Bean to bar experiment #1

On Sunday I tried to make my first batch of chocolate from the bean. I got the whole family involved including my husband, my kids(plus a friend), my sister and my niece. The kids loved it. They thought it was really cool that chocolate came from these weird looking and bitter beans.
We started by roasting raw Mexican cococa beans in the oven. There’s a web site called “Chocolate Alchemy” that gives you step by step instruction on how to roast beans. We decided on the oven method, since that was really the only roasting tool we had on hand. The site suggests heating the oven to about 400 degrees and then slowly lowering the heat. The ideal temperature of the beans is 300 degrees. As soon as we hit that temperature we removed them. The beans smelled really good but they still tasted bitter. Some seemed to be darker and more roasted than others. We hoped that this bitterness would eventually be masked by sugar and conching.
After cooling the beans for about 1 hour, we took them outside to winnow them with our newly acquired “crankenstein”. That’s actually what the instrument is called. It’s basically a hand cranked apparatus that breaks the beans into nibs and separates them from the husks. You have to remove the husks altogether and we did that by blowing hot air on the bowl of nibs using a hair dryer. This simple technique worked surprisingly well and we blew off nearly all of the husks.
Next we needed to grind the nibs into a paste and we did that using a Champion juicer. We just poured all of the nibs into one end and pushed them down using the plunger. Much to my niece’s surprise what resulted was “Chocolate!”. We ran the chocolate liquor through the juicer another time to refine it further and flushed it out by pouring in some liquid cocoa butter. The final step in our home made chocolate experiment was to “conch” the chocolate. This step is important because it makes chocolate smooth and mellows out the flavor. To do this at home, we purchased a machine from “Chocolate Alchemy” that is used in India for making flours out of grains and legumes. It uses 2 stones to break up large particles into finer particles. It’s at this point that we added sugar and more cocoa butter to the chocolate liquor. We then conched it for a total of 24 hours. The result? Yuck!!! Sadly the bitterness never dissipated and tasting our chocolate was not unlike chewing on a couple of aspirins. I don’t know what we did wrong. I suspect that we did not roast the beans enough(is that why they looked green at times?). It may have also been the result of improper fermentation, which results in beans tasting astringent and bitter. In any case, this chocolate may have been the worst chocolate I’ve ever tasted. After tasting it tonight, I noticed a distinct note of rubber tires! I now have new respect for the art of chocolate making. There is so much mastery involved in coaxing out the delicate flavors that lie hidden in cocoa. How do they get it to taste of strawberry, almonds, coffee or honeysuckle? It must be a miracle. Plus a lot of talent.

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