Chocolate making begins when cocoa beans arrive from growing countries. It is now up to the chocolate maker or chocolatier to unlock the flavor treasures the beans conceal and create fine chocolate.
Production techniques change as chocolate makers introduce new technology. But the stages of chocolate making remain the same: roasting, grinding and refining, conching and tempering.
The secret to good chocolate is to carry out these tasks with patience, know-how and love. Combined with sublime chocolate recipes the required attention to detail will produce the produce the most refined and most beautiful chocolates.
Roasting, like cocoa seed fermentation , is a crucial stage in establishing the final flavor of the chocolate. The ultimate quality of the chocolate depends as much on the correct choice of roasting conditions as it does on the characteristics of the raw cocoa beans.
There are several roasting processes:
The cocoa beans are quickly heated with hot air or infra-red radiant heaters to separate the shells from the ‘nibs’, or bean meat. The beans are roasted at temperatures between 100°C (212°F) and 150°C (300°F) for between twenty and forty minutes.
- Direct roasting (without pre-roasting)
The beans, still in their shells, are roasted and then shelled all at once. This older and more traditional method allows the flavor to develop properly. As a guide, this type of roasting is carried out at between 150°C and 160°C (300°F-320°F) for forty to fifty minutes.
Both techniques are still used today and each has its advocates. The use of pre-roasting is more productive, but some varieties of beans, when shelled, can be damaged by a too-violent change in temperature during roasting.
Why Roast? Roasting dries and browns the cocoa beans and develops their flavor. This is the first important stage in the manufacturer’s ‘customization’ of the product.
Earlier, fermentation has produced the flavor precursors: reducing sugars, glucose and fructose, and amino-acids. Even though roasting can only reinforce the results of good fermentation, it can only also spoil very high-quality beans if not done correctly.
After or during roasting (i.e. following pre-roasting), the beans are shelled. If the aim is quality, as little shell as possible should be left.
Shelling is carried out in several stages: milling, sifting and winnowing. Each of these is important and shelling is complete when there are very few residual shells and grains are regular in size.
The shelled beans can be made into fine, smooth chocolate.
The roasted, shelled and crushed beans are milled to reduce them to even finer particles. It is important to take care when milling: friction generated heat can cause smoky or burnt off-flavors and some of the already existing flavors can be damaged or lost.
Refining converts the milled particles into liquid cocoa mass created as the cocoa butter in the beans binds the dry particles.
Conching involves powerful machines, ‘conches’, stiring the chocolate in a controlled way.
This is a crucial stage of chocolate making. Even when perfectly milled and partly homogenized, the product that emerges from the mill does not yet deserve to be called chocolate.
Conching is usually done in two stages:
- Dry conching: the chocolate is slowly stirred at a temperature of around 80°C (175°F) to rid it of any residual moisture and add viscosity.
- Liquid conching: follows immediately after dry conching – in the same conch and without stopping the machine – affecting texture and creaminess. (Sometimes it is necessary to add a little cocoa butter).
Tempering is the art of transforming liquid, or semi-liquid, chocolate into a solid. It seems simple but is a very delicate process.
The chocolate is heated to a specific temperature until the cocoa butter crystals have melted completely, and then cooling it at a carefully selected temperature.
Properly tempered chocolate is smooth and glossy, snaps when broken and produces smooth texture in the mouth and delivers flavor and aroma.
When carried out with patience, attention to detail and love, the chocolate making process will produce truly gourmet chocolate.