How chocolate is made 101

_MG_1759   Although other ingredients are added, most notably sugar or other sweeteners, flavoring agents, cocoa beans are the primary component of chocolate.
Cocoa trees are evergreens grow mainly within 20 degrees of the equator, at altitudes of between 100 and 1,000 feet above sea level. Native to South and Central America, the trees are currently grown on commercial plantations in such places as Malaysia, Brazil, Ecuador, and West Africa. West Africa currently produces nearly three quarters of the world’s 75,000 ton annual cocoa bean crop, while Brazil is the largest producer in the Western Hemisphere.
Because they are relatively delicate, the trees can be harmed by full sun, fungi, and insect pests. To minimize such damage, they are usually planted with other trees such as rubber or banana. The other crops afford protection from the sun and provide plantation owners with an additional source of income.
The pods, the fruit of the cocoa tree, are 6-10 inches long and 3-4 inches in diameter. Most trees bear only about 30 to 40 pods, each of which contains between 20 and 40 inch-long  beans in a gummy liquid. The pods ripen in three to four months, and, because of the even climate in which the trees grow, they ripen continually throughout the year. However, the greatest number of pods are harvested between May and December.
Of the 30 to 40 pods on a typical cacao tree, no more than half will be mature at any given time. Only the mature fruits can be harvested, as only they will produce top quality ingredients. After being cut from the trees with machetes or knives mounted on poles (the trees are too delicate to be climbed), mature pods are opened on the plantation with a large knife or machete. The beans inside are then manually removed.
Still mixed with pulp from the pods, the seeds are piled on the ground, where they are allowed to heat beneath the sun for several days (some plantations also dry the beans mechanically, if necessary). Enzymes from the pulp combine with wild, airborne yeasts to cause a small amount of fermentation that will make the final product even more appetizing. During the fermenting process, the beans reach a temperature of about 125f (51c). This kills the embryos, preventing the beans from sprouting while in transit; it also stimulates decomposition of the beans’ cell walls. Once the beans have sufficiently fermented, they will be stripped of the remaining pulp and dried. Next, they are graded and bagged in sacks weighing from 130 to 200lbs .They will then be stored until they are inspected, after which they will be shipped to an auction to be sold to chocolate makers.

1 Once a company has received a shipment of cocoa beans at its processing plant, the beans are roasted, first on screens and then in revolving cylinders through which very hot air is blown. Over a period of 30 minutes to 2 hours, the moisture in the beans is reduced from about seven percent to about one percent. The roasting process triggers a browning reaction, in which more than 300 different chemicals present in the cocoa beans interact. The beans now begin to develop the rich flavor we associate with chocolate.
2 Roasting also causes the shells to open and break away from the nibs (the meat of the bean). This separation process can be completed by blowing air across the beans as they go through a giant winnowing machine called a cracker and fanner, which loosens the hulls from the beans without crushing them. The hulls, now separated from the nibs, are usually sold as either mulch or fertilizer. They are also sometimes used as a commercial boiler fuel.
3 Next, the roasted nibs undergo broyage, a process of crushing that takes place in a grinder made of revolving granite blocks. The design of the grinder may vary, but most resemble old-fashioned flour mills. The final product of this grinding process, made up of small particles of the nib suspended in oil, is a thick syrup known as chocolate liquor.

4 The next step is refining, during which the liquor is further ground between sets of revolving metal drums. Each successive rolling is faster than the preceding one because the liquor is becoming smoother and flows easier. The ultimate goal is to reduce the size of the particles in the liquor to about .001 inch.
5 If the chocolate being produced is to be cocoa powder, from which hot chocolate and baking mixes are made, the chocolate liquor may be dutched, a process so-named because it was invented by the Dutch chocolate maker Casparus van Houten. In the dutching process, the liquor is treated with an alkaline solution, usually potassium carbonate, that raises its pH from 5.5 to 7 or 8. This increase darkens the color of the cocoa, renders its flavor more mild, and reduces the tendency of the nib particles to form clumps in the liquor. The powder that eventually ensues is called dutch cocoa.
6 The next step in making cocoa powder is defatting the chocolate liquor, or removing large amounts of butter from it. This is done by further compressing the liquor between rollers, until about half of the fat from its cocoa beans has been released. The resulting solid material, commonly called press cake, is then broken, chopped, or crushed before being sifted to produce cocoa powder. When additives such as sugar or other sweeteners have been blended, this cocoa powder becomes a modern version of chocolate….
7 If the chocolate being produced is to become candy, the press cake is remixed with some of the removed cocoa butter. The restored cocoa butter is necessary for texture and consistency, and different types of chocolate require different amounts of cocoa butter.
8 The mixture now undergoes a process known as conching, in which it is continuously turned and ground in a huge open vat. The process’s name derives from older vats, which resembled large conch shells. The conching process can last from between three hours to three days (more time is not necessarily better, however). This is the most important step in making chocolate. The speed and temperature of the mixing are critical in determining the quality of the final product.
9 Another crucial aspect of conching is the time and rate at which other ingredients are added. The ingredients added during conching determine what type of chocolate is produced: sweet chocolate consists of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, and vanilla; milk chocolate contains sweet chocolate with powdered whole milk or whole liquid milk.
10 At the end of the conching process, the chocolate is poured into molds, cooled, cut, and wrapped.

In 1828,The Father of Modern Chocolate,Casparus van Houten (of the Dutching process)changed the world of Chocolate Production making Dutch Chocolate one of the most respected in the world.The introduction of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks much easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar and then remix it with cocoa butter to create a solid, already closely resembling today’s eating chocolate.So as you can see Chocolate Making truly is an industrial process, born in the Age of Steam .

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chocolate liquor


Birthdayliciousness a.k.a Portuguese Olive Oil Lemon Cake


Yesterday I moved even further into my 40’s than I honestly feel comfortable with. Age is relative, you’re as old as you feel , young at heart, blah blah blah pass the cake please, not a slice , the whole damn thing!

Being a Chef and Chocolatier , I’d rather bake my own cake , not because I think it would be better than Shawn’s ( he’s an awesome baker ) but because I just really love doing it. When he asked if he could bake something for my birthday I already had it in hand.

Chocolate is my ‘bread and butter’ but what I love most is fresh, tangy lemon when I think of cake. In my opinion birthday cakes should be gold or yellow or white, just a thing I have and since it was my day , golden lemon it would jolly well be.

I first had an olive oil cake when I was on holiday one January on the Portuguese island of Madeira. “The Island of Eternal Springtime” turned out to be “The Island of Endless Rain, Wind and Hail” but that’s another story. I remember eating this cake at a boulevard Café-Kiosk and falling head over heels in love with the moist yet firm texture and that intoxicating aroma of lemon zest. This is my version of that memory of Portugal and it’s beyond easy.


4 eggs at room temperature

1 cup powder sugar

Juice and zest of 2 large lemons

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

Set oven at 350f.

Beat the eggs, juice and zest , salt and sugar at high speed until frothy and light in colour , about 5 minutes.

Add the oil , baking powder and flour and beat well until smooth, the mixture will be thin and pancake batter-like.

Pour into a prepared 8-9″ cake pan. That means whatever you do to prevent the cake sticking , I usually grease and flour it and place a small piece of parchment paper in the center.

Bake for 20 minutes or until a cocktail stick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cake will not be browned! That is the intention. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan with a saucepan lid on top to trap all the moisture.


The Lemon Olive Oil Cake I enjoyed in Portugal was dusted with powdered sugar but this one was my birthday cake and you can’t have a birthday without frosting, right?

I took a cup and a half of powder sugar , added 1/4 tsp vanilla extract , the finely grated zest of one lemon and stirred in the juice drop by drop until I had a   thick but pourable Glacé Icing. Then I added one large leaf of fresh basil very finely chopped.

When the cake is completely cooled transfer it to a serving platter and pour  the icing into the center , spread from the middle outwards toward the edges , in a circular motion until evenly coated.


I finished the top with some white chocolate decor I had in the pantry but you can serve it as is , with some unsweetened sour cream or creme fraiche dolloped on top , or grate some good quality white chocolate over it, whatever…. just keep it light and bright.

This cake is airy but firm and very tender and moist . The citrus is party in your mouth the olive oil accentuating the fruit.


I have a half a cake left , although it did hear the ::chink:: of a fork against a plate from the kitchen just now . I think I need to go be the Birthday Cake Police before it all disappears.





Butternut Chocolate Cake

After a day at work, during which all I could think about was putting my feet up with a big chunk of cake, I found self rummaging through the cupboard looking for ingredients to make it happen…
Yes , I had the essentials , flour , sugar , some cocoa powder, but how could I up the volume ? A trip to the fridge and I had it … Butternut squash.


A friend asked me for the recipe and remarked ” oh ! A vegan recipe that doesn’t p*** me off!” And that’s exactly what this is … No manipulation , no trying to make something that isn’t of animal origin seem like it is . It’s easy , moist and very rich!

2 cups finely ground butternut squash ( chop to hell in the food processor)
1/2 cup oil
1/4 cup almond milk ( or regular milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tblsp any unsweetened nut butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Mix the dry stuff together .
Mix the wet stuff together .
Add to the dry stuff

Transfer to a greased and floured 9 inch round cake pan and bake at 350f for about 25-30 minutes or until a cocktail stick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cover with a piece of kitchen paper and then a saucepan lid until completely cooled , this traps in all the moisture. Turn out of the pan onto a serving plate.20140621-161008-58208938.jpg
You can eat it as it is but I decided to make it good and gooey with a chocolate frosting creme.

Blend 3 large avocados with a 1/2lb melted dark chocolate, 1/4 cup of raw cane sugar , a tablespoon of coconut oil and a teaspoon vanilla extract . It will be smooth enough to spread over the surface of the cake but when cooled will firm up to create a fudgey layer . It’s basically Avocado Ganache.

I finished the top off with some grated 70% Cacao chocolate .

The cake didn’t last two days … By the next day the Squash had done its work , making the cake even moister than it already was. It really is an amazing result for very little work. My partner Shawn is a cake lover and I am the enabler. Win win .

The Devil finds work for idle hands to do .


I was waiting for it to be a decent time to have a glass of wine here on this solitary Easter Sunday.
I had flour , yeast , evoo and some fridge-stuff , and this is what it became .



I eyeballed it of course, no surprise there. A packet of dried yeast is something I always have lurking around in the pantry . A coffee cup full of warm water , a half tsp salt and a half tsp sugar , splash of evoo , mix in the yeast , stir stir stir.



I added organic flour from a local mill .. yeah , I know … a local mill you’re probably thinking it’s some Dutch windmill or something. :::cough::it is::cough::: !

I kept adding flour and stirring until I had a soft dough , then turned it out on the counter and kneaded it until smooth and elastic … about ten minutes. Then I returned it to the mixing bowl and let it rise over night in the pantry.

The next morning I took a big, deep breath of the boozy ,yeasty behemoth rising up out of the bowl and punched it down, turned it onto a floured surface and kneaded it again till smooth and elastic .. how long? The length of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee .

20140420-173144.jpgI rummaged through the fridge and found some sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil  kicking around and then went to the back yard and picked a bunch of fresh rosemary … I flattened the dough and scattered it with the chopped tomatoes and rosemary; “chopped” meaning snipped with a pair of scissors . Finished it off  with a dusting of Parmesan and plenty of black pepper. There are few rules when I’m in the kitchen , if you feel the desire to recreate this just go with what you have available , it’s what I’d do, Dear Reader.

I then rolled it tightly into a sausage and placed it in a baking tin lined with parchment… it formed a nice ring shape.
















The scissors were lying there on the counter covered in oil, remnants of tomato and speckled with rosemary.. I cleaned them by snipping into the dough ring about 3/4 inch in.



I covered it with a plate and set on the table outside in the sunshine , it was awesome weather yesterday . I checked in on it after 40 minutes and it was nicely risen and puffed up.

I had preheated the oven to 220c / 425f .

I wet the top of the ring with my hand , crushed some sea salt over it and baked it for about 20 minutes .



















The aromas of bread, olive oil and rosemary are intoxicating . The bread was torn into hunks of awesomeness and served with  Brabanste Ham, a local Dutch smoked -but-raw ham…. in a multi culti term?  Molto Lekker!

Detox or not detox , that is the question.

20140106-151151.jpgMuch of the past week’s newsfeed has been dotted with posts about cleanses and detoxes after the holiday merriment and the kilos of poison and filth we have pumped into our systems in the name of Christ . Satan and his henchmen : Sugar and Gluten were in Christmas Town handing out free cake and booze and now it’s time to pay the piper.

Thing is, flushing your liver may sound refreshing but in reality it’s more about cleaning up your behaviour rather than purging out the sin.
The liver isn’t a sieve that gets clogged with ‘toxins’ and you can’t “flush it clean” like a bucket, it doesn’t work like that. The liver is more a chemical plant that identifies what’s passing through on the conveyor belt we call the bloodstream and produces neutralizing agents to break up the bad stuff into safe components and convert the more complex good stuff ( proteins and fats) into more easily usable parts. This is a constant process so anything you put into your body will cause your liver to work. Even your own saliva and snot ( yep! You’re constantly digesting it in your stomach, up to half a gallon a day ) will give your liver something to work on; it’s what it’s there for and it does very well without our help.
Being a foodie means I read a lot of blogs and articles and one thing I have noticed is that the people that eat the most healthy food are the ones that feel the need to cleanse and detox on a regular basis… I’m feeling the cleansing diet is more about what you’re not consuming rather than what you are. I mean , if you’re eating Doritos and KFC and getting shit-faced every day, simply stopping that is a detox in itself. You see, the human body is seeking equilibrium at all times and therefore every minute of your life you are detoxing.
If fasting , fruiting, juicing or dieting makes you feel good and happy by all means do it, because as long as you’re not ‘toxing’ you’re de-toxing and that ‘good and happy’ is , in my humble opinion, the best detox there is!




What do people want when they buy chocolate?
They want everything , they want nothing but chocolate , they want filled bars, they want the mutant truffle, they want white , dark , bitter, milky , bean-to-bar gluten free fair trade rawganic kosher halal fruit based aaaaaaaaarghhhh !

Deep breath.

So basically,what I want to say is: you can do whatever you want when creating a line of chocolates. It will always be right, always be wrong, and most importantly , it will always be your vision!

The flavour route: there are only two true paths one is a simple path in that you just follow the path well trodden , the flavours have been done , tried tested and voted upon. The other path is simple too , you just pave the way as you go. Wrong . It’s not as simple as it looks. That brick you want to lay as the next step forward doesn’t always fit in place . Flavours are a pain in the behind sometimes.
On the well trodden path we all know that the Aztec and Mayan chaps had the whole cocoa chili pepper salty flavorxaptel thing sorted out LONG before any fancy city chocolatier rethought it up so it’s pretty safe nowadays to combine pepper and chocolate… It’s rapidly become the PB and J of the artisan chocolatier and I won’t knock it . There is a satisfying firework vibe to the proceedings when you first hold the soon to be tasted treat between your expectant finger tips. You know something’s going to happen and that is the unique art of this ancient combination. It’s a flavour with a reputation above and beyond any praliné or matcha infusion.
It does something.
The touch paper is lit the moment you bite into the chocolate. That initial snap and the first suggestion of the chocolate are a prelude to the collapse of that hard shell into a tongue enveloping bitterwsweet balm. The anticipation and apprehension are undeniable;like the best of Mr. Hitchcock we know the chilli is in there… but where is it?!
Never fear, the melting of the crisp chocolate was only intended to lull you into a false sense of (in)security . It begins with a slight tingle , almost akin to effervescence on the sides of your tongue, is it warm? Is it fresh? Ok, the cacao is back, and in the case of these tortillas some bakey corn and salt, then the flavour bubble bursts. Your up until now cocoa butter-coated taste buds are sufficiently ‘cleaned up’ to received the saliva reactivated capsaicin and its show time! Wave upon wave of tingling warmth cover your tongue and trickle past your tonsils, this flavour is a living thing , a wild animal, tethered (for your safety) by the familiar strength and trustworthiness of cacao and sugar. The storm gradually subsides, the crimson tide of pepper ebbs, swishing back onto the beach with each suck of the teeth and probe of the tongue. And then , it’s a memory , a warm rosy glow , cuddled up on the rug of your palate snuggling and smooching with that remaining flavour of dark chocolate sweetness.


I spent a lot of time creating a line of chocolates that would work flavour wise.
I love tart sweetness combined with chocolate . Chocolate is very full bodied and rich , even white chocolate , so that acidity cutting through the sweetness and richness and mouth-coatingness is a sensation parallel to none in my book .
One of my favourite combinations is rhubarb and white chocolate ; it has both nursery tea time charm and adult sophistication at once. That gorgeous baby pink ganache speckled with a dusting of ground sage is a feast for the eye. Then I dip it into 57% couverture and it becomes a dressed to kill vixen of a bonbon . The bitter sweetness as you bite into the coating with an audible ::crack:: giving way first to the bright acidity of the rhubarb and then to a wave of cream. The aftermath is a mouthgasm of cacao, fruit , sage, cream…… That’s what I meant by spending a lot of time creating .



I love the aroma of mint . That cool, alive and positively green aroma as you crush the fresh leaves under your nose and breathe it all in. There’s nothing quite like it.
The combination of mint and chocolate is not exactly a new thing, it teeters on the fence between classic and cliché and often the first thought is of sugary sweet centers with a toothpaste like flavour punch. I wanted to take this tired candy and create something that presented the true vitality of these phenomenal flavours. I wanted that fresh mint leaf experience without it being aromatic graffiti on the beautiful wall that is chocolate.
Well, as many of my followers know, I believe that the chocolate should be the star of the show and not the supporting role. The star of my Dark Minted Chocolate Bars is a Belgian couverture, 60% cacao, well balanced, rich, with a subtle marriage of bitterness and sweetness. This accented with a hint of organic essential oils of spearmint and peppermint. The herbaceous tones of the mint develop after the initial cacao hit to your taste buds ; I like that ‘layering’ of flavours. The bars are hand piped and decorated, not moulded, because I want each one to be truly handmade. Unique , like me, like the person not sharing this tastefully sized, minty chocolate corner of the universe that was intended just for them .