (like homemade chocolate with lightly ground espresso beans - yum!).  In the end we only had time to try out one recipe in the class. But I still learned a lot this past month.

One of the things I learned the most about was roasting. Roasting cocoa beans greatly affects the final chocolate flavour. So by making several batches of chocolate using both roasted and unroasted beans, I learned how the flavour differs depending on the darkness of the roast (or lack thereof). I also learned that chocolate made with roasted cocoa beans does taste better. Do not get me wrong: both the raw and roasted chocolate that I made tasted good to me, but the chocolate made with the roasted nibs had a smoother and more well-rounded flavour.

I also learned that it is not easy to tell the difference in taste between cocoa beans before they are made into chocolate. I suppose that some people are advanced enough to taste the difference between cocoa beans from different origins when tasting them plain and raw, but I am just not there yet. So this taught me that I have more to learn.

And my new goal? Learn to tell the difference in cacao bean flavours by origin, or at least identify which is better, tastier or has a better flavour profile. Is that even possible? I don't know. But I intend to try!

Hummingbird Chocolate Maker from Ottawa helped me get started. They sell roasted Dominican Republic cacao online, which I have previously ordered.  Then a few weeks ago, I put in another order for their beans, but this time asked for a different origin. They sent me roasted Bolivian cacao. So I have been eating cocoa beans every day in order to taste the difference between Bolivian cacao and Dominican Republic cacao. I've also been tasting these against various brands of nibs from Ecuador and Peru. So far, I can still only taste the difference in the roast (the Bolivian have been roasted for longer, some of the nibs I roasted myself, and some are raw), but I think I might be getting somewhere with tasting the difference.  However, they most often still taste like cacao to me: unsweetened, crunchy and bitter.

What's also great is that after a month of bean-to-bar chocolate making, I have two new chocolate-related addictions:
  • I LOVE snacking on roasted, unsweetened cacao beans (never thought that would happen!) and,
  • Crunchy, under processed, unconched chocolate is the bomb! There is such a tangy, acidic flavour to it and I have developed a fondness for it and for the crunchiness. This does not mean that I will never eat smooth, fine chocolate again, it just means that I now can satisfy my chocolate craving when I have no other satisfactory chocolate on hand. I can simply take out my coffee grinder, grind up cacao nibs and sugar and in 15 minutes I will have an old-fashioned style chocolate to snack on.  

What else did I learn?
This is the B&D Smartgrind(r)
- excellent for grinding up
cacao beans & nibs.
  • Only certain types of coffee grinders work for grinding cacao beans at home.  Check out the photo of the one that works best on my previous post about making chocolate from bean-to-bar at home: I learned that a Black & Decker Electric Coffee Grinder is amazing at grinding coffee, but not for cocoa beans. Unfortunately cacao quickly liquefies from the heat of it and gets stuck deep within the grinder.  It took me several hours to clean it out, so now it is back to being a coffee grinder again! Instead I bought a second blade grinder called the Black & Decker Smartgrind(R) Coffee Grinder with stainless steel grinding blades.  It was only $19.99 at the Home Hardware. Check
  • I also learned that you can make very small batches of chocolate in your Coffee/Herb grinder, which will liquefy if you add melted cocoa butter, but it is not as fine (grittier) than if you transfer to a decent blender with a new blade (I used an old blender at one point and it did not do anything to further refine my chocolate beyond what the coffee grinder did - but my trusty Osterizer 12-Speed Blender worked great.
  • A tea monitor works
    great for chocolate!
  • There is such a thing as a tea monitor and it can be used to measure temperature of chocolate. I've been using it for a month and it works great.  See the picture on the right.


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