If you've ever wondered how on earth are those delightfully melting creations of rich, creamy chocolate made, you can discover it here in Dubai at the ChoCo'a Chocolate factory.
ChoCo'a, who have been making gourmet chocolates in Dubai since 2004, create an impressive range of chocolate delights - moulded and enrobed chocolates, cakes, pastries, tarts, beverages, mousses, mamoul, macaroons, cookies, petit fours and boules Olacees, ice creams and every other imaginable chocolate concoction you can think of.
It's one thing to love eating chocolates and quite another to watch them being made. And if you thought the magic, mystery and intrigue are revealed only to have them lose their power in your imagination, I am happy to report that I came out of the chocolate-making factory even more romantically inclined towards these mouth-feel marvels.
I went into the factory with a mission: to discover if I could resist the temptation or would invariably end up taking the bait, and bite.
Feeling a bit too young at heart, almost like a little girl being given an opportunity to run amok in a candy store, I stepped into the chocolate factory hoping to see what I've always secretly fantasised about - rivers of molten chocolate flowing everywhere. Well, it wasn't exactly rivers I saw but sure enough there was enough there in different forms - dripping through curtains, swirling in vats, flowing like placid, cooled lava on large conveyor belts, stacked as blocks in refrigerators and moulds...Like visiting a historic archeological site that leaves you covered in a fine veil of preciously dug up dust, I was soon wearing an incredibly light second skin of cocoa dust. Felt good, smelt even better.
I can quite see the appeal of a chocolate treatment at a spa.
ChoCo'a doesn't create chocolate from the cacao bean stage; instead it buys the finest chocolate from the gourmet chocolate company Callebaut in Belgium. Callebaut in turn gets its original cocoa beans from Java Islands.
Pastry Chef Frederic Legras gives me a lowdown on cacao beans: "Cacao beans come from the plant Theobroma cacao. Callebaut gets the finest cacao beans from Java. Cacao beans are grown in tropical areas of South America, Africa and South East Asia. In fact, Ivory Coast in Africa is the biggest producer of Cacao beans, but Java produces some of the finest beans. These cacao pods are then broken into half.
The beans then go through a process of scraping where the outer shells are discarded, then they are roasted in an oven at a temperature of 75˚C to bring out the flavours. After the heat treatment, the cacao powder separates from the cacao burra (concentrated cacao fat). The powder is ground with sugar. At this stage if dried milk powder is added to it, the dark chocolate changes to milk chocolate. When you add sugar and milk powder to the cacao burra it turns into white chocolate," he says, elaborating on the process of making dark, white and milk chocolate.
ChoCo'a exports blocks of dark, white and milk chocolate and places nearly 250kg of each in boilers to melt and churn it at 45-50°C. Care has to be taken that the churning is slow and the temperature is even so that the consistency of the liquid chocolate remains even. Once the chocolate turns liquid, it is cooled down to 25°C precisely. Once again care is taken to ensure that the melting and subsequent cyrstallisation does not separate the fat.
Chocolate thus cooled down is still like a liquid emulsion in consistency and is first used to coat chocolate moulds. Liquid chocolate is poured into large rectangular moulds (poly-carbonate structures that resemble ice trays) and vibrated to evenly coat each section. The chocolate is then emptied out leaving just a coating in the shell and these are refrigerated at precisely 4°C for a few minutes.
The shell is now ready for any kind of chocolate bars to be set, with or without nuts, fillings of caramel, praline or any such flavours. Once the chocolates are set in these moulds, they harden to a consistency we love. These are then deftly taken out of the moulds and separated per piece or per bar and wrapped in beautiful silver and golden foils.
Those who love to have an extra chocolate flavour can go for bars that have been enrobed in liquid chocolate. Legras demonstrates this in a special machine that has a chocolate curtain - a wire mesh structure through which liquid chocolate is slowly poured. Once again it is a completely automated, assembly line process, where chocolate bars move under the curtain to be covered with liquid chocolate. This process is called ‘enrobing'.
Once the chocolates are enrobed, they continue moving on the conveyor belt to a cooling tunnel that progressively cools them through varying temperatures of 30, 25, 20, 18 and 16°C through a 12-minute cooling process. "This ensures that the sugar and cacao don't split and the chocolate bar gets a perfect coat. The making of chocolate involves a lot of physics and chemistry.
"One needs to be aware of the molecular structure of the cacao beans, make sure it goes through the right temperature so that it makes that crisp snap sound when someone breaks a piece. At the same time we have to make sure it gets the perfect texture and shape. A good chocolate bar contains no water and can be stored in a cool dark place at 16°C for at least seven years in its pristine condition," reveals Legras. They also do similar chocolate coating for date and almond cookies.
ChoCo'a, which specialises in corporate gifts, makes around 2.5 to 3 tonnes of chocolate every day at their factory in Al Barsha.