Friday, April 26, 2013

Using Cacao Nibs to Make Chocolate at Home

Updated August 23, 2016

Whole cacao beans are not always easy for the average consumer to find.  And when you do find them, the beans need to be shelled, which is a messy process that may leave you vacuuming your kitchen for a week. So one way to make chocolate 'from the bean' in your own kitchen is to use cacao nibs.  These are considerably easy to find compared to whole beans, and the shells have been removed, so you will have less of a mess to clean up after you have made your home-made chocolate.

I have recently used three brands of cacao nibs that are readily available in stores (and online). Giddy Yoyo (Toronto), Camino and Organic Traditions.

Giddy Yoyo sells Wild Ecuadorian Heirloom Cacao in 454 gram (1 lb) bags, which is the largest package size that I have found in stores (at HomeSense). The flavour was mild and not too acidic. Giddy Yoyo also makes and sells raw chocolate and promotes a raw food lifestyle. I made chocolate from these raw cacao nibs once, then I roasted them to taste the flavour difference.  Truthfully, I preferred the roasted flavour of my homemade chocolate best (see below for roasting instructions).

Camino sells 100 gram bags of organic and Fair Trade cacao nibs that come from Peru. Also raw, these nibs were tangy and acidic and offered a lot of bold flavour to my homemade chocolate. Once roasted, they also made for a great snack 'as is', if you can get used to the flavour of unsweetened nibs. Camino is available in many stores across Canada, like Loblaws and Superstore and these nibs can also be purchased online. I bought three cases!

Organic Traditions offers nibs in 227 gram (1/2 lb) bags. Also a little acidic, these are probably the most widely available in Ontario; I have found them at both Independent Grocer and HomeSense.  With an unspecified origin, the packaging lists these nibs as organic. They are also raw.

I have seen nibs at American grocery stores in the health food section and I am sure that a health food store in your area would carry them.  Or you can purchase nibs in both small and large quantities from (1 lb, 5 lb and 20 lb bags).  They also sell peeled cacao beans, although they are more expensive and basically the same thing.  Also, sells a Criollo variety of unpeeled cacao beans.  While you are on their website, check out the cacao butter selection.  Cacao butter is not easy to find, but you may want to add some while making chocolate to 'grease' your mixing equipment.

Where else you can buy cacao nibs online? Navitas Naturals Online sells 4 oz, 8 oz and 16 oz bags. In Canada, Upaya Naturals sells a Sunfood brand online. And for those serious about making fine flavor chocolate, make sure you visit the Chocolate Alchemy website for nibs or beans. For people on the other side of the world, Life Foods - a New Zealand website also sells cacao nibs. 

If you are starting a chocolate business and looking for a steady supplier of cocoa beans and nibs, check the more recent list that I have posted on the blog here:

Roasting Instructions for Cacao Nibs

To roast cacao nibs, pre-heat your oven to 300 F.  Spread the nibs out on a cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes (check them at 12 minutes and stir to ensure that the smallest pieces are not burning).  Take them out of the oven when they start to smell like baked brownies.

Quick Recipe for Making Chocolate at Home from Cacao Nibs (62% dark chocolate):

Click here for measurements for an 82% dark chocolate and here for a recipe that calls for coconut sugar instead of cane sugar with 76% cacao solids, and visit here for a recipe for 70% dark chocolate as well as 62% dark-milk chocolate.
  1. Grind 4 oz of roasted (or raw if you prefer) cacao nibs in a small, single blade coffee grinder.  Pour into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Grind 2 ounces of dry sugar crystals (coconut or cane sugar) in the same coffee grinder.  Add the scraping of one vanilla bean if you like and grind with the sugar. Add to the bowl with the cacao beans.
  3. Pour the ground cacao beans, sugar and vanilla bean into a dry blender. Start to blend on high.  Let mix for a few minutes. 
  4. Meanwhile, melt about a 1/2 ounce of cacao butter over a double boiler or in the microwave (for 2 minutes on half power).  Add to the blender.  You will notice your chocolate becoming liquid as your blender warms up and the warm cocoa butter also begins to melt your chocolate.
  5. Ensure that your blender is not overheating.  Turn on and off if it is and try to blend for about 10 minutes in total. 

If you have a thermometer and your chocolate is about 88 degrees F, then pour it into a chocolate mold (or a small square pan or plastic container if you do not have molds) - you may get lucky and it will be in temper! If your chocolate is a bit white-ish or streaky once cooled, you will need to temper it. Since you are making your own chocolate from scratch, you will not be able to use the 'seed' method to temper it. Here are my detailed instructions for tempering chocolate in three ways:

For choosing moulds, I find the thinner the pieces, the better the taste since your chocolate will be a little gritty still (you need to upgrade your equipment and spend about $300 on a 'chocolate refiner', also called a melangeur, if you want to make smooth chocolate at home. To buy one, search 'Santha'  or 'Premier Chocolate Refiner' in Google).

Contact me at info at if you have any concerns with your homemade chocolate project or this recipe. Good luck!

Below are some pics of the chocolate that I have made in my blender and Ninja smoothie attachment (which works better than the three-blade larger blender attachment), and although some can look perfectly smooth in photos, don't be fooled, blender chocolate still has a little unrefined grittiness to it.  But the pride of making it yourself ensures it always tastes great :-) .

Homemade bean-to-bar chocolate made with Peruvian cacao beans
purchased from Jedwards Int.
Milk and dark chocolate made in the Ninja Smoothie
attachment on the Ninja Blender.

Brazil origin chocolate made from cacao sent to me by an organic cacao farm -
rustic-style dark-milk chocolate has a little crunch and tastes delicious!

Brazil Origin dark chocolate with a smooth look but a rustic crunch.

Ground chocolate ready for tempering.
This was my smoothest 'blender chocolate' batch yet.

From bean-to-fish! I poured my tempered homemade
dark chocolate into fish-shaped ice cube moulds to get this fun shape.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bite-Sized Delights

When you need a little pick-me up, where do you turn?  I turn to chocolate, of course.  But opening up a 100-gram chocolate bar is not necessarily the best thing to do when our energy levels are at their lowest, because we are most likely to eat the entire bar in one sitting (precisely what the manufacturers want from us, despite their marks in the bars to make it 'easier' to break off small pieces!) and then we feel worse both mentally and physically because we've overdone it. So I love it when chocolate comes pre-packaged in bite-sized portions.

Apparently this is the time of year to cut out unnecessary indulgences, if you believe the numerous ads on television telling us that we have X-number of weeks left to drop five pounds in order to be beach-body ready for summer. But I say do not cut out, but rather, cut back! To me, this is the time of year to turn our attention to portion-controlled pieces of chocolate deliciousness.

Conveniently, I came across three different bite-sized portions of chocolate that would satisfy any chocolate lover's cravings during that 2:00 p.m. energy drop on a business day. The first were Saxon's 10 g bars of chocolate that came in two flavours: 70% Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Milk Chocolate Hazelnut. I liked both of those for different reasons. With the Hazelnut, I got that milk chocolate sweetness but with a boost of hazelnut protein and flavour. The 70% dark chocolate satisfied that side of me that says "stick with the dark stuff because it's healthier", but the salt added an extra flavour to make it stand out from the plain-Jane usual 70% chocolate that I eat. The other bite-sized chocolate was Ghirardelli's 10.6 gram 'Squares', which was nice because it covered my cravings for both sweet and bitter.

I found all three of these at Loco Beanz Coffee House in Little Current, Ontario. But Ghirardelli can be found all across the U.S. and you can buy it online: build a bag of 54 mini 'Squares' on their website with any mix of flavours that you choose. If you have these on hand, you can pack a square or two in your lunch bag every day. Smaller bags are also available. Saxon is available across Canada and in the U.S.; check their store locator for more information.

If you are trying to get your 'beach-body' back in time for summer, or just like your chocolate to be in portion-controlled packages, here are some other kinds of portion-controlled chocolate that I've found in the past:

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Ultimate Chocolate Recipes

I've experimented a lot with chocolate in my little commercial kitchen and the results?  New chocolate recipes! And over the last few years, I have shared many (not all...yet) of these recipes right here on this blog.  But I know that searching for recipes online can be time consuming, particularly on a blog site, so I created this page to consolidate all my recipes into one easy-to-navigate page.

Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate Bark 

Chocolate-covered stuff

Chocolate Cookies

Chocolate Brownies and Cakes

Chocolate Tarts and Tortes

Chocolate Bars and Squares

Making Chocolate from the Bean / Bean to Bar Chocolate Recipes:

Chocolate Ice Cream Recipes

Hot Chocolate/Hot Cacao Beverages:

Chocolate Mousses, Creams, Ganaches and Custards:

Chocolaty Pies:

Not really recipes....but 'how-to's and fun suggestions!:

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Hazelnut Dark Chocolate Hearts with Crunchy Rice Cereal, as
Recipe written by Lisabeth Flanagan, and included in the
printed article written by Joanne Richard
that appeared in The Toronto Sun, The Sudbury Star
and other Sun Media publications across Canada
on February 9, 2015.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Are you awake?

Sleepy?  Eat some milk chocolate. That will give you a sugar rush and a minuscule caffeine boost which will last for, oh, five minutes or so. The truth is, there is just not enough caffeine in your average milk chocolate bar to keep you energetic for hours. So why not try the new, caffeinated 'Awake' chocolate bar that just hit store shelves all across Canada?

Awake's website makes it clear that the target market is the average Canadian student. A video overview on the product shows students in the library sleeping, students going on a road trip and students just doing those fun things that students like to do (ahhh...I miss those days). Basically, 'Awake' is promoted as a caffeinated product that will help you wake up during the 3:00 p.m. lull, study alertly, party for longer and basically have fun for as much time as possible.

Since being showcased on Dragon's Den (yes, that's right, that hit Canadian business idea show that paved the way for the American show Shark's Tank....that show) the Awake chocolate bar has quickly moved into retail stores across Canada, including Loblaws, Shopper's Drug Mart, Shell, PetroCanada, BulkBarn and more. I purchased a bar at Valu-Mart on Manitoulin Island, in Northern Ontario, which clearly shows the reach of their distribution network.

With 230 calories per bar, this chocolate is very comparable nutritionally to the average chocolate candy bar sold in major retail chains.  The difference?  The price is higher.  I believe I paid over $2 for mine.  But I suppose that is about the average price for a standard cup of coffee these days. So if you prefer chocolate to coffee, I suppose that is a good deal.  Personally, I prefer to eat my chocolate while drinking a hot, dark roast coffee. So I think that "Awake" would just be an over-buzz for me. But looking back at my university days, I think I probably would have purchased a handful of Awake bars to bring to my study mates during those crazy 'weekend special' projects that tested our ability to stay awake for 48 hours.

The taste?  Well, to me it was very sweet. In my younger days, before I discovered bitter chocolate and high percentage milk chocolate, I might have liked this flavour. It compared to the flavour of those inexpensive foil-wrapped milk chocolate Easter eggs or perhaps a Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar (I haven't had one in many years, but Awake tasted the way that I remember Hershey's taste). In fact, the nutritional information is fairly comparable to a Hershey's bar of about the same size.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
When I saw the episode of Dragon's Den, I thought: "Why do we need a caffeinated chocolate bar, certainly there are many brands out there with espresso ground up in the bar?" Instantly, I thought of Ferrero's branded chocolate called Pocket Coffee from Italy, but available in Europe.  It was all over France when I lived there in 2004 and 2005. Pocket Coffee is a chocolate shell with a shot of sweetened espresso in the centre, which bursts into your mouth when you bite into the chocolate. That is the closest thing to having a coffee and a chocolate at the same time - without the need for buying coffee and carrying around a hot cup. The locals did not much like the concept of 'carry away' coffee in France when I was there (I'm not sure if things have changed since or if Starbucks has influenced habits as they have in other areas of the world). I got many, many strange looks whenever I carried a coffee around on the few occasions where I could find one for sale in a take-away cup. So if I wanted a caffeine fix but had no time to sit down and drink the coffee 'properly', Pocket Coffee was my best bet.

Since coming back in 2005, I've often thought of Pocket Coffee and wondered why we do not have such a thing here in North America.  But then, we are not ostracized when we carry a coffee onto the subway or a bus in North America.  We are free to buy a coffee and eat a chocolate bar on the run!

So I wondered why on earth we would need a chocolate bar with caffeine in it....but with no actual coffee? I suppose, unlike me, there are many people out there who do not like the flavour of coffee and who do not drink it.  But they like chocolate. So the makers of Awake wanted a  chocolate to taste like chocolate, but have the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. Okay, so I get it. I may not be a repeat customer, but I get it.

So if you are one of those non-coffee drinking students, age 18 to twenty-something who needs a caffeine boost every now and then (Awake recommends eating one every 3-to-4 hours, up to 2 bars daily), check out the Awake chocolate bar currently at a Canadian retailer near you. And non-Canadians need not worry, I suspect the whole world will soon be 'Awake' with this chocolate brand.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to be a chocoholic and lose four pounds during Easter

If you visited this page looking for a great tip on how to lose weight over a holiday weekend, like I did this Easter, unfortunately this article is not really about a diet program. It is more about a sad chocoholic who wanted to enjoy some Easter chocolate, but instead came down with the worst sore throat of her life.  Swallowing water was painful, let alone eating any chocolaty Easter treats. Feel free to look at my diet below...but I do not recommend it!

So now I am on day six of the terrible sore throat (which also moved my ears somehow) and I find myself staring longingly at the pile of Easter weekend chocolate. So this morning once my painkillers kicked in, I thought I would take a tiny piece of each item and find out what they tasted like, just to satisfy my curiosity.  So here are the chocolates that I did not eat on Easter:

Hammond's Sea Side Caramel bar is a 64 gram dark chocolate bar with a soft caramel centre and sea salt. The texture was nice, the ingredients were natural and the combination overall was tasty. The company that makes it, Hammond's Candies, comes from Denver, Colorado.  This particular bar was purchased at Chapters.

Milk Chocolate Salted Caramels by IndigoSweets (TM) was a beautiful box of milk chocolate covered caramels sprinkled with chunky sea salt.  They tasted great, and like Hammond's, the ingredients were real and natural (i.e. no artificial flavours or hydrogenated oils). This was made in the U.S. for Indigo Books & Music in Toronto ( It was also purchased at a Chapters (Indigo) store.

Kilwins New York Espresso Mix is a product that my mother brought back from Sarasota Florida for me.  With every piece containing an espresso bean, this chocolate product has a little something for every kind of chocolate lover: white, milk, dark and candy coated. One type had even been coated in all three types of chocolate.  It was a nice gift - I can't wait until I can eat something crunchy again!

The Ferrero Rocher Bunny is very cool.  I was trying to figure out how they would fit all the stuff that is in the original Ferrero Rocher chocolate into a medium-sized 'bunny', but it turned out to be a hollow bunny and the hazelnuts were chopped small and mixed into the milk chocolate shell. 
I was a little sad not to find any Nutella-like hazelnut cream and a ball of crunchy wafer in the bunny, but I think hazelnut mixed into a bunny shell is a new and interesting concept. At least it is different than most of those standard hollow bunnies on the market!

The Russell Stover Dark Chocolate Egg said "cream egg" on it but had a dark soft caramel texture inside it.  I am no longer a fan of the cream centre of most eggs, but I actually liked this.

My own birthday cake is the one I am most sad about. Since my birthday fell on Good Friday this year, and I had no real plans, I decided to make myself a large triple-dark-chocolate cheesecake with coconut sugar instead of cane sugar and 71% dark chocolate chips, and a semi-sweet ganache for a little sweetness.  Too me, it was wonderful.  I had a few bites of one piece before the sore throat came on, and besides a few other people taking the extreme dark adventure with me, the cake has been sitting there ever since.  I know it is time to throw it out, but I just cannot bare to do it.

So that's it for my Easter weekend chocolate.  Of course there are eggs filled with mini M&Ms and foil-wrapped milk chocolate eggs, but I will leave those for the kiddies. And if you really want the terrible diet that caused me to lose four pounds in four days, here it is:

The My-Throat-Hurts-Too-Much-Too-Eat Diet

Days 1 to 5: Little or no eating other than...

Breakfast: a teaspoonful of peanut butter in the mornings to get the painkillers down.  Once the painkillers kick in, a little dark roast coffee. Maybe a yogurt, maybe not.

Lunch: Some cauliflower soup (just orange cauliflower, broth, heavy cream and curry spice, boiled for 20 min. then pureed) or, Vietnamese Pho soup with only a few noodles or...any other pureed soup.

Snack for 1 day: McDonald's or DQ small ice cream cone to numb the sore throat. Works for 20 minutes then you feel worse!

Snack for another day: Handful of unsalted, roasted cashews.  They are almost as soft and easy-on-the-throast as peanut butter...almost.

Dinner: About 1 to 2 ounces of food. A two-inch piece of chicken or soft meat if the painkillers are working. Steamed vegetables.

Day 6 - A little bit of chocolate and 1 toast with PB for breakfast - yay! And no painkillers too! But anibiotics means no wine....booo.

You could probably also call this the '1000-calorie-a-day-diet' or the 'Hey! I am practically eating baby food!' diet.  Either way, it is not fun!