Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Chocolate Room

"You want a tour?" the cool dude from the Chocola Tree asks when he sees me and my goombahs stalled bemusedly in front of this sign posted on a door near the restroom. Sure, who wouldn't want a tour led by a tan blue-eyed pony-tailed guy who looks like he yoga plunged out of a hippie version of an Abercrombie ad (minus the cacao dripping from his fingers.) God I love Sedona.

After the show-and-tell of the big cacao pod, the grinding, the melting, the aroma wafting through the place, we are hooked. We visit the Tree each night for raw chai tea and to sample one of the chocolates in the display cases. After returning to the east coast, I crave the screaming pink Prickly Pear chocolate . That obsession inspires me to experiment with chocolate-making in my own kitchen. 

Before I launch into this venture, I collect as many ingredients as can find at local health food stores and through the internet including a variety of inexpensive molds from Amazon and Ikea. I get considerably carried away with collecting supplies before I even attempt my first batch---officially committing myself to the endeavor, I like to think.

I then look for advice and recipes on the web. No two are the same. Some recipes use cacao butter and cacao powder, others use coconut oil or coconut manna and cacao powder as the base. Miraculously, my first batch comes out looking like real chocolates. I can't remember exactly what I did but I do know I used cacao powder and coconut manna as a base and heated it on the stove. There goes the raw aspect. The next several batches fail to temper properly so the chocolate is all together too soft or it melts if not refrigerated. So then, I explore the idea of not heating it directly in a pan on the stove to preserve the raw benefits.

There is little information on the tempering of raw chocolate. Tempering gives chocolate that snap and ability to not melt at room temperature. I purchase a copy of Raw Chocolate by Michael Kenney and Meredith Baird. He recommends creating a base out of cacao paste and cacao butter and melting this at no higher than 115 degrees to temper.  I have the same luck substituting cacao powder for the paste so am not convinced the paste is necessary.  At any rate, the tempering can be accomplished using either a dehydrator machine (which allows you to set the temperature) or by setting a bowl in a pot of hot water using a candy thermometer. When chocolate is tempered it pops out of the molds in one piece without breaking. 

I am experimenting now with different sweeteners such as coconut palm sugar, coconut palm nectar, local honey, agave, and lecuma powder and trying to see how it effects the tempering process. Coconut palm sugar gives a grittier chocolate which can be interesting and local honey seems to taste incredible but is messing with my temper.

With Valentines Day right around the corner, I have created this recipe which is appropriately pretty darn sweet.

Raw Raspberry Cacao Nib Sweethearts


1 c  Navitas Organic Cacao Powder
2 x 3" block of Navitas Organic Cacao Butter (1 c liquefied)
1/3 c Coconut Manna or (Coconut Oil can be substituted)
1 1/2 tsp. Organic Raspberry Extract
1 tsp. Vanilla Paste or Extract
1/4 c Organic Coconut Nectar and/or 1/4 c Raw local Honey (adjust the amounts depending on how sweet you like your chocolate)
Navitas Organic Cacao Nibs
Sweet Plums (Available on-line from Gnosis Chocolate) cut into small pieces. A good substitute is dried cherries or experiment with what you have on hand.

Chop and melt block of cacao butter and approximately 1/3 cup of coconut manna. If using a dehydrator, place butter and manna in a bowl in the unit set at 115 degrees for approximately 1 hour. Check half way through to see how much has melted and give it a stir. (If doing this with a bowl set in another pan with hot water in it you may be able to achieve the same results by monitoring the temperature with a candy thermometer if you want to ensure proper tempering. If you have no thermometer, you can wing it and pray that your chocolate will set once it goes in the fridge. This worked for me every other time.) 

After an hour, pull the bowl out and add the cacao powder. Mix well. Add vanilla paste or extract. Add raspberry extract. Add dried fruit (sweet plum or cherries.) Mix well and pop the bowl back into the dehydrator or warm pan of water but this time the temperature should not exceed 85 degrees. Leave there for 5 minutes. Meanwhile have a small pitcher on hand and your molds.

When the chocolate is ready to come out, quickly pour half of it into the pitcher and put the other half back into the dehydrator or bowl and start filling your molds. When the pitcher is empty get the rest of the liquid chocolate mixture and fill your molds with that. (The chocolate can set quickly so this is how to avoid having it start to harden in your pitcher which makes it too thick to pour.) 

Next sprinkle cacao nibs on top. Place molds in fridge to allow them to set up quickly. In 15-20 minutes check them. If hard set, try popping out one from the mold to see if it is ready. Ideally they should come out easily from the mold and not break. Too many broken hearts? Don't worry you'll get over it. Don't give up. Never give up on love or chocolate.