Make Chocolate from Scratch
The essence of chocolate is beans harvested from the cacao tree. These cocoa beans are removed from pods the size of small pineapples and then fermented for a few days, dried, roasted, de-shelled, and ground up into a liquid called cocoa liquor (no, it's not alcoholic). Along the way sugar, milk, and a whole host of other ingredients may be added give the chocolate a distinctive flavor. We're going to be making dark chocolate, which means it contains 70% or more of the original cocoa solids and the rest sugar.
Before doing anything, take a look at this chocolate-making video to see how easy it is. Ok, this first part is where you choose whether to really go for it or just do the final grinding and experimenting phase. The full-blown experience includes roasting and separating the cocoa beans, which can be a lot of fun but also adds an hour or so to the process and can kill the date if it goes bad on you. If you're the adventurous types then I would at least recommend also buying nibs in case the roasting doesn't work out. What are these 'nibs' I keep talking about? Cacao nibs are the insides of the cocoa bean, the meat, and can be found online or from local health stores. There's nothing wrong with buying nibs and this way you can be tasting your chocolate creations within a few short minutes.
Roasting, Cracking, and Winnowing (skip if you bought nibs)
Roasting is the most difficult part of the process because underdone or burnt beans will ruin the chocolate. A good starting plan is to spread the beans out on a cookie sheet and place them in an oven preheated to 300F, removing the beans every 10 minutes to stir and rotate. You don't have to roast all of the beans at once, try a small sample of 8 oz. or so at first. The target time is 30 minutes but you should take them out for a sniff at 25 minutes. While cooking, the beans will go from a nice smell to a vinegary one and then back to a chocolaty brownie smell. The brownie phase is when they’re done. The beans may begin popping and cracking at this point but not always. Use your nose!
Once finished roasting you will crack the beans with a hammer and remove the husks by hand, placing the nibs into a large bowl. Don’t worry too much about perfectly-clean nibs, you'll finish removing the husks with a hair dryer. This is the winnowing phase where one of you will hold a hair dryer while the other stirs the nibs to blow away the remaining parts of the husks. Okay, you now have delicious cocoa nibs and are ready to make chocolate!
Before starting, pop a few nibs in your mouths to get a feel for the taste. Be prepared, they're pretty bitter. Now that you know the basic flavor, it's time to decide on the ratio of cacao to sugar. You're probably familiar with chocolate labels that read '70% Dark', '85% Dark' or whatnot. This is the ratio of cacao to other ingredients, which in our case is just sugar. I would recommend starting with a 70% bar, which translates to 7 teaspoons of nibs and 3 tsp of sugar. Here's a more recipe-friendly format:
- Place 7 tsp of nibs and 3 tsp of sugar in a coffee grinder
- Grind for 1 minute, open the grinder and separate the mixture from the sides and lid
- Repeat 4 times
- Add any additional flavorings or spices
- Close and grind for 1 minute more
- Remove the semi-liquid chocolate into a mortar and grind by hand using a pestle. It's a good idea to warm the mortar before adding the chocolate.
- When the chocolate become liquid, enjoy!
At this point your first batch of chocolate will be complete, you can either eat it directly out of a bowl with spoons or place into molds. Be sure to experiment with more or less cacao to find your favorites!
Regular chocolate is delicious but if you want to realize customize it, try adding some extra ingredients to the mix. Chili powder is a popular choice, giving the chocolate a little kick, and chocolate-maker John Scharffenburger also recommends cardamom. Here are some other possibilities:
- Chili powder - try the generic red variety, which is usually a mix of red and cayenne peppers, straight cayenne powder, or the milder paprika. If using the hotter stuff just use a pinch or two.
- Pumpkin or apple pie spice
- Ginger powder
- Maple syrup
- Whatever else sounds interesting!
Also feel free to melt the chocolate and use it to coat macadamia nuts, almonds, peanuts, caramels, strawberries, cherries, chunks or coconut, or whatever!
The Final Tasting
When you’re all finished and ready to relax, try sampling your chocolates with a glass of wine, cup of coffee, or along with berries or other fruits on the side. Light a few candles, put on music, and talk about what went right, what went wrong, and the types of chocolate you'd like to make next time. Don't worry about eating too much, cacao is actually good for you, it's the added sugar you have to worry about. Keep that down and you can feast away!
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TOP DATE IDEAS
You'll NeedCacao nibs (Whole Foods, Amazon.com, local health stores)
Cocoa beans (optional)
Coffee grinder or Indian spice grinder
Mortar and pestle
Hair dryer (optional)
Chocolate molds (optional) can be purchased at Michael's, other craft stores, or online
LinksAn excellent video on making chocolate at home
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