Saturday, 25 February 2012

Starting Making Chocolate Candy Guide: When I hear "chocolate factory," I get visions of Willy Wonka. Can you describe your factory setup? How many workers do you have? Where did you get your machinery?

Art Pollard: Our factory is pretty small. Right now, our factory is only about 2,000 square feet and all a single room. We have recently taken over another unit in our building and are working on getting it painted and ready so that we can expand into it as well. When we started out, we had just enough space to make chocolate and no more. However, now that we are up and running, we have found that we could really use more space than what we had initially planned.

Along the walls, we hang large poster-size prints of cocoa flowers, cocoa pods, and various places from my travels to Central America and elsewhere. This helps bring some color to our factory and liven things up. I do almost all of our photography, so there’s a great sense of satisfaction in seeing such beautiful prints on the walls and knowing that they were not purchased but are my own creation.

Our process starts with loading the cocoa beans onto a sorting table. The table has a hoist over it which allows us to lift the bags into the air so we can empty them easier. All of our cocoa beans are at this point sorted by hand to ensure that the bags we receive from the farm do not have rocks, sticks, and farm implements in them that might damage our machinery or get into the final chocolate. We find all sorts of interesting things tucked away in the bags of beans.

Once the beans are sorted, we use a wheelbarrow to take them over to our roaster. We imported our roaster from Portugal. Although manufactured in 1962, it follows an earlier design. In fact, an engraving from a chocolate book was published in 1912 shows an almost identical roaster. It is cylindrical, five feet around and about eight feet tall. A large door opens on the front, swung up via a counterweight. Inside is a large sphere about four feet in diameter, into which we load and roast our cocoa beans. When the circular lid is off, I can't help but think that it looks like the Death Star from the movie Star Wars. When we roast the cocoa beans, all our neighbors can smell the aroma. Our neighborhood smells like a large oven full of brownies. Our neighbors tell their visitors about what a wonderful area in which they get to work.

Our next machine, our winnowing machine. It is located right next to the roaster. The winnowing machine crushes the beans to help separate the fibrous husk from the meat of the bean. The winnowing machine then classifies the bits of bean (called "nibs") by size and then uses a vacuum system to separate the light husk away from the heavier nibs. When the nibs come out of the winnowing machine, they fall into tubs and are ready to be made into chocolate.

We use a melangeur (a French word that means simply “to mix”) to grind our nibs into chocolate liquor. For the uninitiated, this is not a drink with alcohol but simply ground up cocoa beans—the equivalent of baking chocolate. We add sugar here as well as vanilla. I personally source our vanilla just as I source our cocoa beans. Once the ground beans have reached the right consistency, we load the chocolate into five gallon buckets and load it into our next machine, the roller mill.

A roller mill is a large machine in which a series of rollers roll against each other, being pushed together with lots of force. We use the roller mill to grind the chocolate ingredients until they are perfectly smooth. Many people find it interesting that when the chocolate comes out of the roll refiner, it is not liquid but is flakey, like sawdust.

When all the chocolate has run through the roll refiner, we load it into our conche. Essentially a conche is a machine that heats the chocolate and stirs it or otherwise moves it around for a long period of time. This process allows a number of volatile oils and acids to evaporate and improves the flavor and texture of the chocolate. A number of other aspects to conching also help improve the flavor and texture. Conching is a crucial phase, it is very important for flavor development. I spend lots of time at the factory as we are conching; sometimes I have been known to sleep there just so that I can be sure to adjust the speed and temperature of the conche as it massages the chocolate so that the final chocolate is as close to perfect as it can be.

It isn't all romance, however. When we are in full production, our factory gets to be very hot. This is nice in the winter, but during the summer months, it can be quite an experience. As the conche runs, acids (such as acetic acid) evaporate, as well as do the other volatiles. Depending on the type of bean, this can make your eyes water, and it takes time to get used to. Finally, with all the machinery, our factory can be very loud, so the wearing of hearing protection is mandatory. It is, in the ,end, very hard and difficult work. At the same time, classical artists have long worked in sweltering conditions to be able to create porcelain, glass, and bronze sculptures. Chocolate is, I believe, no exception to this great tradition.

We have three workers. Two of us make the chocolate, while a third, whom we just brought on, markets it. I personally oversee each and every batch of chocolate and formulate the recipes we use.

As to where we obtained our machinery, most all it is out of Europe. Europe has a chocolate making tradition that the United States does not have. In the United States, a few key players for many have dominated chocolate making for many, many years. For this reason, it is very difficult to obtain machinery in the United States for making chocolate, though machinery for making confections is relatively easy to come by.

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