How it’s made: Spiced Chocolate Bark (part 1)

Have you ever looked at something and wondered how it is made?

I do,  all the time.  Ridged rigatoni, a ball of twine, a violin– they’ve all captured my curiosity.

Chocolate bark is nowhere as complex as a violin, but it is still interesting to think about all of the steps required to get from this:

to this:

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Thankfully, my chocolate production begins with pastilles of luscious, organic Italian 70% dark chocolate, so I don’t have to trace the steps from harvest to there.  But if you are interested in how the bitter beans make the transformation, here‘s a guide from the International Cocoa Organization.

I’m going to pick up from the pure chocolate disks, waiting to be melted, flavored and shaped. The first step, and the most important, is the tempering of the chocolate.

What is tempering,  you ask? (It’s OK, I didn’t know anything about tempering before I started making chocolate). It’s the critical step in chocolate creation that results in a shiny, glossy chocolate that has “snap” as opposed to dull, pliable chocolate. It took me a moment to make the connection to other things that are tempered, and thus hardened:  tempered glass,  which gives windshields their unique properties, and tempered steel, which resists bending.

I learned the science behind tempering chocolate from a great site called Chocolate Alchemy on the long, illustrated section about tempering.

Through tons of diagrams and illustrations like this one,

t-legand.JPG

the Chocolate Alchemist walks you through the process of heating, cooling, then slight heating that results in perfectly tempered chocolate.

For a long time,  I had been doing all of my tempering by hand, with mixed results. Rather, the results were inconsistent and hard to predict.  The flavor of the chocolate was always the same — yummy — but that elusive gloss and SNAP weren’t always there.

The good news is that you don’t ruin the chocolate when your tempering effort fails. You just have to start over, which is what I did when the results weren’t what I wanted. But then…  [cue the music]… I met the Revolation chocolate melting/tempering machine by Chocovision.com, and I am in heaven!

Chocolate being processed

Chocolate being processed

These machines have one purpose, and that is to produce perfect chocolate, every time. It stirs, it scrapes the bowl, it measures the temperature down to a 1/10th of a degree;  it tells you what to do and when to do it; when it’s time to cool, it cools; and basically makes the process foolproof.

The Chocovision machines are pricey — starting in the mid $300’s and going well over the $2000 mark. But they are worth it, when you consider the manual time spent on tempering, and the time spent with failed batches. Plus, there is enormous value in having consistent results that can be trusted — they call that “having a process with reproducible quality”, in Quality Control terms.

____________

In Part 2 of this chocolate blog, I’ll be picking up from here and telling you how I arrived at my 16 flavors that range from plain peppermint to a real pesto chocolate, complete with pine nuts, Sicilian sea salt, and basil!

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Posted on March 1, 2014, in Fact Sheet, Musings and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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