Ask the Alchemist #19

“How do cold Winter temperatures affect the chocolate making process? Are there any considerations I should make for roasting, refining or tempering?”

Well, at first, I think this is very obvious – but then when you know the answer to something, it IS obvious. But I also know being caught off guard by cold temperatures, so know it is not all that obvious.

First off, if you are making your chocolate inside (many people make it in shops, out buildings, etc) and you keep it comfortable to most people (70 – 75 F) then effectively you have negated the cold whether outside and you can just proceed as normal.

That is kind of the cop out answer though.

The answer to the implied question is that the cold and chocolate, in nearly all cases of making it, don’t get along. And really, it’s because you either need heat (for roasting) or need the chocolate in a liquid, fluid form, and that’s only going to happen if it is warm. So, let’s run through each step and point out the ‘obvious’ if you are not working in a warm environment.

Roasting. The colder it is where you are roasting, the more consideration you need to give to insulation. If you are roasting where it is 50 F, then you are going to have to add more heat to your roaster to compensate for heat losses. You may need to pre-heat a bit more, or roast a little less.

Cracking/Winnowing – This was not asked about….and really behaves just fine no matter the temperature.

Refining – OK, this is a big one. Pre-heat everything. Drum. Rollers. Nibs. Melt the cocoa butter. Sugar. Sure, some heat is generated, but if the area is cold, you are losing heat also. From a practical standpoint, I’ve found about 60 F is the lowest temperature that works without additional heat. Below that the chocolate can actually start to set up. Most of the time the chocolate will set up on the rollers and the drum will keep spinning, but there is the chance the drum will jam and you can burn out your belt or worse the motor. A standard 100 W bulb shinning on the drum will go a long way to keeping everything warm enough.

Tempering. This is where I’ve had the most issues. And usually when working with a slab. Unless you keep your working space warm all the time, that slab can stay pretty cold. Once I warmed up the house, poured out my chocolate on my granite slab….and it set up. Just because the air was warm did not mean everything was. Just think ahead. Or bowl temper. Or use a tempering machine. Mostly be aware. If it’s cold, the chocolate is going to want to set faster and you have to work faster and that is not always a recipe for success. In most cases, having a warm water bath handy so you don’t have to work fast is the better option. Or just working when it is fully warm.

That’s really it. Just think if you are truly comfortable. If you are cool, or need to have long sleeves on or something, then the chocolate is going to want some warming up too.

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