I took some time off making chocolate to read and study, and also to give Matt time and space to remodel our kitchen! It is a HUGE improvement over the ancient 1930s era rusty steel cabinets and pock-marked linoleum floor (watch for glimpses of our gorgeous soapstone countertops in some of my pictures).
Because I didn't understand what went wrong with my first two batches, I decided to do some methodical roasting tests, and taste the nibs that resulted from these roasting tests. I conducted three separate tests. Each test included 15 steps of time/temp adjustments, and I tasted nibs at every step of the way. This was an immensely helpful exercise! My friend Minta joined me for one of the roasting tests and helped me to understand a bit more about the Maillard process, which is a significant factor in the flavor development. I was able to identify the problem with the first two batches (severely over-roasted). And more importantly, I now have a better understanding of how the flavor evolves over the course of the roast.
There is no single perfect point where the roast is "just right". Instead, the flavor evolves - it's up to the chocolate maker to choose which point on that spectrum of flavor he or she wants to emphasize. Fruity, bright, lemony, green, savory, unripe banana, roasted banana, cinnamon, almonds, meaty, winey, chocolaty, burnt sugar, and more are some of the words that I wrote on my roasting test notes. Some of these occur in conjunction with each other... and some lead into each other. For instance, the savory meaty quality seems to deepen into that old-school deep "chocolate" flavor that we all love. But it can easily devolve into bitter burnt sugar. The bright lemony and less ripe fruit tones seem to evolve into deeper riper and more winey fruit tones later on. But they don't all evolve on such a sensical trajectory, and the most interesting flavors are not always simultaneous. For instance at the early part of the roast I may sense lemon and nutty flavors, and later on I may sense raspberry and deep chocolate. So how do I make a chocolate that conveys both the lemony quality from the early part of the roast and the deep chocolate tones from the later in the roasting process?
All of this testing was done using lovely beans from Chiapas Mexico. I had 4 pounds of beans left, so I chose a roast profile that I found appealing, and made what I'm now considering my first successful batch of chocolate. I can't call it a complete success though.... as the next step is TEMPERING.
This chocolate project has a steep learning curve, but once this batch is tempered I'll share pictures of the finished bars, and results of my taste tests too... can't wait to share!