Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chocolate - Fermenting to Roasting to Milling

To continue about fermentation - in our demonstration, Alex, from Taza Chocolates, lined a wooden box that had holes in the bottom with banana leaves and we all helped crack open the cacao pods and empty the beans into the box. The banana leaves "contain bacteria that enhance the fermentation process, liquefying the mucilage [that slimy white stuff covering the beans] so it can drain away, leaving the beans." (Source: The Chocolate Connoisseur by Chloe Doutre-Roussel)

When the beans were first put in the fermentation box

How they looked 2 days into fermentation

Once the beans are fermented, they’re then dried. Drying prevents them from getting moldy and enables them to be shipped and stored without spoiling. The dried beans are what farmers like Eladio take to market to sell. At the time we were there, they were getting $1.15 USD per pound of beans. Doesn't sound like much, does it? That's because it isn't. Eladio said a few years ago he was selling up to 800-900 lbs of cacao beans but in recent years, he's only been able to harvest around 400 lbs of beans. He wasn't really clear about why the drop in production but I think some of it had to do with a bad tornado that blew through his farm and damaged his cacao trees.

We were given demonstrations of what to do with the dried beans both at Eladio’s farm and at Cotton Tree Chocolate which had a little “factory”, aka a room, a back porch and a small tempering room. First you roast the beans. At Cotton Tree, they roasted the beans in a coffee roasting oven. And yes, they smelled as good as you might imagine.

Second, you take the (cooled) roasted beans and grind them to break up the shells and the nibs within the shells. You only want the nibs and not the shells so to separate them, Cotton Tree winnows the shells by blowing through the bowl of cracked nibs and shells with a hair dryer. Yes, a hair dryer. It was pretty effective too, once you know how to do it. There’s a certain skill in having the hair dryer in one hand aimed at the bowl and mixing up the nibs and shells with the other hand. Done properly, the hot air blowing from the hair dryer will blow out the lighter shells while keeping the nibs in the bowl. Done improperly, Kendra and I discovered our hair blowing (or nibs/shell blowing) techniques were metaphoric for our lives and personalities. Kendra was told by the Cotton Tree chocolate maker than she was blowing too hard and therefore causing the nibs to fly out of the bowl along with the shells. I had the opposite problem in that I was so afraid of losing the nibs that I wasn’t aggressive enough and left some of the shells in the bowl. Hmm, read into that what you will of each of our personalities.

Me with my careful, cautious dryer blowing

Kendra going for it with the hair dryer - nibs, shells and all :)

Once we had the bowl of shelled nibs, we put them in what was essentially a juicer and fed the nibs into it at one end and out the other came a wet mass of processed cocoa nibs, aka cocoa liqueur, which more or less had the consistency of peanut butter. Nibs have a lot of fat (cocoa butter) in them and you could see the oil as it was being processed through the juicer. Julie, the Cotton Tree Chocolate manager, called it juicing. My chocolate books refer to it as milling.

The last remaining steps to follow....

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Chocolate - from Bean to Bar

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks, partly because I've been too busy to bake and partly because I was out on vacation. I spent last week in Belize on a chocolate tour sponsored by Taza Chocolate, a chocolate maker in Boston, MA. It was one of those things on my bucket list that I wanted to do “someday” and, thanks to my friend Kendra (Kendra's blog) who told me about the trip and talked me into teaming up with her in the Jungle House cabana at Cotton Tree Lodge near Punta Gorda, Belize, I got the opportunity to experience chocolate making from bean to bar.

When most people think of chocolate making, they picture vats of warm melted chocolate swirling around before pouring them into candy bar molds and cooling. It’s a nice visual but that’s actually the last two stages of chocolate making: tempering and molding. Or last 3 stages if you count eating as the final step. Further up the chocolate making chain, you actually need to start with the cacao bean itself. This is where chocolate ultimately comes from.

Cacao beans grow within cacao pods which are from the cacao trees. The pods grow directly out of the tree trunk and there’s some fancy flora and fauna name for that kind of plant but I can’t remember what it is from the tour and am not trying to be uppity in knowing what it’s called.
We visited a cacao farm in Belize owned by a 51-year-old man named Eladio Pop. The “Pop” part of his name was pretty accurate as Eladio is the father of 15 children. His oldest is 31 and has 5 kids of her own. His youngest is 2 years and 4 months. Eladio split open a cacao pod to show us the cluster of beans inside and we each got to taste one. Let me assure you it’s a far cry from the ultimate finished product of chocolate that the beans produce. Hence why the processing is so important.

After the beans are removed from the cacao pods, they’re put in containers and set to ferment in the heat and humidity of their native country, be it Belize, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, etc. Beans can ferment anywhere from 2-6 days. The longer they ferment, supposedly the more developed the flavor. Some chocolate makers, such as Taza, only source beans that are 90% fermented while more common and large-scale operations like Green & Black only require 70% fermentation. Everyone’s tastes are different but for the chocolate snob in us all, they traditionally favor the more fermented beans. You don’t let the beans just sit there fermenting either. You have to mix them all around to get the fermentation going.
To be continued in the above post.....(have to go workout now)

Quintuple Chocolate Brownies

Quintuple Chocolate Brownies - made May 11, 2010 from Fearless Baking by Elinor Klivans

These brownies are so-named because it’s supposed to use 5 different kinds of chocolate. However, I was missing the heavy cream to put in the white chocolate layer on top so I improvised by skipping the white chocolate layer altogether and adding chopped up Toblerone bars in the last 5 minutes of baking to soften them slightly over the top of the brownie. I knew from reading the recipe that this would yield a dark chocolate brownie and I was right, especially since I use a dark cocoa (Pernigotti) in the brownies. The texture on these was good and fudgy but these are probably a little “too dark chocolate” for me as a milk chocolate lover. But dark chocolate lovers should like this one.

Funny thing about brownie taste and fudginess – my first preference is milk chocolate but not when it comes to brownies since milk chocolate as a brownie base (as opposed to as an add in) is actually too sweet. But if it’s too dark of a chocolate, I don’t like it either. I guess you can safely say my brownie preferences lean towards semisweet or bittersweet and if you have to lean towards more of a dark chocolate base, I like to do milk chocolate add-ins, such as with the Toblerone bars to offset the dark chocolate.

If I had stayed true to the original recipe and used the white chocolate layer on top, I have a feeling that would’ve worked really well since white chocolate is pretty sweet and would’ve offered a nice contrast to the dark chocolate brownie base.

½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons strong coffee
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces premium-quality milk chocolate, chopped into chips or 1 cup store-bought milk chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts

6 ounces premium-quality white chocolate, finely chopped, or 1 cup store-bought white chocolate chips
1/3 cup heavy cream

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325˚F. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil and place the pan on a baking sheet.
2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, and salt.
3. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add, in the following order, the butter, two chocolates and the coffee. Keeping the pan over low heat, warm just until the butter and chocolates are melted – you don’t want the ingredients to get so hot they separate, so keep an eye on the bowl. Stir gently, and when the mixture is smooth, set it aside for 5 minutes.
4. Using a whisk or a rubber spatula, beat the sugar into the chocolate mixture. Don’t beat too vigorously – you don’t want to add air to the batter – and don’t be concerned about any graininess. Next, stir in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. You should have a smooth, glossy batter. If you’re not already using a rubber spatula, switch to one now and gently stir in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. Finally, stir in the milk chocolate chips and the nuts. Scrape the batter into the pan.
5. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out streaked but not thickly coated. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the brownies rest undisturbed for at least 30 minutes. (You can wait longer, if you’d like.)
6. Turn the brownies out onto a rack, peel away the foil and place it under another rack – it will be the drip catcher for the glaze. Invert the brownies onto the rack and let cool completely.
7. To make the glaze: Put the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a boil and pour it over the chocolate. Wait 30 seconds, then, using a rubber spatula, gently stir until the chocolate is melted and the glaze is smooth.
8. Hold a long metal icing spatula in one hand and the bowl of glaze in the other. Pour the glaze onto the center of the brownies and use the spatula to nudge it evenly over the surface. Don’t worry if it dribbles over the edges, you can trim the sides later (or not). Refrigerate the brownies for about 20 minutes to dry the glaze.
9. Cut into 16 squares, each roughly 2 ¼” on a side.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Shirley's Fudgy Brownies

Shirley's Fudgy Brownies - made May 9, 2010 from Bakewise by Shirley Corriher

A few months ago, I blogged about how the copy of Bakewise I had bought off eBay had been stolen when the mailman left the package by my garage door. It soured me on getting Bakewise which had nothing to do with the book but I had looked forward to getting it for so long and having it ripped off like that left a bad taste in my mouth literally. But the seller, upon hearing what had happened to my package, sent me another brand-new copy (this time to my office address so there'd be no repeat chance of another theft) free of charge and even offered to refund me my shipping cost of the original package. Which was an amazing affirmation of the goodness in people and one for which I was exceedingly grateful.

I'm way overdue in trying out recipes from my new copy of Bakewise but to rectify that, I tried one of the brownie recipes last night. Oh. My. If you've followed my blog with any regularity, you'll know how much I prefer brownies for quick and easy baking, not to mention my enjoyment of rich, fudgy brownies in general. You might even recall that I was in ecstasy over Rosie's Award Winning Brownies from the Rosie's Bakery baking book. Hmm, move over Rosie, Shirley has won me over and taken first place in the Best Brownie I've Ever Eaten category. This was dense, fudgy, chocolaty but not overwhelming in a sickly sweet way. It was just good.

The funny thing is, most brownie recipes are very similar but this one was different enough that I didn't expect it to be so good. For one thing, in my experience, the best-tasting, fudgiest, richest brownies start with unsweetened chocolate. This one has almost all semisweet and what wasn't semisweet was sweet chocolate. Immediately I thought it would be an overly sweet brownie and not be rich-chocolate tasting enough. Not so. For another thing, it uses confectioners' sugar more than granulated sugar, another unusual ingredient that I thought would make the brownie more cakey than fudgy. Wrong again. Which goes to show Shirley Corriher is smarter than I am and knows her brownies.

In typical fashion, I omitted the nuts from this and left the brownie plain. Didn't even add chocolate chips. But I did chop up some Snickers bars and cover half the brownie pan with them after they had finished baking. The recipe calls for baking the brownies for an hour but I took mine out after 45 minutes as the toothpick in the edges came out clean and towards the middle came out with moist crumbs. Then I turned the oven off, topped half the brownie with the chopped-up Snickers and left them in the hot oven for a few minutes, just long enough to soften the Snickers so that when I took the brownie out of the oven, I could smear some of the Snickers into the top of the brownie with a small spatula. Genius.

I brought these into work for a staff meeting today and they were a hit. My boss even poked me in the shoulder during the meeting to gesture to the brownie he was eating and gave me a thumbs up. Success.

1 ½ cups pecans
1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces, divided
Nonstick cooking spray, optional
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 ounce German’s Sweet Chocolate
4 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 ½ cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups spooned and leveled bleached all-purpose flour

1. Arrange a shelf in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 300˚F.
2. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. While the nuts are hot, stir in 2 tablespoons of the butter. When cool, coarsely chop and set aside.
3. Line a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan with parchment sprayed with nonstick cooking spray or Release foil (nonstick side up), allowing overhang on both long sides to make removal easier.
4. Place the remaining 1 ½ cups butter around the edge of a microwave-safe glass bowl. Place the semisweet and sweet chocolate in the center. Melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave on 100% power for 1 minute, stirring at least 2 times, and then 15 seconds more, stirring 1 time. Or, place the chocolates and butter together in a stainless-steel bowl. In a large skillet, bring water to a simmer. Set aside until the water is no longer steaming. Place the bowl of chocolate and butter in the hot water, being careful not to get water or steam into the chocolate. Stir the chocolate every few minutes until melted.
5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a fork just to blend whites and yolks. With a minimum of hand stirring, stir together the eggs, egg yolks, brown sugar, confectioners’ sugar, granulated sugar, corn syrup, vanilla and salt.
6. By hand, with a minimum of stirring, stir together the egg mixture and the chocolate mixture. Stir in the flour. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out.
7. Place the pan on the arranged shelf and bake until brownies just begin to pull away from the edge of the pan, about 1 hour. Err on the side of undercooking rather than risk drying out the brownies.
8. Cool completely in the pan or a rack. Remove the brownies from the pan, using the parchment or foil overhang to help lift out the brownies. When completely cool, wrap the brownies well with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
9. Place the brownies on a cutting board and move the parchment or foil. Place another cutting board on top and turn over so that the brownies are right side up. Trim the edges and cut into 2-inch squares. Wrap individually in plastic wrap and store refrigerated.