Dear chocolate lovers,
At Exquisito Chocolates, we define ourselves as “masochistic makers of chocolate who produce cacao products from bean to bar”. Why masochistic?
Well, because it is a tremendous feat to produce chocolate directly from cacao beans, all in-house…if we do say so ourselves. In fact, most “gourmet” chocolate shops do not work with actual cacao beans. Instead, they use “chocolate coverture” which is essentially ready-made bakers’ chocolate, melted in-shop to create confections with.
One major reason why it is so rare to find chocolate makers who truly operate from bean to bar is because machinery designed for small scale chocolate production is virtually nonexistent.
Historically, the chocolate making industry has been dominated by mega-corporations who design machinery to produce massive quantities of chocolate that stock our candy shelves year-round. For a long time, they were the only companies making chocolate for mainstream commercial consumption and they set the standards for flavor and production.
Over time, the emergence of at-home chocolate makers created a niche craft market, and the demand for specialty chocolate is only increasing. Today, at Exquisito Chocolates, we stand on the shoulders of giants whose relentless experimentation and openness to sharing knowledge has made what we do possible. This community of cacao enthusiasts has discovered together, in our home kitchens and make-shift workshops, that despite the non-existence of affordable machinery designed to process small batches of cacao, there are many non-traditional tools, that with the right tweaking, can be used to make fine chocolate!
Here are our favorite not-made-for-chocolate chocolate-making tools that we use daily to bring you the treats you love:
Our winnower, otherwise known as...a Shop-Vac.
Yes, we headed over to Home Depot to buy a Shop-Vac. We use it for a crucial step in our chocolate making process: winnowing. During this step, the roasted cacao bean is separated from its husk (or thin “shell”), which we want to keep out of our chocolate. Because the husk is lighter than the bean, a vacuum is able to blow away the paper-like husk away without blowing the bean, which falls into a separate container. Once the beans have been cracked and winnowed, they are ready to be transformed into chocolate liquor (hint: not alcohol, just the name for ground cacao beans).
Our cacao bean grinder, otherwise known as...a pizza dough maker.
Once our cacao beans have been roasted to perfection, cracked, and winnowed, we grind them to form a thick cacao paste. To do so, we use a machine with sharp blades traditionally used to chop and mix pizza dough. The machine’s blades pulverize the beans and turn them into a paste. We then transfer the cacao paste to our melanger. Technically, a melanger can process the roasted beans without this step, however, to preserve the lifespan of our melanger and shorten the cacao refining process by sometimes 24+ hours, we toss our beans into our pizza dough mixer for 10 minutes. This makes our melanger’s job much easier.
Our melanger, otherwise known as...an Indian spice grinder.
Without our melanger, fine chocolate making would be virtually impossible. One of the most important steps in the chocolate making process is conching and refining. It is this step that largely defines the chocolate’s final aroma and takes it from bitter and acidic to supple. Because most machines used for conching and refining in big factories can cost millions of dollars, we practical chocolate makers use an Indian spice grinder to get the job done, and you can’t tell the difference! The machine has two large stone wheels that rotate and press against a bottom metal surface to transform our thick cacao paste into a smooth chocolate liquor, the key ingredient of all our chocolate bars and truffles.
As you can see, in the world of a chocolate maker, creativity and resourcefulness are key. So, the next time you dream about what the inside of a chocolate factory looks like, you might want to rethink your Willy Wonka dreams and come visit us as Exquisito Chocolates for a look into the real behind the scenes. Sign up for a tour here!