Chocolate School, Day 1

Just finished my first eight hours of instruction in the mysteries of chocolate with Terry Richardson (a longtime chocolate consultant) and Thalia Hohenthal (of Guittard Chocolate) at UC Davis. Here’s a small part of the events today:

  • There are many more variables involved here than I had imagined. The way that you crush the sugar, the four different ways that you can dry milk, time lecithin is added, and a ton of other variables are all important in the end flavor and texture. These are not subtle “gourmet” differences. The instructors here are industrial chocolate guys, and proud of it. They are looking to create a solid product, and are pretty skeptical of single-origin, varietal, and other “boutique” chocolate. Even getting a good basic chocolate requires a lot of tuning!
  • Debugged my chocolate. It appears that the melangeur is going a good job creating a respectable particle size (you want to get to 5-10 microns), but it’s not really conching at all. Conching should be happening at 160F or above, and the zero spring pressure time in the Santha is just not doing the job. It doesn’t mix well, which is critical for getting the cocoa particles incorporated into the fat matrix, and it’s not running hot enough, so the bitter volatiles are not getting driven off. Time to fix that! The lack of conching means that when my chocolate hits the tongue, naked cocoa solids are hitting the tongue, creating that sensation of getting clobbered by chocolate. At the same time, I can now understand how overconching can create an overtamed chocolate.
  • It’s all about time and temperature. Spent a lot of time messing with thermocouples today, and learning how to use a viscosometer. Time and temperature are important for making chocolate, but also for understanding how chocolate tastes. When it hits the tongue, the crystals start melting and releasing cocoa solids. Dark chocolate takes longer to register chocolate notes on the tongue, because it has a higher melt point. The combined milk and cocoa fats in milk chocolate melt more readily, giving the chocolate hit sooner. Chocolate that doesn’t contain an agent like butter oil or hazelnut extract to retard the formation of the dreaded high-melting-point type V crystals becomes waxy in texture, and the crystals don’t melt. This is why waxy chocolate doesn’t taste like anything.
  • It’s not just Criollo > Forestero. Did a long tasting of various varietals, while they are all different, Foresteros definitely have some charms. They are more “chocolatey” than some of the Latin American beans, and seem to pair better with higher sugar contents.
  • Made milk crumb, which is a way of making the base for milk chocolate that yields a more caramel taste (like Hershey Symphony) than a creamy taste (Godiva.) It’s fun! Heat condensed milk so that you can get more sugar in it, then add chocolate liquor. Mix for a while, then put it into a vacuum oven at 160F for three hours or so. You get this really crispy, bubbly, milk/chocolate/air matrix. This is what you grind into milk chocolate, but it’s pretty darn good on its own. You can also use spray dried milk (which most milk chocolate uses) or get exotic and use skim milk powder with anhydrous butter oil (Dove chocolate.) All create different Malliard reactions, and different tastes on the caramel/cream spectrum.
  • You can dry conch or wet conch, or both. Dry conching uses nearly all cocoa mass, with cocoa butter added later. Wet conching comes after added cocoa butter, and is mechanically easier because the chocolate is less viscous, but releases less of the moisture and volatiles you are trying to drive off. Different conch designs are more or less adapted to dry conching. There’s a real art here. Extremely well-executed conching is how you get to the highly refined texture and taste of something like a Valhrona. It’s also expensive, because the more time that the chocolate spends hanging out in the conch, the slower your production line is. (Technically, I suppose it just adds latency, but the need to adjust production runs makes that latency expensive.)
  • Chocolate guys never wash equipment with water. Water is the enemy of chocolate, and washing with it just lets latent mold start to grow. The only time that a chocolate line will wash with water is if there is a salmonella problem, which is very very rare.

The UC Davis food science department is full of surprises. Walking to the lab, I stopped by a very odd looking refrigerator door in the hallway. It’s a refrigerated vault containing a library of 7,000 varieties of yeast! Photos and more trivia tomorrow. It’s also time to start shopping for a big kitchen mixer and a heat unit that will fit underneath.

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2 Responses to Chocolate School, Day 1

  1. hillary says:

    this sounds cooler than any geek camp we went to! I can’t wait to try some of your new creations! 🙂

  2. laura says:

    “water is the enemy of chocolate”

    i love reading your descriptions of camp! keep ’em coming!

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