From Cacao to Confection: How Chocolate is Made
Seeing chocolate being made right in front of me, transformed from cacao beans to a delicious chocolate bar, would have to rank up there as one of the most exciting food experiences of my life. I now know how to make chocolate! If only I could get my hands on cocoa beans where I live, I would replicate the experience just for the pleasure of it all.
Cocoa trees grow in the shade, about 5 meters tall on average. They produce fruit after five years and are harvested twice a year. There are three main types of cocoa trees: the Criollo, meaning “native”, which is the variety cultivated in Central America, as well as the Forastero, meaning “foreigner”, cultivated in Western Africa and Brazil, and the Trinitario, a mixture of the above two varieties is cultivated in the rest of the world. The raw beans are sweet to suck on but as soon as you bite into them, they release bitter, unpleasant juices.
The process for making chocolate is lengthy but very simple:
First the beans are extracted from the cacao fruit and immediately fermented in fermentation boxes called “sweatboxes” for six days to allow them to germinate (The juice drippings are collected to make rum.) Chocolate for which the beans have not been fermented supposedly doesn’t taste smooth but rather bitter.
The beans are then sundried or covered and air-dried during rainy season for six days .
After that, the beans are roasted, peeled and ground. Prior to making chocolate, the cacao grounds are lightly roasted to release some of their oils.
Now the fun part begins. Watching the artisan chocolatier work the cacao grounds into chocolate was nothing short of magical.
He mixed the ground cacao with brown sugar, stirred and pressed it down with a spatula for a good ten minutes.
He worked in the vanilla extract for about ten more minutes. He added the powdered milk and worked it in for yet another ten minutes.
The final ingredient was condensed milk, which he stirred in, vigorously pushing down some more.
Toward the end, he put on a glove and kneaded the chocolate dough until it released lots of oil and a heady aroma. He stretched the chocolate dough on a cutting board the way one would spread pizza dough and cut it into squares.
When eaten immediately it tastes like moist, chewy brownie. Refrigerating it for a few hours gives it the consistency of a hard chocolate bar like we know it. But of course I wasn’t going to wait. No, no, not me. I had two squares right away.