Level: Novice

Reading Time:  12 minutes

Today I am combining a few recent email exchanges.  I hope you find it helpful.

I made chocolate with your Zorzal beans yesterday. It was a disaster. The constituents of the chocolate were as follows: 1900g cacao nibs, 200g cocoa butter, 450g cane sugar and 450g of allulose. The plan was to use half allulose and half cane sugar to make the chocolate. After a few hours in the Melanger I began adding my sugar. First, I added the cane sugar. Then I started adding the allulose. I had added about half of it over the course of a few hours when the chocolate turned to paste and the top blew off my Melanger and chocolate paste went everywhere. I thought that the temperature might have cooled too much, but the surface temp was high about 140F. I pulled most of the paste out and added some melted coconut oil out to a small amount of paste and tried to save the batch, but this also failed. I tested microwaving the paste to get it back into a liquid form, but it hardened even more.

That definitely sounds like a moisture issue.  How did you roast?

Roasted in the oven for 25 minutes at 300F.  The roasting method comes mostly from Dandelions book.

I respect Dandelion but am not a fan of that kind of roasting at all.   And I note you said ‘mostly’.  Roasting at one temperature in an oven for a set amount of time just isn’t a great way to roast.  X time at Y temperature.  But that is how many people talk about baking and it is rarely that simple.  You can cook a casserole or lasagna for 30 minutes at 350 F and it will work just fine because the recipe is vetted, the amount you are cooking is fixed and how done it is isn’t critical.  If you venture into something more variable like bread or pies or cakes you will note very quickly the recipes start giving time windows and tests for doneness.  ’45-55 minutes and until the bottom of the bread sounds hollow.’ ’25-35 minutes until your knife comes out clean’.  Ditto for cooking large hunks of meat.  Unless you want it well done a thermometer to test the internal temperature is critical because the variables of size and oven capacity are just to large.

I just looked up what Dandelion said in their book and they suggest 325 F and give a bunch of criteria to look for such as brownie aroma, pops, and even a thermometer in the oven - just what I say.  What they don’t say is how much you should be roasting but the implication from reading the whole section is about 1 kilogram.  Now I don’t know for sure you didn’t smell brownies or hear pops but I very much suspect you did not.  You were roasting 5 lb of beans yet you turned the temperature down.  That is like reading the directions for a chicken (1 hour at 350 F) and roasting your turkey at 325 F for 45 minutes.  It makes no sense at all.  You simply can’t make arbitrary changes like that and expect them to work.

Please please please go look at what I have written on the subject of oven roasting: 

This is about as simple as I have found you can make it AND have it work well enough.

In general, if you try oven roasting, you will start hot (350-400 F) for a short amount of time and slowly lower it to your target temperature (275-300 F).  This is for about 2 lb(1 kg) of beans.  The more you are roasting, the higher your initial temperature can and has to be and the time will probably be a little longer.. 

Remember, you want to roast the cocoa beans, not bake them.  This is how that looks:

Whole cocoa beans

  • 375-400 F 5 minutes
  • 350 F 5 minutes
  • 325 F 5 minutes
  • 300 F for 10-15 minutes or until done.  Look for the aroma of baking brownies and/or pops.  Both are good indicators you are there.

I can’t believe the beans were roasted to any significant degree in 25 minutes at 300 F.

 You used a regular white sugar?  Is the cocoa butter from me?

What do you mean it blew the top off your melanger?  That is a very odd phrase.  Did you have a lid on the melanger?  If so it really should not have one for the first 6-8 hours so residual water can evaporate or water can drip back in a cause it to seize.

I didn’t know that the lid should be off for the first 8 hours. The top did not really blow off, but was pushed up by the solidifying mass of chocolate dough which then flipped all around my kitchen. The Cocoa butter was from you. I do not use white sugar but granulated tan demerara sugar (it is dry not like brown sugar with molasses). I do not like white sugar and the tan stuff has worked well in 3 previous batches. Maybe the combination of the light roast, demerara sugar and the melanger  lid on (which I have not done in the past) led to my issues. Can chocolate in the state mine is in be saved? Can it be dried out? I am in Utah. Can I put it in the sun?

I think you hit upon the issue with the combination of steps that didn't remove water.  The sugar (did you heat it to drive off extra moisture? – non-white/tan sugars usually require it), the light roast (did you wait 6 hours after roasting to winnow it and before adding it?) and the lid which I suspect is the major culprit.

It might be able to be saved although with the addition of coconut oil but tempering is going to be impossible without Silk.  Do you use Silk?

You can try drying it in the oven, spread out for a few hours and see how that goes.  It also might need more cocoa butter to help get it moving.

I have never baked my sugar probably a good idea. I did not wait 6 hours after roasting to winnow. I will in the future.  I rarely temper my chocolate so that is not an issue. I have heard the silk is fantastic. Thanks again for the advice. It is definitely a learning moment. The first three batches went without a hitch and I was getting cocky.

Only around 50% of the moisture in the beans is removed during roasting.  Another 25% comes out over the next 4-8 hours as the beans cool and the water makes its way from the interior of the beans to the outside.  This is one of the reasons I say 6 hours for cooling.  The remaining water is driven off in the first few hours while refining and why the lid needs to stay off.  Otherwise it can condense on the lid, drip back and and cause partial seizing problems.

Can get away with running it for perhaps 16 hours instead of overnight so that my family can get some sleep and I can save my marriage.  I realize this might be subjective but is there that much marginal benefit in the extra 8 hours or is 24 hours somehow a magical number for chocolate?  If 24+ hours is required then can I run it for 12+/- hours - refrigerate it or leave it out at room temperature overnight and then run it the next day for the balance or perhaps longer if 24+ hours is even better?  Thank you.

There is very much benefit from running it another 8 hours.  It isn't magical though.  It is process based.  It depends how big your batch is.  2 lb could well be done in 18 hours.  5 lb will almost certainly need more time to get smooth enough.

You can indeed run it 12 hour increments.  I absolutely would not refrigerate it.  If I had to stop it I would put the bowl and chocolate into the oven over night on the lowest possible setting, making sure not to allow it to get over 150 F (due to the plastic). If you oven can't maintain that I would put it into the oven for a couple hours before bed and then wrap it up well in blankets to keep the heat in while still in a warm oven turned off.

Mostly stop thinking about set times.  You need to run the refiner until the chocolate is smooth enough and  the taste is where you want it.

My silk isn’t working.  I made it just like you said by holding it 93 F for 24 hours.  I poured 2% into my chocolate but it still bloomed.

Making Silk isn’t about just holding melted cocoa butter at 92-93 F for 24 hours.  It is ALL about stabilized Type V crystals forming.  If your cocoa butter is fully melted and clear, i.e. not thick and creamy and opaque (and too thick to easily pour) then you don’t have silk.  You have melted cocoa butter.  If that has happened the you should allow the cocoa butter to solidify and try again at a little bit of a lower temperature.  Once the butter is fully melted I’ve found it has a hard time forming into silk.  It works sometimes but not predictably (starting with melted butter that is).  It works much better to start with solid chopped up cocoa butter.

As chocolate making is becoming more popular and common I am finding that informational drift is happening quite a bit.  Chocolate making isn’t hard but it does seem people are not getting a lot of the basics and want it even more simplified.

Basically chocolate making seems to be experiencing a version of the telephone game (google it you youngsters).  The directions are changing with every telling until what you think is correct isn’t quite right and when a bunch of these half truths add up problems ensue.

For instance:

Roast 2 lbs at 350 F for 5 minutes, 325 F for 5 min and 300 for 10-15 minute until they smell right or pop

is not

Roast any amount at 300 for 25 minutes.

Wait 6 hours before cracking and winnowing so moisture has time to escape and your beans are cool and hard

is not

crack and winnow when your beans are cool.

Pre-heat your ingredients so the melanger doesn’t have to work as hard and any excess moisture is drive off and add your ingredients slowly so the melanger doesn’t bog down – every 15 minutes or so.

Is not

My ingredients look dry so I’ll add them over many hours because any little thing can break the melanger.

Leave the lid off your melanger a few hours so moisture can escape

is not

cover your melanger so dust can’t get in.

Refine your chocolate until smooth.  This will be 18-24 hours

Is not

Refine about 12 hours or you must refine for at least 18 hours for good chocolate.

Make your silk by incubating the cocoa butter at 92-93 F until thick and creamy.   This will take about 24 hours.

Is not

Hold your cocoa butter at 92 F for 24 hours and it is now silk.

At the end of the day chocolate making is a process and like most multi step processes it can only be distilled down so simply.  Any attempt to simplify it more is oversimplification and IS going to leave out important details.

It won’t work perfectly but ask yourself if you know WHY you are doing each step and if you don’t exactly know why (and yes, it is hard to know what you don’t know) you are doing something maybe you should read up on it in more detail.  Or ask me.  It is why I am here.