Ask the Alchemist #147

I am planning to open a chocolate making business. I’m trying to come up with the perfect chocolate that stands out from the crowd. What recipe should I use?

I can’t tell you.

I’m going to tackle this one with math. And I’m going to try to walk a line between utterly absurd and merely impractical.

Let’s get utterly absurd out of the way (except there are SO many fun ways to be utterly absurd). Let’s talk absurd roasting. You can roast beans anywhere from 5 minutes to 60 minutes. And even in that I am trying to be reasonable. You could roast 5 hours but I’ve never heard that so I’m not including it. In those 55 minutes, there are 3300 seconds. You need to take them to some final temperature. Staying with the absurd (but safe!) let’s say your range is 150 F – 300 F. My thermometer has 0.1 degree increments. That means I have 1500 temperatures I can choose from. That means (by multiplying the two numbers together) I have 4,950,000 possible roast combinations. Nearly 5 million ways I can roast. And that is keeping the ‘utterly’ absurd ‘reasonable’ still since I didn’t even bring up HOW we are going to go from room temperature to our final temperature. Technically there is an infinite ways to get from one temperature to another, but that isn’t practical to help you understand. I’ve talked a bit about profiles in the past. That just means the shape of the curve if you plot temperature vs time. Here is a picture of a few curves. They are start and end at the same temperature and do it in the same amount of time, but they look different in graph form and will produce different tasting beans (and thus chocolate).


If we just say it has to be one of those, the choices go to 15 million. Absurd enough? I think so.

Now let’s talk ‘reasonable’. You want me to give you the perfect chocolate recipe? Ok, what are our options? At the basics, we have these options.

1) Bean

2) Roast

3) Recipe

Pick a bean. I have about 30 choices.

Next it needs to be roasted. I’m going to suggest we use the Behmor since it has 5 pre-defined profiles. Without getting crazy, there is still the decision to make of how long to roast. Let’s keep it to 1 minute increments (even though it goes down to 15 second increments). I have had good tasting roasts from 14 minutes to 22 minutes. So that gives us 40 choices.

I really hate to do this but it does make a difference in how the Behmor or any roaster roasts. How much are you going to roast at a time? 1.5 lbs on P3 for 18 minutes will give you a different result from the same profile and time if you roast 2.5 lbs. If we pick ¼ lb increments, that is 5 choices there.

What formulation? Well, we need a percentage of cocoa beans, sugar and cocoa butter. At this point the permutations start getting out of control even when I try and keep them reasonable. From a calculation standpoint, let’s look at how much sugar to add. Reasonable is 20% to 40%. As much as I want to increment that at 5% and give us 5 choices (20, 25, 30, 35, 40) experience tells me it’s more like 2%, so that is 11 choices.

To add cocoa butter or not? I’m going to really keep this simple and say it’s either none, 5% or 10%. 3 choices.

So what does that give us for possible chocolate recipe choices?

30 beans x 40 roasting profiles x 5 weight choices x 11 sugar percentages x 3 cocoa butter percentages.

And keep in mind I tried really hard to keep this reasonable and grounded.

198,000 combinations. And you want me to pick ONE? How about if we par it down to really basic.

30 beans x 5 profiles (go with the Behmor defaults) x 5 sugar percentages (5% increments) x 2 cocoa butter (0 or 5%)

There are still 1500 combinations!!! And you want me to pick for you the ONE that stands out from the crowd? Not possible.

And how about sugar type choices. Or cocoa bean blends. Should you mix the beans before or after roasting? Then there are different cocoa butters. Lecithin? Milk? Vanilla?

There are currently about 7 billion people on this earth. I would not be surprised if couldn’t come up with 7 billion different ways to make chocolate. I mean, we didn’t even address refining times (24-72 hours – 48 options), temperature of refining (105 – 145 F – 40 options),

There are 12.17 BILLION combinations right there. And I didn’t even break a sweat.

Look, I’ll admit many of those would seem identical. I’m just trying to make a point and explain why I just can’t hand you the magic perfect chocolate recipe. And also why you will never make a chocolate that will appeal to everyone or stand out like a shining beacon of chocolate perfection. There are just too many choices. It’s just numbers. It’s why you didn’t win the recent Powerball lottery (I’m assuming the winners are not reading this).

And we didn’t even talk about that what is great to me isn’t great to you.

Which leads me to my advice. Don’t try to please everyone. You can’t. You can only make the chocolate that sings to you. If you do that, those that like what you like will find you. I’ve seen it over and over. Be passionate about what you make and your passion will be infectious.

That all said, I’m going to make this a two part answer. Next week I am going to talk about how to practically dial in a chocolate recipe without doing thousands of batches. Stay tuned.

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