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Chocolate Alchemy

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

One of the most common questions I get from various chocolate makers is what is the best formula for making shelf stable chocolate?

For those not familiar with it, a Baker’s percentage goes like this. It assumes a constant amount of flour, quite often 1 lb or 1 kg. Everything else is scaled on that. In the simplest recipe that has flour, water, salt and yeast, a 70% hydrate bread’s recipe would look like this.

  • flour

  • 70 % water

  • 2.5 % salt

  • 1 % yeast.

Bakers seem to like this because they can scale quickly. If they are using 1 kg (1000 g) of flour, the recipe would look like this:

  • 1000 g flour

  • 700 g water

  • 25 g salt

  • 10 g yeast.

I’ve learned to use this method over the years and I still really don’t care for it for the same reason I find it doesn’t work well in chocolate. I know how much I want at the end, not how much flour (or cocoa nibs) I am starting with at the beginning. If I want 4 500 g loaves of bread, I need 2 kg of total ingredients and this method totally fouls you up trying to work out quickly how much flour you need to start with.

Really it isn’t hard to work out, it is just a tad cumbersome, and I’ve run into many people who are not algebra fluent and it gives them nothing but trouble.

That is why a typical recipe for chocolate looks like this and the totals always add up to 100%.

  • 70 % cocoa nibs

  • 25 % sugar

  • 5 % cocoa butter.

If you want to make 1 kg of chocolate you just multiply the 1 kg (1000 g) times the percentage as a decimal (0.70 = 70%) and you have how much you need.

  • 700 g cocoa nibs

  • 250 g sugar

  • 50 g cocoa butter

The real advantage of this is that you can quickly add up the cocoa nibs and cocoa butter to get the cocoa percent of this 75 % chocolate (70% + 5%).

You can turn this into a baker’s percentage format but it just makes your life really hard since there is no inherent relation of cocoa mass to sugar that is easy to think about. They are just kind of garbage numbers. The above recipe would look like this:

  • Cocoa nib

  • 35.71% Sugar

  • 0.71 % Cocoa butter

Sure, if you have 1 kg of nibs, you know you need 357.1 g of sugar and 71 g of cocoa butter but from there to knowing that will make a 75% chocolate is cumbersome and non-intuitive.

Just to put one more nail in the baker’s percentage thing, you generally buy flour by the pound and can weigh out what you need. Unless you are just starting out and buying roasted nibs, your nib quantity isn’t going to be nice and even. In most cases you will start with 1 or 2 or 5 lbs of beans and get 75-80% of that in nibs after winnowing.

So my recommendation is just get used to how chocolate makers do calculations and don’t hold onto the baking system you are used to. They just are not compatible.

When I am doing recipe development I tend to like to make 2 lb or 1 kg batches (depending which measurement system you like to use). Less than that and the chocolate can refine a little fast and more than that and you can easily be wasting ingredients by making more than you want.

In house, my standard evaluation chocolate is 80% with 5% cocoa butter.

  • 75% cocoa nibs

  • 20% sugar

  • 5% cocoa butter

That can be a tad dark for some people. 75% often hits the mark. To change to that I would keep my cocoa butter the same and just shift the nibs and sugar to fit.

  • 70 % cocoa nibs

  • 25 % sugar

  • 5 % cocoa butter

If you want it sweeter, just keep increasing the sugar and decreasing the nibs. A 65% chocolate would be

  • 60% cocoa nibs

  • 35% sugar

  • 5 % cocoa butter.

You should notice I am jumping by 5% increments. This is experimentation and recipe development, so you need to make your changes large enough to notice. The difference in 61 vs 62% cocoa is going to be virtually imperceptible.

You can continue down the path of sweeter and sweeter chocolate, and milk usually falls into this category. As you do there is a touch of nuance you need to watch out for. That is the total fat content. As a rule of thumb you chocolate should be in the range of 35-55% fat. Sometimes you can push it as low as 30% but in many cases that will make your chocolate too viscous.

So if we were to move down to a 50% chocolate, you would need to start increasing your cocoa butter. If we tried this recipe it would be very thick:

  • 45% cocoa nibs

  • 50% sugar

  • 5% cocoa butter

It only contains about 27.5% fat. About 50% of the cocoa nibs are fat. 45 / 2 = 22.5% plus the 5% gives you 27.5%. What that means is if you want to have a minimum of 35% fat in your chocolate you need to increase your cocoa butter. You can actually calculate it out, but it is just is easy to take a couple quick stabs at increasing the cocoa butter in 5% increments and pretty soon you will find that this works great:

  • 30% cocoa nibs

  • 50% sugar

  • 20% cocoa butter

That is right at 35% fat (15% from the nibs plus the 20 from the butter).

And from there it is an easy step to milk chocolate. Given it is milk chocolate presumably you want the milk to stand out. You are good with anywhere in the 12-25% range. For a standard recipe I just pick 20%. To the above recipe I would just take that 20% off the sugar and you are done.

50% Milk Chocolate

  • 30% cocoa nibs

  • 30% sugar

  • 20% milk powder

  • 20% cocoa butter.

Happy Friday, have a great weekend!. Stay tuned for more adventures into the magical world of chocolate making, like how to make your own flavoured chocolates, bonbons and more!


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