You may not have passed through childhood without having read, at least once, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a 1964 children's novel by Roald Dahl. Although the original book was supposedly banned for the depiction of the character Oompa Loompas as racist, and indeed was banned by a Colorado library because the story espoused a "poor philosophy of life," it remains a classical and fantastical read for many children and adults. (Let's also keep in mind the time period in which it was written). If you haven't read it, here's a quick synopsis:
Charlie, the main character, finds a Golden Ticket inside a Wonka chocolate bar, which entitles him to a tour of the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory, along with four other children, each one an archetypal representation of society. Charlie brings his grandfather along on the tour, which is a wonderland of chocolatey creations that seem to defy logic (that's no surprise!). The other four children eventually meet their demise during the tour, which serves as a lesson sung by the Oompa Loompas about overindulgence in one's vices. Charlie ultimately becomes heir of the factory, a title bestowed by Wonka himself for having passed his test of "good person-ness."
The moral of the story? Well there are a few, but we're only concerned with the chocolate-related ones: When you're invited for a tour of a chocolate-making factory, pay attention and take notes, because chocolate is obviously the food of the Gods.
From Bean To Bar
Cacao beans grow in tropical regions that provide an abundance of rain, heat, and shade. The cacao tree bears oval-shaped pods, which contain an inner bean surrounded by pulp, also known as baba.
What's the difference between cacao and cocoa? Cacao is the raw bean, whereas cocoa is what it becomes after fermentation, drying, and roasting. In your search for great chocolate, any bar titled "raw" means that it hasn't been heat processed, other than some sun exposure.
It's hard to believe chocolate starts off as any other color than a rich mahogany, but actually, cacao pods are a vibrant shade of yellowy orange when they're ripe, much like a maple leaf in autumn. Cacao pods are usually harvested a couple of times a year, but they're ripe for the picking all year round. Once picked, the pods are opened and the seed is removed. Some cultures use cacao pulp to make a beverage, and it's becoming increasingly popular across the world. The bean, however, is where the real magic lies because of what it can become.
Fermenting cacao is an essential part of the chocolate-making process. It contributes to the bitter richness of flavor and acidity of chocolate. Although "bitter" and "acidic" don't sound delicious, they are essential qualities without which the health benefits of chocolate wouldn't be as incredible as they are and chocolate would be flavorless.
To ferment cacao, it's necessary to leave some of the pulp that surrounds the seed because it's the part that undergoes fermentation. Yeast, bacteria, and enzymes ferment the pulp, and the beans transform under the heat, acid, and enzyme effects. Fermentation takes anywhere between two to nine days, and during this time the bean begins to take on a color that more closely resembles chocolate.
Once fermented, the beans must be carefully dried. A bamboo mat or wooden board is an ideal platform for which to expose the beans to the hot sun for up to two weeks. Continuous raking of the beans is a critical step for ensuring that each bean is thoroughly dry and ready for shipment. This is when the bean makes its way across oceans and is imported into international borders, either to a cacao supplier or a specific chocolatier.
Preparing Cocoa Mass
Cocoa mass is also known as chocolate liquor and is produced a result of low-temperature roasting to develop flavor. In many cases, cacao beans from different origins are blended to produce unique and desired characteristics or flavor profiles. In the case of "single origin chocolate" the beans are kept separate for purity of origin.
Cacao beans are cleaned and then roasted. Through a process called winnowing, the shells are separated from the meat or nibs of the bean, and the nibs are ground to create cocoa mass, a paste which solidifies at room temperature. To make cocoa powder and cocoa butter, cocoa mass is placed under extremely high temperatures.
This is a fascinating step in the chocolate-making process because it signals the true beginning of what cacao or cocoa can become. At this point, cacao mass can be mixed with specific amounts of cocoa butter and sweetener, depending on the desired end result. Various ingredients are mixed, ground, and kneaded together to form a paste. The cocoa butter gives chocolate a finer structure and lustrous appearance.
Dark chocolate requires cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and a sweetener, usually sugar. To produce milk chocolate, milk powder is included. White chocolate combines the same ingredients, with the exception of the cocoa mass, which is why many people refuse to categorize it as "real" chocolate. During this step additional flavors can be added to make variations, such as orange or mint chocolate.
The process of conching pronounces and defines the true flavor and aroma of chocolate. During conching, chocolate is rolled, kneaded, heated, and left to aerate in a large roller called a conche. Different speeds of agitation and aeration produce distinct flavors and help to expel some of the bitterness and acids. Cocoa butter and soy lecithin may be added to create a more fluid texture. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier used to break up sugar crystals to produce a fine smoothness. This refining process continues until the chocolate is smooth. The longer the chocolate stays in the conch, the silkier the final product will be.
Imagine this stage––enormous pools of velvety liquid chocolate being stirred around and around––it's a sight for salivating tongues of children and adults the world over.
Tempering & Moulding
These are the final phases of a chocolate bar's life. That is, of course, not counting the moments in your mouth or through the final stage of digestion! The chocolate is placed into blocks called pistoles. Tempering slowly cools the chocolate to a specific temperature, a process which helps to protect the flavor and prevent separation. This is indeed a DIY-at-home process for any aspiring chocolate maker! The cocoa butter becomes stable, providing the chocolate with a glossy finish and characteristic snap.
Dark, Milk, or White: Which Type is your Favorite?
Everyone has a preference, but that doesn't mean you can't break your own rules and indulge in chocolate's spectrum of delicious offerings. To learn more about the differences between these three types, how to read a chocolate bar label, and the origin of the bean, check out our recent guide: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Chocolate. Stay tuned for fabulous upcoming recipes.
Before you go, check out these 5 Luscious Chocolate Recipes for the Holiday. From our kitchen to yours, we wish you fun and chocolatey times in the kitchen this month!