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My question is what is the smallest serving size chocolate you can make in a melanger? Theoretically you can make it in extremely small quantities but considering a melanger needs something to work with and the fact that chocolate residue will be left on the melanger, bowls, tempering, etc, what would be the smallest ideal quantity?
Reason I ask is I would like to experiment with a lot different flavours (with the nibs I have) instead of 3-4 different flavors but unsure how it would affect the actual creation process. I know I would have to ratio down the ingredients but the melanger/grinding process has me a bit confused.
I would not go under a pound and I would not consider that ideal but you can make it work for basic R&D. The actual minimum I like to do is 1 kg/2 lb. At that point the results are reproducible. When you get under that amount there is a lot of aeration and the chocolate refines much faster. It can also over refine and get a gummy texture and/or turn extra viscous that makes it difficult to work with.
Refining is not a linear process. There is a complicated relationship between time, refiner capacity, and the amount that is being refined and how quickly you can get to a certain particle size but to put it simply twice the time does not make it twice as fine. It is very much a study in dimensishing returns. Roughly 90% of the refining is done in the first 50% of time. That is for one quantity of chocolate though. If you are refining half the amount, it isn’t going to take 50% of the time. It is more likely to 75% of the time if you are getting close to the lower limit of what the refiner holds. Once you get to under the optimum amount for the refiner (what you are asking about) the refining time drops very quickly and you run the risk of over refining. I’ve refined 12 oz of chocolate in just a few hours. Unfortunately that was not nearly enough time for the chemical changes to occur.
Part of what goes on in the melanger is that oxygen is incorporated into the chocolate and volatile compounds are released. That extra aeration can affect the flavor and when you go to scale up you may find the chocolate that you took time perfecting at 1 lb isn’t the same at 4-6 lb. More oxygen is present to react so it does in most cases.
The smaller quantity can also change your temperature. Sometimes the temperature is higher because the friction is higher since you have lower mass to heat but sometimes it is lower as heat can be lost faster. These different temperatures can change how much and how fast volatiles are lost.
That all said, the sweet spot for most melangers seems to be from 25% to 75% capacity. In that range the refine times are pretty consistent and everything scales pretty well flavor wise. Under that and you get to the particle size you need before the flavor develops and over that the refining can take longer than is optimal for flavor.
Restating what I said at the beginning, 2 lb to 1 kg seems to be a good minimum for the Spectra 11 which holds around 9 lb. So 2 to 7 lb. In the Spectra 25 that would mean about 5 to 20 lb. Yes I am round a bit because this isn’t exact.
It is worth noting one more thing. Process. 1 kg works nice all the way around. It is the preferred capacity of the Behmor and is a really convenient size for tempering. That is why all of my evaluation batches are exactly 1 kg.