As a professional chocolate maker, I own a number of specialty pieces of equipment that you won’t find in your home kitchen. But did you know that you can make a rustic version of chocolate yourself using what you likely already have around the house? My introduction to chocolate making was in Belize, where I learned basic techniques that can be practiced almost anywhere. Keep reading, and maybe you’ll decide to give it a go yourself. You will not end up with the texture and taste of the fine chocolate that you are used to buying online or in a specialty shop, but you are guaranteed to have something interesting to try as well a greater appreciation of the people behind your favorite chocolate!
There are a number of steps to making chocolate: sorting the beans, roasting them, cracking and winnowing them, grinding the beans into a thick liquid and adding sugar, and tempering the final product. But, there are only really four steps that you'll need to do (or be able to do) at home. Let's get started.
You will sort the beans for your homemade chocolate just as I do for my professionally-made chocolate. This step involves looking through the cacao beans that you plan to use in your batch of chocolate and throwing out any that are broken, that don’t have intact skins or husks, or that are moldy or flat. These beans can carry pathogens or just simply throw off the flavor of your chocolate.
A professional chocolate maker uses special roasters and, very importantly, roasting profiles that specify temperatures and time lengths for each roasting cycle. The profiles are often carefully guarded, because it can take a tremendous amount of work to come up them for each bean variety in order to bring out the flavors that a particular chocolate maker wants to highlight. BUT, you can start your chocolate-making journey by baking cacao beans in your oven. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with an empty glass or Pyrex dish inside. When both the oven and the glass dish are hot, spread about a pound of beans out evenly in the dish and bake for about 20 minutes, pausing to stir the beans a couple of times to promote even roasting. Your kitchen will smell like fresh-baked brownies, yum! If you want to roast the beans in an even simpler way, try using a wok or large iron skillet over an open fire. Today, there are some professional chocolate makers who roast cacao beans over fire, promoting the resulting smoky taste in the chocolate as a unique and desirable attribute (which it certainly is to some palates).
There is a thin skin on the surface of each cacao bean, and it needs to be taken off to reveal the beautiful part of the bean that will be ground into chocolate. The process of separating this thin husk from the inner part of the bean is called winnowing. After roasted cacao beans have cooled, a professional chocolate maker will crack or crush the beans into pieces called nibs to make the winnowing easier. You can do that if you wish, and we'll go over how to do it shortly. But my preferred method does not involve cracking the beans. Instead, I peel off the husk of each cacao bean by hand. It's basically winnowing one bean at a time by pressing them between your index finger and thumb to crack the husk, then rubbing it off. This method seems painstaking, but it is not more time consuming than cracking and winnowing the beans using common household supplies. Plus, you end up being able to use 100% of the nibs. If you crack and winnow, you will capture something like 75% of the nibs, because some will accidentally get blown away along with the pieces of husk. This hand method is also quiet and clean compared to the method I will describe next.
If you prefer not to take individual husks off, you can use a two-step process to get the job done using things you probably have in your home. Put a couple of handfuls of cooled roasted cacao beans in a zip lock baggie, cover the baggie with a kitchen towel, and bash the beans with a rolling pin or rubber mallet until they are all broken into pieces. If you take that step, you will then winnow by dumping the crushed contents of the baggie into a bowl, grabbing a hair dryer, and gently directing the air across the top surface of the crushed beans as you shake the bowl back and forth. What will happen is that the outer skin, or husk, of the beans will separate from the inside of the bean. And because the husk is so much lighter than the inside, the air flow from the hair drier will blow the husks out of the bowl. You’ll be left with the heavier inside part of the bean, or nibs, which is what you’ll grind up into chocolate in the next step.
This step is the most difficult to do satisfactorily at home, but if you’re not trying to achieve a perfectly smooth texture, you can do it. If you own a heavy-duty food processor or blender, start with that. Put a couple of handfuls of nibs at a time into the machine and grind it as much as you can (careful not to burn out the motor). You will have anything from small, slightly oily pieces of nib to a very thick, pebbly substance. Your food processor or blender may be better than the ones I have worked with, and you may be able to get the beans into a smoother consistency, but I have not been able to do that, and always need to finish up by hand. And if you don’t have a blender or food processor to start with, I would first crush the beans up using the baggie and rolling pin or rubber mallet method described above. In either case, in order to release as much cocoa butter from the cocoa mass as possible so that you get a dense, shiny paste, and to add some sugar, you’re going to need to get out your mortar and pestle and grind, grind, grind. I know, hard! But you can do it! The difficulty of this step explains why I advise starting with only a pound or so of cocoa beans. You will NOT end up with the smooth consistency that you are used to; no matter how much time you spend on this step, your chocolate will be somewhat gritty. Call it rustic. So embrace that fact, and celebrate that you are making chocolate in your own kitchen, which is very cool! And remember, you get to stop whenever you want to, with the chocolate in whatever stage of coarseness you want. Wait to start adding a little sugar at a time until the cocoa butter has been activated. Taste it as you go and stop adding sugar when it is sweet enough for you.
The final step in professional chocolate making is tempering. I’m going to explain to you what it is, but first I will tell you that you get to bypass this step for your homemade chocolate.
We temper chocolate by raising the temperature to 108 degrees Fahrenheit, adding some already-finished “seed” chocolate, lowering the temperature of the chocolate to 90, removing the seed chocolate, and lowering the temperature to 88.7 degrees. As the temperature is raised and then lowered, the chocolate molecules arrange themselves into specific crystals that make the end product stable and shiny with a pronounced “snap” sound when broken.
In order for tempering to be effective, the chocolate needs to be smoother than you are likely able to get it when grinding it manually. So, instead of tempering, your final step, when you are happy with the texture of your chocolate, is simply to pour it into a mold or on a piece of parchment paper and let it harden. (Depending on the texture, you may be able to form little patties of chocolate, too.) There is nothing wrong with untempered chocolate. It will taste just as it would if it were tempered, but it will be a little softer and not as shiny.
And voila! You’ve made some chocolate!Are you interested in trying this out? Contact us at hello@TangleChocolate.com and we'll hook you up with some cacao beans.