Flavoring chocolate with liquid inclusions
When making bean-to-bar chocolate, you need to avoid adding any water to the mix, otherwise your chocolate will seize and become impossible to temper. That's one reason why milk chocolate is made with milk powder. You can add dried versions of food to flavor your chocolate like freeze dried fruit powders and dry spices, but what if you want to make a whiskey chocolate bar? Or use local seasonal ingredients, like apples, instead of industrially processed freeze dried apple powder?
One technique is to soak the roasted cocoa nibs in a flavorful liquid, then dry out the nibs in a dehydrator. The water will evaporate while the flavorful compounds will stick around. Then you can refine and temper your chocolate as usual.
We've found this approach to be wildly effective in making bean-to-bar chocolate at home, especially when using potent liquids like coffee and tea, alcohol, and fruit juice. The resulting bars have a strong but balanced flavor, and the technique opens up a whole new avenue for exploration.
As for the specifics: you want to fully saturate the nibs; we've found that 500ml of liquid for every kilogram of cocoa is plenty. An airtight and well-sealed container like a large Tupperware or Ziplock bag makes it easy to shake the nibs every so often to make sure they absorb all the liquid. We usually soak the nibs for 24-48 hours, although I bet you can get away with more or less time. Drying out the nibs can be accomplished with a dehydrator or oven at 140-150F for about 12 hours.
Coffee & tea
The most common way to make a coffee or tea flavored chocolate bar is to add the coffee grounds or tea leaves directly to the refining process, and this works well. One of my favorite chocolate bars of all time is made this way. But I came across a delicious New Orleans style cold brew and wondered if I could use it to make chocolate. Steeping the nibs in the concentrated cold brew resulted in a cleaner and more subtle flavor than using coffee grounds. After making an Earl Gray chocolate with raw tea leaves, I wondered if I could control the bitterness of the tannins by soaking nibs in a concentrated tea instead. This did result in a noticeably less bitter chocolate, although the flavor was milder and the moderate improvement in taste may not have warranted the extra effort.
Cold brew chocolate bar ⭐️
Earl gray crema chocolate bar ⭐️
Alcohol-flavored chocolate bars are delicious and it's really fun to walk into a spirits store and think of the possibilities. We've tried whiskey, rum, mead, dark beers, and even Fireball! I've also seen IPA and Mezcal-flavored bars sold in stores. Our first attempt was a whiskey bar and I thought that we'd end up with both whiskey-flavored nibs and nib-flavored whiskey, but it turns out that those nibs are thirsty and soak up most everything! And whatever liquid was left tasted awful, so if you want chocolate-infused whiskey, find a different technique. I should mention that since a batch of chocolate can drink up an entire bottle of whiskey, this method is expensive, adding about $1/bar in material costs. Still, we don't make chocolate to make money, and we don't make enough to spend that much. My favorite alcohol infusions to date have used campfire whiskey (subtly smokey!) and apple pie spiced mead (fruity up-front, with a rich honey middle and lingering spice).
Apple pie mead chocolate bar ⭐️
Campfire whisky chocolate bar ⭐️
Porter with whiskey nib chocolate bar
Fireball chocolate bar
Cyser mead chocolate bar
Port wine chocolate bar
Rum chocolate bar
Hot buttered rum chocolate bar
We haven't experimented extensively with fruit juices but the few bars we have made have been excellent. Steeping nibs in cacao fruit juice delivered a delightfully tangy chocolate, reminiscent of a unique coconut ferment bar I once sampled. Reducing apple cider to a concentrated liquid, soaking the nibs, and later adding fall spices resulted in a chocolate bar that tasted just like apple pie.
Cacao juice chocolate bar ⭐️
Spiced apple cider chocolate bar ⭐️
Our first liquid infusion experiment, whiskey
Another experiment, using rum
Nibs drying out in the dehydrator, after being soaked for 24 hours
If you don't have a dehydrator, you can use an oven at about 150F
Cold brew and port experiments
Apple pie mead, one of my favorite liquid infusions, from the San Francisco Meadery
Fireball, why not?