Ask the Alchemist #33

I want to make chocolate for baking. Do I need to still go through all the steps of refining, conching and tempering? How is the process of making baker’s chocolate different from the process of making semi-sweet chocolate?You do not have to go through all of the steps you list above, but you do need to do most of the to one degree or another. And in one small case, I will back pedal and say you will have to do them all.

First off, I want to get some definitions out of the way – or more to the point, I want to list some synonyms.

  • Baker’s chocolate
  • Chocolate liqueur
  • Cocoa mass 100%
  • Unsweetened chocolate

These, being synonyms, are all the same item. I’m going to go out on a limb, and assume that you recognize at least one, and you don’t officially need an actual definition.Way back in the dark ages of home chocolate making (about 1 BCA – that’s Before Chocolate Alchemy) I experimented with just using the Champion juicer to make one of them there things above – the result was something that looked like one of them there things, but was not one of them there things. It turns out, it was a matter of scale. Although the Champion had released the cocoa butter and the mass flowed, it had not released it all, and it just didn’t quite behave right. The flavor was muted, it was too thick, and it would not temper well. But just a couple hours refining in a Melanger, and suddenly, like Alchemy, it was transformed into one of them there things above. Going back to scale, basically that particles were just not small enough. Instead of sand, it is still gravel.

So, you need to refine. And that can occur much faster than if you had sugar in there – again, just a couple few hours. After that, you move into the conching zone. And really, I find that totally optional, and in nearly all cases overkill if you are going to be baking. I won’t refute that conching is a remarkable process…but it is a relatively subtle process that will be totally lost (to my tastes) in baking.

Now, semi-sweet vs baker’s chocolate. Gah, I had marketing terms sometimes. If there is sugar in your chocolate, you can consider it semi-sweet and most of the time, that is what we make. It’s close enough. Painting with a very broad brush, if it is not milk chocolate, and it is not 85% chocolate (that would be ‘dark’) then it is semi-sweet.

Tempering – here is that one that on the surface I want to just say ‘no, you don’t need to do that’ but, I have found in one case, where it does seem to make a difference. Chocolate chips and chocolate chip cookies. Very simply, if you are melting the chocolate down as an ingredient, then there is no reason in the world to temper it – you are just destroying the temper when you melt. If on the other hand you are, you are using some of that ‘semi-sweet’ chocolate, and you want to make your own chocolate chips (which purely for the work involved, I don’t recommend – chocolate chucks people, chocolate chucks), then there is a difference in how the chips behave during baking if you don’t temper. Simply said, we are used to tempered chocolate chips, how they hold together, how they feel in the mouth, etc, and untempered chocolate chips, while still good, seemed to lack something.

That’s about it…except for one final item.

Over the years, I’ve basically said lecithin is optional, and from the standpoint of fine eating chocolate. It still is. But what I have discovered is that if you are baking with it, and especially if you are mixing the chocolate into water based ingredients (truffle fillings, cake batters, tortes, etc) then a little bit (1% or so) greatly increases workability and reduces the chances your chocolate will ‘break’ and you will have cocoa butter floating around. There has been a few occasions that when I made truffle fillings, and tortes, both without flour or another binder, that oil floated to the top. Using the same exact recipe, but with the addition of a small amount of lecithin kept everything together and much more manageable.

OK, NOW, that’s it.

2 Responses to “Ask the Alchemist #33”

  1. With my VERY limited experience in chocolate-making so far, I’ve discovered one other way to prevent truffle/praline fillings from separating – alcohol. It is hygroscopic (i.e. it absorbs water) and you may only need a small amount. I love boozy truffles so tend to use alcohol on purpose, but I once managed to save a batch that went wrong with some brandy and I could barely taste any alcohol in the end product. Was safe enough for kids. You can only use fairly strong spirits with chocolate though, e.g. rum, whiskey, brandy , etc. Vodka may work but don’t take me up on that one :-)

  2. I’ll have to try it out. But I have to clarify that only 100% alcohol is hygroscopic. It reaches equilibrium around 95% so it has to be some other mechanism that is keeping the batch from separating. Good info though.

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