It’s been a longtime coming but we finally made our first batch of chocolate—doing the whole process, from the bean to the bar. Considering we ran into a few speed bumps, I think we did a pretty good job. Half expecting the end product to be downright inedible, we were surprised discover that our first batch was actually pretty good.
Here’s how it happened
First of all, we happened to get a sample of some criollo beans from Haiti through a local coffee shop that was interested in importing coffee beans. We received the beans a few weeks before some of our essential equipment was delivered, so we had some time to get familiar with the roasting process.
I’ll tell you now that our first attempt to roast a small amount of these beans was a total disaster. Using a conventional oven without a confection fan we successfully cooked them into a burned cinder. Yup, there was no chance of salvaging those little beans… and to think, they had come so far only to be botched.
After about seven or eight roasting attempts we finally found a technique to stabilize the temperature in the oven. Then we set our detailed notes aside and waited for our Spectra 10 melanger to be delivered.
Going for it
I was still at work when it first arrived and Anna was on the scene to unpack the 40 pound wet grinder that arrived at our doorstep. It was only a matter of hours before we began concocting our first batch.
The first thing we had to do was roast the rest of the beans. This time around we were successful in giving the beans a reasonably good roast without cooking out all the flavor and without burning them to a crisp. Fortunately that evening it was only about 0-degrees Fahrenheit outside so cooling the beans was a cinch.
Next, with the aid of a potato masher, a duck-shaped hair dryer and a large glass bowl, we took to winnowing our freshly roasted beans. This took a little longer than expected but after about five minutes we had a good amount of nibs in the bowl with a kitchen-floor full of husks.
Not wanting to overload our out-of-the-box concher, we ground all of the nibs into a fine powder in our handheld coffee grinder. We also did this with the sugar, resulting in a fine powdery substance. In addition, we threw the conch bowl into the oven at about 120-degrees along with our powdered nibs and sugar. This step helped to get everything up to temperature as a way of inducing the liquefying process.
As a way of making our first batch a little bit more manageable, we knew we would need additional cocoa butter. Impatient to get started we headed down to Whole Foods to find out if it was possible to buy cocoa butter. To our dismay the answer was no… at least, not food-grade cocoa butter. But we did find some 1oz. tubes in the Whole Body section of organic cocoa butter. Not having any other options, we went ahead and bought a few ounces at about two-and-a-half dollars each.
Once everything appeared to be nice and warm we started up the conch and began adding the ingredients slowly. This is another step that I didn’t expect to take as long as it did. We had to add the ingredients very slowly and keep the hot hair dryer pointed at the mixture for almost an hour before we were comfortable with the state of the cocoa liquor.
Now all we had to do was wait. This proved to be a difficult task—not because we are that impatient but because we live in a studio carriage house, which meant that we had to listen to this noisy little contraption at full volume all night. With the combination of excitement and the noise of the conch I probably slept two to three hours that night.
6:00am rolled around and Anna was up getting ready to teach her 7:00am yoga class at Alaya. I couldn’t sleep anyway so I popped up and decided that the liquor was done being processed. I didn’t have to be to an eye exam until 10am so I decided to temper and mold the chocolate that morning. After failing to temper the chocolate for a solid hour and a half because it was too thick to work with I had to give up and bike over to my appointment.
That night we bought one more ounce of cocoa butter and tossed it into the mixture to be conched again. The next day we invited a friend over to show him our creation in the making and he took a turn at mixing the liquor while we were remelting it in the double boiler to temper. With his overly strong arms he broke our rubber spatula that doubled as a thermometer. After making sure that no broken fragments made it into the chocolate we set it aside once again to temper another day.
Finally, on January 10, 2010 we set out to temper our chocolate for the third time with a new thermospatula. The chocolate was nice and flowing and we had no problem reaching our high and low temperatures. We had enough chocolate liquor to make about 70 bite-sized chocolate bars. They cooled quickly sitting by the sliding glass door and when they were ready they exhibited the loud snap of a well tempered bar.
After running over to Office Depot to buy more ink for the printer, we printed off labels to wrap around each of our little bars, which read: “Operation: Chocolate, Single Origin: Haiti, Bean Type: Criollo, Batch #1 Jan. 10, 2010, Bean to Bar – Organic, Boulder, CO”
And there you have it. The longwinded story of our first Chocolate Baar creation.