How to make chocolate from scratch

Chocolate isn’t just a tasty treat, but a versatile ingredient that plays an essential role in a diverse range of recipes.

If you need proof, just search for “chocolate” on Best Home Chef – you’ll find more than fifty different ways that chocolate can tantalise your tastebuds!

But while many of us have used chocolate in our cooking, how many of us have had a go at making chocolate from scratch?  Is making chocolate such a complex process that only professionals have access to the necessary ingredients and equipment?

It can be a bit tricky and time-consuming, but you CAN make your own chocolate at home, from scratch.  The rewards should hopefully be worth the challenge…

Choose your beans

To make chocolate, you’re going to need a healthy supply of its core ingredient – cocoa beans, which are found inside the pods of the cacao plant.

This may be one of the trickier parts of the chocolate-making process, as cocoa beans aren’t always easy to find in the local shops – cacao plants are notoriously thirsty and tend not to grow well in dry Australian soil, so most cocoa beans need to be imported from overseas, after first being fermented (to kill the germinating seed and develop flavours from the natural yeasts) and dried.

Check your local health food store or organic co-op – even if they don’t stock cocoa beans, they might be able to point you in the right direction.  Cocoa beans can also be purchased online through Loving Earth, which is based in Cambellfield, Victoria – they also sell pre-shelled cocoa nibs and cocoa liquor (more on these later) if you’d prefer to save some time and skip some of these early steps.

Cocoa beans are similar to coffee beans in that there are many different varieties, each with a unique flavour.  Do some research and consult your bean supplier to get an idea of what kind of cocoa bean will best suit the chocolate you plan to make.

Other ingredients

Unless you’re planning to make a VERY strong and bitter dark chocolate, you’ll need a few additional ingredients to add flavour, texture and more to the mix.  Exact amounts, percentages and ratios will vary depending on the recipe you’re following.

Sugar is obviously essential for sweetening your chocolate – you’ll need your chocolate mix to be approximately 20% sugar (compared to 80% processed cocoa and other ingredients) to be considered “bittersweet”.  For sweeter chocolate, just up the ratio.

To make the kind of milk chocolate like you’d typically find in the shops, you’ll need some dried milk powder – again, about 20% of the total mass should do.  While you could use liquid milk, this tends to add extra fat to the chocolate, and the liquid is not as easy to work with as dried ingredients, especially when heated.

For a creamier chocolate, you may want to add a little cocoa butter (not the skin lotion) – about 10-20% of the total mass should do.

You can also add just about anything else you want to your chocolate for extra flavour.  Cinnamon, nuts, coconut, vanilla, mint chips, chilli flakes and more have been added to chocolate batches over the years.  Let that imagination of yours run wild!

Roast

Again, much like coffee beans, cocoa beans need to be roasted before they can be further processed into something delicious.  The roasting process eliminates acidic compounds left over from fermentation and further improves their cocoa flavours.

If you’ve got a coffee roaster handy in your home, you can use this to roast your coffee beans, though you’ll need to run it at a lower temperature than when roasting coffee.

Otherwise, place the beans in a single layer on an oven tray and give them a short blast in the oven at a high heat (around 200°C), followed by a longer blast at a lower heat (around 120°C).  This should separate the shells of the beans from the delicious centres.

Exact roasting times will vary by oven type and the quantity of beans you’re using, so use your best judgement – a five minute high temperature roast followed by a ten minute lower temperature roast should be sufficient for 100 grams.  Listen for the crackle and pop of cracking shells and keep your nose alert for the smell of brownies, both of which indicate that the beans are ready.  Be careful, as cocoa bean shells have been known to be flammable.

Winnowing the nibs

This somewhat old-timey term basically means “shelling the beans” – removing the hard outer husk of the cocoa bean to get at the edible insides.

This can be done by hand, taking one bean at a time and separating the shell from the delicious inner “nib”, but if you’ve got a lot of beans, this is going to take a long time (unless you can convince your friends or family to help you out with some labour on their part – the promise of chocolate to come should help!).

Another way is to give your beans a good cracking with a rolling pin, place them in a mixing bowl, then take a hair dryer and lightly blow into the bowl, giving it a shake to move the beans about.  The air currents should catch the lighter shells and blow them out of the bowl, leaving the heavier nibs in the bottom.

Be warned – this trick is messy, and you may want to consider some eye protection to guard against flying shells.

Refining

This is where you start processing the raw ingredients until they turn into chocolate.  For this you’ll need a tough and reliable food processor.  Blenders and juicers can also work.  Make sure that your appliance is tough as the hard cocoa nibs will require extensive processing and may be rough on your equipment.

First, take your sugar and put it in your blender or food processor until its consistency is very fine.  This is also the time to think about adding any extra ingredients you may be thinking of flavouring your chocolate with.  Don’t add nuts at this stage unless you want to release their oils and make home-made Nutella, and use only dried ingredients at this point as water and the natural oils found in processed cocoa do not mix.

Once the sugar (and anything else) is ready, toss in your cocoa nibs and get grinding.  After a short amount of processing, you’ll have something resembling coffee grounds, but you need something finer than that.  Keep going, and you’ll notice the mixture starting to appear wet, almost like mud.  This is cocoa liquor separating from the beans.

Keep grinding the mixture until it is reduced to a fine paste, with as little grainy texture as possible.

Conching

You may think of a “conch” as a kind of seashell, easily adapted into a makeshift trumpet.

However, a “conche” is a kind of surface-scraping mixer and agitator used in the chocolate-making process to “polish” the mixture and improve the flavour by more evenly distributing the ingredients.  It is so named as the legendary first conches (said to have been used by Rodolphe Lindt, co-founder of Lindt & Sprüngli) supposedly looked a bit like a shell.

But you don’t need to buy a piece of specialised equipment to conch your chocolate.  Instead, you can just take an ordinary mortar and pestle (warmed in the oven to keep the chocolate from cooling and hardening), and using it to grind the mixture, thus removing any remaining acidic compounds and improving the chocolate’s flavour.

How long should you conch your chocolate?  Well, that’s up to you.  The more you conch it, the more the flavour changes, so taste-test regularly until the mixture is to your liking.

Tempering

By now, your chocolate mixture should be looking pretty close to a liquefied version of what you’d find in a shop, but missing a little something.  If you were to allow the chocolate at this stage to cool into a solid, you may find it to be dull in appearance and crumbly in texture, and after a fairly short time in storage, your chocolate my develop unsightly streaks of fat bloom.

This means that your chocolate needs tempering – one final mix to combine its ingredients together and allow strong and solid formations of fat crystals to form in the cocoa butter.  A solid crystal formation in your chocolate’s composition will ensure that it looks just as shiny and “snaps” when broken just like a store-bought bar, and by connecting the fat crystals together, they’re less like to separate from the other ingredients to form fat bloom.

There are two ways to temper your chocolate:

One is called “seeding”, and involves adding a small amount of solid commercial chocolate to your liquid home-made chocolate mixture, stirring it through over a low heat until melted, then allowing to cool in a mould.  The pre-tempered fat crystals of the commercial block should form a “seed” that new fat crystals in your own mixture can form around, allowing your mixture to take on some of the properties of the commercial variety.

The other is called “tabling”, and while it is a lot more messy, it is a better option if you’re aiming to create a batch of chocolate entirely “from scratch”.

Tabling your chocolate involves pouring the warm liquid mixture out onto a smooth, flat and clean surface (a decent-sized non-porous chopping board or marble slab should do nicely), and “folding” it repeatedly with a spatula or similar instrument so that the liquid remains in constant motion.

This process prevents the chocolate from cooling into a solid while in an unstable state, giving it more time for solid fat crystals to form from its molecules, resulting in chocolate that not only looks great, but has a longer shelf life.

This is also the best time to add any remaining additional ingredients to the chocolate mix, such as nuts.

Pouring and moulding

Take your chocolate mixture, pour it into a mold of your choice (blocks, funny animal shapes, eggs, or whatever else you like) and put it in the fridge to set.

If your chocolate later develops bloom, growing either streaks of fat or crystals of sugar on its surface, then the chocolate needs more tempering.  Don’t worry – all you have to do it heat it up to a liquid and table or seed it again.

Now enjoy!  But only in moderation.  Overdosing on chocolate has its drawbacks…

Mark Bristow
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Mark Bristow

Mark is the proud owner of an impractically large paella pan, and enjoys putting strange new twists on classic recipes. Google+

Leave a Comment

  • Hello! I am doing a project in school that is really big, the personal project. My project is called “Chocolate from Scratch” the goal is basically to be able to make chocolate from the beans that I buy in an organic shop next to where I live. In the end, I will have to have my own recipe of chocolate and in the process I will experiment with flavors etc. But right now, I am trying to find out how to actually make the chocolate that I will experiment with. I have found various recipes that say things like putting it in a juice maker, in a hand cranked mill, and then like you are saying, in a mixer or food processor. I tried with my juice machine, but it did not do anything. I don’t have a hand cranked mill so I am thinking of buying one but want to know if it is actually necessary. Now the best results I’ve got until now is with my mixer. But it is not smooth enough, and it is all grainy, but still is a paste. So I am wondering if you had any tips to give me, or if I should just buy a new mixer or something else. It would be really helpful if you could give me your opinion. Thank you!

    Reply

    by Marion Peuch on 13/10/2013, 23:28
    Marion Peuch
    • Thanks for your question, Marion! I wish I had an easy answer for you :(

      Unfortunately, since many juicers, blenders, mixers and food processors aren’t designed with making chocolate in mind, it may take some experimentation to find the right appliance for the job – and it sounds like you’ve been doing some experimenting already. I have heard about people getting good results from specialised spice grinders and high-tech juicers, but these aren’t always easy to find.

      You might be able to stick with your current mixer by repeating the grinding process over and over until you get a smooth chocolate liquor, though this could take a lot more time and effort. A more powerful mixer might be able to get the job done faster, but be careful not to overheat the motor – it might be wise to grind only in short bursts and let the motor cool down in between each burst.

      You may also be able to get good results grinding by hand with a mortar and pestle, a pepper mill or the hand mill you mentioned, but using these would be pretty tiring for you and your arms!

      I hope that’s a little bit helpful! Good luck, and please let us know how you go!

      Reply

      by Mark Bristow on 15/10/2013, 10:32
      Mark Bristow
  • Hello Marion.I read your question to Mark about the chocolate beans.I was thinking what about if you try electric coffee grinder?but I don’t know how hard the beans are.If you try this method let me know how was it.Thank you.Anna.

    Reply

    by ANNA LINHART on 15/10/2013, 16:19
    ANNA LINHART
  • hi.i have cocoa paste(liquor or mass) that i buy for bulk and cocoa butter.how much should i use to make chocolate?the percentage troubles me..like if i use cocoa paste 1 cup,how much cocoa butter?or no butter at all?i want to make solid chocolate to have it outside the fridge since i make chocolate with coconut oil and i have it on freezer as it melts easily.thank you so much…also a chart somewhere online about dosage of ingredients for different kinds of chocolate would be awsome.thank you so much

    Reply

    by demi m on 17/03/2014, 21:13
    demi m
    • Hi Demi, and thanks for your questions. I’ve been doing some research, and my answers are a little long, so please bear with me :)

      Regarding ingredient percentages in chocolate, it really depends on what kind of chocolate you want to make. Sweeter milk chocolate contains more milk and cocoa butter for creaminess and a lot more sugar for sweetness, while the darker kinds use far more cocoa liquor/mass to keep the flavour strong.

      Chocolatier Ghirardelli has a pretty good table showing the kind of percentages involved in making different chocolate varieties: http://www.ghirardelli.com/recipes-tips/chocopedia/chocolate-varieties

      As a comparison, according to Cadbury (https://www.cadbury.com.au/Products/Blocks-of-Chocolate/Cadbury-Milk-Chocolate-Block/Cadbury-Milk-Chocolate-Ingredients.aspx) their Milk Chocolate contains “Cocoa Solids 26%, Milk Solids 28%”.

      Assuming Cadbury roughly follows the same guidelines as Ghirardelli, then their product is made of 28% milk powder, 26% combined cocoa mass and cocoa butter (maybe about 13% each?), and 46% sugar/other ingredients. If that sounds like a lot of sugar, remember that cocoa is naturally bitter, and this is commercially-sold chocolate, intended as a sweet treat to snack on!

      If you were trying to recreate this particular kind of chocolate, following these approximate percentages would mean using 1 cup of cocoa liquor would also require 1 cup of cocoa butter, 2 cups of milk powder and 4 cups of sugar. Of course, this would make a BIG slab of chocolate – by my rough reckoning, nearly 2 kilos!

      Remember that all of these measurements are estimates – your best bet is to treat them as rough guidelines and do some experiments! Personally, I’d start on a smaller scale, and follow some of the Dark Chocolate guidelines rather than the Cadbury measurements, so there’s not quite as much sugar involved.

      As for making chocolate that doesn’t melt, the best solution I can think of is making sure that your chocolate is thoroughly tempered, either by tabling or seeding the mixture. It’s hard work, but should result in a much more solid product.

      Also, while I don’t know much about working with coconut oil, a quick bit of research tells me that it has a lower melting point than other chocolate ingredients – around 25 degrees Celsius. So if you’re living in a hot climate, you may need to keep the air conditioner running if you want to avoid melting your homemade chocolate.

      I hope that’s helpful, Demi. Be sure to let us know how you go!

      Cheers

      Mark

      Reply

      by Mark Bristow on 24/03/2014, 09:56
      Mark Bristow
  • Hi there! I am curious as to how much cocoa beans I should use to yield about 200 chocolates (truffles and bite sized pieces). Please reply with a recommendation. Thank you!

    Reply

    by Christine Dasco on 31/03/2014, 05:04
    Christine Dasco
  • Woops double posted.

    Reply

    by Joseph Hyde on 18/06/2014, 12:37
    Joseph Hyde
  • Hi, I am using a vitamix to make this chocolate the engine is coping just fine. But I am concerned by the heat being generated by the friction and high speed of the blender. The mixture is getting up to 120°C, though I am trying to keep that down by blending in short bursts.

    Does the mixture get this hot when you make it in your food processor? The vitamix is designed to be able to make soups from raw ingredients, so maybe a different blade type would not cause so much friction… Cheers,
    Joseph.

    Reply

    by Joseph Hyde on 18/06/2014, 12:40
    Joseph Hyde
  • Can I use raw cocoa powder instead of getting Cocoa beans?

    Reply

    by Carmen Woo on 01/11/2016, 16:28
    Carmen Woo
  • Can I start “in the middle” using cocoa sticks from St Lucia? The sticks I have are pure cocoa , nosegay, trace amount only of cinnamon….

    Reply

    by weedy tuhtanjoseph on 25/05/2017, 03:42
    weedy tuhtanjoseph
  • Hi there, is there any chance of a very simple but effective, rich, creamy milk chocolate recipe please. I am using cocoa mass from Callebaut. Most recipes out there have go by the rule of thumb 100% cocoa butter, 50%cocoa mass, 30 % cream powder. I first melt the cocoa butter, add the cocoa mass and when that has melted, I add the cream powder. The especially made for chocolate cream powder doesn’t seem to completely dissolve which is disappointing. I guess I will need to invest in a home use Melangeur? I temper using the seeding method.

    I am not quite at the stage of bean to bar, need to pin this down first – we can’t use sugar (I am making this for someone who is a strict medical ketogenic diet for severe health reasons) and so we tend to depend on the milk to sweeten the chocolate.

    Would really appreciate some guidance on this.

    Reply

    by Mich 4Nish on 15/08/2017, 15:26
    Mich 4Nish