By Michael Laiskonis—ICE Creative Director

In my last blog post, I described my search for historical traces of chocolate in lower Manhattan. In a relatively short time, chocolate traveled from its South and Central American origins to Europe and later into North American settlements. Though the early Dutch colony of New Amsterdam rose and fell well before chocolate became a permanent fixture, by the early 1700s, New York’s port was an important link in cocoa trade. Among those merchant families importing beans, the first glimpse of cocoa processing can be found on the island. By the end of the American Revolution and the turn of the 19th century, the city grew northward and chocolate had gained popularity, with several chocolate makers setting up shop.

One might think that researching this topic is as easy as entering “New York,” “chocolate,” and “history” into a search engine. Surprisingly, those yield scant results and even less clues to work with. A few books pointed me in the right direction—some names and places—but I soon realized I was drifting into relatively uncharted territory. I eventually found that the best way to crack the cases of these mysterious chocoate-makers was to begin with surviving city directories whose listings often provide a name, an address and most importantly, an occupation. The first of these directories in New York was published in 1786, with increasing regularity in years to follow. From there, genealogy records, newspapers, civil documents and maps added more life to the stories. Most often, the labyrinth comes to an abrupt halt; I may come across a name and an address, but all other details remain a casualty of history.

1801-directory

It is worth noting that chocolate was still consumed as a beverage in these early days, though with the chocolate-makers of the 1800s, we witness a slow and steady shift toward the refined bars of eating chocolate we would recognize today. Unclear is the extent to which chocolate may have been processed by these craft producers of their day, but certainly roasting, winnowing and grinding of cocoa beans was essential, no matter the final product. Chocolate was often manufactured alongside other milled products. In 1815, Samuel Holcombe was listed at 47 Gold Street, as a manufacturer of both chocolate and mustard. Over at 227 William Street, Charles Cogswell was also multi-tasking in mustard and chocolate as late as 1825, though it appears his son Jonathan stuck to mustard as he moved the business uptown to Spring Street a decade later. Many grocers and retailers most likely processed small quantities too, like Abraham Wagg or Frederic Shonnard at 220 Bowery. According to the 1791 directory, Peter Montayne at 182 Queen Street coupled chocolate making with the seemingly disparate occupation of blacksmith. As the number of independent chocolate-makers grew, one would imagine that, with competition and branding, the quality, quantity and variety of products would increase as well.

From the period after the American Revolution (during which cocoa trade into New York was limited) through the first half of the 19th century, I discovered dozens of names and places associated with chocolate in Manhattan. Many of these chocolate-makers appear and then disappear from records within a few years, but we clearly see chocolate activity spread throughout the growing city. Among those uncovered, but with little of their story to tell, include:

  • John Austin, listed as a city resident and chocolate-maker in 1787 court records
  • David Whitehill, at 32 William Street in 1791
  • Joseph and Joshua Leavy, at 15 Broad Street from 1786 to 1799 (later at 2 Water Street in 1801)
  • Jedediah Waterman, at 322 Water Street from 1791 to 1805
  • John Black, at Murray Street and Chapel Street (today West Broadway) in 1812, and later at 182 Bowery in the 1830s
  • Noel Blanche, at 28 Beekman Street, from 1808 to 1819
  • Peter Malard, on Barclay Street and later at 84 Duane Street from 1822 to 1827
  • Silvanus Horton, at 47 Gold Street from 1822-1830 (note it is the same address for Samuel Holcombe’s mustard and chocolate business mentioned above)
NYC chocolate history

A furniture maker that dabbled in chocolate making

The lives of these chocolate-makers offer a bit more color, context and background for further research:

  • An early branch of the politically powerful Roosevelt family dabbled in chocolate. John Roosevelt (a civic leader in his own right) milled chocolate on Maiden Lane until his death in 1750, passing on the business to sons Cornelius and Oliver.
  • Peter Swigard, listed as chocolate-maker but also as a tobacconist, occupied Bayard Street from the 1750s through the 1770s. It is possible Swigard learned the craft in Philadelphia before moving to New York.
  • Peter Low, chocolate-maker at Maiden Lane and Broadway in the 1760s-1770s, may have also doubled as a cabinet-maker. Eventually he would move his chocolate business across the Hudson River to New Jersey. Merchant Nicholas Low, who appears to be his brother, sold Peter’s chocolate on the docks near Coenties Market. As a side note, in researching specific historical names and places, one is often confronted with a darker context of the times—a March 1771 newspaper notice announces a reward for a runaway slave in Low’s “employ.”
  • Brothers Francis and John Van Dyk were part of another chocolate-making legacy. Their father Nicholas operated a chocolate mill in Newark as early as the 1760s before setting up in the city. Various addresses are listed over the years from 1786 to 1801: 48 Queen Street in 1786 (Queen Street would later be named Pearl Street and at the time would have marked the shoreline of the East River), 66 Broad Street and 28 Beekman Street (again, note the same address a decade later used by Noel Blanche).
  • Tobias Van Zandt, an early political figure in the city after the Revolution, made chocolate at 92 Water Street until his death in 1794. Minutes of a city council meeting in 1796 suggest a prior professional relationship between Tobias and Jedediah Waterman (noted above), when his widow Mary leased property to Waterman.
  • The Van Dyk family introduced chocolate, albeit briefly, to another prominent family at the turn of the century when Joseph Meeks married John Van Dyk’s daughter Sarah. Joseph would become one of the city’s most celebrated and prolific furniture-makers, but was interestingly involved in the chocolate business in 1814 and 1815 at 45 Broad Street, the same location that would later manufacture furniture. One might assume a sluggish economy at the outset of the War of 1812 forced Meeks to give his wife’s family business a try before returning to his original calling and moving his shop up to Vesey Street. To this day, surviving Meeks pieces fetch high prices among collectors.
  • French-born John Juhel didn’t make chocolate, but by many accounts was responsible for much of the cocoa bean trade coming into Manhattan in the early 1800s. Shipping records survive that detail his extensive import and export business. Juhel’s office was at the heart of what would grow into the bustling market on Washington Street, between Liberty and Cedar Streets.
  • John Wait, originally from Boston, established a chocolate business first at 228 William Street by 1815 and later on Elm Street in the 1830s, near what at the time would have been referred to as the “Tombs”—New York’s notorious prison. Dominating headlines of the day, Wait’s two young sons died tragically in an 1816 steamboat accident in New York harbor.
  • Perhaps the longest running chocolate-making dynasty in the city of that era was that of John Poillon and sons Peter and John Jr., whose business spanned nearly six decades. By 1808, John was listed at 116 Bowery near Grand Street. The sons moved their operation around the neighborhood over the years, up the Bowery from what we would today call the Lower East Side into the East Village near Astor Place. Though it appears Peter filed for bankruptcy in the early 1840s, an 1860 newspaper gossip column of sorts suggests that “old Peter Poillon…made a fortune making chocolate.”
  • By 1827, what would evolve into the iconic Delmonico’s restaurant (perhaps the first “fine-dining” restaurant of its time) included confectionery and chocolate manufacturing at 23 William Street. Brothers John and Peter Delmonico operated the pastry shop and cafe at that location until it was destroyed by fire in 1835, a few doors up from where the latest incarnation of the restaurant still stands.

    NYC chocolate history - 1860

    A reference to Peter Poillon’s chocolate business

The early 1800s saw much change for the new country and its fastest growing city. At the same time, chocolate production was changing as well. The capabilities of the Industrial Revolution would transform coarse blocks of chocolate into “digestible” cocoa powder and refined bars for eating and, eventually, a staple in confections of all kinds. Large factories and nationally-known brands would emerge out of Manhattan, flourishing into a golden age of chocolate manufacturing. Some of these chocolate-makers would survive into the 20th century before being absorbed by ever-growing companies and ultimately moved out of the congested city. My next post will look at this period, in search of any traces of chocolate manufacturers that may still remain.

Ready to study pastry arts with Chef Michael? Click here to learn more about our pastry arts program.


By Michael Laiskonis—ICE Creative Director

Early last year, as the ICE staff was preparing to move from the school’s longtime home in the Flatiron District of Manhattan to its newly constructed downtown facility, I was immersed in organizing the details for our unique bean-to-bar Chocolate Lab. Considering our new digs in the oldest part of the city, it hit me that perhaps we were bringing chocolate back to the neighborhood—old New Amsterdam. I began to ponder the ghosts of chocolate makers past. Surely there must have been numerous traders, processors and merchants dealing in the popular product at various points in the city’s nearly 400-year history. Little did I realize how difficult the search for answers would prove, yet what I have uncovered thus far has only reinvigorated my quest.

Late 18th Century Map of Manhattan

Late 18th Century Map of Manhattan

I’m a bit of a history buff—with interests in our culinary past, of course, but also the rich history of the vibrant city I’ve called home for over 12 years. I’ve also spent countless hours tracing my family histories back to Eastern Europe, as well as my maternal lines back to England and Holland. My ancestors arrived in the first waves of settlers in the American colonies dating back to the mid-1600s. My meandering research came quite close to home at one point—a Dutch extended cousin turned out to be a prominent businessman in 1650s New Amsterdam, operating a brewery on Beaver Street, the site occupied today by a towering office building in Manhattan’s Financial District. This personal discovery fueled my broader search for chocolate in this colonial outpost—if I could find a distant relative in the neighborhood, surely I would eventually find traces of cocoa as well. But first, I had to step back a bit further to consider the greater story of chocolate’s travels.

The story goes that Columbus encountered cacao in the course of his later voyages at the turn of the 16th century, but was unimpressed or simply unaware of its attraction. At best, he may have traveled back to Europe with a token handful of the beans, which only grow in the tropics. Most historians agree that it was through Hernando Cortes, who conquered the Aztecs in the 1520s, that chocolate would make inroads into European aristocracy, eventually gaining popularity on par with coffee and tea. Throughout much of its history, chocolate was consumed as a beverage in coffeehouses or sold in small coarse-textured blocks (and only upon its arrival in Europe was sugar added). During its first century in Europe, accessibility to chocolate soon spread beyond the noble classes and was enjoyed by a wider audience. The drink thrived in those countries whose empires extended to tropical zones where cacao could be cultivated for the masses back home.

By the time the American Revolution was underway, chocolate had firmly established itself in the colonies. Numerous references and connections to the drink have been attributed to patriot luminaries like Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. The first colonial chocolate manufacturer was Baker’s, established by 1765 in Dorchester, Massachusetts (the famous brand still exists today). While this may be true in large-scale production, there were many small local producers and bean grinders predating Baker’s throughout the larger cities of Boston, New York and Philadelphia. These craft producers, around 70 total, are the objects of my interest. Unsurprisingly, they have been difficult to trace in great detail. Perhaps because chocolate at this point was still minimally refined, there were likely few who devoted themselves to chocolate full time. Individual grocers and local mills may have handled very small quantities. The dearth of pre-revolution information about chocolate culture in Lower Manhattan didn’t discourage me, but it did lead my search into a different direction.

We assume that chocolate first arrived in America as a European import, but when and where are still unclear. The earliest written accounts of chocolate in the northeastern colonies do not appear until the 1660s, with sporadic references to trade shipments continuing into the 1670-80s. By the time England assumed control of the renamed New York in the 1660s, its cocoa trade was taking shape. Their early colonies in the Caribbean had begun planting cocoa and adding sugar to it. As trade from the Caribbean increased—and by extension, from South and Central America—the colonial port cities became vital links in the supply chain. The port of New York City quickly became an important hub in this network of the cocoa trade—a pivotal discovery in my research. By the early 1700s, shipping documents reflect a significant flow of cocoa beans from the West Indies into New York; while much of the precious cargo was ultimately destined for Europe, local consumption was on the rise, too. Great quantities of cocoa were arriving from the Venezuelan port of Curaçao via a network of Jewish merchants of Spanish descent. This network grew to include dozens of businesses, some of which would eventually branch out into local wholesale and retail chocolate trade. I had finally caught a glimpse of the history I had been hoping to find—the emergence of the cocoa trade in lower Manhattan. What’s more, the city has more contemporary ties to the cocoa trade as well. The New York Cocoa Exchange occupied the narrow flatiron-shaped building at the intersection of Wall, Pearl and Beaver Streets from 1939 to 1979 (the building still bears that name, though its tenants now include a sushi restaurant and condominiums). At present, the offices of Atlantic Cocoa, a major player in the international chocolate trade, are located just a short walk from ICE, adjacent to Battery Park.

Present-Day John and Water Streets

Among the names of early merchants, several clues began to emerge, and with them more details into the chocolate world in colonial New York. While the extent of their processing and manufacturing is not yet clear, I finally began to pin chocolate-related locations to the map. Spanish-born Jacob Louzada was one such early merchant, active through the 1720s; his son Aaron is reported to have processed chocolate as well. I came across the Gomez family, with three generations involved in chocolate—first with trade and later with manufacturing. Moses Gomez was active in trade and chocolate making as early as 1700. By the 1750s, Daniel Gomez advertised the sale of drinking chocolate near “Burling’s Slip”—today, near the foot of John Street and South Street at the East River. More promising is a surviving advertisement from 1780 describing the shop and “chocolate manufactory” of Rebecca Gomez, which carried all manner of imported food goods, including her own superfine “manufactured chocolate, warranted free from any sediments and pure. Great allowance made to those who buy to sell again.” Rebecca’s shop stood at the corner of Nassau Street and Ann Street—a busy intersection of its day and a stone’s throw from the ICE Chocolate Lab. Rebecca’s son-in-law, Abraham Wagg, was a grocer who also dabbled in chocolate. Other 18th century names and locations have surfaced as well, such as Peter Low, who had made chocolate in Manhattan before moving the business across the river to New Jersey, as well as Peter Swigart and his chocolate-making shop on Bayard Street, in what is now the heart of Chinatown.

While it remains difficult to find traces of chocolate in the very earliest days of the Dutch colony, we see that it became a common item on the docks and in the shops of New York in the 1700s. After unearthing the stories of these early entrepreneurs, I am excited to discover what I might find as chocolate making in this neighborhood has evolved, coming into the 19th century and, ultimately, full circle back to our little lab on the third floor of Brookfield Place at ICE!

Further reading for chocolate aficionados:
  • On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, by Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz
  • Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, by Louis E. Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro

Want to study Pastry Arts with Chef Michael? Click here for more information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts career program. 


By
 Jenny McCoy—Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

Did you know that the history of the s’more dates back as far as the early 1900s? Or that marshmallows were being roasted in the late 1800s? Or better yet, that the marshmallow is a confection that has been around for over 200 years? If you’re the average marshmallow consumer and not a food historian, that can be hard to believe. The commercially made and mass-produced treats that seem to have a never-ending shelf life feel like a product of the 1950s to me, right alongside Cheez Whiz. However, there’s more to the history of marshmallows.

Jenny mccoy smores

In the briefest way, I shall now tell you the history of the marshmallow:

It began with a plant called “marsh mallow,” which happens to grow in swampy, marshy regions of the world, and has a super sticky, thick, white sap. The sap was mostly used for medicinal purposes, often as a remedy for sore throats. Over time the root of the marsh mallow plant was combined with sugar, making it sweet and perhaps the first rendition of a throat lozenge. Fast-forward many, many years (maybe even centuries), the French decided to transform its purpose as cure into confection. The marsh mallow sap was whipped with egg whites and sugar to create what we now know marshmallows to be—a super sweet, soft, fluffy and, when melted, deliciously addictive gooey treat.

According to Tim Richardson’s account in Sweets: A History of Candy, this mild illness remedy turned fancy French confection occurred in the mid-1800s or so. By the late 1800s, the mallow sap was replaced by a less expensive and more readily available ingredient—gelatin. The gelatin was used as the gelling agent in marshmallows to hold their shape—just as they are made today. This replacement reduced the price of the sweets, making them easily procured by all. Marshmallow roasts became popular activities and groups would gather to enjoy these sweet summertime festivities.

But, who could just stop there? As roasting marshmallows became popular, so did the exploration of their uses. Enter: the s’more.

S'mores

Loretta Scott Crew dubbed s’mores as “Some More” in 1927 in Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. (If that’s not enough to sign your daughters up for the Girl Scouts, I don’t know what is—so clever, those little darlings!). The recipe directs readers to roast marshmallows on a stick over a campfire and press them between two graham crackers and a piece of a chocolate bar, like a sandwich. The recipe also says something like, “while the recipe is called ‘some more,’ eating one is enough.” (Clearly, the author and I have never met.)

So there you have it. S’mores have been around for a looooooooong time. Still, the original method of making a s’more remains the same. The only thing that has changed, really, is the spelling of its name. I can’t say that for a lot of desserts. So mark your calendars and please raise your twigs in their honor, because Wednesday, August 10th is National S’mores Day.

For a fancier twist on s’mores, grab a copy of my latest cookbook, Modern Eclairs: And Other Sweet and Savory Puffs, for a yummy s’mores eclairs recipe!

Want to study with Chef Jenny? Click here to learn more about our award-winning Pastry & Baking Arts program.


By Michael Laiskonis—ICE Creative Director

The final steps in processing our bean-to-bar chocolate make up the longest phase of the manufacturing process—a waiting game where the true essence of the bean, its complex flavor and its silky texture are unlocked. At this point, we focus on physically breaking the bean’s coarse texture, revealing subtleties beneath its bitter astringency and liberating its cocoa butter. Though we add ingredients at this stage, there is also an aspect of elimination—the refining stage is followed by conching, which peels away unwanted volatile flavors.

Sifting the Finished Chocolate

My last post dealt with handling the roasted bean—crushing it into nibs, separating its shell, grinding it into fluid cocoa liquor and extracting pure cocoa butter. During this final stage, the chocolate maker faces the challenge of tasting a bean’s full potential and identifying the subtle nuances within. While the goal of the “craft” chocolate maker working primarily in single origin batches is often to enable the expression of that bean’s inner essence, an industrial manufacturer’s typical aim is to create consistency from batch to batch, from year to year. Neither approach is qualitatively better or more difficult—just two possible approaches employed in the final stage of chocolate making.

Refining

Different kinds of machines can carry out the task of refining (stone melangeurs, roller refiners, scraped-surface refiners, etc.). In the lab, our coarse chocolate liquor enters a 10-kilogram capacity ball mill—a temperature-controlled tank that contains roughly 60 pounds of hardened steel-grinding media (ball bearings, essentially, in two sizes). With agitation, the steel balls begin breaking down the fairly large particles in the liquor, refining them down to a target of around 20 microns—in terms of scale, one micron (µm) is one-millionth of a meter (or one-thousandth of a millimeter). More accurately, true particle size in chocolate will lie along a curve, or a distribution, some smaller and some larger than our target. Looking closely at the structure of chocolate, it is simply very small solid particles (cocoa solids, sugar and sometimes milk solids) dispersed in fat—cocoa butter. Because the threshold of perception of a particle on our palate is in the neighborhood of about 35µm, a smooth, creamy mouthfeel depends upon breaking down the solids below that mark. Particles that are too small (below 15µm), however, will create too much surface area for the available cocoa butter, thus adversely affecting the flow properties of the chocolate with increased viscosity.

Most often, we add our ground liquor to the ball mill to refine for some time before adding any other ingredients. As the liquor continues to break down, more of its cocoa butter is released, providing sufficient fluidity to begin processing additional dry ingredients, namely sugar and, in the case of milk chocolate, whole milk powder. Virtually all of our chocolate receives an additional boost of cocoa butter as well. Vanilla, a common but not compulsory addition, can enter into the mix in various forms. I typically chop up whole vanilla beans and add them early in the refining process. Though the majority of the dozens of batches created in the lab have been of single origin, I have begun working on blending beans, and even introducing additional flavors—whole coffee beans, spices and nuts—to thoroughly integrate into the finished product. For our first attempt at a vegan milk chocolate, I replaced conventional milk powder with freeze-dried coconut milk. Refining time can vary, depending upon the batch size, particle size of the liquor and by agitation speed.

Measuring Particle Size on a Grind Gauge

measuring particle size on a grind gauge

Conching

Ball Mill

the ball mill

In addition to speed control, our ball mill also offers temperature control and heated airflow. Lacking a stand-alone conching machine, this heat and airflow help us replicate some of the effects of traditional conching. In basic terms, the conching phase is best described as heated agitation. Three key aspects of conching are moisture reduction, texture and flow enhancement and development of flavor. Residual moisture in chocolate can affect its flow properties, even though a great deal of the raw bean’s water was removed during the roast, trace amounts remain through the grinding and refining process. Prolonged mixing also helps ensure that all of the tiny solid particles are evenly dispersed in and coated by the cocoa butter, which improves mouthfeel and workability. And finally, the heat and forced air aid in driving off some of the remaining volatile acids – unwanted flavors that are a byproduct of fermentation back at the bean’s origin. Conching is an important part of the process, but each chocolate will require varying amounts. Long a marketing myth in the chocolate industry, a longer conching time does not necessarily equal higher quality. Some argue that excess conching may even destroy desirable flavors.

Once the chocolate is deemed ‘finished,’ it is extracted from the ball mill (we also employ two small stone grinders for smaller experimental test batches) and passed through a vibrating sifter—imagine a super-fine mesh strainer—which catches any particles not sufficiently refined. The radicle, the hard and bitter germ stem in every cocoa bean, may stubbornly evade grinding, along with the occasional bit of vanilla bean that sticks to the agitator. After sifting, it’s time for tempering and molding, right? Well, not so fast. Aging chocolate for a period of time, though unpredictable and not fully understood, is common practice. Some chocolate makers prefer to temper, mold and package chocolate immediately, others will age chocolate from two weeks to one month. Though there may be little one can do to change the finished product at that point, most believe that the true character of the chocolate will not reveal itself until it has had a minimum three-week mellowing period. One of the ongoing projects here in the lab is to hold back portions of each batch to sample at regular intervals to track some of these still-inexplicable changes over time.

As with other stages of the chocolate making process, success during refining relies on equal parts science, experience, taste, patience and arguably, some degree of intuition. The key is understanding that each part of the process presents a new set of variables. The next dispatch in this series will address formulation— the recipe development phase for each batch of chocolate.

Aging Chocolate

aging chocolate

Want to dive into the chocolate lab with Chef Michael? Click here for a list of his upcoming workshops at ICE.

 

By Michael Laiskonis—Creative Director

Every step of the chocolate-making process, from fruit to bean to bar, presents an opportunity to influence the flavor and texture of the finished chocolate. After harvesting, fermenting and drying at origin, beans are shipped around the world. Once received at the factory, raw cocoa undergoes several steps of transformation—what we call the “bean-to-bar” process. Previously I’ve discussed the bean-to-bar steps of sourcing and roasting. In this post, we will look at the intermediate steps necessary to turn flavorful roasted beans into the refined product we know and enjoy.

The nuanced flavors and smooth texture we associate with chocolate evolved during the Industrial Revolution, alongside the general advancement of technology and mechanization in the mid to late 19th century. This rise of the machine, so to speak, not only made chocolate products readily available to the masses, but it also catapulted what was a coarse bar or a rustic beverage to more sophisticated heights. Key players responsible for the machines and processes developed during this time remain some of the most recognized names in contemporary chocolate production today, including Van Houten, Peters, Nestlé and Lindt.

Machinery remains a constant in the contemporary chocolate-making process, and many visitors to the ICE Chocolate Lab are surprised by the sheer number and diversity of machines we employ. Below, I’ll explain the three processing steps, and their dedicated machines, that bridge the gap between roasting and refining.

Each bean has an outer shell, the germ stem (or radicle) and the nib, the latter of which contains a fat content of roughly 50-55%. Once out of the roaster and cooled, we must first break the bean and remove its shell. The removal of the shell is important for flavor, texture and food safety reasons: too much shell in our finished chocolate can produce a musty flavor and gritty texture and excessive wear and tear on our equipment. Additionally, while we have rendered the beans safe to handle from a microbial perspective by roasting, the high levels of heavy metals harbored in the shell are reason enough to discard them. In short, the shells do not positively impact flavor and are not considered “wholesome.”

cacao beans raw chocolate bean to bar chocolate

To remove the shells, we employ a winnowing machine, which yields only the nib, roughly 85% of its original weight, for further processing. We load the whole roasted beans into a hopper that funnels them through a rotating gear, crushing the bean and separating nibs from their shells, which have already loosened during the roasting phase. The fractured pieces then fall through a series of vibrating screens, causing the bits of nibs and shell to “dance” their way toward a vacuum which will suck the lighter shell from the screen while allowing the heavier nibs to pass through untouched. Our goal is to minimize the amount of shell in our nibs, while preventing any nibs from inadvertently getting discarded, so constant adjustment of the winnowing machine is necessary. We can control the rate of breaking the beans, the flow of particles along the screens and the intensity of the vacuum. Because shell weight can vary from bean to bean, we constantly monitor the nibs as they fall into a collection bin. From unsorted raw bean to cleaned nibs, it is not uncommon to lose 20-25% of our original weight of product.

Freed from their shells, the nibs then begin an intermediate grinding phase. Any number of grinding methods can perform this function, but in our lab we pass the nibs through a rotating hammer mill, which impacts the nibs at high speed, forcing them through three progressively smaller screens. The result is a coarse, semi-liquid paste that we refer to as chocolate “liquor”—confusing, as there is no alcohol present. This liquor is a suspension of dry cocoa solids, which vary in size up to a few hundred microns, in cocoa butter that is liberated from the nib and liquefied due to the heat of friction created during grinding. Each pass through the mill both saves time and reduces wear on the next stage of refining equipment. The final pass also often allows us the opportunity to isolate and remove a good deal of the hard, bitter radicles, which can contribute a harsh flavor and gritty texture to finished chocolate. Leaving the hammer mill, the liquor then enters a ball mill, along with any additional ingredients—at a minimum, sugar and additional cocoa butter—to achieve a final particle size near 20 microns.

micrometer chocolate mashup

The ability to press the added cocoa butter in the ball mill stage ourselves is one of the most exciting aspects of our production in the ICE Chocolate Lab. Up to two kilograms of our ground liquor is loaded into a heated pot and secured onto a hydraulic press. Gradually ramping up pressure over an hour or two—topping out at some 65 tons—will yield between 40-45% cocoa butter, which, unlike commercial deodorizer butter, emerges with significant flavor and aroma intact. This supplemental fat is used to boost the final cocoa butter content of the finished product, which for couverture-grade chocolate lies between 35-40%, maximizing fluidity and mouthfeel.

The machines we employ during these intermediary steps between roasting and refining typify how advancements in technology have helped make chocolate production more efficient and consistent. The next installment in this blog series will pick up with formulation, refining and conching—the final steps in which the chocolate maker can influence the finished product’s complex characteristics.

Interested in learning about chocolate firsthand? Click here for a list of upcoming classes with Chef Michael in the ICE Chocolate Lab.

 

By Lana Schwartz—Student, School of Culinary Arts

As a culinary school student, I spend most of my weeknights catching up on laundry, going to the gym or making dinner plans with friends. Last month, when ICE Chef Instructor Jenny McCoy approached my classmates and I in our sunny student lounge, my Wednesday night plans got a significant upgrade.

Top 10 Chocolatiers Dessert Professional

Chef Jenny was recruiting students to support a showcase for North America’s “Top 10 Chocolatiers,” an event hosted by Dessert Professional magazine with a guest list of 250+ industry insiders. As a Culinary Arts student, I haven’t worked much with chocolate, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about this growing industry.

Over the next few hours, I was exposed to an incredible level of talent. The diversity and creativity expressed through chocolate was inspiring from any culinary perspective. Self-expression reigned—from the vegan chocolatier who avoids milk products to a Mexican pastry chef infusing flavors of fruits and spices into his creations.

Top 10 Chocolatiers Dessert Professional

Beyond the obvious decadence and delicious tastings at this event, it was a fantastic opportunity to network with culinary professionals. When I started school, I knew that being in New York City would offer the perks of relationship building, but I never anticipated that I would have the chance to interact with so many industry professionals, exchanging experiences, ideas and contact information.

The event emphasized why I love being a part of the ICE community. Every person who attends school here shares a passion for food, but collectively, we are greater than that. As culinary, pastry, management and hospitality students, we have chosen to dedicate our lives to creating moments of joy and memories filled with happiness for others.

T

By volunteering at the Top 10 Chocolatiers event I had the opportunity to do just that, and I found clarity in the experience. What’s more, the award-winning chocolatiers were grateful for the extra hands, allowing them to take a moment to celebrate their moment of joy while simultaneously providing a top-notch experience for all the event’s guests.

I say with confidence that while this was my first volunteer experience as an ICE student, it won’t be my last!

Click here to learn more about networking and volunteering opportunities for ICE students.

 

Under the leadership of Creative Director Michael Laiskonis, every day in ICE’s Chocolate Lab is an opportunity for research and experimentation. Step inside the lab as we unwrap the chocolate-making process—from bean to bar—and discover just what it takes to create this beloved treat.

To discover the craft of bean-to-bar chocolate for yourself, request free information about ICE’s professional Pastry & Baking Arts program and continuing education courses for current pastry chefs.

 

Even as the editor in chief of a major food magazine, Dana Cowin never had the chance to try her hand at artisanal chocolate making. Luckily, no trip to ICE would be complete without a lesson in our new bean-to-bar chocolate lab.

For the ultimate chocolate masterclass, we paired Dana with ICE Creative Director Michael Laiskonis, who shared his tips for at-home tempering. From there, we asked Chef Michael to reimagine an interpretation of Dana’s favorite candy bar: the100 Grand.

Click here to learn more about chocolate studies at ICE.

 

By Michael Laiskonis—Creative Director

It may sound obvious, but the first step in the chocolate making process is bean selection. No two beans are alike, each offering distinctive flavor characteristics impacted by genetics, origin, farming and post-harvest handling—before they ever arrive at a chocolate production facility. Of course, individual chocolate makers are presented with numerous opportunities to imprint their personal stamp on the finished product during the chocolate making process, but to create an exceptional product, the best strategy is often to highlight the inherent qualities of the raw bean itself.

bean to bar chocolate - chocolate beans

Most popular texts on the subject of cacao divide beans into three primary varietals. However the latest research reveals that this classification is overly simplistic and somewhat flawed. With so much genetic cross-pollination, hybridization, mutation and recombination, it is rare and increasingly difficult to find any pure forms of the primary bean varietals. Modern commercial production is based on the conventional knowledge of these primary genetic clusters, known as Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario (a hybrid of the previous two).

Forastero dominates world production, accounting for 90% of the cacao grown and often referred to as “bulk” cacao, as opposed to “fine” or “flavor” cacao, which indicates the Criollo and Trinitario types. In the last decade, scientists have sought to refine and expand the longstanding classification to a dozen or more genetic sub-clusters that include such names as Amelonado, Beniano, Marañon and Purús. Adding further complexity are commercial breeds with sterile sounding names, such as CCN-51 or EET-103. The pursuit of these more detailed classifications isn’t in vain: the clearer our understanding of a particular bean’s genetic heritage, the easier it is to understand its ultimate potential.

When it comes to sourcing beans, large-scale manufacturers—and a growing number of small-batch artisans—work directly with farmers to understand a particular lot of beans and even influence its quality. The latter is especially true when it comes to the crucial fermentation stage, which takes place on the cacao plantation itself. Fermentation lasts from five to seven days, varying both by bean type and by the specifications dictated by the manufacturer purchasing the beans. Pods are harvested manually by making a clean cut through the stalk with a well-sharpened blade. After the ripe pod has been cut from the tree, it is opened, the rind is discarded and the pulp and seeds are piled in boxes or laid out in mounds for several days.

cacao pod bean to bar chocolate

During this time, the pulp liquefies and the process of fermentation takes place, through the action of wild yeasts and bacteria that convert the natural sugars in the pulp into alcohol and acids (lactic and acetic). This allows complex chemical changes to take place within the bean, including enzyme activity, oxidation and the breakdown of proteins into amino acids. These chemical reactions lead to the development of characteristic chocolate flavors, aromas and colors. Interestingly, just as house-fermented products are gaining traction throughout the culinary landscape, a deeper interest in fermentation is expanding in the cacao industry. Increasingly, beans are being inoculated with very specific cultures, manually influencing processes that happen spontaneously in tropical cacao-growing regions.

Another crucial processing step—and one that shouldn’t be overlooked—is drying, when the bean’s moisture content falls from about 60% to roughly 7.5%. The reduced moisture of the beans inhibits mold growth after they are packed and shipped—typically overseas. Beans are dried by two methods: the preferable option is to dry the beans in the sun, but in some regions artificial means are employed, such as heat provided by a wood or gas fire. A classic example of the latter takes place in Papua New Guinea, where the harvest coincides with the rainy season. As such, Guinean beans ferment under unusually humid conditions, and the necessity of oven drying imparts the beans with a slightly smoky flavor.

When beans initially arrive in the ICE Chocolate Lab, I make a quick study of the type and origin, applying as many general assumptions as I can. Beans of similar genetic background can express themselves differently from region to region, so it’s helpful to have as much additional knowledge as possible. While there may be no optimal treatment that can be applied to all beans, insights provided by knowledge of the cultivar and growing conditions can steer the chocolate maker, for example, toward a lighter or heavier roast. There are also visual cues an experienced chocolate maker can use to assess bean quality and guide the process.

chocolate bean cacao bean size bean to bar chocolate

Bean size will influence roasting time and temperature, so a bean count per 100 grams is a common method of expressing size, which can vary greatly even within a single lot. Recent lots of beans I have personally received for the lab include tiny Bolivian beans that averaged nearly 90 per 100 grams, to larger Peruvian beans where the count was closer to 70. Beyond bean type and size, I also consider the beans’ degree of fermentation. To assess this, I split open random samples of beans to assess for color (as well as for slaty or moldy beans). In such a cut test, beans with a purple hue may be slightly under-fermented while the color will deepen to various shades of brown with more fermentation. After sifting through a few batches of different beans, one can easily begin to understand how bean selection alone factors into an approach to chocolate making, demanding its own set of parameters.

Learning to assess bean characteristics has been an important first step in my chocolate education, from deeper-flavored Forastero beans from Ghana to the fruity notes typical of Madagascar beans. We’ve encountered unexpected results in the ICE lab, as with one particular lot of beans from the Dominican Republic that provided a distinct aroma of licorice—not unpleasant, but not at all what we expected to find from that origin. On the other hand, samples of beans from Ecuador’s Camino Verde—where various cultures and fermentation techniques are employed—all expressed varying notes while still aligning with the typical floral aromas we associate with the region.

cacao beans raw chocolate bean to bar chocolate

Each bean we’ve sourced requires different handling—from roasting through to winnowing, refining and conching—in order to fully express the inherent qualities that lie within. One of our most recent chocolate batches was a first attempt with beans from Papua New Guinea developed as part of a two-day professional development class. The subtle smokiness—a result of oven drying, as mentioned above—carried through to the finished bar and was not unlike a complex, peaty Scotch whiskey. The most exciting part of working in our modern age of small-batch chocolate is that these kinds of characteristics—which, historically, may have been viewed as defects—add a unique profile and a distinct sense of place.

With time and experience, seasoned chocolate makers can intuitively identify subtle nuances beneath the rough bitter overtones of simple roasted nibs or coarsely ground liquor. Even with all my hours in ICE’s Chocolate Lab, guessing at a finished chocolate’s final flavor is not a skill I’ve fully mastered. In my career as a pastry chef, few projects have offered as much opportunity for personal development and discovery. From the complexities of crafting true-to-character single-origin chocolates to exploring the art of blending different beans for balanced, consistent batches, I’m eager to continue this journey in craftsmanship. Beginning to understand the process from harvest to shipping is daunting, but it opens up a whole new range of possibilities to expand my palate, refine my skills and cultivate students’ intellectual discovery of one of the world’s most beloved food products.

Click here to watch a video about the ICE Chocolate Lab.

 

Over the past 10 years, the number of bean-to-bar chocolate operations in the United States has grown exponentially. Yet no American culinary school has invested in a chocolate lab where pastry students and seasoned professionals can experience the full cycle of bean-to-bar production…until now.

ICE’s Chocolate Lab was designed to expose students to the premier small-batch equipment in the industry—the very same tools used by some of the world’s leading research and development chefs and chocolatiers. Our partner in this groundbreaking venture is Cacao Cucina; the only American company that specializes in the production of artisanal, bean-to-bar chocolate equipment. The lab is also outfitted with premier chocolate moulding, tempering and finishing equipment from Tomric Systems.

“I once read an article where a chocolatier stated, ‘The most important step in making chocolate is every step.’ With the development of this center of research and development, I’m excited to show pastry chefs who aren’t chocolate makers how quantitative aspects of the process—roasting time and temperature, milling particle size, etc.—can effect the end flavor, and to explore the best applications of every type of chocolate.” – Michael Laiskonis, ICE Creative Director

To learn more about the Chocolate Lab at ICE, click here.

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