Ask the Alchemist #9

What recipe should I use for making my chocolate? Can I change recipes I find on your site?


Caution: Rambling Alchemist ahead

In some ways that is an easy question, and some ways really hard. Starting with the second part of the question, yes, of course you can change any recipe you find on the site. It is your chocolate after all. By chance, are you asking ‘will it ruin it?’. No, it most likely will not ruin it…but it may be slightly different than what I made. But that is totally ok. As it is, if you and I and Fred Schilling all made chocolate from the same recipe, the chances of all the chocolates being the same is actually pretty small. We are going to use different equipment, roast just a little differently, have slightly different temperatures, and the chocolate is going to taste ‘right’ to each of us at slightly different stages.

That all said, you want a recipe. Fine, start in the Recipe section. You can have a dark, semi-sweet or milk as your jumping off point. Look through them. You should quickly see a pattern. Your chocolate is going to be comprised of a very short list of ingredients:

Cocoa beans
Cocoa butter
Milk powder

The first two, assuming ‘standard chocolate’ are basically mandatory. The other three, depending on your tastes, desires and the type of chocolate you are making, are fully optional. Let’s go into them in a little bit of detail.

Cocoa beans – First off, you see the recipe calls for a cocoa bean that is no longer available. No worries. Relax. Have some homemade chocolate. Now go read some of the cocoa beans reviews and pick a new one that piques your interest. You are overwhelmed? Look for one that says approachable, or chocolately, or something of the ilk. Or pick one randomly. Not to minimize bean choice, but you need to start somewhere, and only by gaining experience are you going to learn. Bolivia, Peru, Ghana. Three good beans to start with. Others are fine of course. How much do you need? We will deal percentages later, but what is useful to know is that you will need about 1/3 more cocoa beans than nibs as called for in whatever recipe you use due to the weight of the husk. So, if you need 2 lbs of nibs, you are going to need to start with about 2 2/3 lbs of cocoa beans.

Sugar – Granulated Cane sugar. Let’s keep it simple at first. Go for organic if you wish. Steer clear of some of the alternative sugars (brown, succanat, date, etc).

Cocoa butter – First off, to repeat, this is an optional ingredient (assuming a dark chocolate – more later). I personally like to add little to my chocolates. The choice of Natural or deodorized is yours. I like Natural. It smell heavenly and adds some complexity to the chocolate in my opinion. Some people want only the cocoa beans to shine though, so they use deodorized.

Milk powder – This may be obvious, maybe not, but milk powder is only needed if you are making milk chocolate. Honestly, I’ve run into people that thought all chocolate had milk in it. You can use whole milk or non-fat milk powder. The later is easier to find, but I (and most people it seems) prefer the former.

Lecithin – again, optional. Why do you use it? Three reasons.

1. If you are going to be using the chocolate to cook with, the lecithin’s emulsification properties will lend an ease of working with it. It melts a little easier. Is less apt to separate if you are making truffle fillings or other mixtures where you are mixing it with a liquid ingredient.
2. It lowers the viscosity of your chocolate, similar to adding cocoa butter, but less expensive.
3. It binds water, and makes your chocolate less likely to seize if you are working with any other ingredients that might have moisture (milk powder can pick up moisture, as can vanilla)
Ok, I just tossed in a mention of vanilla there. Optional. Everyone know you cannot use vanilla extract right – it has water and alcohol with will seize your chocolate. If you can find it oil based, that will work, otherwise you can split a vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and toss them into the Melanger.

Great, I’ve laid out what you need (cocoa and sugar) and what is optional (cocoa butter, milk powder, lecithin and vanilla).

How much? Here are some good ranges:

Dark Chocolate – generally defined as greater than 70% cocoa
Cocoa – >70%
Sugar – <30 % Cocoa butter 0-10% Milk powder – 0% (this is not a milk chocolate) Lecithin – 0-1% Semi sweet chocolate – basically, if it does not fall into dark chocolate, It’s semi-sweet. Cocoa – 40-70%
Sugar – 20-60%
Cocoa butter – 0-50%
Milk powder – 0% (not a milk chocolate)
Lecithin – 0-1%

Milk chocolate

Cocoa – 0-40% (note, if you pick 0, what you have is white chocolate)
Sugar – 20-60%
Cocoa butter – 10-50%
Milk powder – 10-30%

OK, those are some GENERAL ranges. All of the percentages will not work to give you a chocolate that you can actually make. Then why did I put them in? Because the range is valid. Let me demonstrate with a few examples while putting out a good rule of thumb for making a recipe you can actually make.

Rule of thumb – You want the cocoa butter content of your chocolate to be above 35%.

Now, I want to clarify I did not say you have to add at least 35% cocoa butter. If you think I said that, re-read it. Cocoa beans are about 50% cocoa butter. If you make a 70% dark chocolate, 50% of the cocoa is cocoa butter, so your chocolate has 35% (70% x 50%) cocoa butter in it. What happens if you drop below 35%? In many cases your chocolate will be too thick to run in the Melanger, and if by chance you can get it to run, it may be too thick to temper well. Make sense? Good. Let’s develop a semi-sweet chocolate with 50% cocoa. First thing, is as we just stated it, there is 25% cocoa butter in the chocolate (50% x 50%). We need at least 35%. So we need 10% cocoa butter. So we have:

50% cocoa
10% cocoa butter

Now, it has to add up to 100%. So, 40 % sugar. Easy, huh? What happens if you put in 15% cocoa butter? Try it and find out. It’s your chocolate. But you will have to drop the sugar to 35%. Is that ok you ask? Is the cocoa butter content (25% + 15%) greater than our rule of thumb 35%? It’s 40%. Then it’s ok. How about milk powder? This is not a milk chocolate. It does not go in. But IF you want to add it, you will be making a milk chocolate and it is then perfectly fine. Lecithin? Sure. The rule of thumb I like to use is 0.2% of the EXTRA cocoa butter. That’s a tiny amount. Like 1 t in a 5 lb batch. Go ahead, toss it in. Toss in 2 teaspoons. It won’t hurt a thing. I’ve experimented up to 5% and it gives a slightly odd texture and mouth feel to the chocolate, but certainly didn’t ruin it. Relax. Don’t worry. Have some homemade chocolate and toss it in.

On to the milk chocolate. Let’s just pick the middle range for the cocoa and go from there, working our way up the ingredient list until we get to 100%.

20% cocoa

There is 10% cocoa butter in there, and we need at least 35%, so there is the next ingredient amount.

25% cocoa butter (35%-10%)

OK, we are up to 45%, 55% to go. Referring above, we have milk powder and sugar to add. Let’s make this real easy and just split it in half. 55/2 = 27.5%

27.5 % milk powder
27.5 % sugar.

We are at 100%. Will it run in the Melanger? Most likely since the cocoa butter content is 35%. It might be a little thick since we are at the bare minimum. Let’s add an extra 5% and bring it up to 30%. By doing that, we will have to drop our milk powder and/or sugar. Since 27.5% sugar is already not a lot of sugar, let’s not drop it. And just for the sake of easy numbers, let’s increase it t0 30%. That now drops the milk powder to 20% and we have the following:

20% cocoa
30% cocoa butter
30% sugar
20% milk powder

Lecithin and vanilla – see above – relax, don’t worry, have a bite of chocolate and toss it in if you wish, or leave it out.

Can you use another percentage? Of course. This was just an example. Increase the cocoa to 40% or drop it to 10% and re-adjust the other ingredients accordingly. Really, there is no right or wrong. Will you like the chocolate? Heck if I know, but should make it, taste it and decide. And then adjust the next recipe accordingly. Want more sweetness? Increase the sugar. And decide what has to drop. It can be across the board if you want as long as you keep the 35% cocoa butter minimum in mind. It can look like this:

17% cocoa
27% cocoa butter
39% sugar
17% milk powder


16% cocoa
30% cocoa butter
39% sugar
15% milk powder

Is either better? Nope. How do you choose? Either go with your gut feeling or flip a coin. But one final piece of advice I will give about adjusting recipes. Make it at least 5%. Under that and you probably won’t notice a difference. Can you change it by 4%? Sure, be a rebel.

There, I’ve rambled a lot. Hopefully I’ve imparted a bit of how I develop a recipe and how you can too. Keep in mind, it’s your chocolate and the only person you have to please is yourself. And most likely you are not going to fail if you follow the basic proportions and rules of thumb. And also expect the first recipe to be like a first draft in writing. You are going to tweak it here and there until the flavor is just to your liking. So, relax, don’t worry and go make some chocolate.

By the way, for playing with a lot of these numbers, I’ve developed a Formulator. Go get it.

One Response to “Ask the Alchemist #9”

  1. Thank you so much for your website, and sharing so much. Your insight about chocolate is the best! I have bought so many books about chocolate and your site clears up all doubts. Thank you so much for sharing!! My husband has built a cocoa press(abit like a press used for olive oil)….we are in the process of trying it out. Our goal is to sun dry tropical fruits and dip it into dark chocolate. Thanks again!!

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