Unwrap that bar. Break a piece of chocolate and give it a sniff. As the heady smell of cocoa fills your nostrils, pop that piece in your mouth and let it melt for a few seconds. Now chew it a couple of times and allow it to dissolve some more. As you relish that irresistible bar of goodness, a sudden burst of flavour will emerge. Are there fruity notes, like papaya and raisins or spicy elements like pepper and cardamon?
Also read: Inside the world of Indian craft chocolate
Do you know why your chocolate tastes the way it does? It depends on where it comes from – the taste profiles of chocolate are closely linked to the farm the cacao beans are grown. Thus, the best bean-to-bar chocolate makers are meticulous and obsess over the plantations their cacao comes from. They then roast and grind the beans themselves before churning them into chocolate. So, what makes for a perfect bar of dark chocolate? Sanjana Patel, pastry chef and Creative Director of La Folie, who makes her own chocolate, says that it needs to have profound flavour notes and character. “It needs to be bold, intense and yet have a delicate balance of fruit and floral notes,” she adds.
So how do you make that perfect bar of chocolate? Chocolatiers offer some clues.
The simpler, the better
Chennai-based Nitin Chordia, certified cacao and chocolate taster and the founder of Kocoatrait — a bean-to-bar chocolate company— describes the perfect dark chocolate as one in which well-fermented cacao beans have been delicately roasted to perfection, containing freshly pressed cocoa butter from the same cacao beans and is refined and conched sufficiently. “Anything that is above 70% dark and has achieved a good balance of flavour between cacao, sweeteners as well as other ingredients and is tempered and moulded well makes for a great bar,” he says.
The simpler, the better if Devansh Ashar, who runs the Mumbai-based bean-to-bar brand Pascati, is to be believed. To make dark chocolate, he uses three simple ingredients — cocoa beans, sugar, and cocoa butter. “There is no milk in dark chocolate. Sugar, too, is minimal. If there are more ingredients like vanilla or lecithin, the maker is trying to mask the poor quality cocoa beans or is trying to cut costs using less cocoa butter. A dark chocolate bar is only as good as the cacao beans and sugar used to make it,” he believes.
Process it right
Chordia explains that the three major processes in the chocolate making are roasting, refining and tempering. The dried and fermented cacao beans are roasted just enough to maintain their health benefits, then cracked to separate the outer husks from the inner nibs. The nibs are about half cocoa solids and half cocoa butter. They are ground into a chocolate liquor or a chocolate paste along with sugar, a process called refining that helps make the chocolate smooth. Sometimes extra cocoa butter is mixed in to give creaminess to dark chocolate or to mellow the flavour of extra-bittersweet chocolates without much-added sugar.
How well the chocolate melts on your palate is determined by conching — an intense process of mixing, agitating and aerating heated liquid chocolate to remove off-flavoured bitter substances and water vapour. The particle size needs to be reduced to 18-20 microns for a smooth palate experience; stone-based or modern technologies are used for it. “If not done properly, it will result in a grainy feel on your tongue”, says Bengaluru-based Zaver Divecha, chocolatier and founder of Gallianoz chocolates.
Conching also ensures good distribution of fat (cocoa butter) on all sides and surfaces of the bar, thus, giving it a smooth, creamy and well-rounded mouth feel. The chocolate is then tempered (heated and cooled to specific temperatures) and poured into moulds to set with that characteristic glossy look and snappy texture. White patches or dusty coating on chocolate that may sometimes appear is a sign that the chocolate has bloomed — that the emulsification from tempering has broken, and the fat or sugars, or both, have risen to the surface. While edible, it may be gritty or greasy; well-tempered chocolate will look shiny, and you’ll hear an oddly satisfying snap as you break off a piece.
The heat effect
Temperatures are critical to the chocolate-making process, offering flexibility to the chocolate maker and allowing them to create variations and manage the imperfections of cacao. During fermentation, the right temperature helps achieve the desired microbial growth, while roasting helps extract the best flavour from beans. During refining, the temperature needs to be maintained low enough to ensure that the chocolate does not burn.
Also read: The making of a chocolate economy
Choose the right chocolate for the right dish
No, it isn’t just chocolate. Different chocolates work better in different dishes, and it is important to use them right.
Prateek Bakhtiani, the pastry chef at the Mumbai-based Ether Atelier, likes dark chocolate that is fruit-forward, with balanced acidity, toasted nuttiness, sugar and cacao notes. While using it in desserts, he ensures that the notes of chocolate align with the dessert. For instance, in a floral dessert, he likes using Peruvian chocolate with its subtle blooming notes, while in a fruity berry dessert, he prefers Madagascar chocolate with its fruity notes.
In her classic recipes such as chocolate mousse, fondant or truffle ganache, La Folie’s Patel chooses dark chocolate with substantial cocoa solids over that with high sugar content. “I wouldn’t choose anything less than 70% chocolate. Also, it would be perfect to have dark chocolate, artisanally made with healthier sugars such as unrefined organic cane, coconut, or jaggery,” she says, pointing out that these sugars are not just healthier but also enhance the flavour profile.