Ask the Alchemist #105

Conventional wisdom seems to be that the refining equipment available to the home chocolate maker (Premier Wonder Grinder, Spectra 11) is reasonably good at reducing particle size but poor at conching. That leads to lengthy processing times that may reach 48 to 72 hours or longer, depending on batch size, ambient conditions, and bean variety. With the understanding that conching is a very complex process, is there anything that can be done to make home-scale processors more effective at conching and ultimately reduce processing time? From what I’ve read, heat and aeration/ventilation seem to be the critical factors. Is there an optimal temperature for refining/conching? Do home-scale processors aerate the chocolate sufficiently? Should the chocolate be ventilated during refining/conching? Thanks!

First and foremost I would contradict ‘conventional wisdom’. I actually disagree that Melangers are poor at conching. To my mind and taste, they do a fine job. Maybe not as good/fast as purpose built conches, but not poor either. Even purpose made conches can take that same 48-72 hours. But on the same note, I rarely if ever run my Melanger more than 24 hours. And when I do, it is usually because I am just too busy to stop it and pour it up. And the result is that the chocolate does not taste all that different to my tastes at 24 vs 48 hours.

This and most of your questions seem (no offense) typical of many americans. How can I do it faster, better or cheaper? You make a particular point this question is aimed at home-scale. In that very particular case, you would be very hard pressed to convince me you do not have the luxury of enough time to let the process take as long as it takes. To me, it is part of the allure of these kind of projects. And one I have very little interest in speeding up. Enjoy the journey. Don’t miss the beautiful scenery rushing to your destination.

But there are other points to make. Are there ways to make it more effective? Sure. Temperature is the number one item. Give those chemicals more energy and the rate of reaction will increase and your system will become more efficient. And more than that, and why I find this line of questioning acceptable, you will get different reactions at higher temperatures than you will get at lower ones. And as a SIDE BENEFIT the processing time MAY be shorter. But it may not be shorter. It all depends on the bean and your tastes. Chasing the ultimate goal of ‘fast’ leads to lots of frustration I have learned over the years. Just enjoy the process and the results. Which sounds better? The Zen of Artisan Chocolate Making or How to make industrial chocolate fast. Yeah, I’m weighting it one way, but I’m serious. It’s an outlook and approach. Too often e rush around way too much and don’t stop and smell the refining chocolate nearly enough. Ok, the philosophical musings are done for now. Let’s move to a few practical details.

Which leads right to the details of heating, aeration and ventilation.

First off don’t blow hot air across your chocolate. I tried this a few times with a blow dryer and the result were chocolate stripped of flavor and aroma. Next, no, there is no optimal temperature because that implies there is an optimal flavor that is universal to all beans and all people’s tastes. My personal taste for many beans is 130-135 F. Some I’ve taken to 150 F for great results. And other delicate beans go totally bland and limp flavored at 125 F. I think you see what I am getting at. It’s all experimentation and personal tastes.

I personally think Melangers aerate just fine. I have found 2 blades on the Spectra 11 are a little more effective than 1 on the older model or the Premier, but it’s so minor that it’s hardly worth thinking about to my mind. As far as ventilation, yes, it should be ventilated…but you would be hard pressed to seal any of the current Melangers. They are all ventilated. If you are asking should they be ventilated more, then no, I have never seen a difference in lid off vs lid on.

At the end of the day, it’s back to the Zen of Chocolate and a quote I toss out every so often.

Ultimately the quest for Chocolate Nirvana is a solitary path. To know, I must first not know. And in knowing, know I know not. Each Personal enlightenment is found exploring the many divergent footsteps of those who have gone before.