Yay! This may not look like much, but it’s a pretty big deal to us. We’ve been working for the last few months to get our health permit to become fully legal to sell at farmer’s markets, retail stores, etc. We’ve started moving some of our larger machines to a commercial kitchen in San Jose, passed the food safety exams, and gotten high marks on our actual inspection. However, California has special food service rules called CalCode that require all machines to be NSF approved. Since chocolate-making equipment doesn’t generally exist on a super small scale, or when it does, it never has this certification, we had to hire third-party certification agencies and make some modifications before the machines could be approved. We’re excited and hopefully you will be seeing us at some new markets soon.
posted by todd
As much as we like to eat plain chocolate bars all day, we needed an excuse to try baking with our chocolate and seeing how well it worked in mousses, cakes, pies, pot de cremes, ice cream, etc. We decided on doing a dessertsum — it’s like dimsum, but instead of plates of small Cantonese dishes, we had tiny dessert bites spread out over an evening. We ended up making about 30 desserts in total — and had massive sugar overload. Here are a few shots from the evening; hopefully we will do some events like this when our chocolate factory / cafe opens later this year.
posted by todd
Recently, my wife, Elaine, started taking a class at Stanford about the history and art of the book. The class spends their nights looking through ancient manuscripts and poring over type in Green Library. In the last class, the professor posed the hypothetical question: ”if you came upon a mountain of books and had 20 minutes to save 20 of them, how would you choose?”
Apparently, there is an answer to this — or at least an approach you can take in evaluating a book from an aesthetic and craft, rather than a content, perspective. The idea is that there are seven levels of book craft connoisseurship — a simple framework consisting of the different questions you can ask and answer when examining a book. These range from as basic as: “is the font bold or italic?”… all the way down to who was the punch maker and at which foundry. These questions provide a common vocabulary provide a way to think about the book making craft.
I found this fascinating and thought it would be interesting to apply this same line of thinking to chocolate. If you started from knowing very little about chocolate and wanted to expand your understanding of a particular bar, what would be your framework for learning and going a level deeper? What details would you look for and what questions would you ask? After discussing with Cam, we jotted down some quick notes. I’d love to hear from other chocolate makers and enthusiasts if this seems about right, fill in some gaps, or present an alternate opinion:
The 10 Levels of Chocolate Appreciation
#1 Type — What type of chocolate is it? Is it dark, milk, or white?… or possibly compound (candy bar chocolate with the cocoa butter swapped out for something else).
#2 Aesthetics — is the bar tempered properly, has it bloomed? Does it have flaws, bubbles, or mold release marks? What about the packaging and unwrap experience?
#3 Chocolatier — Who made this bar? Not necessarily the maker of the chocolate, but who tempered, molded and packaged it? What is their story?
#4 Percentage — What percentage cocoa products does this bar have? Why?
#5 Ingredients — What else did they add? Vanilla to even out flavors? Lecithin or cocoa butter to change the viscosity and mouthfeel? How did each of these affect the experience?
#6 Flavor notes — What do you taste and when? How does the flavor evolve?
#7 Country (or countries) of origin — Where did these beans come from? How does the flavor of this bar differ from similar bars from the same region?
#8 Chocolate maker — Who made the chocolate (if not the same as #2). What’s their story? How was the chocolate changed by the chocolatier in #3?
#9 Plantation / Farmer — More specific than #7, where did these beans come from? What’s their lineage? Who is the farmer and what’s their process for harvesting, fermenting, and drying the beans?
#10 Chocolate Making process — What parts of the maker’s process affected the final flavor or mouthfeel and in what ways?
This last one is interesting and best illustrated by a story that Cam told me. Steve DeVries, an expert chocolate maker, was judging a chocolate competition. Immediately after trying one chocolate, he spit it out, shocking the other judges and the person that had made the chocolate. Steve explained that he could tell by taste and texture that the chocolate had been over-refined and was giving him that “dirt mouth” sensation that lingers on your tongue and would prevent him from tasting anything else. He said he could tell that the chocolate maker had used a ball mill and had let the chocolate refine for too long. Everyone was amazed, as are we, at his level of understanding.
One of the great things about chocolate is that it’s easy to enjoy. At the same time, we’ve found that the more we learn, the deeper the experience can be. So, if you’re a fellow chocolate lover, tell us how you enjoy your favorite chocolate and what you look (and taste) for.
posted by todd
Recently I visited my friend Steve and he mentioned a classic Brazilian treat that I had never heard of. A brigadeiro is kind of like a truffle, but a thousand times easier to make. You simply take a can of sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, butter, and sugar, and then cook them in a saucepan until some of the moisture evaporates. When cooled, this creates a gooey, sticky ball that you can coat in whatever you like.
Recently, we worked with a machinist to develop a cocoa butter press and I’ve been left with a lot of excess cocoa powder. This seemed like a perfect excuse to try out something new. There are many different variants of the brigadeiro online, many of them using Nestle Quick as the powder. Since our cocoa powder has no added sugar, I decided to add sugar and reduce the cocoa powder in our version.
1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon sugar
For the toppings:
… or anything else you like
1) Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.
2) Keep stirring until thickened (you should be able to see the bottom of the pan for a few seconds after each scrape).
3) Pour into a small glass pan (3x5), set aside to cool.
4) Once cooled, roll into small balls and coat with a topping.
That’s it. It really was a simple and easy treat to make. It didn’t taste quite like anything I had tried before, but was very tasty… sort of like a gooey, sticky toffee ball. The pearl sugar added a nice crunch but made it very sweet. The ones I coated in cocoa powder had a nice, chocolate-y punch. I tried a version coated in nibs, but I wouldn’t recommend it as it was a bit overwhelming.
On the chocolate making front, it was good to try this recipe as learned something new about our cocoa powder. The germ is a dense part of the bean that we usually remove as part of our winnowing process. This cocoa powder was made from some quick test chocolate that we hadn’t winnowed fully and so you could actually taste small bits of germ in the center of the brigadeiros. It wasn’t bad actually, they were almost like small, chocolate poppy seeds, but definitely something we will thoroughly remove next time unless we are specifically aiming for that texture.
posted by todd
Back in October I had an opportunity to visit the Salon du Chocolat in Paris with Clay Gordon and a number of other chocolate enthusiasts. We spent the days ambling the conference hall, sampling single origin mousses, taste-testing new formulations, and meeting famous French chocolate makers like Bonnat and Pralus.
At the back of the conference hall was a small demonstration kitchen. After watching a few presentations on filled chocolate bars, I decided it would be fun to adapt one of my favorite desserts, the s’more shot, to bar form. I’ve been meaning to try this for a while now, and just recently I realized someone had beaten me to it! So here then is my humble attempt at the s’mores bar.
To start you will need chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows. I made the graham crackers and marshmallow meringue from this recipe, but that’s really extra credit. For the chocolate, we had some 70% Dominican Republic in the temperer, but you can use whatever you have handy.
1) Temper some chocolate (more info here). You don’t have to get fancy with this, simply melt the chocolate in the microwave, stopping every 30 seconds to stir it.
2) Fill a bar mold with chocolate all the way to the top.
3) Let it cool at room temperature for about 1-2 minutes, then flip it over, tap the chocolate out of the mold, leaving behind a thin shell. Let cool completely.
4) Pipe a layer of marshmallow into the molds and lightly toast it with a mini butane torch.
5) Press a graham cracker (or graham cracker pieces) into the marshmallow.
6) Spread another layer of chocolate over the back of the bar, let cool completely.
7) Eat and enjoy!
In the factory, we usually stick to roasting individual beans and keeping everything super simple in our chocolate (just nibs and sugar), so this was a fun challenge. Next time, I would make the graham crackers much thinner and pipe twice as much marshmallow into each bar. I also let the chocolate cool too long before emptying the mold, making a very thick top. I think these bars would benefit from just a touch of chocolate, so I wouldn’t let too much chocolate solidify before emptying the mold.
posted by todd