Sunday, December 23, 2007

Chocolate Adventures

update: so far the recipients of the chocolate bars made from the 2nd and 3rd batches have given rave reviews! They mentioned the strong chocolate flavor and actually appreciated the soft consistency, which was felt to bring out the flavor. Even if we take politeness into account it seems to have been a success. One recipient said that "one could not get anything like this from the shops". This could of course be positive or negative, but the same person also suggested I'd started a shop to sell this, so I take it as a compliment anyway.

This year I wanted to do only edible Christmas gifts and came to think about making fancy chocolate. Browsing on the net and in some cookbooks did not result in any practical recipe for chocolate, probably because it is difficult. There are countless recipes for things to make with chocolate, typically using blocks or pellets of plain (dark) chocolate as a starting point. I could, and maybe should, have done just that, but I didn't want to yield so easily.
Now I did read some bits on how chocolate is made industrially, i.e. from the cacao beans. So based upon that I thought I give it a try or two. It was clear to my that the critical components were sugar, cacao, and fairly hard fat.

So I started with 100 grams of coconut fat which is easy to get in the supermarkets here. It is clear, pretty much tasteless, and pretty hard, more than 90% saturated fatty acids. I melted it at a low temperature and then added 100 g sugar, and stirred. I could not dissolve all suger so I added approx. 20 ml of milk to it. I had to stir for quite a while to disperse the milk into the sludge, but it did help in dissolving all the sugar. Then I added 100 ml of fine cacao powder. This mixed well and acted as emulgator; now I had a very nice warm thick, but fluid, chocolate paste. I kept on stirring and lowered the temperature even more, down to "hand warm", so below 40 C. Then I casted it into some different forms. When I'd used about half of my batch I added two teaspoons of ground bitter orange peel, mixed and cast into some other forms. Into some of those I put some pieces of mandarin and in some others raisins. Once all was cooled down a bit it was time for some tasting.... And it actually tasted great! with a rich chocolate flavor and quite nice consistency. And the bitter orange flavor worked out very well too. However, this batch never really hardened. I placed some chunks in the refrigerator and that helped a bit but it still remained soft.

I decided that I should once more try to get real cacao fat, as I'd read that it actually crystallizes, which is an essential aspect for chocolate. I went to several shops in downtown Helsinki and eventually found a small chocolatery that knew that cacao fat can be obtained from drug stores (apothecaries). The second drug store I tired had it as pellets in a jar and knew that is used to make candy etc.

So time for the second batch! Now I melted and mixed 100 g coconut fat with 50 g cacao fat, added 150 g sugar, added 30 ml milk and 150 ml cacao powder. This resulted in very similar chocolate paste as before but with a remarkably smoother consistency. I casted this in rectangular molds that I'd made for the purpose. I made two bars filled with slices of pear, to one of which I added hazelnut chunks. And one bar with just hazelnut chunks. These hardened better than the first batch but still are somewhat flexible and "gummy". Like before the taste seems very good though. And in this batch the sugar doesn't seem to crystallize as rapidly.

Today then made a third and last batch, now reduced the fraction of coconut fat even further and also tried to use less milk. So 75 g coconut fat, 50 g cacao fat, 125 g sugar, 20 ml milk, and 125 ml cacao powder. To this batch I added ground bitter orange peel, and made two bars with mandarin pieces and one with raisins. This is still hardening now, but it looks again a bit better then before. Tomorrow I'll wrap the bars of the last two batches into my own "product package" and then in gift paper. More about the comments of the recipients after Christmas!....


Greg said...

Fun! I can't wait to try this myself.

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