Chocolate Alchemy The Art & Science of Homemade Chocolate Thu, 11 Aug 2016 14:54:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ask the Alchemist #172 Thu, 11 Aug 2016 14:54:22 +0000 Level: Apprentice/Alchemist

Reading time: 13 min

How do I sweeten my chocolate with honey?

Sit back.  It’s story time.

For years now I have not had an answer to this question.  Or at least I didn’t have an encouraging answer.  The best I could say was that you could not just pour it into your chocolate while in the melanger.  If you do that the water in the honey will cause the chocolate to seize.

Over and over I’ve been told it was possible, but it was always via the classic friend of a friend.  Or whoever told me had seen a *real* chocolate bar in the store sweetened with honey.  In three separate cases I tracked down the makers of said honey chocolate.  And in every single case they admitted, rather quietly and with their head lowered just a bit, that the chocolate just didn’t quite work well and that it was very difficult to remain stable.   In 2 of the 3 cases all they did was stir honey into the chocolate during tempering, very gently so as not to cause a seizing reaction, and hoped for the best….and still had a high failure rate and shelf life issues due to the moisture.

For me this challenge had the same feel as my initial chocolate making endeavor back in 2003 when no one knew how to make chocolate at home.  My goal then was to make real chocolate in a straight forward and approachable way.    I wanted to do the same thing with honey.  I wanted to come up with a way that anyone could do without hedging, and without admonishments to be careful.

Toward that goal, I have failed quite a bit.  Failure is always an option.  Let’s run down my list of failures.

The low hanging cacao fruit was powdered honey.  The issue there turned out to be one of false advertising.  I could find no real dried or powdered honey.  It all contained huge amounts of dry sugar.  There was enough to give a honey taste in teas and baked goods, but not what I was looking for.  It’s is worth noting I did find one on-line but it was both horridly expensive and often out of stock.  That in itself violated the goal of being straight forward and approachable to anyone.  So I moved on. Failure.

I had this epiphany while making a batch of praline.  Part of that procedure is to make caramelized sugar.  You start off by making sugar syrup and then boiling the water off.  I could find no good reason I could not boil off the water in honey.

It all went really well.  It boiled.  It hit hard crack temperature.  I poured it up and it gave me a beautiful sheet of honey glass.  And proceeded to suck up moisture fast and become tacky in the time it took to cool.  Trying to powder it so I could use was a choir and by the end it was sticking together and in no shape to go into chocolate.   Failure.

After that I decided it was time to step back and make it simpler so I tried to dry my own honey.  I actually didn’t have high hopes here.  AI tiny test confirmed that all you end up with upon dehydrating honey is something a bit akin to a taffy.  Super thick but nothing you could add to chocolate.  It forms a skin that keeps it from 100% drying out. Failure.

From there I jumped to coating a batch of roasted nibs in honey and drying those.  I really thought I was onto something there.  I had spread out the honey, radically increased the surface area and made the coating of honey so thin that it effectively could not form a skin.

After about 6 hours at 120 F the nibs were a tiny bit tacky.  After cooling they firmed up and were crunchy.  Looking good!  I had previously weighted my nibs and honey and when the weight showed I had lost the 16% of the weight of the honey (the average moisture content of honey) I called it done.

I put the honeyed nibs into the melanger.  I put some warmed cocoa butter and a little lecithin in just to help things along.  After an hour they were all in and while not looking perfect, didn’t look too bad.  Unfortunately somewhere between 1 and 24 hours disaster struck.  What I came back to is virtually impossible to describe.  But I will try.  The melanger was still running.  But it looked so very weird.  It was bumping and thumping and splashing in ways it was not supposed to.  Somehow, from the best I can tell, the honey started sticking to itself as it worked.  There were globs of hard honey all over the sides of the bowl, the bottom of the bowl and there was this utterly bizarre ring of …..something…..around the central shaft.  From the best I could tell it was wax or at least wax based.  Pretty flavorless, kind of hard, but not really.  It took me two days of hot water, repeatedly scrubbing and lots of elbow grease to get it clean.  Oh, and the chocolate?  Nasty.  You know that odd flavor after you have chewed up all the flavor out of a piece of honeycomb?  That!  Failure.

But it’s funny.  I have this streak in me that refuses to give up as long as what I am trying doesn’t go off and break physical laws.  No perpetual machine tests for me!  So I kept thinking, letting the idea rest and turn over in my mind.  A few months later I was doing another test and had great success.  It was not a honey test, but it was the key.  I was playing with infusing some whisky with cocoa, noticed how much liquid the nibs soaked up and wondered what would happen if I went the other way.

I proceeded to add a small amount of bourbon to some roasted nibs.  After 12 hours there was no bourbon left.  I put the bourbon nibs into the oven and an hour later I was back at my original weight of nibs.  And the nibs were totally dry.  I made chocolate with them (recipe later) and I had a lovely bourbon chocolate that behaved perfectly.

As I said, this was the key.  I think most of you know I am a retired chemist.  This got me thinking about sugar’s affinity for water (everything gets tacky), but also alcohol’s affinity for water. I wondered if I could use the later to out compete the former.  I’m not going to delve too deep into theory but I will say water and ethanol forms a mixture that is called an azeotrope.  This mixture contains about 5% water.  And the key is that no matter how you heat it you cannot make that water go away.  My thought was to use that characteristic to force the water out of the nibs.  Basically by heating ethanol soaked nibs, when the ethanol evaporates/boils off it draws water out with it.  That is why the bourbon whiskey worked.   I wondered if I mixed honey and ethanol (vodka) I could force the same reaction.

I guess by now you know it worked or I would not be writing this.  It worked fantastic.

I dissolved 250 grams of honey in 160 grams of vodka.  There was some calculations behind the choice of that amount of vodka involving partial pressures of water/ethanol  mixtures, but suffice it to say it worked and it might well be possible to use even less.  It took heating the mixture to 122F/50C to get  the solution to go clear. After that I mixed it with the nibs and let them soak for a day.  I dried them in an oven at 150 F (the lowest setting in my oven) and they dried right out.  They had a pretty sheen on them and were crunchy, not sticky.  After some hours they stuck together but broke easily apart again.

Hedging my bets I heated 10% cocoa butter and a teaspoon of lecithin, and made a batch of honey chocolate.  This time there was nothing funny at all.  After less than 1 hour it was looking like this:

Another honey chocolate test. So far so good. Stay tuned. #artisanchocolate #beantobar #cocoa #honey

A video posted by @chocolatealchemy on

And after 24 hours this:


For those that want to follow along I started with 750 g of roasted nibs, 250 g of honey and 160 g of vodka for a total weight of 1160 g. If everything works like you want it to, you should end up with the 750 g of nibs plus the weight of the honey minus 16% water or 210 g for a total of 960 g.  100% of the vodka is gone.  I ended up with 948 g.  I count that a total success as the 16% was an estimate.

Given how thin the chocolate was I think I could have greatly reduced the cocoa butter and/or lecithin amount.  And it is very possible the amount of vodka would be also reduced now that I know what to look for.   As I think about it I wonder if the vodka helped pull out extra moisture from the chocolate resulting in a thinner than standard chocolate.   That might be worth looking into.

And the flavor?  Here is the funny thing.  I’m not a honey fan.  It tastes of honey.  I’m not a fan.  But it tastes like I would expect honey chocolate to taste like.  A little floral, a little tangy and a little back drop of comb and loam.

So there you go.

Honey chocolate.

Real honey chocolate.

Straight forward.  No being delicate, no disclaimers, no conditions.

Please  give it a try and let me know how it works.

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Ask the Alchemist #171 Thu, 04 Aug 2016 16:07:28 +0000 Level: Apprentice

Reading time: 4 min

I understand the no liquids rule, but I was wondering whether glycerin could work as sweetener?
If it’s present in all natural fats, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem, no?
I’m interested in its low glycemic index, and it seems ideal on paper. Is it possible or am I really off the mark?

When we talk about cocoa butter and tempering, you may often see the abbreviation TAG.  This stands for Tri-Acyl-Glyceride.  To translate that, Tri is three, acyl is a long chain hydrocarbon (the oil or fat) and the three Acyls are connected on a glyceride backbone.  So, yes, glycerin is present in some form or another.  But it usually is not in its free state.  It likes to attach to thing, hence the TAG.

On its own it still likes to attach to things and therein is the first issue.  By itself glycerin attracts water like a sponge.  Glycerin is often added to lotions and cosmetics to help your skin hold onto moisture. Moving into potential TMA, when mixed into wax and used as a stool softener, glycerin’s moisture-attracting properties attract water from the body which stimulates….movement.

More in line with what we might use it for, it is often incorporated into fondants to help keep them supple, and certain filings to keep them creamy and soft. And as an additive to truffle filling it might be great.

I think you might be seeing the issue.  If you were to put it into your chocolate, it may or may not seize.  It would probably depend on how much water it had previously absorbed.  But regardless would undoubtedly absorb moisture from the atmosphere and cause your chocolate to do really weird things.

It is also worth mentioning a few other things.  With most any substance, there are going to be a small number of people that have sensitivities or allergies to glycerin and it can be an issue if consumed in large quantities.  And it is worth noting that it is not calorie-free even though it is low on the glycemic index.. As a matter of fact, glycerin contains slightly more calories than sugar.  Unfortunately it isn’t as sweet (about 60%) so you are going to need even more to get the  same sweetness which is just going to compound the moisture issue.

And going back to the potential TMA, just as with sugar alcohols, consuming a lot of glycerin can produce a laxative effect which usually isn’t a thing most people look for in their chocolate.

So, here is a great example of ‘in theory it should work, but in practice it doesn’t’.  Sorry.  Good thinking though.

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Ask the Alchemist #170 Thu, 28 Jul 2016 13:44:25 +0000 Level: Novice

Reading time: 10 min

I’ve tried to make “just add hot water” drinking chocolate.  However I’m having two problems:

  1. When I add hot water, the chocolate has to be stirred A LOT to get it to mix and even then, there’s tiny blobs of it left in the bottom of the mug.  
  2. I want it to have a creamier texture, but it’s quite watery, in spite of all the milk powder and cocoa butter I added.  I’ve tried adding up to 44% milk powder to get more creaminess but then I lose more chocolate flavour.

How could I improve these please?  My basic recipe is:

27% sugar, 39% cocoa liquor, 9% cocoa butter, 24% milk powder, 0.7% vanilla, 0.3% sunflower lecithin 

Also, how best can I imbue caramel flavour into a milk chocolate?  I’ve tried caramelizing sugar, chopping it up and then conching it.  But the caramelized sugar is super hygroscopic and also gets stuck in my conche.  What else could I try please?

What you are running into are the preconceived notions of what and how hot chocolate should behave.  What it seems you are used to with “just add hot water” is very significantly processed chocolate.  I don’t mean this negatively per se.  Just that you are not seeing the massive amount of work that went into making a product that will dissolve virtually instantly for the American consumer market.

My very first thought on 1) is “that sounds about right”.  Chocolate is oil based and you trying to dissolve in a water.  It would be exactly the same if you were surprised if you lightly stirred an egg yolk and cup of oil together and didn’t get mayonnaise.  It takes a very specific set of conditions to get oil and water to mix and be stable… you are seeing.

Now that I’ve said that, what I have had some success with is making a ganache with my chocolate and then mixing that into water.  If you combine chocolate and water (or cream) at approximately 1:1 at 100F, rather gently, then let it set up, you may well find a spoonful of that then dissolves much easier into hot water without all the stirring and blobs at the bottom.  Basically you have made an emulsion.  Just like mayonnaise.

Your second item is playing right into the first issue.  Let’s go back to the egg yolk and oil.  If you just mix the two together, it would look watery and thin.  Certainly not creamy, yet mayonnaise is creamy.  It’s the emulsion that is giving it its creamy texture.  Again, there is quite a bit added to instant hot chocolates to give them their creamy mouth feel instantly.  Quite often guar gum, gelatin, modified starches, and the like.  Basically a ton of food chemistry to get the mixture to behave smoothly and easily.

On to the advice now.  Where you are going to find success is developing your technique.  Basically, it is a variation of the ganache prepared on the spot.  Have a look at both of these.

Hot Chocolate

2 Ingredient Homemade Hot Chocolate

In short, I kind of hate to tell you, is that you have to give up the idea that you can have both an instant hot chocolate and one that didn’t take time to prepare.  It’s sort of like a magic trick.  You are used to only seeing the final trick –  Ta-da!  just add water hot chocolate – without realizing how much behind the scenes work there is to pull it off.  i.e. pulling out a pan, heating everything just so, so that you form a nice thick, creamy emulsion.

As for the caramel flavor.  I don’t have a surefire answer for you.  I can give you hints, but just like the above magic trick references, it isn’t as easy as adding caramel to your chocolate as you have found.  What I’ve found is you need to create it in the chocolate.  Using high acid beans and elevated refining temperatures greatly increase the amount of caramel flavor in chocolate.

The hands down most caramel chocolate I ever tasted in a milk chocolate was from a Madagascar.  In this particular case the 20% cocoa butter had been pressed (using the Nutrachef Oil press) from the same Madagascar beans used to make the chocolate. It resulted in a deep caramel flavor.

It is also worth pointing out you want a full fat spray dried milk powder.  The process itself adds caramel notes.  That’s one of the main reasons I offer the milk powder that I do.  Non-fat milk powder just doesn’t seem to do it.

And I should clarify.  Do you want the caramel flavor in your chocolate or in your hot chocolate?  Making your own caramel syrup is the direction I would go if you want it in your hot chocolate.   Basically, caramelize the sugar as you did before, but then immediately dilute it with hot water.  This spells it out:

How to make Caramel Coffee Syrup

Prepare your own homemade caramel syrup for coffee (or chocolate) from scratch. It’s easy to do.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup boiling water


Heat sugar over medium high heat until it begins to melt. Stir constantly. If the sugar begins to burn, discard, and try again. When the sugar begins to brown quickly stir in boiling water. Stand back, as the mixture may steam. Stir until well blended. Cook mixture for an additional 15 to 30 seconds. Do not let the sugar burn. Remove pot from heat source, and allow mixture to cool before placing in an air tight container.

That you can even add to your ganache as the liquid portion and the sugar content will both help it keep longer (ganache is perishable when made fresh) and allow the mixture to incorporate more water or milk to turn into hot chocolate.

I hope that helps.

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Ask the Alchemist #169 Thu, 21 Jul 2016 14:21:54 +0000 Level: Novice

Reading time: 5 min 

I’m considering creating a bean to bar chocolate shop.  My reading so far indicates I’ve got a lot of reading to do.  Good thing I’m not planning on starting it for about 18 months.

 Other than Chocolate and The chocolate life, what other resources & references can you recommend?  I’ve quickly read through all your ‘ask the alchemist’ questions and didn’t see this one, or even similar.

 Amazon seems to recommend Chocolate, Cocoa and Confectionery: Science and Technology 3rd Edition by Bernard Minifie  and The Science of Chocolate 2nd Edition by Stephen T Beckett as decent books.  If maybe a little heavy (especially the first one).


You have a good hand on a place to start.  The two sites are invaluable and both of the books you mention are on my shelf.  I particularly like Beckett’s book.  In both though my take is that they are probably of limited value in the sense that my college text books are not useful to me right now on an active basis.  They lay down quite a bit of fundamental information that I know and is worth knowing but do not particularly think about, but instead inform how I approach problems, issues and troubleshooting advice.

Reading them comes with a caveat that I hint at.  I don’t think you should be reading them for the sake of implementing what is in them fully.  My lasting memory of both is that they are geared for large production consistency and dealing with less than optimal cocoa beans.  Basically they discuss using what was generally available when they were first written and on a very large scale.

As you say, they are a bit heavy.  Industrial practices can be a bit heavy.  And if you are opening a bean to bar shop, it isn’t really your world.  And I suspect, you don’t want it to be.  But it is good information you should have in your quiver of knowledge.

There are three other books that I think are worth looking at.

  • Making Artisan Chocolates by Andrew Garrison Shotts
  • Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner by Peter P. Greweling
  • The Art of the Chocolatier: From Classic Confections to Sensational Showpieces Hardcover –Ewald Notter

You used the phrase bean to bar, and that in the strictest sense may indeed be what you mean exactly.  Stopping at the bar form.  Those three books delve into chocolate confections and presentation of chocolate that is very appealing to many (read many customers).  Again, good information and techniques to have.  Maybe upon reading and experimenting with them you will discover you want to do more than bean to bar.  Not that you have to, but again, it’s another arrow of knowledge.

Right now there is no book detailing the artisan bean to bar method.  It is on my much too large to do list.   But it is all on the site (and one thing that is chewing up time right now are videos and a site overhaul to make that information more accessible).

After all that, the other direction to take is just getting in there and making chocolate.    You have to learn what you like and what you do not like and no book will tell you that.  The heavy industrial books aim toward good and consistent which given the quality of beans now available  and your smallish batches should be a pretty low bar.  They don’t discuss how to make a bean more or less fruity or earthy or piquant.  That is what you have to discover based on your tastes and the equipment you choose.

So that is it.  Pretty short this week.  In effect, go read and treat what you read as text book reading.  Build your base of knowledge.  Pick what works for you but don’t feel there is only one right way because there isn’t.  Hopefully you have a passion for experimenting and learning as that will serve you very well.

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Ask the Alchemist #168 Thu, 14 Jul 2016 13:27:14 +0000 Level: Novice

Reading time: 5-15 min (depending on how you follow maths)

I have a batch of 75% chocolate running.  70% cocoa nibs, 5% cocoa butter, the rest sugar.  I want to make it 80% by adding cocoa butter.  I started with 85 oz of nibs.  Can I just add the same amount of cocoa butter again?

Sadly, no you can’t.  But let’s run through the maths if you were to add that amount of cocoa butter and then how much you actually need to add.

It goes like this.

First I need to find out how much total chocolate you have so I can know how much cocoa butter you added.

T /  85 =  0.7  Rearrange that to:

T = 85 / 0.7 = 121.43 oz total chocolate

With that, I can get how much sugar.

121.43 * 0.25 = 30.36 oz sugar.

So you have

85 + 30.36 + 6.07 = 121.43 oz

If you add 6.07 oz more cocoa butter it is now

85 + 30.36 + 6.07+ 6.07 = 127.5 oz total chocolate

To find the new cocoa butter percent  it is

(6.07+6.07) / 127.5 = 9.52%

The new chocolate total percent is:

(85 + 6.07 + 6.07) / 127.5 = 76.2%

Not 80%, even though the cocoa butter is near 10% as the new total is higher.  The cocoa nib portion has dropped from 70% to 66.6%.

85 / 127.5 = 0.666 = 66.6 %

If you want to actually make it 80% you have to pull out algebra again.

0.8 = (85+6.07+x) / (121.43+x)

0.8 (121.43 + x) = 85 + 6.07 + x

97.144 + 0.8x = 91.07 + x

97.144 – 91.07 = x – 0.8x

6.074 = 0.2x

x = 30.37 oz

So, you make it all the way to an 80% bar with only adding cocoa butter you have to add a whopping 30.37 oz as:

(85 + 6.07 + 30.37) / (121.43 + 30.37) =0.8 = 80%

You didn’t ask,  but I would add more cocoa nibs and/or a mixture of cocoa butter.  Just for fun, let’s run through the maths involved in making it 75% cocoa nibs, 5% cocoa butter still, and sugar from your existing batch.

I’m going to take this in another direction calculation wise since we know how much sugar we have and don’t have to change it.

S = 30.6

We have decided it will be 20%, so we can get the new total from this:

30.6 / T = 0.2

T = 30.6 / 0.2 = 153

With that in hand, we can find out how much cocoa nib we need.

153 * 0.75 = 114.75

And since we had 85 oz:

114.75 – 85 = 27.75 oz cocoa nibs

We can do the same thing with the cocoa butter:

153 * 0.05 = 7.65

7.65 – 6.07 = 1.58 oz cocoa butter.

The main downside to this option is you have to refine your chocolate further.

Either way, there is the maths.  I hope that helps.

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