A Passion for Chocolate:
There are few foods that people feel as passionate about as they do chocolate. It is a passion that goes beyond the love for the "sweetness" of ordinary candies or desserts. After all, very few people crave caramel, whipped cream, or bubble gum on its own. Ch ocolate is, well, different—very different for the true chocoholic. Thinking about chocolate can evoke a pleasurable, if not sexual, response.
One of the most pleasant effects of eating chocolate is that "great feeling" that many people experience after indulging. Chocolate contains more than 300 known compounds, and scientists have been working on isolating these specific elements and chemical combinations in an attempt to explain some of the more pleasurable effects of consuming chocolate.
Bittersweet vs. Semi-sweet
Typically, semi-sweet chocolate has lower cacao content and is sweeter than bittersweet chocolate. However, there are no official guidelines about what can be called bittersweet and what can be called semi-sweet. The only FDA requirement is that something called dark, bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate contains at least 35 percent cacao and less than 12 percent milk solids (more milk solids and it's required to say that it's milk chocolate). Beyond that, labeling is entirely up to the manufacturer.
At its most basic chocolate is made up of cocoa butter and cocoa mass which together are called cacao liquor. This, along with the sugar (flavorings and stabilizers can be added, but above all the cocoa butter and mass are the main ingredients), determines the cacao content. As cacao percentage goes up, the sugar content goes down, but this does not necessarily mean more bitterness. Some regions and processing methods produce cocoa beans that are more bitter than others, even if used at the same concentration.
A Little Chocolate History
The exotic secrets of the cacao (kah KOW) tree were discovered over 2,000 years ago in the vast tropical rainforests of South and Central America. The pods of the cacao tree contain seeds that can be processed into chocolate. The story of how chocolate grew from a local Mesoamerican beverage into a global "sweet" encompasses many cultures and continents, follows.
The first people known to have made chocolate were the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures of Mexico and Central America. They ceremoniously mixed ground cacao seeds with water and various seasonings (cinnamon and chilies) to make a spicy, frothy, somewhat bitter spicy drink.
The spread of the cacao tree started during the age of Colonialism, as did the spread of cacao beans, and of chocolate itself. Christopher Columbus was the first European to come in contact with cacao. On August 15, 1502, on his fourth and final voyage to the Americas, Columbus and his crew encountered a large dugout canoe near an island off the coast of what is now Honduras. The canoe was the largest native vessel the Spaniards had seen. It was "as long as a galley," and was filled with local goods for trade—including cacao beans. Columbus had his crew seize the vessel and its goods and retained its skipper as his guide; and the rest became chocolate history.
Columbus, his son Ferdinand, and the Spanish conquistadors brought the seeds back home to Spain, where new, somewhat more flavorful recipes were created. While it is likely that Columbus brought the cacao beans he seized back to Europe, their potential value was initially overlooked by the Spanish King and Queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, and their court. Twenty years later, however, Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez is said to have brought back three chests full of cacao beans. This time the beans were recognized as one treasure among the many stolen from the conquered Aztecs.
Eventually, the chocolate drink’s popularity spread throughout Europe and within 100 years, the love of chocolate spread throughout the rest of world.
Since then, new technologies and innovations have changed the texture and taste of chocolate, but it still remains one of the world’s favorite flavors.
Making Fine Choclatique Chocolate
Not surprisingly, turning the treasure of cacao beans into great chocolate starts with the great beans. Many of the bean varieties used today in the making of fine chocolate have their roots back to the days of Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors. For making fine chocolate, the selection and a good mix of beans is very important.
Turning cacao beanss into chocolate requires time, effort, and much artistry. It’s a fascinating process that will take you from the tropical rainforests in South America to our gleaming, modern Chocolate Studios here in California. An individual piece of chocolate can take anywhere from two to six days to make.
The farmers grow cacao, and then they harvest it by hand. Converting cacao beans into chocolate is a complex and time-consuming process. Manufacturing processes differ slightly from plant to plant, but most chocolate makers use similar equipment to break down the cacao beans into cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and chocolate. The beans are sorted according to type and country of origin. The beans pass through a cleaning machine that removes bits of remaining pulp, stones and debris.
The beans are carefully weighed so they can eventually be blended according to our own special formulas. Some Choclatique chocolates contain seventeen to twenty-one different types of beans.
The key to excellent chocolate flavor is the roasting process. Large, rotating ovens roast thebeans at temperatures of 250°F to release the rich aromas and delicious flavors. Roasting can last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending upon the variety of bean and the desired end flavor profile.
As the beans toss about in the oven, they lose much of their moisture. Eventually, they turn a deep brown color, similar to coffee beans. The roasting process makes the shells of the cacao beans rather brittle. Once the beans have cooled, the winnowing machine can begin its job.
Inside this machine, cones that are serrated like the edges of a knife crack open (rather than crush) the thin shells to get at the beans. Fans and shakers then blow away these empty husks. The remaining broken bean bits, called nibs, pass through a series of sieves, that strain and sort the nibs according to size. The nibs themselves are made up of 53% cocoa butter and 47% pure cocoa solids. Separating these two substances takes lots of work.
The nibs are next milled—crushed by heavy steel discs and rollers. This process generates enough friction and heat to liquefy the nibs into a thick paste, called chocolate liquor. Some of the chocolate liquor is placed in a huge hydraulic press, to squeeze out the cocoa butter. This fatty, yellow substance drains away through metallic screens. Then it can be added to dark or milk chocolates, or used as the basis for white chocolate. Once cocoa butter is extracted, the remaining solid cocoa is pulverized into cocoa powder—the product used in our chocolate beverages, blends, and baking chocolate.
Unpressed liquor is blended with liquid cream, milk, sugar and extra cocoa butter to form our basic chocolate. The extra cocoa butter keeps the chocolate solid at room temperature. That explains why chocolate doesn’t spoil—and why it melts in the warmth of your mouth.
The raw mixture of milk, liquor, sugar and cocoa butter is churned until it becomes a coarse, brown powder called "crumb." The chocolate crumb mixture goes through a series of steel rollers stacked on top of one another very similar to a printing press. These break down the tiny particles and molecules fusing the milk, cocoa and sugar within the crumb. It is important to crush this mixture for the right amount of time to prevent the chocolate from being coarse and grainy, but not to blend it too much or the chocolate will become pasty and gummy—more of an art than a science.
The refined chocolate paste is poured into a vat in which large heavy rollers knead, blend and grind the mixture. This is the conching process. Agitating this paste smoothes out the sugar grains to give the chocolate a silky texture, and aerating the paste allows acids and moisture to evaporate, which creates our mellower, more well-balanced flavor. This process can take up to four days to complete.
Finally, the refined chocolate is cooled and warmed repeatedly in a process called "tempering." This gives our chocolate its glossy sheen and ensures that it will melt properly.
While we have many production secrets, the basic process of making fine chocolate hasn't changed much since the Swiss breakthroughs of the late 1800s. In classic fashion we deposit tempered Choclatique chocolate into several of our custom molds. We deposit our unique flavored centers before their bottoms are sealed again with Choclatique chocolate. Wrapping and packaging our fine American chocolates are painstakingly done by hand.
A Virtual Visit To Choclatique
Most chocolate production facilities operate more like a science laboratory than one might expect. Our Chocolate Studios are no different. Precision instruments track temperature and moisture levels and regulate the timing of processes within our Chocolate Studios. Every detail must be strictly controlled to produce quality chocolate, day after day.
Chocolate companies' factories can be secretive places. At our Chocolate Studios, we are no different. We guard our treasured recipes almost as tightly as the Spanish, who tried to keep chocolate a secret from the rest of Europe for nearly 100 years. others.
As with most food producers, we keep our Chocolate Studios fastidiously clean—as clean as an operating room. The purity of Choclatique chocolates is dependent on our near-sterile environment and the good hygiene of our company co-workers. We constantly run quality checks on our chocolate products to measure its viscosity, acidity, cocoa butter content, purity, fineness and, most importantly, flavor.
Technicians in third party laboratories analyze chocolate every step of the way—from raw materials to finished product—to ensure it meets our quality standards. We are constantly testing new ingredients and developing new flavors to find better ways to make our great tasting Choclatique chocolates even better.
More information on chocolate and great chocolaty recipes can be found in Ed Engoron’s new book, Choclatique, Running Press, 2011. It can be found on the Choclatique website, Amazon.com and in book stores across the country.
Dark chocolate has moved out of the shadow of America’s king, milk chocolate.
The proof: Sales of dark chocolate are up 40 percent over last year, and candy makers are introducing new products like crazy.
Even M&Ms, the candy famous for being “the milk chocolate that melts in your mouth, not in your hand,” has crossed over to the dark side.
The interest in dark chocolate will not diminish and sales should remain strong. Dark chocolate is huge.
Previously viewed as milk chocolate’s ‘poor second cousin,’ it is now strongly on trend, dark chocolate is winning over the hearts and minds of new fans, thanks to reports suggesting it’s good for you.
Dark chocolate is richer than milk chocolate in the antioxidant flavenol, which has cardiovascular benefits.
Candy experts like this example: One Extra Dark bar has the antioxidant equivalent of 1-1/3 cups of blueberries.
None of which would matter if it didn’t taste good. And, chocolate always tastes great.
The Espresso Brownie, with dark chocolate as a main ingredient, is becoming one of the most popular desserts. The dark chocolate trend will continue to grow because it’s a healthy and tasty upgrade.
Similar to red wine, dark chocolate is a pleasurable addition to any diet. We all have known for years that leafy green vegetables are good for you, but they are not quite as much fun as eating a rich, dark chocolate bar. Health benefits or no, chocolate lovers are becoming sold on dark chocolate. The love affair is more than a trend.
We are beginning to understand the science and art of chocolate-making — from the exact temperature range for cooking to why chocolate’s perfect storm of chemicals makes women more prone to enjoying it.
Dark chocolate has gained the same special appeal red wine and olive oil previously won when consumers learned about the health benefits in quality versions of each of them. It’s not just a mood swing. It’s for real!
As for people who prefer milk chocolate, there’s a simple reason why they may not care for the less-sweet taste of dark chocolate. That’s because they haven’t had any of the really good dark chocolate. Today, people want decadence—the really good stuff—and they’re willing to pay for it.