SUNY Schenectady chocolatiers are part of the bean-to-bar movement – The Daily Gazette


In a high-tech downtown lab, where stainless steel machines rattle and roar, the sweet scent of chocolate pirouettes wafts through the air as 18 students learn to work magic.

A cynic might say that the culinary arts students at SUNY Schenectady County Community College are really learning how to make chocolate, but there is magic in that. Think about it: they sort of turn beans into candy and candy bars.

Chocolate and Confectionery Trainer Vanessa Traver is Willy Wonka of the 2,936 square foot laboratory, located in the Mill Artisan District of Schenectady. She said she was excited to teach the art of bean-to-bar chocolate making in the two-semester Chocolate and Confectionery course, which kicked off at the start of the fall semester.

Running this mini chocolate factory is better than what is described in the story “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, insisted Traver.

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“Obviously when you walk in here you won’t see a river of chocolate or anything like that,” she conceded. “But being able to do that is pretty cool. … I think candy, chocolate, candy, candy – they always surround a happy time in your life. I love to teach something that can make someone happy.

Movement in the making

Making homemade chocolate bars is a booming movement, and there are jobs as chocolatiers at a growing number of companies that specialize in bean-to-bar chocolate, Traver said.

“I’m glad we jumped on the bandwagon because it’s something special. It is in line with the making of wine and cheese, and this slow food movement, where you take the time to really do something, and to understand how a product is made and where it comes from.

Traver studied the bean-to-bar process at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.

“My instructor at the culinary institute,” he told me, “Making chocolate is easy. Making good chocolate is difficult. The steps are pretty easy, but there are so many little things you can mess up along the way, ”she said.

The history of chocolate

Chocolate making has a complicated history, something Traver teaches to help students better appreciate the product they produce.

“I show them what a real cocoa plantation looks like. You see these farmers out there with machetes, and that’s always how they harvest cocoa. … It’s a billion dollar industry and some of these farmers live on less than a dollar a day. … It is important that we respect the time and effort that these people put into harvesting and that we respect the product, ”she explained.

Traver and his students use cocoa beans purchased from Chocolate Alchemy, a trader who obtains beans through the fair trade system. This semester, his classes have mainly worked with beans from Madagascar, Uganda and Ghana, and studied their nuances.

“Madagascar beans and Ghana beans are totally different beans even though they come from the same part of the world. Madagascar beans tend to have a very fruity flavor. They almost taste like raspberries when in chocolate, a bit more on the sour side. Ghana beans have those caramel, almost brownie flavors that stand out, ”Traver explained.

The process of making chocolate has a scientific element. Notes are taken throughout to plot roasting and refining times and more.

“All of these little factors are going to affect the taste of the chocolate in the end,” Traver explained.

The Confectionery Lab, located on the ground floor of 10 Mills Lane, is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. Most of the machines are smaller versions of those used by major chocolate makers such as Hershey or Cadbury, Traver noted. Large monitors are installed throughout the space so that students at each of the 10 production stations have a perfect view of the demonstration station at the front of the room. Classes can also be streamed live.

Each production station can accommodate two students and is equipped with essentials like pots and pans, a scale, spatulas and a heat gun. Each also has a refrigeration unit, induction burner, mixer and tabletop mixer used to grind cocoa beans into chocolate liquor.

It is complicated

During the inaugural semester of the program, students learned how to make chocolate bars and candies.

It doesn’t take a lot of ingredients to make chocolate – just cocoa beans, cocoa butter, sugar, and vanilla. For milk chocolate, powdered milk is also added. The tricky part is the execution, which takes three class sessions and additional processing hours.

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First, the cocoa beans are tumbled in a roaster, which can hold around 100 pounds. Once the beans have been roasted to the desired degree, the cocoa beans are separated from their shell in a winnower. Then the nibs are ground with cocoa butter in a blender until they reach a state of chocolate liquor. After 24 hours of treatment, the micron levels are checked.

“We want to make sure our particles are small enough, because that’s what makes chocolate creamy in your mouth,” Traver explained.

The sugar and vanilla are then added to the blender. If milk chocolate is made, powdered milk also comes in. The mixer runs for another 24 to 32 hours, depending on the type of chocolate being made. The micron levels are tested again, then the finished chocolate is passed through a vibrating screen which removes any feathers or sugar particles that have not completely broken down.

Finally, the chocolate is processed in a conche for 12 to 24 hours. The machine heats and aerates the chocolate, evaporating the acid tones. The chocolate is then tempered by hand – cooled to a precise temperature – on a marble worktop, then molded into bars.

“Chocolate has six different beta crystals that it can transform into. We want to hit the fifth beta crystal, because that’s what keeps it beautiful and shiny, and it snaps into place and stays solid at room temperature, ”Traver explained. “For certain types of chocolate, you have to reach certain temperatures. It was definitely a learning curve for everyone. If they don’t hit it properly, it loses its shine and crystallizes. It’s not that pretty.

The star of the show

A stream of melted dark chocolate continuously falls into a puddle of chocolate in the lab’s tempering machine, much like Willy Wonka’s cascade of chocolate. But this mini version of that whimsical flow has a utilitarian purpose: it keeps the chocolate used to make candy at an optimum temperature. This semester, students used commercially produced chocolate in their candies so that they could focus on the molding process and creating delicious fillings. In anticipation of the holidays, they’ve made seasonal ganaches and caramels, including raspberry jam, citrus, and pumpkin caramel.

“Chocolate really isn’t the star of the show in a candy. It really is the infill. I’m trying to find things that work well with chocolate that hit a little deeper than chocolate to be the star of the show, ”noted Traver.

She said her students quickly grasped the chocolate making process and did a great job, but there were a few failures along the way.

“We had a few batches that didn’t go as we expected. They weren’t great, but were they great? No. So you learn as you go, ”she said.

Future sales

In one semester, students made between 100 and 150 chocolate bars and around 500 candies. Their sweets were sold at Pane e Dolci, the campus bakery, during the first week of December. There are plans to sell more chocolates there in time for Valentine’s Day and Easter.

The packaging concept for confectionery is still under development. The candies are currently delivered in a small rectangular white cardboard box with a SUNY Schenectady sticker on the top. The chocolate bars are housed in a transparent, corn-based, compostable packaging material.

“We’re talking about going with gold foil, for this moment Willy Wonka,” Traver said with a smile.

Contact freelance writer Kelly de la Rocha at [email protected]

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