For a food so wonderful and universally celebrated, it’s incredible that how chocolate is actually made, remains mysterious to so many! I’m often asked about it, even by the most serious of food lovers.
I want to inspire everyone to join my Chocolate Revolution, by sharing my passion for real, artisan chocolate. To do this I need to demystify the world of chocolate. So let’s start right at the beginning with ‘How is Chocolate Made?’
I make all my chocolate the artisan way, from bean to bar, with no short cuts and only the purest of ingredients. So what I’m sharing here, is how REAL chocolate is made.
I’ll tell you all about the almighty differences between artisan chocolate and industrial chocolate another day. But in short, industrial chocolate is made in just a few hours, at high temperatures, using lecithin as an emulsifier, and vanilla to add back some flavour. It is a process designed for cost, whereas the bean to bar process is designed for flavour.
● Inspired to taste but not sure where to start? Try my perfectly curated Discovery Tasting Boxes, or visit my chocolate shop.
HOW IS CHOCOLATE MADE?
THE BEAN TO BAR CHOCOLATE MAKING PROCESS AT THE WILLIE’S CACAO FACTORY
The beans that arrive at my factory are all fine flavoured, heirloom varieties that I have chosen from individual farms around the world for their pure, charismatic flavours. They are like fine wines. So every step in the factory is designed to preserve these beautiful flavours. One may taste of nuts, another of plums, it is a whole world of delight.
STEP 1 CHECKING THE BEANS
The raw cacao beans arrive at my factory from the farms in 60kg hessian sacks. The first thing is to run some checks. None of our farms use pesticides or chemicals, but it is always good to check there hasn’t been contamination. So all our beans are sent to external laboratories for testing.
Meanwhile at the factory we look at moisture content and size variation, and do a cut test to look at the inside of the bean to check how well they have been fermented and dried. There can be no traces of mould that might later affect the flavour of the chocolate. Most importantly, we make a small test batch of chocolate. Is the flavour as pure and distinct as it should be?
When all this is checked, they go into a climate-controlled bean store where they can stay quite happily for many years.
A raw cocoa bean doesn’t really taste of chocolate. To develop the wonderfully delicious chocolate flavours, you first roast the beans. At my factory, I use the very beautiful, traditional ball roasters, an early 20th century 60 kilo Victor Gruber from Bilbao, and a 250kg 1940’s Bath Sirocco roaster.
This style of roaster is considered particularly good because the beans are swirled around by hot air inside the huge ball. This means they roast evenly and never burn, because they don’t get so broken and don’t touch hot metal.
With artisan chocolate the trick is to evoke and protect the beautiful flavours of the beans.
So we roast to taste, not to a predetermined programme. For example bigger beans, with more moisture take longer. In general, beans this good only need a light roast or their flavours will be dominated by toasted notes. It is a common trick with cheap coffees and chocolates to give beans a heavy roast as this either hides unpleasant flavours, or makes up for the lack of them.
The bit of the bean that we use in making chocolate is called the ‘nib’.
When you break open a cocoa bean, inside the papery shell you’ll find these little seed-type nibs. It’s hard to take the shell off an unroasted bean, but once they’re roasted the sheller can gently shake the beans back and forth and the shells rub off and can be separated out from the nibs.
STEP 4 GRINDING AND CONCHING
The cocoa nib is like a small nut and is the building block of chocolate. It has to be refined into a liquid which is called cocoa liquor. This can be done either with granite rollers or with blades in the conching tanks.
Conching is one of the most important parts of the chocolate-making process. The liquor is moved around in a large, heated tank so the unwanted acidic flavours are gradually driven off.
Here we do this at low temperatures for up to 3 weeks, whereas an industrial maker will do it at high temperatures for just a few hours. Again we do this step of the process to taste, not for a set time. Two people have to agree the flavour is perfect.
During this process the particle size gets smaller and smaller, so the liquor gets thicker. To keep the chocolate liquid and flowing industrial makers add the emulsifier lecithin. Artisan chocolate makers add more cocoa butter, which is more expensive but does not affect the flavour.
For me, it’s imperative that my artisan chocolate is completely pure so that the varying flavours of the single estate cacaos can truly sing with every bite.
STEP 5 MIXING
What is chocolate? It is cacao that has had other ingredients added to it.
The conched cacao liquor will now have raw cane sugar refined into it to make a dark chocolate. To go on and make a milk chocolate, you would also add milk powder and extra cocoa butter. Then either of those can have further additions like fruit or nuts.
STEP 6 TEMPERING
Up to this point in the chocolate making process, everything is an art. Like a chef you need a feel for it. Tempering chocolate is a science.
Tempering is the process of heating and cooling the chocolate to precise temperatures so that the butter and the solids crystalise together perfectly, before being placed into the mould. This is what creates the beautiful shine on the chocolate, and gives it that everso satisfying ‘snap’ when you bite it. Perfectly tempered chocolate has a super smooth texture and it melts in your mouth in the most wonderful way.
On shows like Masterchef many a contestant has lots vital points for running out of time to temper their chocolate to coat their show stopping dessert! On a small scale in a kitchen most people will use the Seeding Method.
You’ll find it much easier to temper proper couverture chocolate, which is chocolate specially designed for cooking that has a little extra cocoa butter. This keeps it more liquid and easier to handle
STEP 7 MOULDING, COOLING AND WRAPPING
Finally the tempered chocolate is poured into moulds, vibrated to spread it out evenly, then sent through a cooling tunnel so the heat is gradually removed and the chocolate shrinks back so it will pop out of its mould, ready to be wrapped in our beautiful packaging.
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STEP 8 EATING
Finally the chocolate is ready to be devoured. The exciting and wildly varying flavours of fine single estate cacaos have all been perfectly captured.
Now you are something of a real chocolate expert! This means you can check what kind of chocolate you are eating. Just look for chocolate that contains no lecithin or vanilla. Industrially produced chocolate always uses these additives. If it doesn’t have either, then you are about to have the sheer joy of tasting real artisan chocolate, made in the bean to bar process that you have just read about.