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Ask the Alchemist #267


Ask the Alchemist #267

 1. If I am using the melanger to make Dark Chocolate, I do not make chocolate liquor correct? I just use the roasted/cracked/winnowed cacao nibs and put them directly into the melanger? When would I need to make chocolate liquor?


Ask the Alchemist #237

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Ask the Alchemist #237

Level: Novice

Reading Time: 12 minutes

I just read Dandelion’s new book and chocolate making seems very expensive.  Isn’t there some other way make chocolate without a melanger.  Wouldn’t a high powered vitamix work?  How about the Champion juicer?  Can’t I just run the sugar through there?  It all seems so complicated.  There should be a simpler way.  I can roast coffee in a $10 popcorn air popper.  Can I crack the beans In a corona mill and won’t that make chocolate?

Some of you long time readers might be a little confused with why I would answer these series of question when it seems really old news.  The alternative was “What happens if you dip a cat in chocolate?” and well……

I have seen a large resurgence in these kinds of questions in the last couple months.  New chocolate makers are coming in droves (of which I am thrilled by) and with it people seem to be trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel. 

I in no way want to stifle questions, inquisitiveness and innovation but I also really want people to do a little research and maybe realize that nearly all of these questions have been asked before and answered (mostly with a 'no').

I want people to make chocolate.    Keep that in mind.  So ask yourself this.  If there was a cheaper, simpler way to make chocolate, don’t you think I would be the first to announce it to the world?   Really, I’m not ‘Da Man’ trying to keep secrets hidden.  I've built Chocolate Alchemy on the philosophy that there are no secrets and I want to spread all I know.

I guess this is going to turn into a little review of bean to bar history interspersed with some of the questions.  Let’s take it from the top down, going through each step of the process.

 “You are selling beans from 2015.  Aren’t they too old by now?”

I only sell beans that I’ve personally tested and verified.  I make chocolate regularly and pull beans from our stocks once their flavor profile degrades.  In some cases that is 1 year but many (most really) times it can be 2-3 years. 

“Isn’t Criollo the best?”

They are just the rarest and generally the most mild.  I hold by the stance there is no 'best', just your own personal favorite.

“Can I use an air popper like coffee to roast nibs?”

See the above discussion.  I tried it and for a multitude of reasons it didn’t work.  Mostly it has to do with scale and control.

“Won’t a coffee roaster burn my cocoa?”

No, you can turn it down.  

“Will my chocolate taste like coffee if I use my coffee roaster?”

No, I have done it for years.  Any coffee oils that might cross contaminate the cocoa would be absorbed by the husk which you winnow away.  I’ve never even see that happen and I’ve used the same roaster for years.

“Can I use a home brewing mill to crack my cocoa?”

No, the gap (even adjustable ones) is too small.

“Have you heard of the Crankandstein cocoa mill?  Why don’t you offer it?”

You could say I’ve heard of it.  I invented it and had it built by Crankandstein.  I no longer offer it as I find the Champion juicer does a better job for a similar price.  Plus the Champion is multi-purpose.  You can also make liquor with it.


“Doesn’t the Champion get to hot and destroy all the flavor of the chocolate?  It seems like it would burn it”.

I discovered using the Champion Juicer for chocolate way back in 2004 and built Chocolate Alchemy and got this whole bean to bar movement going with it.  If it had burned the chocolate or made it inferior I simply can’t imagine we would be where we are today.    Yes, the chocolate gets warm, and even hot, but stays WAY cooler than when you roast.    No, it does not harm the chocolate.

“Can I use the Champion 4000?”

I’ve not personally used one, but hear it works ok, but not as good as the 2000 I offer.  And while I am talking about the Champion, there is a Commercial version but I have not found any difference in performance or longevity compared to the Household model, so I offer the less expensive household model.

“Do I have to use a melanger?  It is so expensive.  Can I use……”

I cut that off because of all the variations.  You can insert Vitamix, blender, grain mill, and any other of standard household appliance and I will answer that I tried out every one of them over the years and would have told you if they worked.  As it is, I specifically outline a bunch HERE that do not work.  Again, I WANT  you to make chocolate.  If I could lower the financial bar, what possible reason would I have for not doing that?  The answer is none.

I’m going to take this opportunity and say I appreciate that this is not an inexpensive hobby.  But when I started down this chocolate making at home road in 2004, before there was a bean to bar movement, it was not even possible to make chocolate at home.  Aside from no knowledge base, all the equipment was industrial.  There were no melangers.  The cheapest winnower was $2000 and did a huge 2 oz a minute.  There were no roasters.  A basic set up would have cost you $100,000 or more.  Now a good setup is $1000.  That is two orders of magnitude.  Please keep that in mind is all I’m saying.

“I’ve read that melangers make inferior chocolate and that you need a mill and conche to make good chocolate.”

The WHOLE bean to bar movement was built on the stunning results of stone melangers.  I think that evidence right there speaks for itself as an answer to that question.

“Why don’t you invent a small $100 melanger?  I’m sure you would get a lot more people into chocolate making.”

I bet Apple would sell a lot more Iphone X if they were $50 too.  I would have done it if I thought it was possible but there is a lower limit to material and building costs.   And really it comes down to scale in this case.  Although there are 1000s of melangers out there, I would bet there are millions of iphone Xs already out there.  If I made 100,000 small melangers I could probably do it for under $100 each but there is that small issue of the $10,000,000 needed to do that.  As big as the bean to bar movement gets, I don’t see it ever being worthwhile to make 100,000 melangers at one go. 

“I’ve heard you can’t use a tempering machine with bean to bar chocolate, that it is too thick.  How do you temper?”

I am baffled where that opinion came from.  You can.  Certain extra light roasts that retain moisture might be a bit thicker, and some makers don’t like using cocoa butter (which makes for a more fluid chocolate), which I don’t understand, but you absolutely can use a tempering machine.  That said, they are expensive and I don’t see a reason not to hand temper or to use Silk which is nearly fool proof.

That is a selection of questions that have come in the last couple months.   I said at the beginning I wanted to give you a basic history of bean to bar.  Dandelion’s book showed the successes very well, but what they didn’t describe (nor was it their place to) was the multitude of failures I went through.  It would be impossible for me to tell you everything I tried but know that if it was a common household item, I tried it and if you don’t see it as an option, it is because it failed.  And when I say failed I mean were too expensive, too DIY, too cumbersome, too hard to work with or literally just failed.  

What are some of those things that didn’t work ?

  • Ice cream maker (conche)
  • Rock tumbler (refiner/conche)
  • Air popper (roasting)
  • Ball bearings in mixer (ball mill refiner – expensive)
  • Rolling pin (cracker)
  • Mortar and pestle (well, becaue)
  • Hand peeling (too hard)
  • Corona type mill (poor results)
  • Champion Juicer (refining sugar – fail)
  • Champion Juicer (winnowing  - hard on machine and tasted bad)
  • Vita-Mix (burned the chocolate)
  • Other Juicers (ride up and fail)
  • Home convection ovens (under powered)
  • Meat Grinders (crackers and refiner)
  • Food processors (refiner)
  • Grain mills (cracker and refiner)
  • Coffee grinders (refiner)
  • Indian Wet Grinder (burned out, but we modified them to the Melanger you now know)

And that is just a sampling.  Various other Rube Goldberg type contraptions were tried and there were many variations of those above.  All that and more brought us to this place at this time where the web is full of free information on how you can get into chocolate making for the barest fraction of what it would have cost 20 years ago. 

By all means keep trying though….but maybe not the same things others have tried and proved doesn’t work. There is that semi-urban myth that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.  Try not to be crazy.

 Just like they say there are no new ideas for story lines anymore, I am pretty confident there are no longer any obvious solutions for making chocolate simpler and significantly less expensive than there currently is.

Regardless, keep experimenting, making and asking questions.


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Ask the Alchemist #184


Ask the Alchemist #184

 I have learned that some makers (myself included) are lightly baking (in the oven at ~170F) their sugar on a baking sheet before it goes into the melanger.  The idea being that the higher temperature of the sugar will maintain the liquor at a higher temperature allowing you to feed the sugar into the melanger more quickly.  I have however



Ask the Alchemist #179

Level: Novice

Reading time: 4 minutes

I was just wondering, how important is a melanger is for this recipe of white chocolate? I know it’s important for grinding regular chocolate, to smooth the texture of the cocoa solids – but does separated cocoa butter need the same grinding, or is it already quite smooth? I’m sure it’s both useful and convenient, but I was curious if it is indispensable to this recipe or how much of a difference it would make to try making white chocolate without one.

If the use of the santha grinder in this recipe is grinding the powdery ingredients (sugar, milk powder, soy lecithin) into the cocoa butter, could pre-grinding those ingredients very fine (say, to maybe a powdered sugar texture) make a good white chocolate without needing the santha grinder?


A melanger is indispensable for any chocolate be it dark, milk or white as long as you are defining chocolate as modern chocolate with a smooth and silky texture.

Cocoa butter doesn’t need further grinding by a melanger, but everything else you add does.

Nothing available by the home chocolate maker can get chocolate as smooth as a melanger.  I’ve tried everything I could think of and they all fail to do the job.

The reason has to do with the vague term “fine” or “very fine”.  Those just fail to mean much of anything.  Sure, powdered sugar is fine compared to corn meal, but both are coarse compared to the particle size of the sugar once it has been refined in the melanger.

And that is worth noting.  It isn’t just, or even primarily, the cocoa solids that are getting refined down.  It is the sugar and milk powder.  Let’s get away from ‘fine’.

The sugar and any other solids in chocolate are in the 10-15 micron range.  That is 1/100 of a millimeter.  In contrast, granular sugar is somewhere around 500 um( microns).  Fine castor sugar can get down to half of that.   Now, if you go searching around you will find that 10x superfine sugar can reach 15 um.  Home free right?  Unfortunately not.

Commercial powdered sugar contains cornstarch and/or other anti-caking ingredients which can lead to a gummy chocolate.  As for powdering your own, I just tried it.  I was able to get down as low as 25 um, but there were still some pieces larger than 50 um.  And that size will be coarse in your mouth.

I even tried filtering it through a sieve, and what came out was in the 10-15 um range.  The problem though was that I could only get about 10% of the sugar through (less than 1 oz) before it started clogging and caking (hence the anti-caking in powdered sugar).

Really, it isn’t a viable method for anything more than just a couple ounces of chocolate.

Finally, that neglects the aeration and minor conching that occurs in the Melanger.  Non-refined white chocolate has to my tastes this odd, harsh taste  that goes away over the 12-18 hours needed to make white chocolate in your Melanger.

There you go.  There is no making modern chocolate without a Melanger at the minimum.




Ask the Alchemist #122

I was wondering if you could explain or give your opinion about two steps of the process.

1. Roast 2. Crack with champion juicer 3. Winnow. 4. Pre-melange using the champion juicer to turn the beans unto a paste/liquid 5. Melange with spectra 11 for varying amounts of time.

My questions have to do with the fourth and fifth step.

First, what are the advantages of using the juicer initially to turn the beans into a liquid? This step seems to be the slowest and hardest (from a technical perspective) because the bean and machine take a long time to get hot enough to clear the juicing screen--this includes the use of a blow dryer to heat things up further. Other chocolate makers also seem to use this step (e.g. Dandelion) but I don't understand how this helps flavour or texture advantage compared to putting the windowed bean straight (and slowly) into the spectra.

Second, I think I understand that the heat created by the melanger is responsible for eradicating some of the off flavors. It also seems to be the case that the same heat works to mellow the good unique flavors of the bean or at the worst eradicate the uniqueness. With long conching times I'm worried that I won't be able to keep all that great flavor. Have you found this to be true? And if so have you tried, with any success, controlling the temperature of the melanger by releasing some of the tension keeping the the rollers down to reduce frictional heat? Can you blast the melanger with heat for the first few hours to remove the bad flavors?

A little history. There use of the Champion juicer came about incrementally. It was the first house hold appliance I found (yes, I’m the one who ‘discovered’ it could be used for chocolate some 12 years ago) that could take roasted cocoa nibs to unrefined cocoa liquor/mass. It was not until a year later or so that I worked out that a modified Santha Wet grinder could be used to refine and conche (i.e. mélange) chocolate and worked with Santha to product the first Santha 10 Melanger (which has progressed to the Spectra 11).

At the time one of my guiding principals was approachability. I wanted it to be relatively easy for people follow the process and the Champion helped in that regard. The other option was to grind the nibs directly in the Santha 10. But unfortunately it was not up to the task initially and it could take a hour or more to get just a couple pounds incorporated and I found that was a great turn off for many people.

So that is/was the basic advantage of the Champion step. Take ½ hour and make 4-5 lbs of liquor that could easily be added to the Melanger. It is also worth mentioning husk. The Champion as you know has a screen at the bottom that the liquor comes out of. It also filters out any husk that was left in the nibs. Before the invention of the Aether and Sylph home winnowing was much harder and less efficient. With the advent of those winnowers that need has decreased.

So to answer your specific question, you don’t understand how it helps flavor or texture because you are looking for the Champion to affect flavor or texture when it does not. Its two jobs are to liquefy the nibs into liquor and remove any remaining husk. If you winnow well and don’t mind taking the time to add the nibs to the Melanger slowly, then there is little need for the Champion step.

One other side note here. You really should not need to heat anything up externally while using the Champion. It creates its own heat when used and if it is not, something isn’t quite right.

On to question two. Your language is kind of aggressive there. ‘Eradicating’? I guess that is somewhat accurate, but it is a bit overkill. It really more allows volatile compounds to escape the chocolate and oxidizes other compounds in the chocolate chemically change to ‘softer and gentler’ flavor components.

Let’s get something out of the way. Tension. It really is pretty much binary. Whether the screw is just barely engaged or screwed all the way down, the tension produced is virtually constant since you have to compress a heavy spring just to engage it and the distance traveled over the span of a few turns is so minimal. So, yes, I have tested the tension/friction/heat correlation and found it basically non-existent.

. Long conching times. Too much is made of this. ‘Don’t go to long – it will make bland chocolate.’ ‘You have to go 72 hours – it’s what the Swiss do.’ In theory it is possible but it is an extreme case I have found. You really need to start with a really mild bean, roast it particularly long, mélange it significantly hot and go a long time and you can end up with brown cocoa mass. It honestly it takes a LOT of work to do that. And it really comes down to the fact that THE MELANGER IS NOT A CONCH! Likewise, it is NOT A REFINER. It is a MELANGER. Did that get your attention? I’m serious here. What we use at home is a Melanger. It refines and conches at the same time and consequently it is pretty well inefficient (compared to ‘Refiners’ and ‘Conches’) at refining and conching. It’s why it takes 18+ hours at a minimum to refine to 20-30 micron as opposed to many function build refiners that take minutes.

The same with the conching aspect. That oft touted magic ’72 hours’ for quality chocolate is a result of some tossed out factoid that some European chocolates were conched (in a purpose built Conch) for 3 days.

Melangers are not that good (read efficient) and show self regulation and diminishing returns over time. What that means it is nearly impossible to over refine or over conche in one. Over the years I have tried. Currently my longest test was 10 days. The short result was that the chocolate was ‘ready’ after 30 hours. And slightly different at 72 hours. At 5 days it was more mellow but by no means boring or ruined and at 10 days, I could not tell it apart from the samples of days 6-9.

As for blasting it with heat. No, this really does not work to well. It might drive off the volatiles more quickly, but it is just as likely to drive off chemical pre-cursors of compounds you want in your chocolate that will develop into complex flavors later.

So mostly, RELAX about it and stop trying to micro adjust the process where the effects are just lost in the noise/randomness of the process.

I’ll relate the three times I made un-unique and down right boring chocolate.

1) I started with a delicate Criollo. I roasted it a touch heavy. It put it in the Melanger for 3 days at 130 F (still flavorful) and THEN added heat (to 155 F) and ran it for another 24 hours. This was then boring chocolate.

2) I used a blow dryer to heat the chocolate directly. It effectively stripped the chocolate of flavor. Not so much the heat but the actively blowing air.

3) I added 1 t of baking soda per lb of chocolate and ran it 2-3 hours. Boring!

In all three cases I pushed it to extremes ON PURPOSE. There have been many a batch of test chocolate that I’ve run for 4 days just because I busy and didn’t feel like dealing with it….and it was just fine and fully good enough for me to approve the sample for purchase. Yes, it was some different….but I’ve made two batches of chocolate in theory identically and had them come out different, so that does not say a whole lot.

I developed most of these procedures and equipment for approachability. What that means is you may not have the control you think you want, but it also means that if you give both a chance you will make good if not great chocolate time and again.



Ask the Alchemist #107

Have you found a good sugar grinder that lasts?

Numerous times, when my grinder breaks, I just put the coarse sugar into the melanger. And at first I noticed the chocolate seemed to get smoother, quicker than when I ground the sugar first. I thought it was a fluke. But it just happened again last night—after 10 hours with coarse sugar the stuff was as smooth as it could possibly be.

So here is my hypothesis: when you grind sugar first you get a powder that is probably somewhere between 60 and 100 microns, but many more individual pieces than you started with. And these may or may not get caught under the wheel, and may not even get crushed unless they hit it just right. On the other hand, with coarse sugar you have far fewer individual particles that are larger, and when one of them goes under the wheel it pulverizes. Producing a finer grain size than if it had been put through a spice grinder.

So many levels to this question. Where to start? From the top down is good.

Yes, I have a grinder I like. It is the Panasonic Grinder.

But. Just like the description says, I don’t recommend it for grinding your sugar IF your goal is to reduce refining times. But I love it for Brewing cocoa and making my own Masala and curry pasts. In short, I have noticed the same thing you have and have stopped actively recommending people pre-grind any of their ingredients (whole coffee might be the exception). Your hypothesis is as good as any. But I will add in that I think the sugar, being actually rather hard, is acting as a kind of abrasive and is both self-milling down and helping to refine the cocoa particles in the chocolate. And the larger the better.

The other observation I have made is in regard to melanger speed. My experience has shown that if you put in finer, pre-ground sugar and cocoa it actually makes the mixture thicker and consequently slows down the melanger and thus your refining time. Somehow letting it grind down the larger particles keeps things moving along nicely. So, whether any of those theories are actually correct or it is some combination of all three, the result is that I no longer recommend pre-grinding any of your ingredients. Yes I used to, but I’ve tried to edit those out and if you come across them, please feel free to point them out and I will change them. We don’t want contradictions.



Ask the Alchemist #79

How stable is chocolate tempered and non tempered? After removing finished chocolate from the melanger , can or should chocolate be tempered first or can it be put in ziplock bags straight from melanger ?

Welcome back for the continuation of our story. Before we continue, here is a photo of some fresh and month old raw nibs. The thing to note is the whitish edges on the older nibs.


(click to embiggen) This is my benchmark for fresh vs older in nibs. This is exactly the same nib (Ghana FT) but the one on the right was just cracked and winnowed and the previous one is about 30 days old. Now, if you have been paying attention, you will note that I said 1-2 years for raw nibs and here I am showing a difference at 30 days. True enough….and why you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover (goodness, I love analogy ). Sure, they look different, but the resulting chocolate, to my palette, is indistinguishable. It still takes a 1-2 years before you can taste the difference. On the other hand, roasted nibs don’t seem to change color this way, but I can taste the difference in a month or so. They do change color (after 4-6 months), but usually it is well after they have gone stale.Now let’s jump right into your next question.

I feel like a politician here. What do you mean by ‘stable’? Do you mean how long does it stay fresh? Or how long does it stay in the crystalline or non-crystalline structure it is in? Or do you mean how hard do you have to hit be before it detonates? Well, let’s get the easy one out of the way.

Chocolate, nor any of it’s components have any stressed or strained bonds. No triple bonds. No azo groups. No metal azides. Not even a little Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane. In a word, chocolate, whether tempered or not tempered is 100% stable…in the sense that it won’t detonate or explode under any circumstance I can think of.

Great. We have that bit of fun out of the way. Technically, tempered chocolate is less stable than untempered chocolate. But here we are talking crystal structures, energies of enthalpy and the like. Suffice to say, because as it naturally occurs, tempered is less stable because it has a higher energy of enthalpy, and it converts to untempered spontaneous (if in liquid form without seed) because it is easier, (read lower energy). If I have not lost you there, great. If I have, just smile and nod and let’s move on because I don’t think it is really what you want to know.

By stable, I am going to assume you mean does tempered or untempered go stale faster or slower than the other. The answer to this is I think they are about the same, but I’m not sure, and even if they are not the same, other factors will play a great role. For this discussion, go for what is easiest (untempered) for storage and don’t sweat it. You don’t HAVE to temper it right from the melanger.

That brings us to liquor (i.e. cocoa mass, unrefined, unsweetened cocoa, etc) and chocolate. By far, except for unroasted beans, this is going to be your most stable form. And in the larger the volume the better.

To review, staling is oxidation. Solids don’t oxidize that easily. Think of rust. That is oxidation. The surface of iron rusts but it takes MUCH longer for rust to penetrate into a hunk of iron. There just isn’t anything moving to distribute oxygen. The amount of rust is proportional to the surface area. The exposed area more specifically. If you have a 1 lb block of iron and 1 lb of nails, the nails are going to have hundreds of times more rust because it they have hundreds of times the surface area. So the rule of thumb is whatever has the least surface area (exposed) will stale the slowest. That said, most people mold up chocolate after it is tempered. That means lots of pieces of chocolate (like nails) surface area compared to one bag of untempered chocolate. For the surface area reason the untempered chocolate should go stale slower than the tempered chocolate.

BUT…..wink….there are arguments that controlled aging ( of tempered chocolate is just another name for controlled staling. So maybe you want a little staling at the right time….See how clear this all is?

My recommendation is this. Keep it simple. Let chocolate making fit into your life. Relax and enjoy it. But plan a little.

  • Roast when you know you can let the beans rest a day to cool.
  • Winnow when you know you can make the chocolate within a week or so.
  • When your chocolate is done, bag it up (air tight, i.e. zero exposed surface area) in a ziplock bag until you are ready to temper.
  • When your chocolate is tempered and molded up…call it aging, not going stale.
  • And this is the most important

  • Eat and enjoy your chocolate you made with your own hands and don’t worry so much. It’s only chocolate (wink).



Ask the Alchemist #48

Is the Puruvian bean a slightly less oily bean? The liquor was decidedly thicker than my Conacado.

This is not something I keep track of currently, but painting with a rather broad brush, being a Criollo, it would tend toward having a lower cocoa butter content. That said, the observation and conclusion you are drawing from it isn’t necessarily accurate. From days gone by, when I did actually test the beans for cocoa butter content, it varied from 49-56%. Forastero, on average, had more, and Criollo. So where is the problem? It’s this. That small difference has very little effect on the viscosity of the base liquor. I’ve never noticed much of a difference as long as the fat content is above 40% (once you start adding ingredients).

So what is causing that thickness? Well, I say not to over roast the Peru, and I mention Conacado and accept a heavier roast. What I’d hazard to hypothesize is that the Peru was roasted lighter (maybe a touch too light?) and contained more moisture. And that can and will make a huge difference in the base viscosity. 1% moisture can radically increase how thick your chocolate is. It’s good to keep in mind when reading about light and heavy roasts, that in all cases it should be a full roast to make sure the moisture is properly driven off. And don’t forget to let them completely cool before grinding into liquor. Water continues to be let off for some time after roasting.

I had the bright idea once to use that residual heat to jump start my grinding process….and over and over ended up with a seized mess. Some time later, I sealed up some barely warm to the touch roasted beans (maybe 100F) and came back to find all sorts of condensation in the bag. Moisture! And the cause of my seizing. It’s why I generally recommend 6 hours cooling before processing at all. Let that moisture escape.

So, good observation, but most likely the wrong conclusion, but good for the data you had on hand. I’m glad you asked.



Ask the Alchemist #46 and USPS Tracking

Some of you may have noticed, contrary to what it currently says about USPS and no tracking numbers (soon to change) tracking numbers are now available for USPS packages, including Standard Post (which previously was Parcel Post and is still just as slow). I am going to toss a disclaimer out there though. I don’t know how well the tracking numbers work nor how accurate the estimated delivery time are. They now make it sound like it is a guarantee. I’ve seen “2 Day Shipping”. I’ve already had people ask why it showed up three or four days later. The answer is that that is USPS’s estimate and that is all it is. And just to remind you, the day you get your shipping confirmation is not always the day your shipment goes out. It’s the day I processed the order and took it out to pack. Often it is the same day, but sometimes it is not. Onto Ask the Alchemist.

Is it ok to roast the beans and then go straight into the melanger without any other process, will you get the smooth chocolate ? I read a lot of good research on cacao bean husk so prefer to keep it in:

Comparative evaluation of chlorhexidine mouthrinse versus cacao bean husk extract mouthrinse as antimicrobial agents in children.

Chocolate mouth rinse: Effect on plaque accumulation and mutans streptococci counts when used by children. 

Extraction and chromatographic separation of anticarcinogenic fractions from cacao bean husk.

Identification of cariostatic substances in the cacao bean husk: their anti-glucosyltransferase and antibacterial activities.

Well, yes, you can. But having done it, you will in all likelihood get a chocolate with a great number of off flavors. I've done it a few times, even with very clean beans and the product was never anything I or anyone wanted to eat.

And although you didn't ask it, I read over those abstracts and they all very specifically deal with extracts of the husk, not the husk themselves. The significance is concentration and application. None of those took a route via ingestion. Your research, as you listed, is not applicable to keeping husk in the chocolate. I can't see how any of those benefits would be transferable to chocolate with husk intact. Antibacterial properties of compounds are very sensitive to concentration and total dose and application and what you propose has you reducing and changing all three.

Instead of putting it into your chocolate, I would instead suggest making a tea via Brewed Cocoa. None of those articles mentioned whether they were hot or cold water extracts, so it is entirely possible a hot water extract would reduce the anti-bacterial properties…but then again, it may not.

Finally, going back to the tests I did, I wanted to mention that I’ve watch people pick out every last piece of husk they can after winnowing. Personally, I find that overkill (unless you are doing raw chocolate). I’ve seen values that industry standard for husk is 0.5-2%. I’m not saying to leave that much in. But I am saying that if you decide to, I highly doubt you will notice at all unless you are super super taster or the beans have very serious mold issues. I and those I gave samples to could not notice any difference up to 5% and then it could well have been suggestive. 10%. Yeah. Noticed it. 20%. Yep – nasty. Oh, and those are are percentages of total weight, meaning 20%, being roughly the weight of the husk, was leaving all the husk in. Taking out 3/4 made it barely perceptible. So, basically, relax a little with your winnowing. A little husk isn’t the end of the world. And if you are going to actively add it to your chocolate, (although I don’t see the purpose based on the current research) maybe keep it too under 5%.



Ask the Alchemist #33

I want to make chocolate for baking. Do I need to still go through all the steps of refining, conching and tempering? How is the process of making baker's chocolate different from the process of making semi-sweet chocolate?You do not have to go through all of the steps you list above, but you do need to do most of the to one degree or another. And in one small case, I will back pedal and say you will have to do them all. First off, I want to get some definitions out of the way – or more to the point, I want to list some synonyms.

  • Baker’s chocolate
  • Chocolate liqueur
  • Cocoa mass 100%
  • Unsweetened chocolate

These, being synonyms, are all the same item. I’m going to go out on a limb, and assume that you recognize at least one, and you don’t officially need an actual definition.Way back in the dark ages of home chocolate making (about 1 BCA – that’s Before Chocolate Alchemy) I experimented with just using the Champion juicer to make one of them there things above – the result was something that looked like one of them there things, but was not one of them there things. It turns out, it was a matter of scale. Although the Champion had released the cocoa butter and the mass flowed, it had not released it all, and it just didn’t quite behave right. The flavor was muted, it was too thick, and it would not temper well. But just a couple hours refining in a Melanger, and suddenly, like Alchemy, it was transformed into one of them there things above. Going back to scale, basically that particles were just not small enough. Instead of sand, it is still gravel.

So, you need to refine. And that can occur much faster than if you had sugar in there – again, just a couple few hours. After that, you move into the conching zone. And really, I find that totally optional, and in nearly all cases overkill if you are going to be baking. I won’t refute that conching is a remarkable process…but it is a relatively subtle process that will be totally lost (to my tastes) in baking.

Now, semi-sweet vs baker’s chocolate. Gah, I had marketing terms sometimes. If there is sugar in your chocolate, you can consider it semi-sweet and most of the time, that is what we make. It’s close enough. Painting with a very broad brush, if it is not milk chocolate, and it is not 85% chocolate (that would be ‘dark’) then it is semi-sweet.

Tempering – here is that one that on the surface I want to just say ‘no, you don’t need to do that’ but, I have found in one case, where it does seem to make a difference. Chocolate chips and chocolate chip cookies. Very simply, if you are melting the chocolate down as an ingredient, then there is no reason in the world to temper it – you are just destroying the temper when you melt. If on the other hand you are, you are using some of that ‘semi-sweet’ chocolate, and you want to make your own chocolate chips (which purely for the work involved, I don’t recommend – chocolate chucks people, chocolate chucks), then there is a difference in how the chips behave during baking if you don’t temper. Simply said, we are used to tempered chocolate chips, how they hold together, how they feel in the mouth, etc, and untempered chocolate chips, while still good, seemed to lack something.

That’s about it…except for one final item.

Over the years, I’ve basically said lecithin is optional, and from the standpoint of fine eating chocolate. It still is. But what I have discovered is that if you are baking with it, and especially if you are mixing the chocolate into water based ingredients (truffle fillings, cake batters, tortes, etc) then a little bit (1% or so) greatly increases workability and reduces the chances your chocolate will ‘break’ and you will have cocoa butter floating around. There has been a few occasions that when I made truffle fillings, and tortes, both without flour or another binder, that oil floated to the top. Using the same exact recipe, but with the addition of a small amount of lecithin kept everything together and much more manageable.

OK, NOW, that’s it.



New Melanger warranty policy

New Melanger Policy This is for the Santha Melanger, that I modified for use some 7 years ago, and carried no warranty at that time.  A couple years ago, a limited short warranty was added.  This is now a pretty standard 1 year warranty for the contiguous 48 USA states.  The others and international are warrantied for DOA defects and of course shipping damage.   I'm quite pleased to see the change and trust in the product.

There will be a couple new Venezuelan beans arriving in a couple weeks.  A smooth, mildly spicy, delicate Patenamo and a buttery Mantuano - and both Criollo stock.


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Hickory Smoked Bacon Chocolate

Did I get your attention? Ok, the new Papua New Guinea isn't quite like that, but it is the first thing I thought of when smelling the freshly roasted nibs after winnowing. Go check out the full review.We are also taking orders for the Spectra 20 and Spectra 40 Grinders. Please read about the Warranty before ordering. They should be in early next month. Your order will reserve you one but we will not charge your credit card until they ship. And please note, the Spectra 40 is 250 lbs and takes a freight deliverable address.

Finally, we now are offering a complete list of Spare Parts for the Alchemist's Stone Melanger. And we have had machined a set of metal hub and cap for the Melanger for those that want one that can handle heat and more pressure.

metalcenter1_medium.jpg      metalcenter_medium.jpg

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Chocolate Making 101

My dear partner Penelope put this together, noting that so far there is not one single page outlining the entire chocolate making procedure start to finish.  Well, now there is. Chocolate Making at Home 101

It won't give you everything you need in detail (hence the '101') but gives a great overview.  For all the detailed information follow the links under Alchemist's Notebook to the right.



Melangers and Shipping

The new Melangers are in and all back orders have been filled. Also, all the larger units (Spectra 20 and 40) have been sold. There will be more in around May. If you would like to reserve a unit (or more), please contact me via email. The Spectra 20 is $1000 and the Spectra 40 is $1600. Both prices include s/h for the 48 USA states. As for shipping, rates may look a little confusing for a bit. We are in the middle of implementing live UPS and USPS rates, so the choices may look odd until we fully implement. For instance you may have the following as a set of options: UPS Ground $7.85

USPS Flat rate $9.00

4-5 lbs $8.45

UPS 3 day Select $17.56

That  third one is our current system but would still ship UPS (unless you have a PO Box of course).  The others are real live rates.  Choose whatever you want (who am I to say you can't pay more in shipping if you want ).  One caveat and sincere request.  Please make sure your shipping address is correct.  We (the developer and I)  have found a bug that if you have a typo in your address (Cresthill vs Crest hill for instance) the software will return a lower than actual value (not sure why, that is why it is a bug).  If that happens you will see a double charge on your credit card when your order is shipped as the shipping amount is adjusted.

Also, on other caveat, I am leaving the various Rush shipping options available, but PLEASE contact me know if you need something fast.  Right now if you were to choose Next Day Air, I  would ship it Next Day Air BUT can NOT guarantee  it would go out the same or next business day - the 48-72 hour shipping rule of thumb still applies.  I will bend over backwards to TRY and get it out the next day (we never ship same day without notice - orders from the previous day are packed the day after they come in at the earliest) but communication is the key.  We don't get that many rush orders, but I thought you should be informed.



12th Night, tortes and the aztecs

How's that for a title? I celebrated 12th night last night (secular form actually) and for dessert I prepared a fresh Tabasco (bean of course) based flourless torte - just to die for.   I thought I would share both parts.

69% Dark Tabasco chocolate - 6.25 lbs 5 lbs of Tabasco cocoa

5 oz  Natural cocoa butter

30 oz unrefined cane sugar

Roasted the Tabasco cocoa in two 2.5 lb batchs in the Behmor, Profile p1, 14 minutes roast time.  Cracked the cooled beans in my Cocoa Mill, winnowed them and ground them into liqueur in my Champion Juicer.  I melted my cocoa butter in the Melanger, added the Tabasco liqueur.  I did something I have never tried before which was a little elevated temperature refining.  I put the drum and contents in my oven until everything was 140F.  I heated my sugar to 180 F (and no, is doesn't melt).  I then started the Melanger running and added the sugar.  Brought the whole mass to 155 F.

Now, before you try this at home, I have an aluminum center mount for the wheels (the nylon gets brittle) and have replace the seal on my Melanger (don't ask why I had to do that) so I can take mine over the 150 limit.  If you want to try it, just go to 145 or so and all should be good.

In any case, the extra heat helped to drive off some of the acidity of the beans, but more importantly catalyzed some nice acid induces hydrolysis flavor reactions in the chocolate and really smoothed out the flavor and bumped up the complexity of the chocolate.  The temperature only stayed elevated for 4-5 hours.  I think 8-10 would have been better, but I will have to play with that more.  I considered the chocolate finished at 20 hours.


The chocolate itself has some great liveliness and was deemed almost too sweet by some household tasters.  Says something for a nearly 70% dark chocolate.  I used 1 lb to make the following torte.

Chocolate Torte

1 lb 70% chocolate (homemade is best in my opinion)

2 cups sugar

2 cups butter

8 eggs

(If you like coffee, 6 oz of espresso can be added to the eggs for a Mocha torte)

Preheat  oven to 350 F.  For really even baking, make a 1" water bath with a 12" pan and get that also pre-heating. Pull your espresso and let cool if you want a Mocha torte.  Melt the butter and chocolate together.  Also let cool to room temperature. Butter and dust with cocoa powder a 9"  pan.  I find a springform or cheesecake (removable bottom) pan works well.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together.  Whisk in the espresso if desired.

Fold in the cooled chocolate mixture (chocolate to eggs so you don't set the eggs).  The "batter" may well gel up - kind of odd, but ok and what allowed me to put the nice spiderweb pattern on the torte.

Pour into the prepared pan and put in the oven (in the waterbath if you are doing that).

Bake 45 minutes.  Edges will be set but the middle may jiggle a little.  It's ok.  Remove and let cool.

This supposedly serves 16. It is VERY rich.  I like it the next day best. The rest of the  chocolate we molded up.  I tested out a new mold.  It holds 72 0.2 oz chocolates.  I will be selling a limited amount of these.  Look for them in the next week or so.  Someone (thanks Jasmine) got creative as soon as they were out.


Our Ode to the Aztecs.

We just ran out of Ocumare, and are very low on the Papua New Guinea . But the new Panama should be in Wednesday, and available soon there after.



Just in time for Mother's day

skull21.jpg Ok, not exactly the perfect Mother's Day mold.  They were meant to be, but the mold company forgot a zero (hey, what's a zero anyway - it's nothing), so we have a limited supply (5 actually) of these.  Not normally what I would offer, cut upon seeing them, they do have a nice bit of detail. On another note, we have sold out of the timer model of the Melanger very quickly.  I hope everyone got one that wanted one.  We still have plenty of the on/off switch models.



The "New" Stone Melangers are in

In no small part to Chocolate Alchemy, Santha is now calling their motor ventilated wet grinders Chocolate Stone Melangers. So, I will probably start referring to them that way. So if you see mention to the Santha Melanger, or Stone Melanger, it is the Santha Wet Grinder made and adjusted for us chocolate makers. To distinguish it solidly from their other line, they will only be coming in maroon but there is now the choice of a 99 hour electric timer. The regular Melangers will still be $265 (including shipping in the 48 upper US states), but the timers will increase the price to $295. And since I have not spoken about them in a while, the non-timer units are also available in 220 v and we can handle out of country shipping. Shipping varies pretty wildly out of the country, so please write and ask if you want to know the prices. In general non-US units are about $50-100 more due to shipping. In response to a couple of customers innovation (thank you Alan and Brad), I experimented with my Melanger this weekend, testing out how well it handles taking grinding nibs. Both Alan and Brad have modified their Santhas to a larger motor and reported being able to bypass the Champion and liquefy the nibs directly in the Santha. Well, I am pleased to report that the stock Melanger can also do the job. I have not pushed it to a high capacity yet, but check out the photos below of 2 lbs of roasted Cuyagua. The main "trick" is that you run the unit with no spring, or no nut at all. The weight of the rollers does it all and it does not bind up.

At the beginning, the nibs running freely.And if you have not seen it before, that is the hot new maroon color all Melangers are now coming in.
15 minutes in and it is just starting to get pasty and sticky
At 30 minutes, the mass suddenly started to "flow". Still course, but flowing.
45 minutes and it is quite fluid and getting smoother almost as you watch.
One hour and we are where we would be with the Champion (except the few nibs that need to be scraped down).

All I did was put the rollers in, without even the top nut. I started the Melanger and poured in my WELL CLEANED (more on this later) nibs. After 15 minutes, I could tell something was happening. Thirty minutes in it started flowing and after an hour, everything was nice and smooth. I added the cap around 15 minutes, but I don't think it matters. I did not add any external heat at all - just the weight of the rollers and friction took care of it.

OK, Great you say - I don't need to buy a Champion Juicer. Well, frankly that depends on you. By using the Melanger only, you need to make sure your nibs are VERY clean of husk because you have nothing filtering it out. In the Champion, the liqueur comes out the bottom, and any husk you have left in, comes out the front. By eliminating the filtering step, the onus is completely on you (if you get nibs from me, they WILL have some husk left) to make sure it is all gone or at a level you can accept. The up side is you don't loose anything to the void in the Champion. If you put in 1 lb 6 oz of nibs, you have 1 lb 6 oz of nibs, not somewhere around a 1 lb like in the Champion. So, until I do more testing, and tasting, I will reserve judgment which method I like best, but regardless, there you go - another option in your Alchemical bag of chocolate making tips and tricks.

And something to look for in the next few days. I have mentioned you can either use the Crankandstein cocoa mill or the Champion juicer (another use for the Champion you may or may not want) to crack nibs. I have done a efficiency test, evaluating dust, husk and nib recovery using the two machines. I will get those numbers and pictures up soon....back to the lab...