Ask the Alchemist #32

I am an amateur chocolatier attempting to make organic dark chocolate without using soy lecithin. I know of many organic and raw chocolate bars that do this but have found virtually no information on the internet for a lecithin-free technique. I have achieved a makeshift bar by tempering baker’s chocolate and adding sugar but it’s not very good. I’d like to start from raw cocoa beans but have a few questions I’m wondering if you could answer.

Can I add powdered sugar, vanilla and other ingredients to cocoa paste and temper a bar from there?

Is conching necessary if I am not making milk chocolate and not using lecithin?

This might sound suicidal but is there a way to hand-refine? I’ve looked into a melanger that runs on electricity but are there any hand-crank models, or — this may sound silly — any possibility to rig some bicycle pedals onto a model to power it? I’m hardcore.

OK, there are a lot of questions packed in there, but let’s just go through them.

Lecithin is an ingredient that is 100% optional. It is a water binder, so, if your moisture content is low, you have no need for it. You can also add it to lower the viscosity of your chocolate.

You do not want to add powdered sugar. It has cornstarch in it and makes for a gummy chocolate. Also, it will still be very gritty, and tempering will be very difficult.

Conching is not absolutely necessary, but refining is. You need to understand the difference.

As for adding sugar after it is refined….you could be meaning something else or have in mind adding more sugar after refining but usually you add the sugar before refining and refine the sugar.

But to answer your question, no, there is no way I know of to add granulated sugar and not refine with a Melanger if you want to end up with smooth, modern chocolate.

Moving onto hard core manual refining.

The short answer is that unless you are world class athlete, it’s doubtful you could power a bike to refine your chocolate. Have a look at this.

Here is the important part:

When I ride an exercise bicycle (with a power meter attached) I can maintain about 200 Watts for 20 minutes before I am tired. A “tour de France” class bicyclist can output that level (about 1/4 horsepower) for several hours.

You need 1/4 hp at least, for way more than several hours, i.e. well over 12 hours.

With that in mind, has hard core as you may be, I just don’t think it is feasible to truly refine your chocolate by human power.

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