Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Sweet Life: Home Chocolate Making

We saw a commercial for Hershey's several months ago, and the tagline was something like "the taste of life" (my apologies to the Hershey's corporation if I have misquoted them). And Lauren and I were like "Life tastes waxy?" (No apologies to Hershey's for calling it like I taste it).

For quite a while now, I've been low-carb and/or Paleo, which means that if I'm going to do chocolate, it has to be dark and it has to be high-quality stuff, without a lot of junk. I've said this before, but when I say "dark chocolate," I'm talking "is there any sugar at all in this, holy cow it's more bitter than my last ex" dark chocolate (that's 85-90%, if you weren't sure). And if it isn't already clear, we're not talking Hershey's "Special Dark" (which is more like 45%--don't ask what the rest is).

Back in October, thanks to this post on Primally Inspired, I started playing around with making my own dark chocolate. This post is the culmination of months of playing around with chocolate.

There are certainly decent dark chocolates out there that are pretty high quality, but you tend to pay like it's high-quality. And anyway, if you're making it yourself, then there's no doubt about the quality ingredients you're putting in. At its heart, making chocolate is pretty darned easy. It's also flexible: you just need some kind of fat, cocoa powder, a sweetener, vanilla, and a bit of salt. And if you forget the vanilla or the salt, or don't have any on hand, that's probably okay too.

Fats: The original recipe called for coconut oil, which is pretty good. But if you go in for grass-fed butter (or clarified grass-fed butter), you can do that. I have, but it wasn't my favorite. My favorite fat source has become lard. There's the high vitamin D content and the great combination of monounsaturated and saturated fats, but the real selling point is the fantastically creamy chocolate it produces (also, lard seems like it's super-cheap: I made my own from fat that would have otherwise been thrown away when I got a half hog, but even if I hadn't, there's an Amish farmer who sells this stuff way cheaper than he sells his grass-fed butter).

Sweeteners: When it comes to sweeteners, honey is the obvious Paleo choice. Even though it's not technically Paleo, I prefer maple syrup. We buy it by the gallon each year, for $45, which is pretty much an unbeatable price. Plus I feel like it mixes in better.

According to Kelly at Primally Inspired, you can approximate various levels of chocolate darkness with sweetener amounts as below:
  • 1 T. = 85% dark
  • 1 1/2 T. = 73% dark
  • 2 T. = 60% dark
I don't know how accurate this is, though when I calculated the nutrition facts of the chocolate I made with 1 T. of sweetener, it came out about the same as 85% dark, so at least that one seems legit. 

Variations: I've experimented with this chocolate in a lot of different ways. I tried out an all-fruit jelly as my sweetener, but the consistency was lousy and the taste wasn't anything special (I think that the consistency could be because of water in the jelly--I'm told that water and cocoa powder don't mix). My wife likes it with craisins and almonds in it. But it's my newest variation that has become my favorite, at least for the time being. The secret: cinnamon. For whatever reason, adding a bit of cinnamon seems to make it better even when the sweetness is lowered to something darker than 85%.

Also, it's no bad thing to double the recipe, except that the temptation to eat more chocolate than you should grows proportionately to how much chocolate you have on hand.

Shaping the chocolate: I recommend getting some kind of silicone cupcake mold--it's a pretty handy way to make a bunch of little bars, and if you can combine that with a food scale, you can easily get perfectly equal bars (and, in my case, perfectly equal bears):

Bear on the bottom right knows what's coming,  which is why he had an accident.
But if you don't have those and don't want to get them, you can pretty much do anything... spread it out on wax paper, put it in those cheap plastic storage containers (I think you'll want something that's flexible enough that you can pop them out).

Here's the recipe for 85% dark chocolate--adjust the sweetness up or down as you prefer:

1/4 c. fat (I like either all-lard or a mixture of lard, clarified butter, and coconut oil)
1 T. (maybe even less) maple syrup
1 tsp (or less) vanilla
a pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1/2 c. cocoa powder

Melt the fat gradually in the microwave. Stir in maple syrup, vanilla, and salt. Stir in cinnamon, if using. Gradually add the cocoa powder, stirring thoroughly. I like to make 20g-30g bars. Put in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. Store in freezer or fridge.

Variations: add dried fruit and/or nuts. Non-paleo variation: use PB2 instead of the cocoa to make something like peanut butter fudge. Using ground up nuts instead of cocoa will give you something similar that could be, technically, Paleo, if you want that kind of thing. 

Tips: 1) If you have a glass measuring cup (like Pyrex), melt the fat in there, so you can easily see how much you have, plus you have one less thing to clean up. 2) It's really easy to make a big mess with your cocoa powder. I like to have 2 spoons: 1 to stir the mixture and one to move the cocoa powder from the measuring cup to the mixing bowl (or Pyrex measuring cup). 3) Seriously, just go ahead and double it.