Thursday, January 28, 2010

First Batch

It’s been a longtime coming but we finally made our first batch of chocolate—doing the whole process, from the bean to the bar. Considering we ran into a few speed bumps, I think we did a pretty good job. Half expecting the end product to be downright inedible, we were surprised discover that our first batch was actually pretty good.

Here’s how it happened
First of all, we happened to get a sample of some criollo beans from Haiti through a local coffee shop that was interested in importing coffee beans. We received the beans a few weeks before some of our essential equipment was delivered, so we had some time to get familiar with the roasting process.

I’ll tell you now that our first attempt to roast a small amount of these beans was a total disaster. Using a conventional oven without a confection fan we successfully cooked them into a burned cinder. Yup, there was no chance of salvaging those little beans… and to think, they had come so far only to be botched.

After about seven or eight roasting attempts we finally found a technique to stabilize the temperature in the oven. Then we set our detailed notes aside and waited for our Spectra 10 melanger to be delivered.

Going for it
I was still at work when it first arrived and Anna was on the scene to unpack the 40 pound wet grinder that arrived at our doorstep. It was only a matter of hours before we began concocting our first batch.

The first thing we had to do was roast the rest of the beans. This time around we were successful in giving the beans a reasonably good roast without cooking out all the flavor and without burning them to a crisp. Fortunately that evening it was only about 0-degrees Fahrenheit outside so cooling the beans was a cinch.

Next, with the aid of a potato masher, a duck-shaped hair dryer and a large glass bowl, we took to winnowing our freshly roasted beans. This took a little longer than expected but after about five minutes we had a good amount of nibs in the bowl with a kitchen-floor full of husks.

Not wanting to overload our out-of-the-box concher, we ground all of the nibs into a fine powder in our handheld coffee grinder. We also did this with the sugar, resulting in a fine powdery substance. In addition, we threw the conch bowl into the oven at about 120-degrees along with our powdered nibs and sugar. This step helped to get everything up to temperature as a way of inducing the liquefying process.

As a way of making our first batch a little bit more manageable, we knew we would need additional cocoa butter. Impatient to get started we headed down to Whole Foods to find out if it was possible to buy cocoa butter. To our dismay the answer was no… at least, not food-grade cocoa butter. But we did find some 1oz. tubes in the Whole Body section of organic cocoa butter. Not having any other options, we went ahead and bought a few ounces at about two-and-a-half dollars each.

Once everything appeared to be nice and warm we started up the conch and began adding the ingredients slowly. This is another step that I didn’t expect to take as long as it did. We had to add the ingredients very slowly and keep the hot hair dryer pointed at the mixture for almost an hour before we were comfortable with the state of the cocoa liquor.

Now all we had to do was wait. This proved to be a difficult task—not because we are that impatient but because we live in a studio carriage house, which meant that we had to listen to this noisy little contraption at full volume all night. With the combination of excitement and the noise of the conch I probably slept two to three hours that night.

6:00am rolled around and Anna was up getting ready to teach her 7:00am yoga class at Alaya. I couldn’t sleep anyway so I popped up and decided that the liquor was done being processed. I didn’t have to be to an eye exam until 10am so I decided to temper and mold the chocolate that morning. After failing to temper the chocolate for a solid hour and a half because it was too thick to work with I had to give up and bike over to my appointment.

That night we bought one more ounce of cocoa butter and tossed it into the mixture to be conched again. The next day we invited a friend over to show him our creation in the making and he took a turn at mixing the liquor while we were remelting it in the double boiler to temper. With his overly strong arms he broke our rubber spatula that doubled as a thermometer. After making sure that no broken fragments made it into the chocolate we set it aside once again to temper another day.

Finally, on January 10, 2010 we set out to temper our chocolate for the third time with a new thermospatula. The chocolate was nice and flowing and we had no problem reaching our high and low temperatures. We had enough chocolate liquor to make about 70 bite-sized chocolate bars. They cooled quickly sitting by the sliding glass door and when they were ready they exhibited the loud snap of a well tempered bar.

After running over to Office Depot to buy more ink for the printer, we printed off labels to wrap around each of our little bars, which read: “Operation: Chocolate, Single Origin: Haiti, Bean Type: Criollo, Batch #1 Jan. 10, 2010, Bean to Bar – Organic, Boulder, CO”

And there you have it. The longwinded story of our first Chocolate Baar creation. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Chocolate Russian

I call this one the “Chocolate Russian.” There are probably at least a dozen other Chocolate Russian recipes out there but no doubt, this one is the best. As with our chocolate, we like to keep our ingredients minimal. And for all you vegetarians out there, this one is vegan!

What you’ll need:
Dark chocolate
Milky substance (we use almond milk)

Step 1:
Take your chocolate bar and break off a single serving portion. You know, maybe full row of your favorite bar, or more…

Step 2:
Combine your portion of chocolate and a couple of ounces of a milky substance into a microwave-safe cup (the Pyrex measuring cup works great). Throw it into the microwave for less than a minute but more than 30 seconds to get it up to about 110-degrees Fahrenheit. Give it a good stir. If it doesn’t mix well throw it into the microwave for another 20 seconds. Stir again. Repeat if necessary.

Step 3:

Now it’s time for the hard stuff. Add however much Vodka as you can tolerate. Stir well. No more, no less. Otherwise it’s going to taste pretty stiff or it’s going to leave you wondering where the buzz is. You now have the makings of a true Chocolate Russian.

Step 4:

Pour the contents into some drinking glasses. Gold-rimmed goblets work best. And enjoy!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chocolate Experience #1

Chocolate has always been one of my favorite food substances the world has to offer. Whenever I look at the dessert list at a restaurant I immediately seek out the dessert the seems to be the darkest, richest chocolate confection. In fact, I’ve never been very fond of dessert and other tangent products of chocolate—to me, chocolate is the essence of what makes other desserts worth having.

When Anna and I walk home from downtown Boulder we struggle not to stop at the corner store to pick up a chocolate bar to have at home. (As of late, this hasn’t been a habit because we’re pretty well stocked with some of the finest chocolate bars from around the world.) We used to love dark chocolate bars in the 70 and 80-percent range from most companies, especially if they were cheap, like ChocoLove. However, now we’ve moved onto better quality and more expensive bars that tout complex flavors and the care of a small batch producer.

It wasn’t until March of 2009, however, that our true obsession for fine chocolate began. We took a 10-day trip to San Francisco to visit Anna’s brother Michael and his girlfriend Heather. They are what most people refer to these days as “foodies.” Part of their fine food obsession is a collection of rare chocolate bars. Each night, after a long day of bike riding and doing the things that tourists do while they’re in SF, we would all sit down with a glass of wine or port and enjoy the differences between each of the bars. That was the first time we had tried Askinosie, Republica del Cacao, Valrhona and at least a dozen others.

Here is a video of our trip to San Francisco (Unfortunately the camera wasn’t around during our chocolate intoxication sessions.)

The tasting experience we had in San Francisco was important, but it didn’t immediately inspire us to begin making chocolate of our own—that came a few months later. If chocolate is a passion of yours, then I hope that you remember one of your favorite chocolate experiences as we remember ours. If you haven’t had one of those memorable moments yet, then maybe we can change that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


We are long overdue for a public blog but with so much happening with us and the world in the last few weeks, we figured it’s time.

So what’s this all about? What is Chocolate Baar? To begin, Chocolate Baar is an unofficial title for a project that me (Robbie) and Anna are working on. “Baar” stands for “by Anna and Robbie.” So, this blog is officially and unofficially titled, “Chocolate by Anna and Robbie.”

I’m glad you’ve found your way here. The Internet is a vast and ever-growing space so the chances of you landing here are approximately 1 in… 108 million (according to a domain count in 2007).

You can expect to find here news about our progression towards becoming one of Colorado’s first bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturers. However, let’s give credit where credit is due. Steve Devries has been making chocolate in Denver for a long time now and he is considered to be one of the most talented chocolatiers in the world (according to Chloe). I’ve never tried his chocolate but someday I hope to be that lucky… And let’s not forget to give a tip of the hat to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that at one time or another they were making chocolate from the bean. Anyway, I’d like to believe that we are at least the first folks in Boulder, Colorado to be producing artisanal chocolate from the bean without the aid of any dirty tricks, including soy lecithin.

Choose quality over quantity: Just as we aim to make small batches of some of the finest chocolate that the world has to offer, I’m going to end this introduction now—before the word count outweighs the quality of the content.