Volunteering at Undone Chocolate

Conching machine or melangeur

So I actually wrote this post more than a week ago but put off posting it because I was waiting for pictures.  But given the cataclysmic blizzard we’re expecting this weekend, I probably won’t get out to Union Kitchen on Sunday as planned, so pictures will have to wait.

So long story short: last Friday was amazing. Adam (founder) and Liz (chocolate maker extraordinaire) at Undone Chocolate showed me around their facilities at Union Kitchen, a D.C. incubator for food industry start-ups. What a cool place to work — there were folks all around us baking cupcakes, making pastries, smoking meat… I had no idea D.C. had such a strong  and vibrant entrepreneurial community.

But back to chocolate. Adam has a Ph.D. in plant biochemistry and originally studied the antioxidant properties of chocolate in the lab before he began making chocolate out of his tiny New York City apartment. In addition to being extremely talented and driven, he’s also a fantastically nice guy.

Adam agreed to let me volunteer in his chocolate kitchen in exchange for the opportunity to get some hands-on chocolate making experience. It’s amazing, interesting work, and Liz encouraged me to get involved in every step of production, from polishing and filling molds on the vibrating table to working with their massive tempering machine (55 gallon capacity!). I even got to help empty the enormous, 550 lb melanger, which looks something like this:

Conching machine or melanger
Chocolate melangeur (Photo credit: Mark Chamberlain via Rochester City Newspaper)

I know — yum, right?

On my first day, Liz sent me home with little baggies of chocolate samples from previous chocolate batches they had made… Nicaraguan 74%, Dominican 72%, wild Bolivian (don’t remember the % cocoa, but it was delicious)… my favorite was their extraordinary (highly addictive) spice chocolate flavored with cardamom, cinnamon and cayenne.

Undone Chocolate spice bar

My experience at Undone has been AWESOME, I can’t wait to go back. I’ve become such a fan of their chocolate too. Unlike most chocolate on the market, including high-end chocolate, Undone’s is made with only two-ingredients: cocoa and sugar (both organic). No emulsifiers, no added flavors like vanilla. Their chocolate is so intense, almost fruity, and yet so silky, without too much distracting sweetness.  That they can create chocolate like that with their limited small-batch equipment is so impressive.

I’m so bummed that I ate through all my Undone Chocolate samples right before the snow storm! How am I going to survive? I may head to Yes Organic while the streets are still drivable and pick up a few spice bars to tide me through.

For more on Undone Chocolate, check out this 2015 piece in the Washington Post. And to for the sake of transparency, I’m not getting paid a dime for this glowing review of their chocolate. It’s really that good.

 

 

Tempering chocolate: tabliering method

Spreading and scraping on clean granite countertop quickly cools chocolate
Couveture chocolate (dark) from Chef Rubber
Couverture chocolate (dark)

Over the weekend I tried the tabliering (aka tabling) method of tempering chocolate for the first time, with mixed results. I did get the chocolate tempered, hallelujah.  But I wasn’t able to keep it tempered for very long — at least not the first time I tried.

Be forewarned: if you try this method, be prepared to make a HUGE MESS. Your clothes will be covered in brown streaks, your fingernails will be semi-permanently stained and you’ll find chocolate prints all over surfaces you don’t remember touching.

For great step-by-step directions on tempering via the tabliering method, check out this excerpt from The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg.

Equipment: 1 candy thermometer, 1 rubber spatula, 1 microwave safe plastic bowl (glass is not allowed in professional kitchens, so might as well get used to plastic) and 1 good scraper (I use this one). Definitely clean your counter top (or marble cooling slab, if using) very, very well. Have clean dishtowels handy. Lots of them. And set yourself up somewhere close to your microwave, if possible.

Cool melted couverture chocolate on a granite counter top to temper it

Spreading and scraping on clean granite countertop quickly cools chocolate

So yes… I melted my chocolate in the microwave. It’s actually a fantastic way to melt chocolate because there’s zero chance you’ll accidentally get moisture in your chocolate the way you could using a double boiler. The microwave also melts chocolate faster than a double boiler, and you have a lot of control over how fast you add the short blasts of heat.

For more detailed microwave tempering instructions, I highly recommend Ecole Chocolat’s website. The only thing I would add is that I used high heat and halved their suggested microwave time, and it worked fine.

One thing I’ve found  very confusing is all the conflicting information online about proper tempering temperatures. For dark chocolate, I’ve seen instructions to heat it to 115, 118 and 122 degrees on various sites. It might be that I’m finding different directions for melting different kinds of dark chocolate. Variations in viscosity and percentage of cocoa butter affect how high chocolate must be heated before the fatty acid crystals completely dissolve (more on that in a later post). Fortunately, there may be a little wiggle room… Dark chocolate burns at 130 degrees, so as long as you stay a safe distance under that temperature, you’ll probably be okay.

Melting dark chocolate before tempering it
Melting away….

Last weekend I tempered the same 64% dark couverture three times. I had the best results when I brought it up to 118 degrees Fahrenheit and then down to 82 degrees before bringing it back up to the constant 89-90 degrees that is ideal for molding.

I tested the chocolate first when it melted (test 1), again at 118 degrees (test 2), again after I’d tempered it (test 3), and one last time after holding it at 90 degrees for 20 minutes (test 4).  Can you tell that test 3 is tempered?  It’s not a great picture but I think you can see how shiny and dark the sample is compared with the others. I can see now that I lost the temper sometime before test 4, which is as dull as the first two tests.  I must have accidentally raised the temperature over 90 degrees at some point. Doh!

IMG_6472
Can you tell which one is tempered?

I’ll be honest… I didn’t love this method of tempering. The mess was ridiculous, and while the chocolate cooled in mere minutes on my counter top, I spent 10 extra minutes afterwards cleaning hardened chocolate off my counter, scraper, even my the floor. And my husband was still finding bits of chocolate stuck to cabinets and wedged in counter crevices the next day.

Counter top mess after tempering
What a mess!

I tried the seeding method today and was MUCH happier with that method.  More on that in the next post.