Barbara is an award-winning chef and culinary writer, co-authoring the piece "Tell Me How Long You Want to Live and I'll Tell You What to Eat to Get There," and many others on subjects that stimulate all of the senses.
Learning how to make chocolate from cacao beans, not from cocoa powder, can be a bit daunting at first. It takes patience, sometimes hard-to-locate ingredients, and good directions. But once you have the basics down pat, it's a rewarding craft that yields delicious results.
Start by Choosing the Right Cacao Bean
Choosing the right beans is probably the most important step you can take toward making excellent chocolate. Sub-par beans will yield a less-than-desirable product. There are four major types of beans to choose from:
Criollo: The original cacao beans discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502. These beans are grown in South America and are considered a top bean for producing truly fine chocolates. Criollo beans are extremely aromatic and have low acid levels.
Forastero: Accounting for about 90 percent of the world's cacao production, these beans come from the Amazon. They have a weaker aroma than the Criollo and a bitter taste prior to processing. If processed correctly they can yield a lovely chocolate.
Trinitario: This hybrid bean is grown in several areas of South America and a variety of Caribbean islands. They are less commonly used for making chocolate.
Nacional: This bean, a member of the Forastero family, is the most widely cultivated cocoa bean west of the Andes mountains. It is the least well-known of cacao varieties and isn't as widely used in making chocolate.
Dark chocolate and milk chocolate are made using the same process. Dark chocolate and milk chocolate have varying degrees of sugar and other ingredients added during the blending, including powdered milk in the case of the latter. In general, you need to select the beans, roast them, grind them, blend them with sugar and other ingredients for many hours before tempering and molding. This process can take several days.
The directions below apply to making both dark and milk chocolate. Just remember, liquid in any form -- including milk, honey, syrup, agave, liquid flavor extracts -- should never be added when blending chocolate otherwise it will seize and become unworkable.
Both professional equipment and low-tech gear can make chocolate. The only piece of equipment that's essential is a conching machine. A conching machine contains a heavy granite slab with granite wheels that crunches the lumpy cocoa liquor (paste) along with your other dry ingredients and extra cocoa butter, if using.
10 ounces powdered milk (only if making milk chocolate)
Raw cacao beans are roasted to develop flavor. This technique will take some practice to perfect. It is a good idea to roast a few small batches instead of all your cacao beans at once so you can get an idea of how long and how hot to roast them.
Heat the oven to 250 degrees F. Lay the beans in a single layer on a flat cookie sheet with a rim. Roast the beans slowly.
Stop roasting when the beans crack and before they start to burn. This should take about 15 to 35 minutes.
Let the roasted beans cool to room temperature.
The cracking of the beans is an important indicator of when the cacao bean is almost done. If the bean is properly roasted, the husk will slip off and the bean will have a lovely roasted flavor and not taste burned.
Crack and Winnow the Cacao Beans
Winnowing is the process of separating the nibs (the middle of the bean) from the shell or husk which is discarded. The nib of the cacao bean is what is used to make chocolate. To achieve this you need to crack the bean and then blow the husk away. There are a few ways to do this:
Use a chocolate roller or electric juicer without the screen in to crack the beans. Feed the beans into the top of the juicer and the nibs and husk come out the bottom.
Crack the beans with a hammer or a nutcracker and use a blow dryer set on cool to blow away the loose husks.
It is at this point that cacao beans officially become known as cocoa beans or cocoa nibs.
Grind the Cocoa Nibs
The nibs are ground to make chocolate liquor, which is not an alcohol, but rather a thick, brown paste. The paste contains equal proportions of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. If you don't want to purchase a special grinder for the cocoa beans, you can use an electric juicer instead.
Place the nibs into the grinder or juicer, this time with the screen in place. Cocoa liquor (a brown paste) comes out the bottom and the waste comes out the front so place a collection bowl in each spot.
Put the waste through the grinder or juicer a second time to get as much liquor (paste) out of the nibs as possible.
Refine and Conch the Chocolate Liquor
The chocolate liquor is refined by blending it with sugar and other ingredients and conched or mixed until it reaches a very smooth consistency. This step is essential to creating an end-product that has a silky mouth feel. If sugar and other ingredients are not added to the chocolate liquor when conched, the resultant chocolate is known as unsweetened or baking chocolate.
Start the conching machine running as soon as you add the cocoa liquor. Then add, a bit at a time, 20 ounces cocoa butter (additional cocoa butter makes a softer chocolate for eating, which is not required if you're making baker's chocolate), 30 ounces sugar, 1 teaspoon lecithin and, if making milk chocolate, add the 10 ounces powdered milk.
Put the lid on the conching machine and let it run anywhere from 12 to 48 hours depending on the chocolate and other ingredients used.
You can stop it and check how smooth your chocolate is by dipping in a spoon, but don't let the chocolate get cold. Immediately start the machine back up again if it isn't to your liking.
Temper the Chocolate
The final step in crafting your own homemade chocolate is to temper it by putting it through a precise heating and cooling cycle. Tempering helps to make the chocolate aesthetically pleasing by encouraging a stable crystalline structure of the final product. This keeps the chocolate shiny and smooth, affecting mouth feel and taste, adds a glossy finish and gives it a longer shelf life with no fear of blooming. Make sure you have a candy thermometer available.
Place the refined and conched chocolate in a double boiler set over barely simmering water and heat to between 110 and 120 degrees F. Make certain that no water splashes into the chocolate or the chocolate will seize and be ruined. Stir constantly while the chocolate is heating to the desired temperature. Don't let the chocolate go below 100 degrees F.
Pour a ladle full of the warm chocolate from the double boiler onto a cold marble slab and work it back and forth with plastic scrapers or a rubber spatula for about 15 minutes or until the chocolate is around 82 to 85 degrees F.
Add another ladle of the warm chocolate to the cooled chocolate on the marble and work it again. Stir it back into the chocolate in the double boiler which should be at 100 degrees.
After adding the cooled chocolate to the double boiler, the chocolate temperature should be between 90 to 92 degrees F. which means the chocolate is tempered and ready for customizing, molding, or enrobing.
Customize Your Candy
If desired, mix one or more of the following ingredients into the chocolate just before pouring it into the molds to customize it:
Bits of crushed peppermint candies
Molding or Enrobing
The final step is to mold your chocolate by pouring it into whatever shape you choose and letting it harden. Or, while the chocolate is still liquid, it can be used to enrobe fondant cream centers (see recipe below) to make chocolate creams candy. Your homemade chocolate also can be used as an ingredient to make ganache to be used as a glaze, filling or candy known as a truffle (see recipe below).
Chocolate Creams Candy Recipe
Chocolate creams are a traditional candy with a soft vanilla or other flavor fondant center enrobed in tempered dark or milk chocolate.
Are you InTheKnow?
Sign up for our newsletter featuring all the latest stories and products we love.
Yield: About 60 chocolates
4 cups sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
Flavorings of choice (optional)
Paste food colors of choice
Nuts, coconut, dried fruit, etc. (optional)
2 pounds dark or milk chocolate, tempered and still liquid
In a heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan set over medium-high heat, mix sugar, cream, milk, corn syrup, and salt. Use a wet pastry brush to wash down any sugar crystals that have formed on the sides of the pan, pushing them down into the hot syrup. Stir occasionally until the fondant begins to boil. After it comes to a boil, do not stir again!
While the candy is cooking, butter a heatproof countertop or marble slab or the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Cook to the soft ball stage of 235 degrees F to 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
This next step is most easily done in a stand mixer but it can be done by hand. Pour (don't scrape the saucepan for fear of sugar crystals getting into the mix) the fondant into the buttered stand mixer bowl or countertop or marble. Cool until just warm to the touch.
Using the dough hook of the stand mixer or a wooden or silicone spoon if mixing by hand, beat until the fondant changes to a lighter, almost white, color and the consistency becomes like Play-Doh. Stop mixing immediately.
At this point, the fondant can be divided into several bowls and different flavorings, paste food colors and optional nuts, coconut or finely chopped dried fruit can be kneaded in.
Form the fondant into balls, ovals, or pyramids. Place the formed fondant centers on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Let them dry for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight so a crust will form, making them easier to dip in chocolate.
Temper 2 pounds of homemade chocolate. The chocolate should be about 90 degrees F when you dip the fondant centers. Stir the chocolate frequently while dipping to keep all the chocolate the same temperature.
Using a chocolate-dipping fork or a regular fork or a plastic fork with the center tine broken off, dip the fondant centers into the chocolate. Lift the enrobed fondant center straight up, allowing excess chocolate to drip off. Carefully transfer to a parchment-lined tray to harden.
Once the chocolate is completely dry, store in candy papers in a covered container or candy box in a cool, dry place.
Chocolate Truffles Recipe
While making homemade chocolate can be daunting, making chocolate truffle candies are easy as pie. At their simplest, all it takes is a ganache made with chocolate, heavy cream, and sometimes sugar and a flavoring depending on the recipe. In the following recipe, the vanilla extract can be replaced with another flavor like coffee extract.
Yield: About 12 truffles
9 ounces finely chopped homemade dark chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla or other flavoring of choice like coffee
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder or coconut, nuts, confectioners' sugar, or chocolate shavings
Roll out a large sheet of parchment on your work surface or on a baking sheet.
Place the chopped chocolate in a large glass heatproof mixing bowl.
Heat cream in a small saucepan over low heat until it begins to bubble around the edges.
Pour the hot cream over the chocolate pieces. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.
Carefully remove the plastic being careful that no condensation falls into the chocolate. Gently whisk the cream and chocolate mixture until smooth.
Add vanilla (or other flavoring) and stir gently until combined. Cover the chocolate mixture (ganache) until it has reached room temperature.
Once ganache has reached room temperature, refrigerate for 2 hours to firm it up.
Remove ganache from refrigerator and form into small balls. Place balls on the parchment. If ganache gets to soft, refrigerate until firm and continue until all the ganache has been formed into balls.
Pour cocoa powder in a shallow dish. Dust your hands with cocoa powder to avoid sticking. Roll each truffle in the cocoa powder until coated. Alternatively, you may roll the truffles in things such as coconut, nuts, confectioners' sugar or chocolate shavings.
Reshape the truffle place it on the parchment. Store truffles, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator.
For best flavor, serve at room temperature.
Create Your Own Chocolate Masterpiece
Making your own chocolate is a complex and intricate process, but when done properly, the results are fantastic and sure-fire ways to elicit oohs and aahs from the lucky tasters of your efforts. As with learning any new skill, have patience and don't give up until you have the results you want.