A great gift for a chocoholic
For my birthday last month, my son, Thomas, gave me two cacao pods because he thought I would be interested to see and hold them and then have a go at making my own chocolate from them. What a great idea! I was absolutely fascinated by the whole process and did end up with something resembling a bar of chocolate at the end, albeit rather rustic. I thought I would put a little bit about it on here with some photos to show what I did and what it looked like.
Firstly, the pods themselves. They were very tactile and pleasingly weighty and everything about them screamed sunshine and warmth. These ones came from St Lucia, which was rather a nice extra bonus, as that’s where my husband and I had our honeymoon.
When I split them open, the insides were very weird indeed. The beans were all encased in a white coating which is apparently called baba. Some of the baba had come away and inside you could see the actual beans – they were purple! Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo, but they reminded me of the little beans inside runner beans. Fascinating.
I then tried to recreate the fermentation process. Normally this would be done over a few days under a cover of banana leaves, but without the right climate and the banana leaves, this wasn’t really possible! Instead, I put them in the oven at the lowest possible setting for about 10 hours overnight, 2 nights running. Initially I couldn’t really smell anything, then I could smell a slight yeasty, fermenting type smell and then I could smell a chocolatey smell, which was the indication that they were ready. In the photo you can see the “fermented” beans, the baba, which went kind of flaky, and then the nibs which were the broken down beans. Actual cocoa nibs! So exciting!
I then ground up the nibs in my blender and was really quite beside myself to realise that I’d just made my very own cocoa powder!
Time to make the chocolate. I bought some pure cocoa butter buttons (these are very disappointing because they smell lovely and dark chocolatey, but they taste of almost nothing with the consistency of greasy candle wax!) and melted them and then added them to my cocoa powder, along with some sugar and some of my homemade vanilla extract. I stirred until the sugar dissolved and then, in the absence of any chocolate moulds, I poured the mixture into a loaf tin lined with cling film. It was very shiny at this stage as you can see from the photo! I then put it in the fridge for half an hour. And hey presto! A bar of Pippa White chocolate! I felt like Willy Wonka!
All that was left to do now was cut it into chunks and try it. Well, it certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s a lovely intense flavour and I deliberately didn’t make it overly sweet, because I didn’t want the sugar to overtake the cocoa. It’s a little grainy, but I didn’t have all the fancy kit needed to do it properly, so that’s hardly surprising. I can’t say I’ll be going into the chocolate-making industry any time soon as it was quite a laborious process, but it was SO interesting to make and incredibly satisfying to see the end result. Yum.
When I did the fermenting part, I put the empty halved pods into the oven at the same time to dry them out. It worked really well, so when the chocolate has all been eaten, I will have a permanent reminder of my foray into chocolate-making in my little cacao pod bowls. They will be great to serve posh chocolate in.