A Day Out At Sihi Chocolaterie: Cacao, Couverture and Bakers

As a healthy baker, I am always intrigued about how the ingredients in my bake are processed and manufactured. Anybody who has read through my recipes will know that I always stress upon the goodness that each ingredient brings along in all my bakes. Being a die hard chocolate lover and its widespread use in recipes across the globe, I have always had a fascination to know more about them. 

Sihi Chocolaterie and its founder Akshaya, recently gave me this wonderful opportunity to delve into the mystery of chocolate manufacturing. As a part of a healthy baking contest held by Sihi Chocolaterie for World Chocolate Day this year, all the participants including me were invited to their factory to gain a first hand knowledge on couverture chocolate making. This post here summarizes the insights and experience gained during this visit.

Whenever I go for chocolate shopping, I mostly notice that some packages say they contain cacao while others say cocoa. The raw cacao powder or cacao nibs in health food stores made me wonder how they differ from standard cocoa powder and chocolate chips. The visit to the factory made things clearer and answered even the most naive of my queries. Akshaya walked us through the entire process of chocolate making.

Chocolate is made from cacao beans – or rather seeds – from the Theobroma cacao tree. This plant produces large, pod-like fruits, each containing 20–60 beans surrounded by a sticky, sweet-tart white pulp. The contents of the beans provide the basis for chocolate products. The pictures here show raw cacao fruit, the white pulp and the dried cacao beans. 

The dry cacao beans is the step where the chocolate factories begin their process. The dried beans are roasted which develops the chocolate flavor and gives them some sweetness. The beans are crushed and separated from their outer hulls, resulting in broken cacao pieces called nibs.

Nibs are then grounded, producing a non-alcoholic liquor. This liquor is then used to make the couverture chocolate products. To make cocoa powder, the liquor – which is roughly half fat in the form of cocoa butter – is pressed to remove most of the fat. To make couverture chocolate, the liquor is often mixed with other ingredients, including vanilla, sugar, more cocoa butter and milk.

We did get to lick upon the yummy liquid couverture chocolate direct from the machine which was the highlight of the tour. Unfortunately, it was the forbidden area for photography, so we couldn’t capture the excitement and the chocolate kicks we all went through. They are like forever embedded in our memories now!!!

Cacao products are excellent sources of several minerals, including selenium, magnesium, chromium and manganese. Generally, the darker the chocolate – meaning the higher the cacao content – the higher the mineral content. Cacao products – such as unsweetened cocoa powder, nibs and dark chocolate – are rich sources of minerals. Minimally processed, raw cacao products contain little or no added sugar and are higher in antioxidants than more highly processed products.

Unsweetened cacao nibs are healthier than standard chocolate chips, but you may find them too bitter. Consider caramelizing the cacao nibs till you adapt to their original taste. As for raw cacao powder, you may find its taste and quality superior to standard unsweetened cocoa powder. If you buy raw cacao powder, remember that some of its antioxidants will be destroyed by heat if you bake with it. Consider adding it to a smoothie instead.

Cacao products stand out for their disease-fighting plant compounds, easily absorbed iron and relaxation-promoting tryptophan. Still, they can be high in calories (and sometimes sugar), so enjoy them in moderation.

As soon as we finished our informative tour, there came the fun part of the trip. All the bakers ganged up together to use the couverture and cacao nibs made in Sihi Chocolaterie to bake the winning recipe of the contest. An entremet (a dessert from French cuisine) by our fellow baker Nafisathul Misriya.

Each one contributed in our own form (me fooling around most of the time!!) and the result was a beautiful treat for all senses. Nafisa made the beautiful heart entremet with the maximum effort involved while all of us took the shorter route and made our own simpler square versions.

Amidst the gossips, the teasing, the tasting and the learning, all of us made some beautiful memories. The fun ended with each one of us looking forward to more such escapades together.

I am extremely thankful to Akshaya and the entire staff of Sihi Chocolaterie for giving us this fun learning opportunity that we will cherish all our lives.

I hope all of you enjoyed the read and I could provide you some insight on the background of couverture making. Happy Baking!! Stay Healthy!!

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