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Handmade Chocolate from Bean to Bar

Fine Cooking Issue 31
Photos: Ben Fink
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John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg, makers of Scharffen Berger chocolate, are currently the only artisans in America who make chocolate starting from the cocoa bean. “People ask why we don’t buy pre-mixed chocolate liquor, but you can’t control the flavor the way you can when you buy and roast your own beans,” says Steinberg. Scharffenberger (left) is a former winemaker who analyzes chocolate flavors in the same way as he did wine; Steinberg (right), a physician with a longtime passion for the flavor and science of chocolate, studied chocolate-making and apprenticed in France. The duo’s hands-on approach results in a chocolate that’s silky, fruity, intense—and strikingly sophisticated.

The chocolate blend contains cocoa beans from Brazil, Venezuela, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, and Ghana. Each variety is roasted separately so its full flavor and aroma come through. A high proportion of cocoa beans gives this chocolate its intensity.

Cocoa beans, sugar, and whole-bean vanilla are crushed by granite rollers to make chocolate liquor. The chocolate liquor then goes to the conche-refiner to evaporate excess moisture and acidity, and to be ground so fine that the mouth no longer perceives it as individual particles. This is a matter of microns, but proper conching and refining has much to do with the finished chocolate’s flavor balance and silky texture or “mouth feel.”

After heating, cooling, and heating again in a tempering kettle (“basically, a huge double boiler,” says Steinberg) the chocolate is poured into molds. Chocolate that’s in “good temper” has a high sheen, a crisp, clean snap, and melts slowly in your mouth.

The bars are removed from the molds by hand, their edges shaved to smooth irregularities. The bittersweet, semisweet, and unsweetened chocolate bars are now ready for wrapping.


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