Video Tuesday

Every Tuesday, for the next few months we are going to be putting out a new video on our youtube channel, How to Make Chocolate at Home.  In a similar manner to my walls of words in text, I ramble a bit, taking this or that side path as it suites what I am attempting to convey.

All about cocoa beans is new.

I hope you enjoy it.

Ask the Alchemist #173

Do you have any videos showing how to make chocolate?  I’ve looked all over and can’t find them.

I was just going over with my  a member of my team how to announce our video series.  Thank you for the absolutely perfect introduction.

Yep, you heard it right.  We have videos on the way.

I’m going to go into full self deprecation mode and say that although they hopefully will do the job, they are not as polished and smooth as I might want.  And in pretty classic Alchemist fashion, noting that I often communicate in great walls of text, I talk a lot in these videos.  No.  Really.  A lot.  So here is the official announcement:

For years I’ve been thinking that a video series on making chocolate would be a good complement to this site and to my weekly “Ask the Alchemist” series.  Well, I finally got it done and today we are announcing the beginning of Video Tuesdays.  Every Tuesday we’ll add a new video to our You Tube Channel until all 15 of them are posted.  Think of it as an online correspondence course in how to make chocolate at home. 

If you subscribe to the channel you’ll be alerted whenever a new video is posted.  Today our first one is an overview of the Chocolate Making Process I’ve developed over the past 14 years. 

There is the first video.

Eventually these will all live on our site as well as on You Tube, but we’re waiting until our site gets a facelift later this year (yep, more foreshadowing there).

 The videos that are queued up are as follows:

  1. Chocolate Making Overview
  2. How to pick your beans
  3. Behmor 1600 Roasting
  4. Oven Roasting
  5. Drum Roasting
  6. Cracking Beans
  7. Winnowing
  8. Making Chocolate Liquor
  9. Making Dark Chocolate
  10. Making Milk Chocolate
  11. Making White Chocolate
  12. Tempering Philosophy
  13. Cocoa Butter Seed Tempering
  14. Bowl Tempering

Plus one on how to change the belt on the Spectra Melanger.

Enjoy.  And please let me know what else you would like to see.

The long dark tea-time of the soul

It’s more like cocoa-tea-time but you get the drift I suspect.

May I present Alchemist’s series #7 – The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul.

TLDTTOTS is replacing Fire and Brimstone #4.  It is a semi-dark, richly chocolate, brewing cocoa.  Very possibly the best yet (at least I like it the best).  I really enjoy it at 202 F in the Brazen Brewer.

New Direct Trade India is in.  It also makes a killer Brewing cocoa.  Hot or cold.

4 new Venezuelan are on the way.  Fruity Sur del Lago, delicate Cuyagua, silky Canoba, and rich Guanino.

Most likely Belize and Maranon….still finishing the tasting and evaluation.

Testing and Evaluation beans are back.

Finally, I am now offering the Behmor 1600 plus with free shipping (lower 48 USA only and with no beans).

Oh, and some of you may have noticed that Ask the Alchemist went AWOL last week.  That happens from time to time when no questions are in the queue.  So, what do you want to know?

Ask the Alchemist #172

Level: Apprentice/Alchemist

Reading time: 13 min

How do I sweeten my chocolate with honey?

Sit back.  It’s story time.

For years now I have not had an answer to this question.  Or at least I didn’t have an encouraging answer.  The best I could say was that you could not just pour it into your chocolate while in the melanger.  If you do that the water in the honey will cause the chocolate to seize.

Over and over I’ve been told it was possible, but it was always via the classic friend of a friend.  Or whoever told me had seen a *real* chocolate bar in the store sweetened with honey.  In three separate cases I tracked down the makers of said honey chocolate.  And in every single case they admitted, rather quietly and with their head lowered just a bit, that the chocolate just didn’t quite work well and that it was very difficult to remain stable.   In 2 of the 3 cases all they did was stir honey into the chocolate during tempering, very gently so as not to cause a seizing reaction, and hoped for the best….and still had a high failure rate and shelf life issues due to the moisture.

For me this challenge had the same feel as my initial chocolate making endeavor back in 2003 when no one knew how to make chocolate at home.  My goal then was to make real chocolate in a straight forward and approachable way.    I wanted to do the same thing with honey.  I wanted to come up with a way that anyone could do without hedging, and without admonishments to be careful.

Toward that goal, I have failed quite a bit.  Failure is always an option.  Let’s run down my list of failures.

The low hanging cacao fruit was powdered honey.  The issue there turned out to be one of false advertising.  I could find no real dried or powdered honey.  It all contained huge amounts of dry sugar.  There was enough to give a honey taste in teas and baked goods, but not what I was looking for.  It’s is worth noting I did find one on-line but it was both horridly expensive and often out of stock.  That in itself violated the goal of being straight forward and approachable to anyone.  So I moved on. Failure.

I had this epiphany while making a batch of praline.  Part of that procedure is to make caramelized sugar.  You start off by making sugar syrup and then boiling the water off.  I could find no good reason I could not boil off the water in honey.

It all went really well.  It boiled.  It hit hard crack temperature.  I poured it up and it gave me a beautiful sheet of honey glass.  And proceeded to suck up moisture fast and become tacky in the time it took to cool.  Trying to powder it so I could use was a choir and by the end it was sticking together and in no shape to go into chocolate.   Failure.

After that I decided it was time to step back and make it simpler so I tried to dry my own honey.  I actually didn’t have high hopes here.  AI tiny test confirmed that all you end up with upon dehydrating honey is something a bit akin to a taffy.  Super thick but nothing you could add to chocolate.  It forms a skin that keeps it from 100% drying out. Failure.

From there I jumped to coating a batch of roasted nibs in honey and drying those.  I really thought I was onto something there.  I had spread out the honey, radically increased the surface area and made the coating of honey so thin that it effectively could not form a skin.

After about 6 hours at 120 F the nibs were a tiny bit tacky.  After cooling they firmed up and were crunchy.  Looking good!  I had previously weighted my nibs and honey and when the weight showed I had lost the 16% of the weight of the honey (the average moisture content of honey) I called it done.

I put the honeyed nibs into the melanger.  I put some warmed cocoa butter and a little lecithin in just to help things along.  After an hour they were all in and while not looking perfect, didn’t look too bad.  Unfortunately somewhere between 1 and 24 hours disaster struck.  What I came back to is virtually impossible to describe.  But I will try.  The melanger was still running.  But it looked so very weird.  It was bumping and thumping and splashing in ways it was not supposed to.  Somehow, from the best I can tell, the honey started sticking to itself as it worked.  There were globs of hard honey all over the sides of the bowl, the bottom of the bowl and there was this utterly bizarre ring of …..something…..around the central shaft.  From the best I could tell it was wax or at least wax based.  Pretty flavorless, kind of hard, but not really.  It took me two days of hot water, repeatedly scrubbing and lots of elbow grease to get it clean.  Oh, and the chocolate?  Nasty.  You know that odd flavor after you have chewed up all the flavor out of a piece of honeycomb?  That!  Failure.

But it’s funny.  I have this streak in me that refuses to give up as long as what I am trying doesn’t go off and break physical laws.  No perpetual machine tests for me!  So I kept thinking, letting the idea rest and turn over in my mind.  A few months later I was doing another test and had great success.  It was not a honey test, but it was the key.  I was playing with infusing some whisky with cocoa, noticed how much liquid the nibs soaked up and wondered what would happen if I went the other way.

I proceeded to add a small amount of bourbon to some roasted nibs.  After 12 hours there was no bourbon left.  I put the bourbon nibs into the oven and an hour later I was back at my original weight of nibs.  And the nibs were totally dry.  I made chocolate with them (recipe later) and I had a lovely bourbon chocolate that behaved perfectly.

As I said, this was the key.  I think most of you know I am a retired chemist.  This got me thinking about sugar’s affinity for water (everything gets tacky), but also alcohol’s affinity for water. I wondered if I could use the later to out compete the former.  I’m not going to delve too deep into theory but I will say water and ethanol forms a mixture that is called an azeotrope.  This mixture contains about 5% water.  And the key is that no matter how you heat it you cannot make that water go away.  My thought was to use that characteristic to force the water out of the nibs.  Basically by heating ethanol soaked nibs, when the ethanol evaporates/boils off it draws water out with it.  That is why the bourbon whiskey worked.   I wondered if I mixed honey and ethanol (vodka) I could force the same reaction.

I guess by now you know it worked or I would not be writing this.  It worked fantastic.

I dissolved 250 grams of honey in 160 grams of vodka.  There was some calculations behind the choice of that amount of vodka involving partial pressures of water/ethanol  mixtures, but suffice it to say it worked and it might well be possible to use even less.  It took heating the mixture to 122F/50C to get  the solution to go clear. After that I mixed it with the nibs and let them soak for a day.  I dried them in an oven at 150 F (the lowest setting in my oven) and they dried right out.  They had a pretty sheen on them and were crunchy, not sticky.  After some hours they stuck together but broke easily apart again.

Hedging my bets I heated 10% cocoa butter and a teaspoon of lecithin, and made a batch of honey chocolate.  This time there was nothing funny at all.  After less than 1 hour it was looking like this:

Another honey chocolate test. So far so good. Stay tuned. #artisanchocolate #beantobar #cocoa #honey

A video posted by @chocolatealchemy on

And after 24 hours this:


For those that want to follow along I started with 750 g of roasted nibs, 250 g of honey and 160 g of vodka for a total weight of 1160 g. If everything works like you want it to, you should end up with the 750 g of nibs plus the weight of the honey minus 16% water or 210 g for a total of 960 g.  100% of the vodka is gone.  I ended up with 948 g.  I count that a total success as the 16% was an estimate.

Given how thin the chocolate was I think I could have greatly reduced the cocoa butter and/or lecithin amount.  And it is very possible the amount of vodka would be also reduced now that I know what to look for.   As I think about it I wonder if the vodka helped pull out extra moisture from the chocolate resulting in a thinner than standard chocolate.   That might be worth looking into.

And the flavor?  Here is the funny thing.  I’m not a honey fan.  It tastes of honey.  I’m not a fan.  But it tastes like I would expect honey chocolate to taste like.  A little floral, a little tangy and a little back drop of comb and loam.

So there you go.

Honey chocolate.

Real honey chocolate.

Straight forward.  No being delicate, no disclaimers, no conditions.

Please  give it a try and let me know how it works.

Ask the Alchemist #171

Level: Apprentice

Reading time: 4 min

I understand the no liquids rule, but I was wondering whether glycerin could work as sweetener?
If it’s present in all natural fats, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem, no?
I’m interested in its low glycemic index, and it seems ideal on paper. Is it possible or am I really off the mark?

When we talk about cocoa butter and tempering, you may often see the abbreviation TAG.  This stands for Tri-Acyl-Glyceride.  To translate that, Tri is three, acyl is a long chain hydrocarbon (the oil or fat) and the three Acyls are connected on a glyceride backbone.  So, yes, glycerin is present in some form or another.  But it usually is not in its free state.  It likes to attach to thing, hence the TAG.

On its own it still likes to attach to things and therein is the first issue.  By itself glycerin attracts water like a sponge.  Glycerin is often added to lotions and cosmetics to help your skin hold onto moisture. Moving into potential TMA, when mixed into wax and used as a stool softener, glycerin’s moisture-attracting properties attract water from the body which stimulates….movement.

More in line with what we might use it for, it is often incorporated into fondants to help keep them supple, and certain filings to keep them creamy and soft. And as an additive to truffle filling it might be great.

I think you might be seeing the issue.  If you were to put it into your chocolate, it may or may not seize.  It would probably depend on how much water it had previously absorbed.  But regardless would undoubtedly absorb moisture from the atmosphere and cause your chocolate to do really weird things.

It is also worth mentioning a few other things.  With most any substance, there are going to be a small number of people that have sensitivities or allergies to glycerin and it can be an issue if consumed in large quantities.  And it is worth noting that it is not calorie-free even though it is low on the glycemic index.. As a matter of fact, glycerin contains slightly more calories than sugar.  Unfortunately it isn’t as sweet (about 60%) so you are going to need even more to get the  same sweetness which is just going to compound the moisture issue.

And going back to the potential TMA, just as with sugar alcohols, consuming a lot of glycerin can produce a laxative effect which usually isn’t a thing most people look for in their chocolate.

So, here is a great example of ‘in theory it should work, but in practice it doesn’t’.  Sorry.  Good thinking though.

Ask the Alchemist #170

Level: Novice

Reading time: 10 min

I’ve tried to make “just add hot water” drinking chocolate.  However I’m having two problems:

  1. When I add hot water, the chocolate has to be stirred A LOT to get it to mix and even then, there’s tiny blobs of it left in the bottom of the mug.  
  2. I want it to have a creamier texture, but it’s quite watery, in spite of all the milk powder and cocoa butter I added.  I’ve tried adding up to 44% milk powder to get more creaminess but then I lose more chocolate flavour.

How could I improve these please?  My basic recipe is:

27% sugar, 39% cocoa liquor, 9% cocoa butter, 24% milk powder, 0.7% vanilla, 0.3% sunflower lecithin 

Also, how best can I imbue caramel flavour into a milk chocolate?  I’ve tried caramelizing sugar, chopping it up and then conching it.  But the caramelized sugar is super hygroscopic and also gets stuck in my conche.  What else could I try please?

What you are running into are the preconceived notions of what and how hot chocolate should behave.  What it seems you are used to with “just add hot water” is very significantly processed chocolate.  I don’t mean this negatively per se.  Just that you are not seeing the massive amount of work that went into making a product that will dissolve virtually instantly for the American consumer market.

My very first thought on 1) is “that sounds about right”.  Chocolate is oil based and you trying to dissolve in a water.  It would be exactly the same if you were surprised if you lightly stirred an egg yolk and cup of oil together and didn’t get mayonnaise.  It takes a very specific set of conditions to get oil and water to mix and be stable… you are seeing.

Now that I’ve said that, what I have had some success with is making a ganache with my chocolate and then mixing that into water.  If you combine chocolate and water (or cream) at approximately 1:1 at 100F, rather gently, then let it set up, you may well find a spoonful of that then dissolves much easier into hot water without all the stirring and blobs at the bottom.  Basically you have made an emulsion.  Just like mayonnaise.

Your second item is playing right into the first issue.  Let’s go back to the egg yolk and oil.  If you just mix the two together, it would look watery and thin.  Certainly not creamy, yet mayonnaise is creamy.  It’s the emulsion that is giving it its creamy texture.  Again, there is quite a bit added to instant hot chocolates to give them their creamy mouth feel instantly.  Quite often guar gum, gelatin, modified starches, and the like.  Basically a ton of food chemistry to get the mixture to behave smoothly and easily.

On to the advice now.  Where you are going to find success is developing your technique.  Basically, it is a variation of the ganache prepared on the spot.  Have a look at both of these.

Hot Chocolate

2 Ingredient Homemade Hot Chocolate

In short, I kind of hate to tell you, is that you have to give up the idea that you can have both an instant hot chocolate and one that didn’t take time to prepare.  It’s sort of like a magic trick.  You are used to only seeing the final trick –  Ta-da!  just add water hot chocolate – without realizing how much behind the scenes work there is to pull it off.  i.e. pulling out a pan, heating everything just so, so that you form a nice thick, creamy emulsion.

As for the caramel flavor.  I don’t have a surefire answer for you.  I can give you hints, but just like the above magic trick references, it isn’t as easy as adding caramel to your chocolate as you have found.  What I’ve found is you need to create it in the chocolate.  Using high acid beans and elevated refining temperatures greatly increase the amount of caramel flavor in chocolate.

The hands down most caramel chocolate I ever tasted in a milk chocolate was from a Madagascar.  In this particular case the 20% cocoa butter had been pressed (using the Nutrachef Oil press) from the same Madagascar beans used to make the chocolate. It resulted in a deep caramel flavor.

It is also worth pointing out you want a full fat spray dried milk powder.  The process itself adds caramel notes.  That’s one of the main reasons I offer the milk powder that I do.  Non-fat milk powder just doesn’t seem to do it.

And I should clarify.  Do you want the caramel flavor in your chocolate or in your hot chocolate?  Making your own caramel syrup is the direction I would go if you want it in your hot chocolate.   Basically, caramelize the sugar as you did before, but then immediately dilute it with hot water.  This spells it out:

How to make Caramel Coffee Syrup

Prepare your own homemade caramel syrup for coffee (or chocolate) from scratch. It’s easy to do.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup boiling water


Heat sugar over medium high heat until it begins to melt. Stir constantly. If the sugar begins to burn, discard, and try again. When the sugar begins to brown quickly stir in boiling water. Stand back, as the mixture may steam. Stir until well blended. Cook mixture for an additional 15 to 30 seconds. Do not let the sugar burn. Remove pot from heat source, and allow mixture to cool before placing in an air tight container.

That you can even add to your ganache as the liquid portion and the sugar content will both help it keep longer (ganache is perishable when made fresh) and allow the mixture to incorporate more water or milk to turn into hot chocolate.

I hope that helps.



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