Making Your Own Chocolate

December 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chocolate can come in many forms but at a basic level it comes down to cacao and how much of it you like vs sugar. If you like 75% chocolate, then you’re 75% cacao, 25% sugar. In my research this week I found a simple how to video on making your own chocolate from scratch so I thought it would be fun to make my own chocolate and test out what percentage I like best.

When I started this week I hadn’t planned on actually making chocolate from scratch but it’s really easy and worth a weekend experiment. It only takes about 10 minutes all in. You start with cacao nibs which I found in the bulk section at Whole Foods. They also suggest using Dagoba Nibs. They are about $13/lb.

The only other ingredient is sugar.

You’ll also need:
small coffee grinder –  I used my small Cuisinart, but they recommend a simple burr coffee grinder. You want a grinder that keeps the nibs contained as it’s grinding rather than pushing it through to a compartment below because it has to grind for about 5 minutes.
mortar and pestle
small spoon

Start by adding the ratio of cacao nibs to sugar into the grinder. I started with 80%, so 8 teaspoons of cacao and 2 teaspoons of sugar.

You’ll have to wipe down the sides as you go along since it will start to form a paste and stick to the sides.

After your 5 minutes it will be a paste that has some shine to it almost as though you’ve added a little liquid. (Similar to peanut butter in texture). You transfer it to a mortar and pestle and continue grinding and folding the chocolate for another couple minutes. You have to put some muscle into it.

I made 3 different batches to try out from 80% down to 60%. I was partial to 70% and even could have gone a bit sweeter.

It was a little grainy still but that probably had to do with not using a fine grinder. I ended up mixing some 70% with some 60% to make some hot chocolate and strained it through a fine mesh strainer.  It tasted much fresher in a way, similar to how good a freshly ground cup of coffee tastes compared with already ground beans.

People always ask me what my favorite weeks of the year have been. Hands down roasting my own coffee has been one of them that I’ve continued doing and will continue doing. After this little experiment in making my own chocolate I’m now curious about taking a step further even and seeing about roasting my own cacao beans. I came across a site called  Chocolate Alchemy which is the equivalent to chocolate what Sweet Marias is to coffee.

I may have to give it a shot!

Food of the Gods

December 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chocolate comes from a giant alien-like pod fruit. Theobroma cacao. “Food of the Gods”. There is a divine quality associated with chocolate and an almost a religious devotion among chocolate eaters. However, like many other religions, it’s a religion blindly followed. For one of the most popular foods in the world, people know surprisingly little about it. I knew chocolate was made from cacao (not the magical Hershey factory I thought as a child). I did not, however, have a clue what cacao looked like. I now know it grows on a cacao tree which produces fruit/pods the size of footballs (above). Inside holding the seeds together is a white membrane that purportedly tastes like Sour Patch Kids.  The seeds are then fermented, dried and roasted to become the cacao we eventually turn into chocolate.

Chocolate was money. Chocolate was almost as good as gold throughout history. Cacao beans levied as a tax by the Aztec & Mayan cultures and as currency to buy goods. That value extended to other cultures and eras. During the Revolutionary War, American soldiers had chocolate included as part of rations and were sometimes paid in chocolate in lieu of wages. It’s hard to imagine getting paid in chocolate but I might be tempted to consider it.

Sugary chocolate resulted from the Spaniards. Untainted and intact for centuries, chocolate began its transformation when the Spanish conquistador Cortes entered the picture. It went from being bitter to sweet to suit the Spanish palate. And it only got sweeter and sweeter over the centuries. I imagine the Aztecs would lose their shit at the blasphemy that has been created from their “god food” over the years. They would conversely nod in approval at the move to get back to the central flavor of cacao in the last decade or so, stripping away the sweetness to let cacao’s bitterness to come through. It’s hard to eat a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar for me now that I’ve gotten used to more bitter chocolate.

For most of its history chocolate was just a drink. Chocolate started being made in solid form in the early 1800’s and the first chocolate bar was invented by Joseph Fry in 1847. By 1868 a small company called Cadbury was manufacturing and selling chocolate in  England. Nestle soon entered the fray.

Chocolate will make you smarter. and is also linked to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. A number of studies have shown chocolate enhances cognitive ability. It’s also believed to cause the release of serotonin making us feel relaxed while simultaneously increasing your heart rate to a level much greater than kissing. It is a relaxed thrill. My chocolate addiction is my brain trying to make me smarter and happier.

On that note…must. eat. chocolate. now.

Cacahuatl, Xocolātl, Chocolatl (or What I Like to Call Hot Chocolate)

December 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

You can’t begin exploring the world of chocolate without starting chocolate as a drink. It’s been used that way throughout it’s history.  It’s where it all started with its earliest documented use around 1100 BC in Mesoamerica where it dominated for centuries. The Aztecs liked their “bitter water” cold, the Mayans hot. It’s origin is not unlike coffee starting out as a bean, being dried then roasted into a highly addictive beverage.

I’m a hot chocolate girl and last night it was needed with our -2 degree temperatures in Boulder. Instead of regular old cocoa, I decided to make a cardamom and orange cup of chocolate with cardamom whipped cream to enjoy with friends. A little fancier than the Aztecs would have done it but they didn’t have Cuisinarts and Kitchen Aid mixers.

It was rather simple to make:
(3 servings)
4 cups milk
1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder (i used Ghiradelli)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds
1 orange zested or peeled

First I prepped the cardamom which were in pods by slicing them and getting the seeds out. Then they were ground in my small cuisinart. In a medium saucepan I added 1 tsp of the cardamom with all of the remaining ingredients and brought it to a slow boil, making sure to stir so as n

ot to burn the milk. I simmered it for a few more minutes and then poured the chocolate milk through a strainer into the mugs awaiting.

As the chocolate was coming to a boil I also made whipped cream:
1 pint hea

vy cream
1/4 cup sugar (or however much you like depending on your level of sweetness)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom

In a KitchenAid mixer whip cream until it starts to thicken almost into desired consistency, slowly add sugar and remaining ingredients. Continue whipping until it’s the consistency you want.

Each mug of fragrant hot chocolate received a dollop of cream.

Chocolate goes well with so many different things and it will be a fun experiment this winter to come up with my favorite hot chocolate concoction. If you have your own you love, please pass it along!

A Passion for Chocolate

December 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was having a conversation the other day with my husband about what my passion was. He has known since graduating college that he loved design and has happily devoted himself to making great design. I did not feel that way about my work in advertising, even though I was good at what I did. I suppose both of us hoped in doing this blog over the past year I would find something that I might enjoy better (that also translated into a real job).

For a second I felt stripped bare in my passionlessness, but then I recovered myself with the thought I have not one, but a multitude of passions. I am a passion mutt. Those who are passionate about dogs will tell you mutts still have a lot to offer this world. They’re versatile.

One of my passions in life has definitively been chocolate. If I were a character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I sadly would have been Augustus Gloop. I’d have taken one look at that chocolate waterfall and found myself getting sucked up into the filtration system before I knew what hit me.  If a doctor were ever to tell me I had developed a chocolate allergy I would resign myself to death by chocolate on the spot.

While chocolate has been a definitive passion of mine over my whole solid food lifetime, I couldn’t answer the question why really. I don’t know that much about chocolate, like where it comes from or what it does to you that is so magnetic (I prefer not to use the word addictive). I also realized this week I have really never delved into the world of making it myself.

I’m glad this whole passion conversation came up because I realize I might have closed out this year of 52 things to do without covering one of my nearest and dearest passions of them all. We’ll see if I enjoy making chocolate goods as much as I love eating it.

It has a reputation for being high maintenance.

A Creatively Correct Exposure

December 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

A friend recommended a great book to get started on shooting photos manually, Understanding Exposure. I now highly recommend it as well.

Almost every beginner guide I’ve tried to read for photography usually loses me in technical jargon from the start. Most assume you were already born speaking f-stop.

I like this Bryan Peterson guy; he’s different. Even though he probably spends most of his waking moments behind a camera, he understands how to talk to people who don’t. While others explain what ISO is, he equates it to thinking of it like worker bees capturing light. The more you have the less time they need to capture it.  I can get behind that.

Just after a few pages in I felt reassured that my brain would indeed be able to process what he was saying and kept reading. He includes simple exercises along the way to illustrate what he’s explaining so you can try on your own.

I was playing around with understanding how to capture a correct exposure across various f-stop settings using the light meter to help me set the corresponding shutter speed. His book shed light on a huge misconception I’ve had as a beginner. I always assumed you had to have the know-how to set your camera for the one perfect exposure.
He explains in the book there are at minimum 6 correct exposures you can achieve and it is up to you to decide the correct “creative” exposure (or perfect one) you’re looking for.

I did a little experiment of my own on a phrenology bust I purchased from the flea market I was photographing earlier in the week. It was much more reliably stationary than my cat.

I started with my camera at an ISO of 200 (worker bees) and f/1.2 (50mm lens). Using the light meter (which I didn’t even know was there) I set the correct shutter speed indicated and shot a photo. I then set the aperture a “stop down”, effectively cutting the amount of light in half. I continued re-setting the f-stop until f/16, taking a photo with each new arrangement of aperture and shutter speed with the ISO constant. I only picked a few to show the range.

As you shoot each photo you’ll notice the shutter speed slowing down considerably to let the right amount of light in due to the smaller aperture. Each of these is correctly exposed despite varying apertures & corresponding shutter speeds.

From a creative perspective, I prefer the top image as it isolates the bust with a much shallower depth of field compared with the progressively sharper images which show much more of what is happening in the background.

I never really understood how aperture, shutter speed and ISO worked in conjunction with each other to not only capture a correct image but to creatively play with the depth of field.

I practiced the same experiment on a friend when we were having coffee together at her house.

Again I like when the focus is much more on her than what’s going on in the background (although they do have a beautiful historic house).

I love that “Understanding Exposure” starts out with a simple explanation of aperture, shutter speed and ISO over just a few pages and follows them up with exercises you can try that illustrate the points he’s making.

Switching your camera to manual reminds me a lot of driving a manual car. You have so much more control. You pay a lot more attention to what you’re doing. One of the reasons I’ve always driven a manual car is that I feel more connected to the road. You get more feedback (and let’s be honest, it’s a lot more fun than an automatic).

I think there are a lot of similarities with shooting photos manually. As with learning to drive a stick shift, it just takes a bit of practice and understanding where things give.

I still have a lot of practice ahead but at least I got the camera out for a spin.


Baby Steps

December 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’ve never been one of those types that dutifully reads the manual. It’s a habit that has generally served me well. It has unfortunately prevented me from using about 90% of the camera I invested a lot of money in.

This week I’m giving the camera manual another chance. I’ve started learning what the random buttons and symbols mean and as a result what I can do with them. Today I was fooling around with something called “creative auto” on my camera, which is the equivalent to taking baby steps towards using your camera manually (and a great “What About Bob?” reference).“Creative auto” is for people who want some control over the image but don’t want to learn the mechanics of exposure.  For the image above I was playing around with the exposure range feature and liked the brighter exposure where it was more washed out looking, almost like a watercolor.
I also played around with taking a monochromatic shot (never knew how to do that on my camera!). I still couldn’t get the snow to come out as white as I wanted but I did make some new friends.

To practice a bit more with some of these features I went to the local flea market since there are always fun things to look at and to practice cutting through clutter. Here I was playing around with the background. Sadly this head was “NOT FOR SALE!” Who knows what her next assignment will be after she finds that cowboy hat an owner. Maybe she’ll be retired to a mantel above the fireplace.

Taking photos makes you slow down and notice more, like she-head-torso below. That mannequin used to be somebody. Back in the 80s, she could stop window shoppers in their tracks selling leotards…before the accident. She wistfully still holds out hope to be reunited with her appendages in time for resort wear season. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the fashion world has moved on from blondes (and her arms and legs are shoved in a mis-marked box in a basement in Albequerque).

This sad little beagle also caught my eye. I played around with darkening the exposure a bit to take advantage of the light shining on him. It better suited the interrogation going through my mind. “Where did you come from?” “How did you get here?” “How could anyone look down at that adorably sad beagle expression and stick you in a box to be sold?” I’m glad it is at least a no-kill shelter.

Below again I played with the background focus and darkened the exposure to focus in more on Raggedy Ann and Annie. It seems I caught them in the middle of something. I guess it would stand to reason they’d be close friends. Both are red headed, a little rough around the edges and started out poor before becoming famous. I think they were discussing Occupy Wall Street and their disdain for the 99% but I couldn’t be sure.

Taking photos at a flea market makes you hone in on the curiosities of people’s possessions. There is a reflection of the life of those who owned them as you walk from stall to stall; the travelers, the homemakers, the entertainers. I couldn’t shake the mortal thought that someday my own life might be reflected through my possessions in a stall somewhere where people could come and root around, deciding whether my possessions are of interest.

I hope they take pictures and at least make up fun stories about what they find.


How to Take Photos

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve always loved taking photos. The one above is of my friends’ daughters playing in a pool in Charleston, SC. Taking photos for my blog has been an aspect I’ve really enjoyed. Luckily I have an amazing camera (Canon 5D Mark II) that does most of the work. I know one of the central elements in learning photography is to just get out, fool around with the camera and take a lot of pictures. I’ve done that but now I want to actually understand how my camera works and learn use it manually. I know I could do a lot more with it.

I also want to hone in more on what kind of subjects I like. Looking back over the photos I liked most from last year I seem to gravitate towards people and life. It will be fun to explore whether that’s true this week.

Dairy owner’s granddaughter in milking room in NE Colorado

Afternoon lunch in Paris

Nephew practicing karate

midnight in Venice Italy

curious little girl outside grocery in Grover Colorado

Dancing by the Seine

Late night by the grand canal