My recent discovery and curious interest of Ruby Chocolate has led me back to Cacao Magico for their Cacao Bean to Chocolate Bar Experience, a fun and interactive presentation.
We were greeted by Andrea Valeria Vallejo Perez, General Manager and hostess of the presentation. She wore a clear facemask and we were able to see her glowing smile and confident expressions. Andrea was friendly, knowledgeable, and organized, a perfect fit for her job requirements, I give her a 10+!!
We were led to the kitchen/production area, thoroughly washed our hands, and were given freshly cleaned aprons and hats, and of course we were already wearing masks. There were three large chocolate heating units used to keep the chocolate at a melted temperature. Each had a vertical spinning wheel that kept the melted chocolate moving to prevent coagulation within the vat. They also had a vibrating platform for shaking off excess chocolate from candy molds. There were stacks and stacks of candy molds, and various other kitchen equipment including a commercial oven, as they do offer chocolaty baked goods in their store.
First Andrea told us all about the history of chocolate, starting with cacao trees being originally unique to the Mexico/Yucatan jungle. I will retell the history of chocolate in my next chocolate series article. Next she brought out some cacao pods and explained that they are actually considered a fruit. The pod is shaped like a mini-football, about 8” long or so, and ribbed like a star fruit except many more ridges. When sliced in half, you can see an outside fruity layer, a little less than an inch thick, that is orangey in color and reminds me of papaya. However it is virtually tasteless and generally is not used. Inside of that are dozens of cacao beans surrounded by a white pulpy substance. The beans are about the size and shape of shelled almonds.
Next she explained that the beans must go through a series of processes before it can be used to make chocolate. The beans and pulp are first removed from the fruit shell and put into open containers for fermentation. The pulp begins to break down around the beans causing chemical changes within them that affect acidity levels, leading to a natural development of the chocolate flavor. The beans are then laid out in flat trays for drying, and when dried are roasted and shelled, and are now called nibs. Andrea gave each of us a handful of nibs and a molcajete dish for grinding, just as it would have been done in ancient times. We tasted the nibs, and at this point no sugar had been added, but the rich flavor of dark chocolate was evident. From there the nibs would be put into a cacao bean grinder for 24 hours to form what is called chocolate liquor, and can be further refined for smoothness.
Then sugar and other ingredients such as milk, cacao butter, and natural flavorings can be added to the liquor to make chocolate. We were given samples of four different flavored chocolates featured in their store, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, caramel chocolate, and ruby chocolate. I am a big chocolate fan, and I couldn’t believe how silky smooth and fresh tasting they were. The milk and dark were everything you would expect them to be, the caramel was a delicious blend of caramel and chocolate, and the ruby chocolate was fruity and berryish with rich undertones of a dark chocolate flavor. On this day we would be using dark chocolate to make some delicious candy treats.
Master Chocolatier Mario Alberto joined the presentation and explained how the chocolate first had to be tempered before it can be used to make candies. He brought over a large bowl of melted dark chocolate from its heating unit and poured it onto a long granite countertop. Melted dark chocolate is kept at a temperature of about 45-48C, and needs to be brought down to 29-32C to be able to be worked. Different types of chocolate have different temperatures of melting and perfect temper. Mario spread the chocolate out on the counter very thinly and evenly with a chocolate tempering spatula, long and thin like a frosting spatula, and then regathered it with a short, wide spatula that looks like a putty knife. He did this over and over, constantly checking the temperature with a scanning thermometer. When it had reached the perfect temperature he put the chocolate back in the bowl and it was ready to use.
Before we got started, Mario showed us the difference between the tempered and untempered chocolate. He drizzled some of each onto a plastic sheet, and soon the tempered chocolate hardened perfectly. The untempered chocolate never did harden for the rest of the time we were there, even though the room was comfortably air-conditioned.
First we made some dipped candies, something I have always wanted to do. Mario had some prepared peanut butter flavored squares. He placed them in the tempered chocolate, flipped them over, pulled them out, placed them on a plastic sheet, and marked the top for decoration. While those were cooling he demonstrated the process of making molded chocolate shells, used in making filled candy bars and filled chocolate candies called pralines. We were each given a large candy bar mold previously prepared with a now cooled chocolate shell, and an assortment of goodies with which to make our own filled candy bar. After adding our own ingredients, Mario filled a large piping bag with tempered dark chocolate and we topped off our bars. Then we had to tap out the bubbles, wait for the chocolate to harden, and tap our bars out of the molds.
I finished my tour in the showroom admiring all the beautifully prepared tasty treats. They have chocolate bars, turtles, a wide variety of pralines, chocolaty baked goods, and chocolate sculptures. My favorite is the bronzed chocolate Olmec head, filled with an assortment of yummy pralines. We got to bring the chocolate goodies we made home, and I cannot say enough how wonderfully silky smooth their chocolate is. And that peanut butter square was absolutely awesome, highly recommended!! Overall I learned a lot about chocolate, and it was a great way to spend an afternoon.