Updates from the Chocolate Lab

We have done so much in the weeks since I made that first and only post about the Chocolate Laboratory. Since we have now learned the basics of tempering chocolate by hand, we are now exclusively using the tempering machine (and thank goodness because it’s so much faster and easier!)

We have been learning how to make ganache filled chocolates using a myriad of different moulds:

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The ganaches: White chocolate & lemon, pistachio, salted caramel and dark chocolate

We have also been conching our own chocolate from the cocoa bean in order to produce a unique “Wesking chocolate bar”. A conche is an insanely expensive piece of equipment which scrapes and mixes cocoa butter and chocolate so that the cocoa butter is evenly distributed. It is at the conching stage that other flavours such as vanilla or coffee essence and sugar can be added to give the chocolate a distinctive taste. A large part of the taste is also dependant on the type of cocoa bean being used and where it is from.

We experimented by varying the percentage of cocoa butter and sugar to cocoa bean to produce a smooth, yet tasty chocolate. We learned that the longer the bean stays in the conch machine the more of its flavour it will lose, but the smoother it will be. We also had to consider how sweet or bitter we wanted it and also how much “dryness” we wanted to feel on the tongue. Supermarket chocolates have a much higher percentage of cocoa butter (or even vegetable oil) to make them feel smooth, creamy and sweet, but so-called “designer” chocolates tend to be more bitter and flavourful. So it’s really a balancing act between the taste and the texture. Personally I find the Westking bar to be slightly too dry for my liking and also a bit acidic on the tongue, but it is an interesting experience to really see the difference in taste and texture when more or less of certain ingredients are added.

This Westking bar is a semi-production and marketing project for the class. We have to make up about 500 bars, decide on the packaging and then sell them in the college shop (when I say shop I mean tiny cart by the front entrance which usually inexplicably only sells pick n’ mix and deodorant). It was an interesting project, if only for the fact that we all had to try and work together to come up with one cohesive idea.

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The draft design

As the packaging says our chocolate is conched for about 36 hours (chocolate can be conched for anything up to 70 or 80 hours) and as it can’t be left running overnight at the end of each day Chef scoops out all the chocolate and turns off the machine. Then each morning in the Chocolate Lab begins with one of us being allocated to “hairdryer” the chocolate. And by that I mean blasting the conch machine with a hairdryer to melt the residual semi-conched beans and cocoa butter left from the night before so that when the machine is turned on the wheels and scraper run smoothly, ready for the chocolate to be poured back in for further conching.

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In a fit of creativeness a small group of us have started our own project; designing a box of chocolates to give as Christmas presents. We have Friday’s off and Chef allows us to spend that time in the Chocolate Lab just playing around and doing whatever we want. It’s been a lot of fun testing out different flavours and coming up with ideas…. but there’ll be more on that in a later post…. :)

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