Level: Novice

Reading time: 5 minutes

How long does it take to make semi-sweet chocolate and what is the recipe?

This is one of those questions that you can’t put a simple answer to.  The main reason is that it assumes there is one set answer when there is not.  

It is a complex answer in that it has lots of parts, but it isn’t hard.  I’m going to take this opportunity to go through each step in the chocolate making process and the associated time ranges.

The short answer is that it takes a couple days on average but that is from start to finish and includes a lot of time where you are not actively doing anything.

Semi-sweet chocolate is mostly a marketing term.  It isn’t strictly defined by the FDA, but is mentioned as a suitable label for certain chocolates. 

So you don’t have to go through all the legalize, here is the rundown of the legal definitions of various chocolates.  We are going to start at the bottom and work up from there.

White Chocolate:

  • 0% cocoa solids
  •  More than 20% cocoa butter
  • More than 3.5% milk fat
  • More than 14% milk solids
  • Less than 55% sugar

Sweet Chocolate

  • More than 15% cocoa liquor (total of cocoa solids and cocoa butter)
  • Less than 12 milk solids

Milk Chocolate

  • More than 10% cocoa liquor (total of cocoa solids and butter)
  • More than 3.39 % milk fat
  • 12% milk solids or more.

Now we get to everything else.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that dark chocolate, whether labeled bittersweet, semisweet, or dark, must be at least 35 percent cocoa.

And that is all the FDA has to say on the subject.  

You will hear people try to classify Dark chocolate as greater than 70%.  But you will also hear greater than 65% and greater than 75%.  The take away is there in no rule about dark chocolate and there isn’t an industry standard either.

The same is therefore true of semi-sweet chocolate.  It is just a name and can basically mean anything.  It can even contain milk if it is less than 12% and/or less than 3.39% milk fat as long as it has more than 35% cocoa.

At this point you can see there is no one recipe for semi-sweet chocolate (or any other chocolate).  There are ranges.

Semi-sweet chocolate can be 35%, 45%, 80% or even 99% cocoa by law  Granted, 99% chocolate would not be sweet but there is nothing stopping anyone from labeling it that way.

I would love to say semi sweet chocolate contains 35-65% cocoa and dark contains more than 65% cocoa but I just can’t do it.  For every range I give I can find exceptions to the rule….namely because there is no rule.

I assume you are asking about a semi-sweet chocolate because you had one and want to try and replicate it.  Now that I can help with.  You can pretty much read the nutrition label on a bar of chocolate and pull the recipe out of it plus or minus a little bit.  I can pretty much assure you that your chocolate won’t taste like the one you are trying to replicate because the flavor is about bean choice and roasting, but it gets you in the right ball park.

Here is the nutritional label for a bar I found on line that contains no milk in the ingredient list.

1 cup (170 grams)

50.4 grams fat

            29.8 grams saturated fat

107.4 grams carbs

            91.6 grams sugar

            9.9 grams fiber

7.1 grams protein

The very first thing you want to do is check the total make sense.  It is amazing how often the serving size does not match the total of the fat, carbs and protein.  If you add them up (50.4+107.4+7.1) you get 164.6 g and that does not match the serving size of 170 g.  It could be water content, or just analysis error.  Either way it is close enough for working out the recipe.

We will assume there are just 3 ingredients; Cocoa liquor/nibs, cocoa butter and sugar.

Start off by seeing how much sugar there is by dividing the grams of sugar by the total grams..

91.6 / 170 = 53.9%  sugar.
That means the amount of cocoa nibs and cocoa butter is just the difference from 100%

100 – 53.9 = 43.1 % cocoa and butter.

This is the part that trips many people up because they don’t know how to work out how much cocoa butter was added, if any.

What you have to do is assume there is about 55% cocoa butter contributed from the nibs and any extra is additional cocoa butter.  So how much fat is in the bar?

50.4 / 170 = 29.6 %

How much of that is from the nibs/liquor?

43.1% * 55% = 23.7%

The difference in those two numbers is how much extra cocoa butter was added.

29.6 – 23.7 = 5.9% cocoa butter

You subtract that number from your total cocoa percentage and you have your nib/liquor percentage

43.1 – 5.9 = 37.2 % cocoa nibs

And if you have done all your maths right, the addition of the three should equal 100%

53.9 + 5.9 + 37.2 = 97%

Again, that is close enough.  If you want to make a kilogram (970 grams really) of this chocolate it would simply look like this:

  • 539 g roasted cocoa nibs
  • 59 g cocoa butter
  • 372 g sugar

It gets a little more complicated if you want to break apart a milk chocolate since milk powder contains both fat and sugar (lactose) but the principle is exactly the same.  Chime in if you want to see me run through those calculations and I will be happy to.  The key is knowing that whole milk powders are roughly this:

  • 30% fat by weight
  • 38% lactose (sugar)
  • 26% Protein

I am going stop for now and go over the times involved with each step next week.  Stay tuned.