Ask the Alchemist #122

I was wondering if you could explain or give your opinion about two steps of the process.

1. Roast 2. Crack with champion juicer 3. Winnow. 4. Pre-melange using the champion juicer to turn the beans unto a paste/liquid 5. Melange with spectra 11 for varying amounts of time.

My questions have to do with the fourth and fifth step.

First, what are the advantages of using the juicer initially to turn the beans into a liquid? This step seems to be the slowest and hardest (from a technical perspective) because the bean and machine take a long time to get hot enough to clear the juicing screen--this includes the use of a blow dryer to heat things up further. Other chocolate makers also seem to use this step (e.g. Dandelion) but I don't understand how this helps flavour or texture advantage compared to putting the windowed bean straight (and slowly) into the spectra.

Second, I think I understand that the heat created by the melanger is responsible for eradicating some of the off flavors. It also seems to be the case that the same heat works to mellow the good unique flavors of the bean or at the worst eradicate the uniqueness. With long conching times I'm worried that I won't be able to keep all that great flavor. Have you found this to be true? And if so have you tried, with any success, controlling the temperature of the melanger by releasing some of the tension keeping the the rollers down to reduce frictional heat? Can you blast the melanger with heat for the first few hours to remove the bad flavors?

A little history. There use of the Champion juicer came about incrementally. It was the first house hold appliance I found (yes, I’m the one who ‘discovered’ it could be used for chocolate some 12 years ago) that could take roasted cocoa nibs to unrefined cocoa liquor/mass. It was not until a year later or so that I worked out that a modified Santha Wet grinder could be used to refine and conche (i.e. mélange) chocolate and worked with Santha to product the first Santha 10 Melanger (which has progressed to the Spectra 11).

At the time one of my guiding principals was approachability. I wanted it to be relatively easy for people follow the process and the Champion helped in that regard. The other option was to grind the nibs directly in the Santha 10. But unfortunately it was not up to the task initially and it could take a hour or more to get just a couple pounds incorporated and I found that was a great turn off for many people.

So that is/was the basic advantage of the Champion step. Take ½ hour and make 4-5 lbs of liquor that could easily be added to the Melanger. It is also worth mentioning husk. The Champion as you know has a screen at the bottom that the liquor comes out of. It also filters out any husk that was left in the nibs. Before the invention of the Aether and Sylph home winnowing was much harder and less efficient. With the advent of those winnowers that need has decreased.

So to answer your specific question, you don’t understand how it helps flavor or texture because you are looking for the Champion to affect flavor or texture when it does not. Its two jobs are to liquefy the nibs into liquor and remove any remaining husk. If you winnow well and don’t mind taking the time to add the nibs to the Melanger slowly, then there is little need for the Champion step.

One other side note here. You really should not need to heat anything up externally while using the Champion. It creates its own heat when used and if it is not, something isn’t quite right.

On to question two. Your language is kind of aggressive there. ‘Eradicating’? I guess that is somewhat accurate, but it is a bit overkill. It really more allows volatile compounds to escape the chocolate and oxidizes other compounds in the chocolate chemically change to ‘softer and gentler’ flavor components.

Let’s get something out of the way. Tension. It really is pretty much binary. Whether the screw is just barely engaged or screwed all the way down, the tension produced is virtually constant since you have to compress a heavy spring just to engage it and the distance traveled over the span of a few turns is so minimal. So, yes, I have tested the tension/friction/heat correlation and found it basically non-existent.

. Long conching times. Too much is made of this. ‘Don’t go to long – it will make bland chocolate.’ ‘You have to go 72 hours – it’s what the Swiss do.’ In theory it is possible but it is an extreme case I have found. You really need to start with a really mild bean, roast it particularly long, mélange it significantly hot and go a long time and you can end up with brown cocoa mass. It honestly it takes a LOT of work to do that. And it really comes down to the fact that THE MELANGER IS NOT A CONCH! Likewise, it is NOT A REFINER. It is a MELANGER. Did that get your attention? I’m serious here. What we use at home is a Melanger. It refines and conches at the same time and consequently it is pretty well inefficient (compared to ‘Refiners’ and ‘Conches’) at refining and conching. It’s why it takes 18+ hours at a minimum to refine to 20-30 micron as opposed to many function build refiners that take minutes.

The same with the conching aspect. That oft touted magic ’72 hours’ for quality chocolate is a result of some tossed out factoid that some European chocolates were conched (in a purpose built Conch) for 3 days.

Melangers are not that good (read efficient) and show self regulation and diminishing returns over time. What that means it is nearly impossible to over refine or over conche in one. Over the years I have tried. Currently my longest test was 10 days. The short result was that the chocolate was ‘ready’ after 30 hours. And slightly different at 72 hours. At 5 days it was more mellow but by no means boring or ruined and at 10 days, I could not tell it apart from the samples of days 6-9.

As for blasting it with heat. No, this really does not work to well. It might drive off the volatiles more quickly, but it is just as likely to drive off chemical pre-cursors of compounds you want in your chocolate that will develop into complex flavors later.

So mostly, RELAX about it and stop trying to micro adjust the process where the effects are just lost in the noise/randomness of the process.

I’ll relate the three times I made un-unique and down right boring chocolate.

1) I started with a delicate Criollo. I roasted it a touch heavy. It put it in the Melanger for 3 days at 130 F (still flavorful) and THEN added heat (to 155 F) and ran it for another 24 hours. This was then boring chocolate.

2) I used a blow dryer to heat the chocolate directly. It effectively stripped the chocolate of flavor. Not so much the heat but the actively blowing air.

3) I added 1 t of baking soda per lb of chocolate and ran it 2-3 hours. Boring!

In all three cases I pushed it to extremes ON PURPOSE. There have been many a batch of test chocolate that I’ve run for 4 days just because I busy and didn’t feel like dealing with it….and it was just fine and fully good enough for me to approve the sample for purchase. Yes, it was some different….but I’ve made two batches of chocolate in theory identically and had them come out different, so that does not say a whole lot.

I developed most of these procedures and equipment for approachability. What that means is you may not have the control you think you want, but it also means that if you give both a chance you will make good if not great chocolate time and again.