Ask the Alchemist #18

"I am wondering how much waste to plan for when winnowing cocoa beans into nibs so I can plan accordingly with the beans. How does this affect ordering pre-cracked and winnowed nibs from you? "
Very generally speaking, the husk accounts for about 20-25% of the mass of the cocoa bean.  So, if you have 1 lb of cocoa beans, you can expect to lose about 3-4 oz.  That's why if you order 1 lb of cocoa beans as nibs, you will receive about 12 oz of nibs.
Also, as it is related, you can expect a touch more husk in your raw nibs than roasted nibs as they simply do not winnow as well or as completely.   After you roast your raw nibs, you may find you wish to pick out or hand winnow a touch more.  That said, a touch of husk in your chocolate is not the end of the world, and you might be surprised just how much is in many commercial chocolates.  0.5% is the number I've often heard batted around.  If you weigh out 0.5% husk you will it looks like quite a bit - and quite a bit less than even what is left in raw nibs.
Happy Holidays every one.
We will be closed next week for a much needed break and family time.  If you REALLY need something, send me an e-mail and I'll do what I can to accommodate (as I always do), but otherwise, please don't expect any movement on your orders (I'll leave the stores open) until the following week.



Ask the Alchemist #17

“I have been wanting to make truffles for the holidays with my homemade chocolate. Do you have a good recipe you can share?"

Sure. For as fancy and awe inspiring as truffles can be, they are actually quite simple to make – with a few handy tips, pointers and techniques. First, a very standard recipe that will make 2-3 dozen 1 oz truffles:


1 lb chocolate

1 cup (0.5 lb) heavy cream


1 lb chocolate

50/50 Cocoa powder/sugar

Melt the chocolate to about 90-95 F. Warm the cream to 90-95 F.

Combine gently to form the filling. It will be a little thick (chocolate – water – seizing – ok this time). Let cool for a few hours, undisturbed, without stirring, until set up. Stirring may make some of the cocoa butter want to ‘break’ and you can end up with a layer on top. Also, if you don’t mind lecithin, this is a case where lecithin in your chocolate will greatly reduce the chance your chocolate filling will separate.

Once cool and firm, using a spoon, gently scoop out a bit of filling and using your (clean) hands, roll it into a nice golf ball sized ball. As this filling melts readily, your hands may well become quite messy. I like to form up all the truffle centers first, setting them aside to firm back up if they melted a touch.

Technique time.

Next, melt your coating chocolate. Pour a bit (a few ounces) on a warm plate (I just heat it in the oven). Take your truffle center, and roll it into the chocolate with ONE hand. After I’ve rolled a pair, I transfer the pair into a bowl I’ve placed my cocoa powder mixture into. Using your OTHER hand, dust the truffles (roll them around) with the powder and set them aside to harden.

Doing it this way will keep your hands neater – otherwise you will end up coating both hands in chocolate and powder and that’s just a pain as you contaminate both.

That’s it really. There are LOTS of variations of recipes. You can add in a tablespoon of butter and/or corn syrup into your filling (keeping the chocolate/cream ratio 2:1). You can add in flavored oils (orange, lemon, vanilla) to your filling. You can roll your truffles in cinnamon, cardamom, or whatever inspires you. A little rum or whiskey can go into your filling. If you have a tempering machine (I don’t advise it if you don’t) you can omit a powder coating (which hides bloom – hint, hint) and dip your filling right into tempered chocolate. Really, the options are endless.

But in the end, 2:1 chocolate to cream. Chocolate exterior. Powder coating.

Happy Holidays.



Ask the Alchemist #16

Hi, I have just been put on a salycilate and amine free diet, and was already gluten intolerant. I miss my chocolate!!! :( I can have carob. The only difficulty there is that I can only have sunflower, safflower or canola oils which rule out buying commercially made carob chocolate. I was wondering if it is possible to make carob in the form of chocolate at home with any of these oils, or if it is impossible as I think it may be. I have never attempted to make homemade chocolate before, so can you please give me instructions on how to go about this with these ingredients, if indeed it is possible.

Roast, Grind, Refine and Bob’s your uncle.

Oh, you needed more than that? OK. Well, sit back, it’s story time.

This is almost like 9 years ago when no one knew how to make chocolate at home, I was told by more than one source that it simply was not possible, and to top it off, there was no raw ingredient around to experiment with.

Basically, there is very little about how to make ‘eating carob’ that is an analogous substitution for chocolate. There are a couple things about mixing carob powder with butter and/or sugar for a gritty concoction. But no one told me it’s not possible this time (saves me laughing in their face). So, what is an Alchemist to do but do it himself and disseminate the information to the eager masses.

I started off tracking down a source of carob. Myworldhut. Go to it. You will find out that there are a handful of choices. Whole pods. Kibbed pods (cut and sifted). Powder. Of course, I choose some of each, the thought being I would work backwards from the powder, making sure I knew what to expect, and how it would lead me onward – just like I did so many years ago with chocolate.

The powder I received was roasted, so I was basically ready to toss my ingredients into the Melanger and go for it….except I didn’t know what else to add nor how much. After a lot of research, I found, not unlike chocolate, the proportions were all over the board. Taking my own advice that I wanted/needed at least 33% fat in my recipe for the Melanger’s sake, I verified that those proportions would fall into the various proportions I had researched (they did) and started off. Next, what fat to use? As it turns out, I also make soap, so have a handful of slightly off beat oils laying around. After a little looking and cross referencing, the formulations muses were shining on me, because I had in my possession an oil that melts between 70-80 F (not unlike cocoa butter) and just so happens to be in the ingredient lists of more than one carob chip I found – Palm Kernel Oil. With that out of the way, I kept it simple and just made my first foray into home made carob making it mathematically pleasing with 1/3 each roasted carob powder, palm kernel oil and granulated sugar.

A quick side note - as I write this, I see the question specifically asked about 'sunflower, safflower or canola oils'.  Technically, I think you can use these, but what is most likely going to happen, in that they are true oils (i.e. a liquid at room temperature) the resulting carob is not going to set up, but be more of a carob sauce.  Why didn't I try one of these?  Honest mistake.  But after a looking a bit, it would appear that Palm Kernel oil is listed on many lists as acceptable for those on a "salycilate and amine free diet".  So, hopefully this still helps.

As they say, the best battle plans are only good until the first shot is fired. (yes, that is foreshadowing). After that you either think on your feet or fail. I melted the palm kernel oil (PKO) and added it to the Melanger. Next, in went the carob powder…..and it was rather thick. At 50/50 (no sugar yet), was this even going to work? Hrm – not good. But persevering, I started adding my sugar….and got about one half in before deeming the caution was the better part of valor- at least for this first foray.


The final proportions were:

8.2 oz carob (41 %)

8.2 oz PKO (41 %)

3.5 oz sugar (18%)

24 hours later. It probably did not need 24 hours, but that’s when I had time to deal with it. And what did I have. Well…..solid carob – oops – unheated laboratory. This stuff apparently does not behave just like refining chocolate. No harm, but….

solid-carob.JPG A little applied heat, and we have refined carob. At only 15% sugar , the carob itself has quite a bit of sugar, so the result was amazingly palatable. Earthy. Dark. Rich. Better than what I’ve tasted before. But also a little flat in flavor. The start had not gone exactly as planned, but good enough to proceed. Emboldened with my success, I moved on to taking the process one step back.

The kibbed pods. Basically, the raw pods have had their seeds removed, and dried. Unlike raw cocoa, and much more like raw coffee, this stuff is not really edible. Very little flavor, and if you are not careful, you just might break a tooth. On to roasting. But how? Well, I did say it’s not unlike coffee and I’ve had many years experience roasting coffee. The first being in my hacked West Bend Poppery – a little alchemically turbo charged air popcorn popper. In went a small handful of carob kib. Around and around it goes, where it will stop no body knows. But I was about to find out. Unfortunately, the kibs kept stopping on the thermometer I had put in. Bugger. Out comes the thermometer, and away we go. And first off, I am hit by the aroma. To this day, I am not sure what I think of it. Very sweet….but almost too sweet like certain lilies. Not bad, but not really good either. With some spot checks from the thermometer, the kibs started changing color as the temperature got past 220 F, and continued to darken. Somewhere in the 280-300 F range, at 5 minutes or so, they have gone to a deep mahogany, and hints of smoke are starting to come forth. Not knowing what to expect, I dumped a couple out and to my surprise found out they were very soft – way softer than going in. Remember that sugar I mentioned that was part of carob? I think at this point that it had melted. Upon breaking open the kib, I saw it was still pretty light inside, so I turned down my roaster heat (pretty classic roasting profile – high start, lower as you finish) so the inside would roast without burning the exterior. A few minutes later, SMOKE is being produced, but I am REALLY trying to stretch out the roast, going for just a little more time to make sure it’s roasted all the way through. It was probably at 330 F or so. 10 minutes. Done. Off goes the heat, and they cool – into little hard crystallized sugar carob kibs. The melted sugars I think went to the hard crack stage (as in candy making) and set up. The raw kibs were hard and unyielding. The roasted kibs were hard and very friable – and rather tasty (molasses like). Great! Success! Now what?

raw-v-roated.JPG Well, you and I know you can grind nibs in the Melanger, but it’s really less work to pre-grind the nibs into liqueur if you have the time. Since the carob is nearly fat free (about 0.5%) it was not going to do that, but, hey, the first test was carob powder! Into the blender the kibs went, and what do you know? Freshly roasted carob powder! (Warning, Will Robinson, Warning – carob powder is LIGHT and will coat everything – cover that blender well and give it time to settle.)


Alright, that worked…but I only have 2 oz of carob kib – I need more. More kibs into the drum roaster, and off we go. A roasting we will go, a roasting we will go, hi ho the carob-o, a roasting we will go. Mostly, it’s about the same. Pre-heat about like cocoa to 300 F. Temperature drops to 200 or so. The kibs darken around 220 and keep darkening to 300 F and 330 F OMG…SMOKE. 1 lb of kib makes a LOT more smoke than 2 oz. Duh, Alchemist! Turn that heat down, and keep the smoke under control for 2-3 minutes. Then cool. The results – just about the same. Crunchy roasted carob kib. Boldly onward to the next batch in the Melanger.

time-temp.JPG smoke.JPG

Learning from before, I’ve adjusted the recipe. More oil, more carob, less sugar. First shot was fired…and there goes that plan….again. This time the mixture is WAY thinner. I don’t know if the carob powder had moisture or what, but this batch with freshly roasted carob was acting way different. OK, forget the plan. I started adding ingredients (keeping track along the way) until I had minimized the oil (recipes I found had 20% oil but from the first test, I could not see how – now I do), and added sugar to taste.


The result was a nice viscosity and flavor with the following proportions.

8 oz carob (50%)

5 oz PKO (31 %)

3 oz sugar (19 %)

As it turned out, I was nearly right the first time. About 30% oil was right and not too thick. 30% sugar was too much, and to my taste, 19% was about right. And this time, battle plan thrown to the wind, formulating by my wits and whiles, this batch had a much richer, more full-bodied flavor. Mostly I think because, big surprise, fresh is best. Which is the perfect segue to the final test; going from the whole pods.

Did I mention these things are hard? They are. After a little on-line research (I found about 9 sources, but really only one – they ALL parroted each other word for word) soaking is often suggested to soften the pods enough to remove the seeds. Water? Like bloody hell I’m getting water anywhere near this process. I’m holding to the same water phobic stance as in chocolate. What to do? It hard. Need break. Hit {grin} HAMMER! (Which actually worked remarkably well.) I put the whole pods into a bag, and with a raw hide mallet, broke it up pretty well.


As I sit and write this, I think it also might well be possible to drum roast or even oven roast the whole pods and take advantage of them either being soft when they come out or waiting until they are cool and more brittle and crispy. But, at this point, having proved I can break them open, pick out the seeds, and get rid of the fines, I would recommend (since they are available) just getting the already broken up carob kibs.  They are already cut, dry and sifted and you really have nothing to gain by using the whole pods (unless you need to feed your inner neanderthal and play with a hammer).  If you do go the whole pod route, you will have to separate out the kib (left) from the seeds (right) and filter the dust off.


Where does that leave us? Well, you can pour up the carob into molds or just free form. Since it does not have cocoa butter in it, there is no need to temper. After days, it has not bloomed. So, in that regard it’s easier than chocolate. Pour and go.

And that, my friends and readers, is the end of our story. There are probably lots of variations to the recipe formulation that could be done. Other oils could be experimented with. Coconut oil seems a good candidate melting within a degree of PKO. Other sugars (or maybe no sugar) could be tried. But in the long run, it is as I said:

Roast, Grind, Refine and Bob’s your uncle (with fresh carob).


1 Comment

Ask the Alchemist #15

Something is really bothering me about the Melangers. A Router Speed Control 115V 15A for 3 HP routers costs no more than $50. Why does Santha charge an exorbitant price of $306.00 more than the $489.00 Spectra 11 - 110 V for those 2 features? Something is not right in their engineering department. this means if I could buy it and the above speed control unit for $37.94 (tax incl.). it also means they can put the electronics and a knob (or a rolling thing like on power tools) in there for less than $15. ...we're talking 1/4 HP here and a few gears. That $795.00 can buy way more complicated machinery, electronics and dependability than that.

In a word, TANSTAAFL. This is nothing I have not thought of and in a few words, it isn't quite as straight forward as you make it out. The Melangers use a relatively inexpensive but durable capacitor start motor. If you drop the speed on a capacitor start motor with a router controller they can stop running as the rpm drops or a high load is placed on them. Basically, under the conditions used, it would stall. To circumvent that, yes, they could use a non-capacitor start motor. The result would be a much more expensive motor and an inexpensive controller - with no net gain at all in price.

If you want to dig in, check these out:



So why don't they just use a router motor (you may not have asked that, but others have...)?  It's only $50.

It's an rpm issue. The Melanger runs at about 1200 rpm and is geared down with a pulley to about 100 rpm. Routers can and do run at twenty times that speed. By the time it reaches 1200 (or even 3000 rpm) the torque plummets (the router controls are only linear to about 20-25% power) and effectively is useless (or will burn out with extended running). And if you keep it higher, then you need more gear reductions again, and once again, no net gain (reduction) in the price, but you have added complexity and many more failure points.

To repeat - TANSTAAFL.

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Chuao is back.....

Deep, heady, rich, alluring.  Do I have you yet?  Sometimes a chocolate's gestalt's impression is what lingers, and that's the case here.  If you know Chuao, then you are probably not too surprised by this description.  If you don't know Chuao, might I suggest, that if at all possible, get acquainted.  Ok, that is about as hard as my pitch gets.

And the catch...I have only one bag (which was a pretty penny, hence the steeper than average price), so, if you want some, get it quick.

Venezuelan Chuao - 2012



Ask the Alchemist #14

At what point in the chocolate making process should I add things like nuts, herbs or spices, and how would this affect refining and tempering?"

I’ll try and keep this short and sweet.

The base answer to when to add additional ingredients is that it all depends what you want.

Nuts – I like them right at the end, while I am tempering. If you put them in while refining, you are going to have the associated oils to deal with, and while homemade nutella (hazelnut and chocolate) is great, the hazelnut oil inhibits tempering and if you use too much (40 % or so) it won’t even set up (since oils by definition are liquid at room temperature).

Herbs and spices – first off, if you are using herbs - Water! Be aware. You really need to use dried herbs or you run the risk of seizing your chocolate. But if you keep them mostly whole and don't release the water, you may be fine.  Next. When? I personally like a smooth chocolate and like the herbs and spices added at the beginning of refining. Some people like the earthy texture of the herbs and spice and add them right at tempering time. Totally your call. Both will work.

As for tempering with chunky bits in there – it has the potential to make it more difficult. Lots of places for lower seed crystals to hide. You are probably going to want to hold at your working temperature (88-89 F for instance for Dark chocolate) for a little longer to make sure all the other seeds (1-4) are gone. And it’s helpful to get your additions (nuts mostly, but herbs and spices too) up to around the same temperature so you don’t plummet your chocolate temperature and wind up with a really hard to work with mass.

That’s about it. Add it either place to your liking. Be aware of added oils and water. Pay special attention to your temperature while tempering and take your time.

Nutted and herbed Holiday gift chocolates....what a great idea.  Glad you thought of it.



Cocoa bean stock update - good and bad

With Hurricane Sandy, some of my major supply chains have been disrupted.  Peru, Ecuador, La Red, Bolivian - they are all in short supply or out.  The warehouse storing them was flooded in parts, and damages are still being accessed.   At this point, they are projected another 2 weeks to know what is not damaged, but it's not looking good.  So, some standard favorites may be in short supply for a little while until new containers are in and available. But there seems to be a balance in life sometimes.  With the above beans becoming scarce, I'm please to announce 7 new beans in stock.  The long awaited Venezuelan.

These are all Ethically and Sustainably traded.  I am planning on using that phrase a bit more.  Chocolate Alchemy is working with Tisano who is on the ground in Venezuela, working side by side with the farmers.  Since Chocolate Alchemy is not actually there, Direct trade is not quite the right term, and since these are farm purchased, not co-op, they are not eligible for Fair Trade status. Amazonas - a wild harvested cocoa.  Wood & chocolate.

Cumboto -  this Ocumare strain bean comes from  a former slave founded village tucked away deep in the canyons of the Henri Pettier National Park.

Mantuano -  Delicate nuts, light berry (apricot and peach), the hint of the sea, and a slight touch of freshly cracked black pepper.

Ocumare -  An old favorite, and no exception this year.

Patanemo F1 & F2 -  From another former Slave village - the slaves ran away from the surrounding haciendas and hid in the mountains and started a little town called 'Pas Tenemos' - We have Peace, which over time turned to Patanemo. A great Criollo pale white beans with specks of pink. We work with the co-op here doing centralized collections, fermentation and drying.

Tricheras - Former Hacienda broken up and the land is now owned by the farmers  (one more day or so for the tasting notes)

and finally, although not from Venezuela, I have a small amount of bright, tangy Madagascar in.



Ask the Alchemist #13

"I meet a lot of people who have stopped eating chocolate because they are sensitive to caffeine. How much caffeine is actually in chocolate?"

Well – what a mess this this. While digging up some (semi)solid data for this, I came across both of these:

"Chocolate contains no caffeine" is an urban legend.

"Chocolate contains caffeine" is the urban legend.

Well, and then this one…but that is just clouding the issue, but it’s fun.

“the urban legend regarding caffeine and chocolate is that the urban legend is simply an urban legend masquerading as an urban legend”

Moving on….

What’s an Alchemist to do when trying to answer a question….? Well, THIS alchemist is also a chemist and at some point in the past analyzed organic compounds for a living on GC/MS and HPLC. Very briefly, just so I could know which way to take this discussion, I pulled out my notes for the analysis I did…..and found that cocoa DOES contain very small amounts of Caffeine – but a whole lot less than a very similar compound called Theobromine.

For the record, this is what both compounds look like. theo-v-caff.jpg

Yeah, they look a bit alike. And there is quite a bit of discussion out there that people are mixing up the two compounds since they are both alkaloids and look alike. But that just does not hold water for me as an argument. I really wanted to put up the chromatograms and spectral fingerprints of the two compounds and show how once you extract them and analyze them, there is just no possible or feasible way to mix them up or confuse one for the other. But as I’ve learn in the past, that kind of thing seems to just make people’s eyes glaze over as if they are seeing light and sound gel and bend like hot taffy….kind of cool (for me) but not very productive. So, all I can do is say, ‘trust me – I did not mix these up, I’m a professional’. With that, here is some of that semi-solid (hrm, taffy like?) data about caffeine. caffeine-content.jpg

As you can see, it’s rather all over the board.

Cocoa beans contain between 0.05% and 0.75% caffeine, around 0.2% being the most common and average amount found. Caffeine is also present in lesser amounts in the husk that surrounds the cocoa beans, usually from 0.05% to 0.3%. In comparison, dry tea leaves are 3-4% caffeine, and roasted coffee beans are 1-2% caffeine. And that says nothing about how much is actually in your brewed beverages.  The amount that makes it into chocolate depends which cocoa you are talking about, how it was fermented, roasted, refined and of course the recipe.

So, chocolate has about as much caffeine as decaffeinated tea and coffee. That’s it right? Well, yes and no. Theobromine. There is actually quite a bit in cocoa (roughly 10-50 times that of caffeine). And it does have a stimulant effect, a little bit like caffeine – but it is NOT caffeine, it does NOT break down into caffeine (aromatic ring rupture is going happen before uncatalyzed demethylization thank you very much) and has a much shorter and milder stimulant effect than caffeine.

It is rather difficult to quantify a stimulant effect, but painting with a broad brush, and generalizing something awful, Theobromine seems to have about 1/10 of the affect and staying power of caffeine. Given that there is more of it, but it is so much milder, the net effect almost cancels out (again, I’m going to leave out the fun equations where x goes to zero, your eyes glaze over and light starts to bend like hot taffy, as much enjoyment as I might get out of it) and you are left with something that has about twice the kick (including the caffeine that we have established is there) as two whole cups of decaf tea.

So it looks to me like "Chocolate contains no caffeine" is the urban legend.

In summary:

1. Chocolate does contain a small amount of caffeine.

2. The amount of caffeine in the chocolate depends on how the cacao is processed.

3. The amount of caffeine is much lower, 10 to 100 times lower, than the amount of caffeine in most coffee and more like decaf tea or coffee.

4. Theobromine is present in higher concentrations, and has some of the same affects to as lesser degree, as caffeine. So, even without the caffeine, the affect is similar, but significantly milder.

Go forth and Theobrominate.


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Ask the Alchemist #12

"What is this chocolate wine I keep seeing at the grocery store? How is chocolate wine made? Can I make it."

This is something I’ve actually experimented with. I have tasted a couple of the chocolate wines and whereas I love both wine (red, thank you very much) and chocolate (I won’t even dignify that with a response) I did not care for any of the examples I tasted. So, in what is not uncommon for the Alchemist, I decided to do it my way, and to my mind better. And I’m of course going to share. The holidays are coming up and this is a perfect item to share

A few points of understanding.

  • There is cream in Chocolate Wine – it acts as an emulsifier effectively.
  • The chocolate you use will be have much better with lecithin – so it can play better with the cream.
  • Wine is acidic – dairy products may curdle if acidified too much – a touch of baking soda takes care of this.
  • Alcohol – to remain stable, liquid, and not spoil, you need 14-15%. It really does not matter how you get there.
  • Alcohol can also make cream separate or curdle – it needs to be added in the right order (weakest to strongest).

As I write this out I start to realize just how not straight forward it is. But how 35+ years in the kitchen, 20 years as a chemist, and 10 years as Alchemist have made it almost intuitive. And that the mixing of this chocolate wine is not unlike mixing of an Alchemical Elixir of the past. Do it right and you woo people….do it wrong…and we won’t talk about it. So, get out your apron, and pots and pans, bottles and measures and let’s brew up some Alchemy – some Chocolate Alchemy (sorry, could not help myself).

The recipe.

2 cups / 1 lb Dark Chocolate (with lecithin) 1.5 cups heavy whipping cream 0.5 cup sugar 2 cups red wine Pinch baking soda 3/4 cup rum 1/2 cup Everclear

Now then, I know from experience a lot of you are going to just shy of flip out over the last ingredient. Stop it. It is an ingredient. It’s not poison. It is Ethyl Alcohol. i.e. alcohol. What’s in the rum and red wine and what we need at 14-15%. It’s no different. AT ALL. Moving on.

As I alluded to above, combining your Elixir ingredients in the right order is important. If you want to short cut my procedure, do so at your own risk. It might or might not work.

Combine the cream and sugar and heat to 160 F (to pasteurize). Stir in your chocolate (with lecithin), which has been grated. Allow to set 5 minutes or so to melt the chocolate. Then whisk gently to incorporate. Basically, you are making a thin ganache or truffle filling here.

In a separate pan, heat your wine to about 90 F – just slightly warm – no the alcohol will not boil off. Add your pinch (1/16 t) of baking soda. This will buffer the wine a touch and protect your cream a bit.

Next, add the wine to the chocolate mixture. Please note the order. I did not say to combine them. I did not say to add the chocolate to the wine. Wine into chocolate. Again, we are protecting the cream. Whisk it in gently and gradually until al the wine is in. Next, stir in the rum and finally the Everclear. Again, we are adding weak to strong, in protection of the emulsion and cream.

That’s it. That should give you a stable, luscious, Chocolate Alchemy Elixir of Chocolate and Wine. Not to sharp, not to sweet.

A couple notes. Substitutions:

Milk for Dark Chocolate – ok White wine for red – fine. Brown sugar for white – fine. Whiskey or cognac for rum – great You can do all those 1:1.

Now, if you want to change amounts or remove items…do so at your own peril. I would not suggest it. But I will put this alternative out there if, for whatever reason we shall not discuss, you don’t want to use Everclear. It should also work but I don’t care for it quite as much.

2 cups / 1 lb Dark Chocolate (with lecithin) 1.25 cups heavy whipping cream 0.75 cup sugar 2.25 cups red wine Pinch baking soda 2.25 cups rum, brandy, cognac or whiskey For the greater flavor of the alcohol base, I found more sugar is needed to soften the elixir or it is just too sharp. I really prefer the first recipe.

And to answer the proverbial ‘what if’s’ – if you cut back on the distilled alcohol (rum, brandy etc) two things will occur. The resulting mixture may be too thick to pour and you will not have 14% alcohol so the mixture will not keep well. So, should you go that route, you can add water or more cream to thin it (along with the flavor) but keep it refrigerated or drink it immediately.

Enjoy, and have fun.

1 Comment


Ask the Alchemist #11

What are the different ways that people winnow their cocoa beans? What are the pros and cons between them?

Well, first and foremost, we should just get it out of the way, and define winnowing.

From Webster’s Definition of WINNOW - transitive verb 1 a (1) : to remove (as chaff) by a current of air. The reason I put that in there is I’ve received the tech support questions that the Cocoa mill and/or Champion is not winnowing properly. Can you see where this is going? These two devices don’t winnow. They crack the beans, which granted is first step before winnowing, but they don’t have a ‘current of air’ and are not meant to winnow.

With that out of the way, I would suggest going over to my Alchemy Notebook and reading about Winnowing there. It really says it all there. (BTW, that is a new page that is not linked in the side bar - once the entire Notebook is updated, I'll get all the links modified) But to give you just a quick run down, you can winnow really only a few different ways, and you guessed it, they all involve a current of air after having cracked the beans.

  • Blow on them.
  • Use a blow drier
  • Use a fan and drop the nib/husk mixture in front of it.

And of course (now, see the post earlier this week)

  • Use a winnower.

Seriously, that is about it. I used a blow drier for MANY years, and it works pretty well – but it makes a mess – everywhere. Blowing on them – well, technically yes, but a fan or blow drier is easier. The fan method seems great in theory, but I found it very fussy to make work if not built into an ‘official’ winnower where the introduction of the nibs and husk were very were controlled.

That leaves a choice of winnowers. There a few models you may have found on the web of long drop tube pvc models with multiple fans or blowers. Or versions of bird seed or grass seed separators. Again, both seem good in theory, but turn out to require more human intervention and baby sitting than just hand (read blow drier) winnowing.

There is also a vortex winnower I’ve seen tossed around – and I’ve played with one, and spoken to a small handful of people who have used them. And unfortunately, they are too expensive ($35,000 last I checked) or simply don’t live up to the claims of separation efficiency.

What that leads me to is a small amount of slightly abashed self promotion in suggesting either the Aether or Sylph winnowers. They are a modified long drop tube pvc winnowers, except they are missing the long drop tube, fussy, dual fan/blower controllers and are pretty inexpensive (comparing of course against $2-5K lab winnowers) . I won’t try and sell you on them – you have the links. I’ll also say they are not that complicated to build yourself if you are moderately handy with tools.

That’s about it.

What about hand peeling the beans you ask? Is there a current of air I say? No? Then it’s peeling, and it IS removing the husk from the bean, but the question was about winnowing. You can do it, but don’t expect more than about 1 lb/hour and do expect sore fingers by the end.



The Sylph Winnower for sale

I am pleased to present, the Sylph Winnower: sylphtop.jpg It's been a while coming, but the first (to my knowledge) consumer sized winnower is now available (at least at a not unreasonable price and with a reasonable efficiency and through put).

aether-logo-sylph-iii.jpg What you see there is how it comes.  You need to supply a cracker (Champion or Cocoa mill) and vacuum.  But I know many of you have these already. I hope that brings  a sigh of relief to a number of you who have been winnowing by hand all these years.



Ask the Alchemist #10 - Halloween edition

“Flying winged creatures, webs, creepy crawly things, dry ice and that eerie fog it makes – how is this about chocolate?”

Ok, I admit it – it’s kind of a forced question – but it works for the day and it’s a good subject. Really, it all comes down to one thing – Cocoa moths. Much like a good scary movie, or haunted house, or creepy story, this subject has a tendency to make people squirm.

(hushed whisper) There are bug parts in that organic chocolate you have been eating (gasp)

Yep. Or most likely. Moths LOVE cocoa. It is a fact. Now, I am not talking chocolate covered ant quantities, but they are there. And even more so, the chances are higher if you are talking organic chocolate. (Disclaimer – I am NOT dissing organic chocolate, or saying it’s worse, just talking hard facts). Why? Even the cleanest cocoa, I have seen tale tell signs of moths. Sometimes it is just a trace of webbing across a bean (one or two in a whole sack) or a small hole in a bean. Sometimes it is a larvae crawling around from an egg that has hatched out. And sometimes I don’t see anything at all but see moths flitting around. And generally speaking, organic cocoa is the worst….well, that does not sound good…. organic cocoa is often where I see the most signs. And obviously, it’s because nothing was applied to them to kill off any of those fun little creepy crawlers.

So why are the beans you buy not infested with moths and larvae and webs? Because it is possible to treat the beans organically and keep everything under control quite well.

Enter Gassing the little buggers. Death, mayhem, destruction, suffocation…..and that fun stuff Dry Ice.


When cocoa arrives here, it goes into a storage unit that I add a good quantity of dry ice to. The result is that the dry ice, frozen carbon dioxide, is released. Now, we breathe carbon dioxide all the time and do not die (from it). That is because there is oxygen present. If you add 10 lbs of dry ice to a small area, a lot of the oxygen is forced out, and the resulting atmosphere simply can not support life. Bye bye you little buggers.

And just in case, every month or so, the beans are treated again to keep any new comers or later comers in check.

Really, all this is not nearly as bad or scary as it sounds. Once you flip the lights on, and start talking about it, that creepy movie is just not that bad. I’ll say out right that I don’t bring in beans that are actively infested, and should a infestation occur (I’ve seen two, and dealt with them) the beans are NOT treated and sold – they are THROWN OUT.

This dry ice treatment is a result of such an out break many years ago and at this point it is purely preventative. But, even should a small moth or crawler make it through, by the time you roast, crack and winnower, the majority, if not all of that moth is GONE.

If you are buying bulk beans (25 lbs or more, and specifically full sacks), you may want to seriously think about your own program for moth control. One bag into a 55 gal drum, with 1 lb of dry ice, closed up for 2 days will take care of anything that may, or may not, be there. It’s really that simple. But you need to think about it and do something about it, and not just turn your head away. Unlike the movies, closing your eyes here because it makes you squirm can cause you problems. Turn those lights on, stare the issue at hand in the face and deal with it….and know that near everyone deals with it and it’s not a big deal. And heck, if you DO see something flitting or flying or crawling around….take heart – you have another layer of assurance those beans are organic, or if not certified organic, certainly not ill treated or those buggers would not be around (if you get a lemon, make lemonade as the saying goes).

So, ok, second admission – I probably overstated the case that your chocolate has bug parts in it. If there were any there, most likely they are gone…..oh, but there is another case for roasting properly and thinking twice before popping that raw cocoa bean in your mouth…..OOOOOHHHHHHHHH

Happy Halloween folks. Oh, and if all else fails, set up a good scowling gargoyle to scare them away.....



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Ask the Alchemist #9

What recipe should I use for making my chocolate? Can I change recipes I find on your site?


Caution: Rambling Alchemist ahead

In some ways that is an easy question, and some ways really hard. Starting with the second part of the question, yes, of course you can change any recipe you find on the site. It is your chocolate after all. By chance, are you asking ‘will it ruin it?’. No, it most likely will not ruin it…but it may be slightly different than what I made. But that is totally ok. As it is, if you and I and Fred Schilling all made chocolate from the same recipe, the chances of all the chocolates being the same is actually pretty small. We are going to use different equipment, roast just a little differently, have slightly different temperatures, and the chocolate is going to taste ‘right’ to each of us at slightly different stages.

That all said, you want a recipe. Fine, start in the Recipe section. You can have a dark, semi-sweet or milk as your jumping off point. Look through them. You should quickly see a pattern. Your chocolate is going to be comprised of a very short list of ingredients:

Cocoa beans Sugar Cocoa butter Milk powder Lecithin

The first two, assuming ‘standard chocolate’ are basically mandatory. The other three, depending on your tastes, desires and the type of chocolate you are making, are fully optional. Let’s go into them in a little bit of detail.

Cocoa beans – First off, you see the recipe calls for a cocoa bean that is no longer available. No worries. Relax. Have some homemade chocolate. Now go read some of the cocoa beans reviews and pick a new one that piques your interest. You are overwhelmed? Look for one that says approachable, or chocolately, or something of the ilk. Or pick one randomly. Not to minimize bean choice, but you need to start somewhere, and only by gaining experience are you going to learn. Bolivia, Peru, Ghana. Three good beans to start with. Others are fine of course. How much do you need? We will deal percentages later, but what is useful to know is that you will need about 1/3 more cocoa beans than nibs as called for in whatever recipe you use due to the weight of the husk. So, if you need 2 lbs of nibs, you are going to need to start with about 2 2/3 lbs of cocoa beans.

Sugar – Granulated Cane sugar. Let’s keep it simple at first. Go for organic if you wish. Steer clear of some of the alternative sugars (brown, succanat, date, etc).

Cocoa butter – First off, to repeat, this is an optional ingredient (assuming a dark chocolate – more later). I personally like to add little to my chocolates. The choice of Natural or deodorized is yours. I like Natural. It smell heavenly and adds some complexity to the chocolate in my opinion. Some people want only the cocoa beans to shine though, so they use deodorized.

Milk powder – This may be obvious, maybe not, but milk powder is only needed if you are making milk chocolate. Honestly, I’ve run into people that thought all chocolate had milk in it. You can use whole milk or non-fat milk powder. The later is easier to find, but I (and most people it seems) prefer the former.

Lecithin – again, optional. Why do you use it? Three reasons.

1. If you are going to be using the chocolate to cook with, the lecithin’s emulsification properties will lend an ease of working with it. It melts a little easier. Is less apt to separate if you are making truffle fillings or other mixtures where you are mixing it with a liquid ingredient. 2. It lowers the viscosity of your chocolate, similar to adding cocoa butter, but less expensive. 3. It binds water, and makes your chocolate less likely to seize if you are working with any other ingredients that might have moisture (milk powder can pick up moisture, as can vanilla) Ok, I just tossed in a mention of vanilla there. Optional. Everyone know you cannot use vanilla extract right – it has water and alcohol with will seize your chocolate. If you can find it oil based, that will work, otherwise you can split a vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and toss them into the Melanger.

Great, I’ve laid out what you need (cocoa and sugar) and what is optional (cocoa butter, milk powder, lecithin and vanilla).

How much? Here are some good ranges:

Dark Chocolate – generally defined as greater than 70% cocoa Cocoa – >70% Sugar - <30 % Cocoa butter 0-10% Milk powder – 0% (this is not a milk chocolate) Lecithin – 0-1%

Semi sweet chocolate – basically, if it does not fall into dark chocolate, It’s semi-sweet. Cocoa - 40-70% Sugar – 20-60% Cocoa butter – 0-50% Milk powder – 0% (not a milk chocolate) Lecithin – 0-1%

Milk chocolate

Cocoa – 0-40% (note, if you pick 0, what you have is white chocolate) Sugar – 20-60% Cocoa butter – 10-50% Milk powder – 10-30%

OK, those are some GENERAL ranges. All of the percentages will not work to give you a chocolate that you can actually make. Then why did I put them in? Because the range is valid. Let me demonstrate with a few examples while putting out a good rule of thumb for making a recipe you can actually make.

Rule of thumb - You want the cocoa butter content of your chocolate to be above 35%.

Now, I want to clarify I did not say you have to add at least 35% cocoa butter. If you think I said that, re-read it. Cocoa beans are about 50% cocoa butter. If you make a 70% dark chocolate, 50% of the cocoa is cocoa butter, so your chocolate has 35% (70% x 50%) cocoa butter in it. What happens if you drop below 35%? In many cases your chocolate will be too thick to run in the Melanger, and if by chance you can get it to run, it may be too thick to temper well. Make sense? Good. Let’s develop a semi-sweet chocolate with 50% cocoa. First thing, is as we just stated it, there is 25% cocoa butter in the chocolate (50% x 50%). We need at least 35%. So we need 10% cocoa butter. So we have:

50% cocoa 10% cocoa butter

Now, it has to add up to 100%. So, 40 % sugar. Easy, huh? What happens if you put in 15% cocoa butter? Try it and find out. It’s your chocolate. But you will have to drop the sugar to 35%. Is that ok you ask? Is the cocoa butter content (25% + 15%) greater than our rule of thumb 35%? It’s 40%. Then it’s ok. How about milk powder? This is not a milk chocolate. It does not go in. But IF you want to add it, you will be making a milk chocolate and it is then perfectly fine. Lecithin? Sure. The rule of thumb I like to use is 0.2% of the EXTRA cocoa butter. That’s a tiny amount. Like 1 t in a 5 lb batch. Go ahead, toss it in. Toss in 2 teaspoons. It won’t hurt a thing. I’ve experimented up to 5% and it gives a slightly odd texture and mouth feel to the chocolate, but certainly didn’t ruin it. Relax. Don’t worry. Have some homemade chocolate and toss it in.

On to the milk chocolate. Let’s just pick the middle range for the cocoa and go from there, working our way up the ingredient list until we get to 100%.

20% cocoa

There is 10% cocoa butter in there, and we need at least 35%, so there is the next ingredient amount.

25% cocoa butter (35%-10%)

OK, we are up to 45%, 55% to go. Referring above, we have milk powder and sugar to add. Let’s make this real easy and just split it in half. 55/2 = 27.5%

27.5 % milk powder 27.5 % sugar.

We are at 100%. Will it run in the Melanger? Most likely since the cocoa butter content is 35%. It might be a little thick since we are at the bare minimum. Let’s add an extra 5% and bring it up to 30%. By doing that, we will have to drop our milk powder and/or sugar. Since 27.5% sugar is already not a lot of sugar, let’s not drop it. And just for the sake of easy numbers, let’s increase it t0 30%. That now drops the milk powder to 20% and we have the following:

20% cocoa 30% cocoa butter 30% sugar 20% milk powder

Lecithin and vanilla – see above – relax, don’t worry, have a bite of chocolate and toss it in if you wish, or leave it out.

Can you use another percentage? Of course. This was just an example. Increase the cocoa to 40% or drop it to 10% and re-adjust the other ingredients accordingly. Really, there is no right or wrong. Will you like the chocolate? Heck if I know, but should make it, taste it and decide. And then adjust the next recipe accordingly. Want more sweetness? Increase the sugar. And decide what has to drop. It can be across the board if you want as long as you keep the 35% cocoa butter minimum in mind. It can look like this:

17% cocoa 27% cocoa butter 39% sugar 17% milk powder


16% cocoa 30% cocoa butter 39% sugar 15% milk powder

Is either better? Nope. How do you choose? Either go with your gut feeling or flip a coin. But one final piece of advice I will give about adjusting recipes. Make it at least 5%. Under that and you probably won’t notice a difference. Can you change it by 4%? Sure, be a rebel.

There, I’ve rambled a lot. Hopefully I’ve imparted a bit of how I develop a recipe and how you can too. Keep in mind, it’s your chocolate and the only person you have to please is yourself. And most likely you are not going to fail if you follow the basic proportions and rules of thumb. And also expect the first recipe to be like a first draft in writing. You are going to tweak it here and there until the flavor is just to your liking. So, relax, don’t worry and go make some chocolate.

By the way, for playing with a lot of these numbers, I’ve developed a Formulator. Go get it.

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Ask the Alchemist #8

What are Direct Trade beans and how is this different from Fair Trade and Organic Certified?

First off, that question is mixing the proverbial apples and oranges. How a bean is purchased has no relation to whether it is organic or not. The only relationship they share is that both have the potential for certification. With that out of the way, let's talk briefly about the history of cocoa bean buying, trading, commodities, etc. and then we can move onto organic certification.

There have been, and still potentially are, some abhorrent practices of buying various commodities. Coffee, sugar…and cocoa. There are well documented cases of forced child and slave labor in the Ivory Coast. We, I believe, can agree this is not a good thing. So, steps were put in place to take a stand that these practices were not acceptable and “Fair Trade” was born. That took care of it right? If it is Fair Trade it is good, and if not, it’s bad. Right? Well, not really. Read on.

Fair trade. Fairly Traded. Direct Trade. Farm Gate. Ethically purchased. These, and many others are all terms you may see on cocoa and chocolate. Mostly it is the paper trail that is different, but what they all attempt to have in common is an underlying principal and commitment to making sure, to the best of our ability, that the people growing and producing the cocoa are being treated well and have not been taken advantage of economically.

Sounds great, right? Well, it is. In theory. But it is not cut and dry. I know many people that will ONLY buy Fair Trade certified beans. Good effort. But with that decision comes the following consequence. Many Fair Trade certifiers (Transfair USA for instance), for good reasons at the time, will only certify a co-op. Right now I have a handful of Venezuelan beans about to come in that were purchased directly from small villages and families that were previously slave villages. They have been paid over 50% over “Fair trade” prices (a price agreed to by BOTH parties) but because they have no infrastructure to be an “official” co-op (and don’t have the money required to pay the certifying agency for their registration) they cannot be called “Fair Trade”.

In my opinion those people and farms are what the whole program should be about. And a lot of other people feel the same way. That is why there are so many different terms for this. Because people saw that many people were falling through the cracks. Enter Direct Trade. Here, the seller is not using a broker as a middle man and is cutting through much of the red tape and making sure the people growing the cocoa are getting the money and support. But it is even fuzzy there. For instance, Chocolate Alchemy is working with Tisano. Tisano is on the ground in Venezuela working directly with the farmer. I can’t call that Direct Trade and I am not doing the “trading”. But every single effort has been put forth to make sure the farmers are being actively supported in a sustainable manner, both financially and ethically. There is no “certification” (because they are not a co-op, remember) but there is a commitment to having purchased these ethically. Ethically Purchased. In many ways, even more transparent and better than those with a certificate.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Certification can be important. Believe it or not, people lie. Looking for that stamp of certification is easy and does help insure compliance. And it DOES give some concrete assurances. But NOT having a certification does not mean the opposite. Not having a certification does not mean people have been taken advantage of. It just means you have to dig a little deeper. Actually take the time to look at what you are buying, who you are buying from and make a decision whether you believe them.

I’ll step down from the FT soapbox for now, and touch briefly on Organic certification.

It’s a bit more clear. Not 100%, but much better. There are MANY steps in an organic certification, and many places (unlike a Fair Trade status) where it can be lost, often out of ignorance. Cross contamination is the #1 issue. But again, it’s not the end of the story. I’m going to go back to those Venezuela beans coming in. I’ve spoken a LOT with Tisano about this, and they have dug and investigated, and found that these farms could become Organic certified with an outlay of about $15,000. The point here is they could be certified. Meaning they have been following organic growing and processing techniques for at least 5 years. But there is little money or incentive to get the certification as it will bring them no better price for the cocoa (see above). Granted, this is an exception to the rule, but it is there. And one I’ve seen come up more than once. So you care about organic practices. And the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Good. Then DO look for the Organic seal, BUT if you don’t see it, you can again dig a little deeper and see the practices underneath. Because it’s those practices that really matter at the end of the day.

One final note about certification.  Although I do not push the fact, and maybe I should, Chocolate Alchemy is certified Organic by the USDA through the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Fair trade certified through both Transfair USA and IMO, so both paper trails do exist should you need them for your own edification or certification.

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Ask the Alchemist #7

Why can't I add water to dissolve my sugar when making chocolate and skip using a melanger altogether?

I rather like this question because it is not ‘can I dissolve my sugar in water when making chocolate?’. It implies you understand that you cannot use water in chocolate making. Fantastic. But why? Good question.

Basically because oil and water do not mix. I am going to go off of the assumption that most people know this. Oil floats on water. You have to shake your salad dressing (which contains vinegar (95% water) and oil) because it separates. There are a whole bunch of chemistry phrases and tech speak I could toss out there about the hydrophobic (water repelling)  nature of oil, and how it does not hydrogen bond to the water molecules, but really that is just going to cloud the issue. Oil and water do not mix.

And what happens if you try it? Its analogy time again. Back a couple weeks, I described tempering in terms of baseballs (sugar) and bats (cocoa butter molecules) and that tempering was making a solid, locked together lattice of these. Now you want to dissolve the sugar in water. On the molecular level, you dissolve something by surrounding it by the substance you want to dissolve it in. So, to ‘dissolve’ those baseballs (sugar, if you recall), we have to surround them by….hrm, what to use in the analogy….wads of gum. Get chewing. We are going to need a lot. You need to surround those base balls with wads of gum so the balls no longer touch each other. Great. Now go stack them in a neat and tidy way with your stack of baseball bats.

What is that you say? Everything is sticking together? And it is not neat and tidy, and once you put a bat down, you can’t shift it well to make your stack align correctly? It resists those easy little shifts in alignment that were so easy when there was no gum. Yep. That’s about it. You have made chocolate mud.

That water is now the strongest player in your chocolate (way to go gum). But you only added a little? Water is amazing stuff. Hydrogen bonding. It’s why insects can walk on water. Surface tension. And that bonding just totally gets in the way of your cocoa butter moving freely around, and tempering nicely. And a little goes a LONG way. You can no longer push over your stack of balls and bats and gum. It just distorts a little. And virtually nothing you do will fix it. Congratulations – you have made seized chocolate.

I hope that gives you a better understanding of the ‘why?’ regarding water and chocolate. Why it is important to roast (or dry) your cocoa beans. Why you cannot use honey or syrup. Why you cannot use vanilla extract (you have to use scraped out vanilla beans). Why you even have to be careful using date sugar that has a high moisture content.

Finally, for more about water, there is a great FAQ  about water and chocolate, that says much the same things in different ways.


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Ask the Alchemist #6

Short answers on Roasting

I ended my roast and realized the beans were not fully roasted. What will happen if I roast them further?

They will get hot again. Seriously, you can try and re-roast them, as you having nothing to lose, but the odds are you won’t get a perfectly roasted bean. Why? Because, whereas they look like they did when you first started, there is a lot less water present (which, no, you can’t really add back). That water is critical for some of the chemical reactions that occur during the roasting process. Think about roasting a chicken. It’s underdone. It’s cool. You put it back in to roast again. It’s just not going to be the same succulent bird it could have been. Edible. Maybe good. But not great and even if it is great, you probably can’t do it again.

What are the pros and cons of roasting whole beans vs. nibs?


  • Pros:
  • More difficult to over roast.
  • Winnowing is easier Uniform size allows for a more even roast
  • Cons:
  • It more difficult to do in a conventional oven.


  • Pros:
  • Easier to toast in a pan, or roast in a conventional or convection oven.
  • If you are buying the nibs, you don’t have to winnow.
  • Cons:
  • It is easier to burn nibs because they are smaller and different sizes.
  • You cannot use a drum roaster
  • If you are winnowing yourself, raw beans are harder to winnow.

How long can I store roasted beans and how do you recommend they are stored?

Store them cool and dry. Do not refrigerate. Cocoa readily absorbs moisture and aromas and there are a lot of those in most refrigerators.

How long? It depends on why you want them. Eating and cooking as nibs and beans? Probably a few months. It is a very flavorful, bright and jazzy bean you want to make into a very flavorful, bright and jazzy chocolate - possibly under a week. Everything else is somewhere in between. A few weeks. They won’t go bad, but will slowly stale to mediocrity. If you have to wait months, just don’t roast them. If they are already roasted, go ahead and make chocolate…you have nothing to lose and knowledge to gain about how long roasted beans are good for.

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Northwest Chocolate Festival

Chocolate Alchemy will be closed Friday, September 28 while I am off to Northwest Chocolate Festival, in Seattle, Washington. We will be giving two cocoa roasting demonstrations, Saturday evening and Sunday morning.  Please stop by if you are there.  It is always great putting faces to the names.

Happy roasting everyone!



Ask the Alchemist #5

Can I make my own cocoa powder for baking or hot chocolate by fine grinding my nibs?
This seems to come up quite a lot. And it really is rather understandable if you do not know just what cocoa powder is. To start off on the right foot, cocoa powder is not just ground up nibs. Even finely ground up nibs. Finely ground up nibs are either still pieces of nib or if you grind it further, it is unsweetened chocolate or chocolate liqueur.Why isn't it cocoa powder? Well, it is because of all the cocoa butter present. Working with an analogy, (we are going to be doing that a bit so you can 'see' what is going on). it is rather like asking why don't you get peanut powder if you grind up peanuts. You have never heard of peanut powder have you? Instead you hear of peanut butter. Because both are around 50% oil.

Cocoa powder is cocoa liqueur with most (around 80%) of the cocoa butter pressed out. It is mostly a definition thing, but it is also a practical thing.

Almost immediately after explaining this the follow up question, is "but can't I still just grind up the nibs into a powder and use it like cocoa powder? That will work right?".

No. You can not. Analogy time. You want to make a sand castle. The sand castle is your chocolate milk.

Think of a cocoa nib as a boulder. A really big rock. Got it? Now you are going to 'powder' it. Now you have a pile of gravel.

You mix in a bunch of water and start to build your sand gravel....and nothing happens except you have wet gravel. It won't hold together. If you are the size of Godzilla that gravel looks just like sand...but it isn't. It's still gravel. Until it's ground to the size of sand, it just isn't going to hold together when you add water. Now, I need to make something clear here. I'm explaining in terms of size and scale. Rocks don't have oil in them, and I can't come up with the perfect analogy.

To be closer, that boulder really should be a piece of asphalt. Rock mixed with this water repellant tar. When you 'powder' it, you get 'damp' gravel that sheds water because of all the tar present. In order to make your sand castle, you need to get rid of all that tar.  You can do this by heating it, and pressing it....just like you press out the cocoa butter from chocolate liqueur.

And even so, there is going to be a lot of tar still present. Just like there is still 20% cocoa butter left in your cocoa powder. No matter how hard you press that pile of rock, the tar is going to stick on the gravel. But let's say you press out that tar, and grind your tar laden rock again until it is sand and tar.

When you try to mix in your water to make your sand castle it STILL isn't going to work right. Can you see that? The tar is going to push the water away. Some tar may float on top, some of the sand may sink to the bottom but overall you will have a mess. Just like if you try and mix cocoa powder and water (or milk) together. This is why it does not work.

To make the tar sand and water mix, you have to add something that will make them play nice together and mix. What makes oil and water play well together and mix? Soap. Chemically, part of it is oil-like and attaches to the tar, and part is water-like and attaches to the water and when mixed, the soap combines or emulsifies the mixture. Well, we sure can't use soap in our chocolate, but we do have and emulsifier we can use. Lecithin (there are actually others you can use, but that is beyond the scope of this question). Oil part. Water part. Add it (with the right technique - again beyond this question) correctly and everything will hold together and play nicely together.

And yes, it is a touch complicated. That's why you can't "just" use ground up nibs to make hot chocolate. Take a look at a container of hot chocolate mix. Sugar. Cocoa process with alkali. Lecithin. It all works to allow that cocoa butter laden cocoa powder to emulsify with water and/or milk.

Now, I want you to take a moment and think about the analogies above. Tar laden gravel. I want you to answer the question of whether you can 'just' substitute finely ground nibs for cocoa powder in your favorite chocolate cake.

Go ahead. Think a moment.

Your recipe for concrete calls for sand. Can you mix in tar laden gravel instead and expect it to come out the same?

Good. Of course not. Sand and tar gravel are just too different. From 50 miles away, they may look the same, but they are not the same.

Is there a way to use the tar gravel? Maybe. I am not saying you can't. Most likely the result will be different. Maybe good. Maybe bad. But surely different. I am simply pointing out that you should not expect it to be the same when you are  substituting such a radically different item for another.

So, to bring it all back to chocolate, there are lot of places you can add ground up nibs. Most anyplace there are nuts (both are oil laden). Into your cookies, brownies, etc, but as additions to the recipe, not substitutions. Cocoa nibs, no matter how finely ground are just not the same animal as highly processed cocoa powder. But if you go into it knowing what you are adding (oily rocks) you have a better chance of working with it, and you won't be surprised that mixing ground nibs and milk just makes a mess instead of milk chocolate.


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Ask the Alchemist #4

My tempered chocolate has bloomed. Is it ruined?
I'm both a little surprised I get this question so often, and saddened that I don't get it because people have just thrown their chocolate away assuming it ruined.

First and foremost, bloomed chocolate is not ruined. You can temper and re-temper it until Bessie has come back from seeing the world.

Feel better? Good. Oh, you threw it out. Oh, so sorry. (sad face).

Well, moving on, there are a few tempering articles around here. The first and primary one, if you have not found it, is in the right column, under the Alchemist's Notebook.

Tempering And Molding

That goes over the basics of the "how to". You can also look and read the following. I've been told it really helps. It's a little more of the 'whys':

Illustrated Tempering

I know a lot of you have trouble tempering. My hope and goal is to show you it really is not that hard (at all), and if you can understand how and why it works (or does not work) it will suddenly be less daunting and much easier to do.

From what I have found is people shy away instantly when they try to read about why it works - they see words like crystallization, and Type V crystals and ....well...freak out and stop listening. For me, it's easy - I'm a chemist. I understand that most people don't think like we (chemists) do (shush).

So let's try this. I'm going to give you basic words. They may or may not be fully accurate, but my goal is to get a concept across to you, and once it 'clicks' you can answer the question above without even thinking about it. I want to get you to 'see' what is happening when chocolate tempers.

Alright, some definitions and concepts are in order.

Sugar and salt form particular shapes on the molecular level. These shapes are crystals. Salt crystals and sugar crystals are different shaped crystals but are both crystals. Good? Good!

Cocoa butter, although it is not sugar or salt, can have a shape too. It can and does form crystals. OK? Good.

Cocoa butter can form (at least) 6 different 'shapes'. Why? Think of it this way.

Sugar is like a baseball (on the molecular scale). If you have a whole pile of them, there is really only one or two ways you can make a stack of them where they are stable. Cocoa butter is shaped more like a the bat (baseball bat, not flying bat). It's long. It is not just a rod. You can tell one end from the other. You can make LOTS (6?) of stable stacks of baseball bats. Some are more stable than others, but you can make lots of them. Cocoa butter is the same way. In the same way you can make a stack of baseballs (and make a sugar crystal), you can make stacks of baseball bats (and make cocoa butter crystals).

That building of the bat stack is called crystallization. Breathe. Keep reading.

It's just building a stack of bats - sort of like tinker toys. If you build it right, it will be strong and stable. And you will have 'tempered' the stack of bats.

What happens if you mess up and it falls over or shifts? Is the entire stack ruined? Do you have to throw it away? Nope. Sure, the 'stack' is ruined (the temper) but the bats are fine. You just have to unstack it (melt the cocoa butter (chocolate)) and restack it. And you can do it over, and over, and over (as long as you don't set the bats of fire - or burn your chocolate).

Can you see that? I hope so. That's it. Really.

Now, on a similar note, and analogy, people want to know why each chocolate tempers a little differently.

Well, chocolate is not just a stack of bats (cocoa butter). Cocoa butter, first off, is not just one size of bat. Some of the bats are shorter. Some are longer. Some are a little thicker. Some a little thinner. Go figure. Not fair. Real life. Next, you are not just dealing with bats (cocoa butter). You are tempering chocolate and chocolate has sugar (baseballs). And not all the baseballs are the same size. Some are softballs. Some are tennis balls.

Oh, and heck, there is cocoa in there too. It's not all pretty and even like sugar or cocoa butter. Rock. Gravel. Same rough size, but not pretty (but it is tasty). And one origin may have pea gravel, and another may have 3/4-, and yet another, pretty(ish) river rock.

And you have to make an stable, 'pretty', strong stack of bats, balls, rock, gravel and stones. And you wonder why there is no one perfect, exact, 100% consistent, fool-proof way to temper chocolate? It's obvious isn't it that every stack of bats and balls and rock will be a bit different? That's it. From 100 feet away (out of the molecular level), it looks the same...BUT....IT....IS....NOT. And because it is not the same, you can not use the exact same method to stack every stack.

And so you have to follow this general method of tempering, where you can't really see what is going on, and you don't know what you are starting with (long bats, short bats, river rock?) but if you follow it, most of the time it will work. Some times your ball and bat sculpture will fall over, or really just shift, so lots of bats are showing, and your chocolate blooms. But now you know it's just a stack of balls and bats and rocks and sticks that you can take apart (melt) and put back together (temper) again.

Happy building.

1 Comment


Ask the Alchemist #3

Do I have to use granulated cane sugar to make chocolate? What about refining with alternative sweeteners or making unsweetened milk chocolate?
Well, first and foremost, there is a ton of information over in the forum about this.

Next, there are actually quite a few alternative sugars you can use, to a greater or lesser degree and success.  In addition to the classic, sucrose, you can if you desire use maltose (or just malt, or dry malt extract DME if you are brewer), fructose, galactose, etc.  If you can find them in granular form, you can use them.  Why granular?  Well, it's not so much that you want granular for it's own sake, but you do not want "powdered" sugar per se.  Why, well, again it is not so much that it is powdered but very often something like corn starch is added to powdered sugars to keep them from caking and you don't  want those starches and binders in your chocolate because it has a tendency to make it gummy and/or oddly textured.As for 'alternative sweeteners' or maybe what would be termed artificial sweeteners, the ones usually used are compounds called sugar alcohols.  You can identify them most of the time because they end in -tol.  As in xyitol, erythritol, maltitiol (the alcohol of malt above) etc.  But there are others, used for other reasons.  Inulin is a good example. Now, before we get into this, be aware in can be overwhelming.  There IS NOT one simple answer.   Chocolate is pretty simple.  Sugar free chocolate is not.

That said, I found the following response in the forum:

"The main reason you're looking at looking to use inulin with it is because erythritol (etoh) has a very negative heat of solution (-43j if i remember) - which means it's extracts heat from your mouth when it dissolves, and that's what makes it feel cool. Inulin has a slightly positive heat of solution. However, as with everything, there are pluses and minuses. Inulin comes in many shapes and sizes - go with the long chain inulin to minimize gas production. You'll not be able to put enough inulin into it to erase the cooling of the erythritol. look at some other polyol's to mix into it to cut the level of erythritol. erythritol, molecularly, is 3x smaller than tyipcal polyols - which means it's handled by your kidneys for as it's small enough to pass the intestinal barrier and enter your blood stream (other polyols are just the opposite). this means you'll pee it out. sorry to be blunt. most work i've done on it suggests 0.3g/kg of body weight for say maltitol is tolerated well, vs erythritol which is up towards 0.8g/kg body weight for bolus dose situation."

Ok, hopefully I did not lose you there.  If I did, the summary is this.  There is no perfect artificial sweetener that you can just use in place of sugar.  Some cool your mouth.  Some heat your mouth.  Some have diuretic effects.  Some have laxative effects.  Some taste bad.  And honestly, I have not played with these sweeteners much at all.  Maybe someday I will.  Right now (and I know this can't work for some people) I simply take the adage "moderation in all things" and don't find a bite of chocolate with standard sucrose every few days that bad.  But that is a conversation for another time.  This is about what you can use.Moving on.  Stevia seems to come up a bit.  I personally don't care for the flavor.  But some people do.  So, putting flavor aside, Stevia is very sweet.  As in 300-500 times sweeter than sucrose.  Meaning you need very little.  But that in itself can be an issue where we have become used to a particular texture and mouth feel to chocolate, and 100% dark chocolate is too hard.  Sugar 'bulks' out chocolate.  It dissolves in the mouth.  If you were to try adding Stevia to 1 lb of chocolate you would use very little.  For instance, in 1 lb of 70% chocolate, you need about 5 oz of sucrose.  But only 0.016 oz or about 0.5 grams of Stevia in theory to get the same sweetness.  Like half a teaspoon if that.  And I say theory, because I've not tried this.  Now, I recall a Stevia product that bulks up the product, so that it is very close to sucrose in regards to how sweet it is per volume.  Meaning I think you might be able to add it as a straight substitute for sucrose and get something workable.

So, you don't have an issue with actual sugars, but don't want highly refined sugars.  I won't get into the political, sociological, spiritual, health or other reasons you might have for not using sucrose and just deal with the item at hand.  Date sugar, coconut sugar, brown sugar etc.  Generally speaking, you can use any and all of these, BUT many of them contain a good bit of moisture and you know water and chocolate do NOT get along.  See the FAQ if you don't know.  What that means is you may need (or not) to dry these in the oven for some length of time (30 minutes to 2 hours) to make them suitable (i.e. it won't seize) for adding to your chocolate.  But basically, they are fine, and have fun.Finally, the other 'other' sweeteners.  Syrups.  Honey, agave, etc.  NO.  Clear enough?  NO.  How's that?  Water!  NO!. Clear?  Good.  Now, more detail.

Under no circumstances can you add any water based sweeteners to a Melanger.  The sheer will just cause it to seize up.  But, you have seen chocolate sweetened with agave or honey?  Well, I have seen both of these at various times as fully dehydrated granules.   But that isn't quite what we are talking about here, in this paragraph.  I have spoken with some people that have used honey and agave syrup in their finished chocolate.  I started to say 'successfully' but changed my mind.  What they ended up with resembled chocolate, but I found it was not quite 'right'.  Most likely it was the odd or lack of temper.  The water content disrupted the tempering.  Also, I tend to be a purist, and found the other flavors (honey, agave and such) distracting to the flavor of the chocolate.  It was not bad, but not classic chocolate either (at least to me).  So, now I go back and say 'sure, you can use honey' BUT it may not (and probably will not be) classic chooclate.  It will be more fudge like.  Less snap.  Etc.  And when you incorporate it, stir VERY gently.  Not using the Melanger still stands.  At least that is what I was told.   They stirred very gently, added extra cocoa butter to keep it flowing and did not rush it.In summary.  You can use other sweeteners.

  • You can use other refined sugars, but you will probably have to adjust the amount you use because they vary in sweetness.
  • You can use alternative sweeteners, but you will have to experiment.
  • You can use alternative sugars, but may need to dry them.
  • You can NOT use water based sweeteners and get classic chocolate, but can use them if you don't mind 'something different'.

And as a final closing thought...I've tried and like quite a bit, unsweetened milk chocolate.  The lactose in the milk does give a touch of sweetness and is an interesting and refreshing change to sweet chocolate.