Chocolate is a food that is simultaneously ubiquitous and mysterious. Chocolate is everywhere - in cakes, in candies, in beverages. Yet few people really know how chocolate is made. Even fewer have actually set their eyes on a cocoa bean, much less a cocoa pod.

After extensive research, I've discovered chocolate's dirty little secret - it's a piece of cake to make at home.

And if your family is impressed by homemade truffles and cakes, imagine how they'll feel when you had them a bar of home-freaking-made chocolate.

Chocolate manufacture requires six steps.
  • First comes fermentation and drying. The beans are harvested from the pods, and allowed to naturally ferment over a period of two days to two weeks. Heat kills the delicate germinating seed, and natural yeasts grow to develop complex flavors. The beans are then sun-dried to preserve them for shipping.
  • Next, the beans are roasted. Cocoa beans are roasted for the same reason that coffee beans are - to develop complex flavors via the Maillard reaction, and to drive off unpleasant acidic compounds developed in the fermentation process.
  • Cracking and winnowing follow roasting. This step is purely mechanical, to separate the valuable nibs from the worthless shells.
  • After this, the nibs must be refined. The tongue can perceive particles larger than 30 micrometers in size, so extensive grinding is needed for a good mouthfeel.
  • The raw cocoa liquor is then "conched," a lengthy process which drives off the rest of the acidic flavoring compounds.
  • Finally, the finished product is tempered to give the chocolate good gloss and snap.
Unfortunately, cocoa pods are practically impossible to get your hands on. So we'll (unfortunately) have to start at the second step, with pre-fermented and dried cocoa beans.

Ready? Into the breach we go, my friends!

Or, you can just watch the video. (Which works now! Hooray!)

Step 1: Equipment and Ingredients

The ingredients you'll want are as follows:
  • Cocoa beans. These can be troublesome to find locally. Fortunately, we have the internet! I bought my beans from Chocolate Alchemy, which also has a treasure trove of chocolate making information.
  • Something to sweeten the chocolate. You can use any solid sweetener - table sugar, brown sugar, "raw" sugar, splenda, etcetera. Don't use honey, agave nectar, molasses, or other liquid sweeteners unless you want to end up with a chocolate paste.
  • Spices (optional). Since this is your chocolate, you can add whatever you want! Cinnamon and cardamom are delicious. Chili powder is a classic. The sky's the limit! Curry powder! Wasabi! Coffee! Peppercorns! ...even bacon, perhaps.
  • If you are planning on tempering the chocolate by seeding, you'll need a small amount of tempered chocolate.
  • Cocoa butter (optional), to thin the final product.

On the equipment side, you'll need:
  • A food processor or spice grinder (blade grinder, not burr grinder).
  • A baking sheet (perforated, ideally).
  • A hairdryer, heat gun, or shop-vac.
  • A bowl.
  • A mortar and pestle/molcajete (for smaller batches) or a stand mixer (for larger batches).
  • If you're planning on tempering the chocolate by tabling, you'll also need a slab of marble, granite, or other smooth nonporous stone surface, and a pair of scraping tools (like these or these).

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