Making Chocolate from Raw Cacao Beans
While enjoying a particularly rich piece of chocolate I began to wonder how difficult it was to make and what was involved. I knew that ancient Aztec's used to make choclate from raw cacao beans and they didn't have all of the fancy too we have so how hard could it be...
I started to scour the internet looking for recipes and general information on the process. Sadly, most of what I found involved fancy machines (big and small) or very general steps to the process. With only few pieces of information and vague memories of my wife's childhood to go off of, I dove in.
There has been only one attempt so far but I think I will keep working on this since where I'm going chocolate is expensive but cacao beens are plentiful. The whole process started with roasting the beans. As with much of this process it was drive by smell and appearance. No real measuring here. I came to find out that roasting the beans makes it easier to separate the meat from the husk/shell and supposedly develops more "complex" flavors. In some cases the husk "popped" off the bean due to rapid release of moisture. The idea is to hit them with a lot of heat right at the beginning and then drop the heat allowing the inside to roast.
Once roasted, the husks needed to be removed which is called "winnowing". This was a manual process of stripping the thin shell off of the brittle bean. I've heard of people using a coarse grinder and then a hair drier to separate the dense bean from the husk. Once separated the beans are ground to extract what's called "chocolate liquor" (no alcohol present except in my glass nearby). This is where the big machines typically come in since the manual process (which I did) took 1.5 hours of constant grinding. Through the heat of friction (and ocassional zap in the microwave) the powder turned into a thick paste. I was constantly looking for an excuse to stop and claim it wasn't working but there was slow progress throughout.
This paste was bitter but represented chocolate liquor. When using a fancy machine this it is typically less viscous than what I had, but my wife claimed I was on the right path so I continued. (btw: I found out through other sources that most machines do not work well with this process such as coffee grinders, food processors, juicers, etc.)
Once I had the paste/liquor, I was tired and decided to just make hot chocolate from the result. Stirring the liquor into boiling water and adding some sugar produced some of tastiest hot chocolat I've ever had. It was so strong, though, that I actually felt an "effect" when drinking just half a glass. This effect was a noticeable light-headed feeling. Anyway, the texture was a little gritty which were leftover husk fragments but the taste was sublime. (slide 2 has a complete video)
The next steps would have been curning and refining the chocolate which apparently take hours/days. For me I next plan to refine my process a bit but still keep it simple in terms of non-traditional machinery. Overall this was a great experience and much like the pyramids, don't underestimate ancient societies.