Making chocolate at home can be much easier than it sounds. You only need two basic ingredients to make an amazing, luxurious treat.
Besides getting to enjoy the beautiful flavour of real chocolate that you made from scratch (which is already quite rewarding), you get to choose the type and amount of sweetener that you will add, as well as the other ingredients. There are no “hidden nasties”, only the real stuff.
Cacao beans and health
We all learned that chocolate is “bad for you”, but does it really have to be the case?
It is true that a common chocolate bar from a grocery store is heavily processed, full of sugar and additives and not by any mean a healthy food. But when you make one yourself from good quality cacao beans and a couple of other carefully chosen ingredients, it can be a whole different story.
Cacao beans are packed with molecules that can be beneficial for our health. Besides containing flavonoids and other antioxidant molecules that can have a positive effect on brain and vascular health, they are rich in so-called bliss chemicals that are famous for enhancing the mood and making us feel good – such as serotonin, tryptophan, phenylethylamine and tyrosine.
They also contain certain micronutrients that our bodies can use to function properly. Cacao beans are a great source of magnesium, which can be excellent for heart, muscle and nerve health. They are full of calcium too, and a source of dietary fiber. Some compounds in cacao beans are known to have antibacterial and immune-stimulating properties.
Making chocolate at home
To make a tasty and healthy dark chocolate (that is also naturally vegan!) from scratch, you will only need two simple, natural ingredients: cacao beans and coconut sugar. Cacao beans are naturally rich in cacao butter, which is solid at the room temperature and gives chocolate its nice and crunchy texture.
The only kitchen tool that is required here is a high-speed blender, or a food processor. The whole process will be much easier and quicker if you are using a blender – it will turn cacao beans into cacao mass within a minute or so.
If you are using a food processor, you might need to open it a couple of times during the process, and scrape the cacao from the edges to get everything nicely processed into a smooth cacao paste.
Preparing and processing the cacao beans
Before using the beans to make cacao mass, you will need to remove all the husks. Once they are hulled, the beans need to be heated in an oven to soften the cacao butter in them and make them easier to blend. I usually heat them for around ten minutes on 100 – 150 °C (210-300 °F).
If you are not able to purchase whole cacao beans, you can use cacao nibs instead and follow the same steps. Cacao nibs are just pieces of broken cacao beans, so the final result will be the same. This is actually an option that involves less effort, since the nibs are already hulled – hence you will not need to remove all those husks.
When you blend the cacao beans into a smooth paste, you can pour the paste into a mould, leave in the fridge to harden and store for later. This is called cacao paste, cacao liquor or cacao mass, and it is the first product derived from cacao beans in the chocolate production process. It can be considered the purest form of chocolate.
The final steps
You can use this cacao paste in many recipes that require dark chocolate (such as this chocolate frosted doughnut recipe), if you want to avoid the sugar and make it more chocolatey. Or, you can proceed and make chocolate from it right away, by adding some powdered coconut sugar.
Grinding the sugar into a powder will help you get a homogeneous and smooth texture, as well as a firm chocolate bar – even without tempering (which is a technique that I will cover in a separate article).
To make a chocolate bar, transfer the cacao paste from the blender into a bowl while it is still warm and liquid. Put the bowl over a pot with boiling water to keep it warm, and add the powdered coconut sugar. Whisk well to combine, pour into a mould and leave in the fridge until it hardens.
- 500 g cacao beans
- 250 g coconut sugar
1. Remove the husks from the cacao beans.
2. Preheat the oven to 150 °C (around 300 F).
3. Spread the cacao beans on a tray, put them in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes. This will soften the cacao butter in the beans and make them easier to blend.
4. Put the beans in a high-speed blender or a food processor, and blend until you get a really smooth, liquid paste. This will happen quite quickly (usually within a minute or so) if you are using a blender on full speed. It could take a bit longer in a food processor.
5. When the cacao paste is well blended and smooth, you can use it right away to make chocolate. If you decide to save the pure cacao mass for later - just pour it into a mould, or any kind of tray or wide dish and let it cool down in the fridge to harden. When it has cooled down and solidified, you can break it down into pieces and keep in a jar at the room temperature.
6. To make the chocolate, pour the cacao mass into a bowl and set up a double boiler: simply put your bowl with cacao mass over a pot that is half-filled with boiling water and leave it simmering over the lowest heat.
7. Pulverise the coconut sugar, or simply grind it as fine as you can. You can do this using a blender, food processor or an electric coffee grinder.
8. Add the powdered coconut sugar into the bowl with cacao mass, and mix well to combine. I like to use a whisk to do this.
9. Remove the chocolate paste from the heat, and transfer into moulds.
10. Keep it in the fridge until it hardens. Once your chocolate is solid and ready to eat, you can store it at the room temperature or in the fridge - however you prefer. Since it was made from only two simple ingredients that cannot go bad that easily, you will be able to store it for quite some time (which I never actually got to test because it gets eaten too quickly).
* If you have a really strong high-speed blender, you can skip heating the beans in the oven. However, heating them will make the process easier and faster even with a good blender, since the cacao butter is solid at the room temperature. If the cacao beans have not been heated at all, you will need to blend for some time and wait for the mass to heat up inside the blender a bit before you get a soft and smooth paste.
* I recommend blending the cacao beans at the full speed, no matter if you are using a blender or a food processor. That way you will break down the beans more quickly, without damaging your kitchen tool.
* If you are using a food processor, you might need to open it a couple of times during the process, and scrape the cacao from the edges to get everything homogeneously processed into cacao paste.
* I wanted to keep this recipe as simple and practical as possible, so I did not cover the tempering process in this post. The chocolate will still turn out nice and crunchy, it will keep its form at the room temperature, and "snap" when you break it.