Ask the Alchemist #26

What factors affect refining time for chocolate, and what are some different ways to tell if it is done? Are there ways to speed it up or extend it if needed?All good, common questions that have pretty straightforward, albeit, somewhat less than perfectly helpful answers most people want. Forewarned…..

I guess the first thing that needs to be done is to define that we (or at least I) are talking about refining in a Melanger containing 1-9 lbs of chocolate. I will say at the outset that the choice of the Melanger has little effect on refining time. Maybe a little, but probably the least to the point they can all be considered equal for this discussion. After that, these all affect refining time:

  • Amount refined
  • The recipe
  • Moisture
  • Your tastes

The first is pretty straightforward. The more chocolate, the longer the time. I can generally have a small 1 lb batch of 80% chocolate refined in 12 hours, and it’s very close in 8 hours….but sometimes it’s 14-16 hours.Putting in the second items, if I have two recipes that differ only in the amount of cocoa butter, the one with more cocoa butter will tend to refine faster. Why – it’s really related to the viscosity (or how thick) of the chocolate. The less viscous, the more force can be applied to the refining process. That relates to item 3 – the moisture. The more moisture, the thicker and more viscous the batch will be and the addition of lecithin to bind some of that moisture can reduce your refining time. How much? It could be as little of a difference of 1-2 hours or it could be 10-12-20 hours….depending on how much you are refining….and what your recipe is (see how helpful this isn’t?) Back to the recipe; If you have more things to refine in your batch, it WILL take more time. 70% dark will take longer than 80% dark. 50% milk will take longer than 50% ‘dark’ (it’s not very dark at that point) because milk powder takes longer than sugar. 20% milk with 30% sugar vs 15% milk with 35% sugar…hell if I know. Too close to call without trying it. Seeing a pattern yet?

As for when – well, that is easy…..wait for it….when it seems right to you. Are YOU happy with it? Does it seem gritty still? Let it keep going. Seriously. Sure, you could work out some fancy ass, expensive way to get a particle size distribution plot (no, it’s not just one number), but in the long run, it’s how it feels in your mouth.

Can you speed it up? You can pre-grind your cocoa nibs (only if you are adding them direct), and/or sugar, but I’ve only found this to affect the total time by 1-2 hours – not usually worth the effort in my opinion.

Can you extend it? Now this is an oddly good question. Why you may ask would you want to extend it? Because Melangers do TWO things. They refine and they conch. Two DIFFERENT things happen initially, at the same time, when using a Melanger. Refining is particle size reduction. Conching is much more chemical in nature (oxidation among other things) that occurs by the stirring of melted (refined) chocolate. Basically this means you refine for the first 0-24 hours until it cannot get any smoother. But Conching is happening somewhere around the 2 hour mark until you stop – maybe 10-12-20 hours after it is smooth. It could well be you want the refining time to match that conching time a little closer (because you like the flavor – this is NOT something I’ve played with, but have heard about it). How would you do that? Loosen the tension on the Melanger (only possible with the Spectra’s and Premier wet grinder).

What does that all mean? It means what I’ve always said. Refining will take anywhere from 8-48 hours with the average falling somewhere in the 18 hour mark, depending on your recipe, how much you are refining and how smooth you want it. Why can’t I tell you any better? Well, because the interrelated, multi-variable function is just too damn complex, and we don’t really even know what that equation looks like.

What might it look like? Couldn’t I just give it?

OK here.

equation.jpg

Happy? Have fun. Solve away.

OK, so that is NOT the equation for refining chocolate. That is the Time-dependent Schrödinger equation or single non-relativistic particle – i.e. position of the electron in SIMPLEST system we have – that of the hydrogen atom. But it would look similar and it just gets more complex from there. It is WAY easier and more productive (and FUN) to just know it’s about 18 hours for an average batch of average chocolate and that you should taste it until you are happy.

One Response to “Ask the Alchemist #26”

  1. Thanks for another great post Alchemist John – I’m enjoying this series of Ask the Alchemist

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