So I may have mentioned to some of you my experiences in transforming the cacao grain I collect with my farm cooperative here in Togo. One day I decided that since they only sell the raw product that it would be great to try to transform the grain into real chocolate for a taste test of what they are currently producing. Basically, I decided to put myself in charge of "quality control." I mean why not experiment with a raw product, and if all goes well with what little equipment I have, I may even be able to teach others how to transform it into a marketable local delicacy.
After enough pods are collected to fill a basin, they are taken to a spot where they are opened to remove the grain (the chocolate bean itself). In each pod you can find as many as 30-40 beans, all covered in a white pulp (which tasted much like lychees). After all the grain is removed from the pods, the empty pods are tossed aside and the beans are taken to a spot to be fermented and dried.Nothing is wasted: the split open pods are turned into compost to help the trees grow or are burned and the ash is used to make a kind of soap which is cheap and works really well.
The beans are then wrapped in banana leaves and left to ferment in the shade. Inside the leaf package, heat is trapped. The heat makes the pulp ferment, which means that bacteria and yeasts in the pulp multiply. This releases chemicals that give the cocoa beans their chocolatey flavor and color.
After a week of fermenting in banana leaves, the beans are spread out onto long bamboo tables and dried in the sun for up to 10 days. As the beans dry they shrink in size as they lose a lot of the water inside them. A good bean will still have some moisture content. You can break a bean in half to notice if it was well fermented. If a bean has a pale purple-redish tone on the inside then it has not been properly treated. Good beans have a nice dark brown-purple color inside.
I then took the cocoa nibs and grinded them with my small coffee grinder. The grinding tends to release the moisture in the beans, turning them into a paste. I had done this one time before and all I got was a gritty powder which indicated that the beans may not have been well fermented, with a lack of moisture content. After grinding to for a paste I heated it in a pan while adding a touch of water. I then returned it to the grinder to continue to minimize the grittiness. I repeated this step several times. Finally, I poured the mixture back into the pot to fondu and continued to add powdered milk, fine confectioners sugar,cocoa butter and a touch of vanilla while stirring over low heat. I added these things to taste, since I am only a novice, not quite a chocolate alchemist. Well, not yet.
I then seperated the mixture into a couple different bowls to create some "melanges" In one bowl I added peanut butter (made from scratch by the local marche mamas), in another, curry powder topped with roasted flaked coconut, and in the last, a touch of cayenne "piedmont" powder that is used locally to spice up almost any dish. (I once made a spicy rendition of snickerdoodles with it) I left one bowl to represent the natural "unaltered" taste. I then rolled them into truffle like balls to rest and harden.
Though the real process of transforming cacao beans into fine chocolate requires an amount of technical machinery unavailable to me here in Togo, in the end I was able to capture the taste of bitter dark chocolate..made from scratch and harvested by hand. It may not be as smooth and creamy with a nice waxy snap, but it works for me...esp since I made it. I am hoping to see if there will be a market for it in my village, if so, my groupment could start to sell some of the beans to women who will transform it for local sale. I brought the final product to the members at the office and it was a hit. They keep asking for more. So there's hope that there may be a market for it here in Togo. Although, what I need to concentrate more on is getting their office records better organized, potentially computerizing their bureau, and hoping that one day they will be able to become Fair Trade certified in coffee and cocoa. That idea has been difficult to propose (although, they are wanting to register) since it is a hard, lengthy process and difficult to finance in order to have the certifier come and verify. I hope I can get them on their way.
coming soon...Robusta Coffee..from berry to bean...to cup...