Although you can buy cookies at the grocery store saving time and money, we still make them by scratch in gargantuan quantities. Making something from scratch allows us to customize, experience, and to show our love. It is no wonder then, that you might consider making homemade chocolate-or chocolate from scratch. For some, that might mean melting some chocolate chips and adding crushed peppermint to it and calling it homemade bark. Others might wonder if it’s possible to make the chocolate itself, and if so, can it be made in a home kitchen.
Unless you live near the equator and have a cacao tree in your backyard, it would be difficult to make chocolate from scratch. However, with a little help in obtaining fermented and dried cacao beans, you absolutely can make your own chocolate. With the popularity of making craft beer and mozzarella from home, there’s no reason why chocolate can’t be on your culinary bucket list. You only need a few ingredients to get started.
One of the biggest challenges to making a chocolate bar from home, is grinding the cacao nib (inside of the cocao bean) to the texture necessary to render the cacao butter and liquor. In a chocolate factory, they use a special stone grinder called a melanger that is cooled on the outside with water. Smaller, or table versions are available for the chocolate hobbyist, but are on the expensive side. This article will explain how you can still make chocolate from scratch with the equipment that you already have at home, and how you can obtain the ingredients that you need to impress yourself and for those you make chocolate.
Visiting chocolate factories never get old-especially if they give free samples at the end of the tour (see article on chocolate tours). However, most chocolate factories start with chocolate couverture in the form of chips, disks, or blocks. Sometimes there is a film or display that explains the origin of the cacao tree or bean. It is a true delight when you can experience the process from bean to bar. I have been lucky enough to visit several small cacao farms in Central America and the Caribbean. We have made our own traditional stone ground chocolate disks for hot chocolate as well as designed our own chocolate bars. It is fun to shop for chocolate in different parts of the world, but it is particularly satisfying to immerse yourself in the process of creating your own chocolate.
How Do I Start the Chocolate Making Process?
Assuming you do not have access to your own cacao trees, the next best thing is to obtain chocolate beans. They look a little bit like dark almonds. Generally, a cacao pod, which is shaped like a small football, contains approximately 30-40 seeds. The seeds are surrounded by a sticky, milky pulp. Once the seeds are separated from the pod, they are fermented for a couple of weeks. They are then dried, usually on a tarp out in the sun. You can purchase these dried beans through the internet. If you choose to do this, you will need to roast them-either on the stovetop or in the oven. It doesn’t take long and when they are roasted, they brown and often make a “popping” sound. At this point, you can “shell” them to reveal the cacao nibs inside. Cacao nibs have gained in popularity in the last few years as a super food, and are sometimes added to food, or dipped in chocolate and eaten as a snack. Since cacao beans are somewhat difficult to obtain and they cost about the same price as cacao nibs per pound, I would suggest purchasing the nibs rather than the beans. Certainly they can be found on the internet, but they can also be found in some stores such as Whole Foods as well.
Cacao nibs are rough in texture and look similar to dried cloves or tiny pieces of tree bark. A 1lb. package will be enough to make several chocolate bars. Most cacao nibs are raw and should be roasted in the oven for a few minutes before using (about 10 minutes on 350°F). After they have cooled, you will need to grind them several times, and then several times more until it first turns into a powder resembling cocoa powder, and ultimately into a paste and then a liquid.
How Do I Grind the Cacao Nibs?
Those who regularly grind their own coffee beans may have a manual or electric coffee grinder. I do not-but I have a grinder for wheat! The grinder will mill the nibs into a rough substance and as it is passed through the grinder multiple times it will produce a fine powder. At this point, some of the cacao butter will come to the surface and give the powder a shiny look and it will become more like a paste. This can be sweetened and flavored and formed into a disk that can be used to make hot chocolate. This is particularly popular in Mexican cuisine. Generally, the paste is mixed with up to an equal part sugar, a flavoring such as cinnamon or cayenne pepper and formed into a 50g disk that can be melted in 2 cups of hot milk to make two servings of hot chocolate.
Assuming it’s chocolate bars, bark or bon bons that you want to make, you will have to further process your nibs. Depending on the strength of your home appliances, you can use either a food processor or a blender. I found my blender to outperform my processor, but that is because I have a high-end model. The risk that you take is having your motor overheat before you have your chocolate fully processed. That is why chocolate factories/processors use the wet grinder previously mentioned. It cools the motor as it is processing the nibs. Most people will not purchase a wet grinder unless they expect to process chocolate on a regular basis. You will have to accept the outcome that you get from your everyday small appliances. If you check on your food processor or blender regularly, you can prevent it from overheating. You can let it rest for small periods of time while the motor cools. As you process the nibs in your blender or food processor, it will begin to look more and more like melted chocolate (be sure to consistently scrape down the sides of your bowl). It will take about ten minutes for your nibs to begin to look like melted chocolate. It will smell heavenly, yet be a surprise if you steal a taste as it is unsweetened and quite bitter. If the viscosity is too dense, you might add a tablespoon or more of melted cacao butter.
What Do I Do With the Cocoa Liquor?
With your nibs ground into a liquid, it is now time to add sweetener and flavor. The most common flavor comes from a vanilla bean. Any flavoring added should be dry or oil based rather water-based. The amount of sugar that you add will be dependent upon your desired outcome. If you wanted to make a chocolate bar with 60% cocoa content, you will need to add 40% in sugar. In other words, if you measured 60g of chocolate, you would add 40g of sugar. This too will need to be processed in the blender while the chocolate liquor is still warm. Unless I am looking for a specific outcome, I will just add sugar and taste it until I am satisfied.
At this point, it looks and tastes like melted chocolate but it may be a little gritty. That is to be expected. Before pouring it into molds, you will need to temper it using your preferred method. If you are using add-ins, toppings, or embellishments, have them ready to use (i.e chop nuts, open jars, etc.) so your chocolate can stay in temper as you pour and mold. One of the easiest things to do with your chocolate at this time is to pour portions on parchment paper and make bark. You can add diced nuts, chopped dry fruits, dehydrated marshmallows, sprinkles, or other confections such as caramel pieces or crushed cookies. If tempered properly, it will set in a matter of minutes and there will be no need to refrigerate it. Your chocolate will most likely be slightly gritty or grainy. I prefer to think of it as rustic. It looks just like the chocolate you would purchase but has a somewhat altered texture, which to me is a positive and reminds me that it was made at home, and with love.
About THE AUTHOR
Lori has been a Culinary Arts instructor for twenty years. She has taught in the public school setting, at the collegiate level and through adult continuing education as well as running several cooking and baking camps for children. She has participated in several cooking, cake & chocolate contests and has been well recognized. She has raised thousands of dollars for charities using the byline “Saving the World one Cupcake at a Time”. Additionally, she has had several articles regarding food published in various magazines.Read More About Lori Gilmore