During my trip to Guatemala, in December 2017, I got the amazing chance to be welcomed by Carmen and her family in their home to share their cooking knowledge. It was on the 31st of December, as the best way to end this year.
It was a lovely house, on the hills of Antigua, the former county capital, where Carmen was going to show me one of her famous recipe. But before anything, I got introduced to her son, in the garden (and their dog) who started a chocolate factory, and started to walk me through the process.
Making chocolate this way isn’t the easiest or the fastest, trust me. And to be honest, chocolate was before that day a complete mystery to me. Even though I’ve tried in all its forms, I had never seen a cacao bean before. Those have to be harvested from the pods, and allowed to naturally ferment over a period of two days to two weeks. Heat kills the delicate germinating seed, and natural yeasts grow to develop complex flavors. The beans are then sun-dried to preserve them for shipping.
Once this done, the beans are roasted for the same reason that coffee beans are – to develop complex flavors and to drive off unpleasant acidic compounds developed in the fermentation process.
Cracking and winnowing follow roasting. This step is purely mechanical, to separate the valuable nibs from the worthless shells. After this, the nibs must be refined. The tongue can perceive particles larger than 30 micrometers in size, so extensive grinding is needed for a good mouthfeel.
The raw cocoa liquor is then “conched,” a lengthy process which drives off the rest of the acidic flavoring compounds. Finally, the finished product is tempered to give the chocolate good gloss and snap.
I got then the chance to mix the chocolate with hot water (could be hot milk) and to drink it in one of those beautiful pots. After the time spent preparing it, it tasted even more delicious than it should have!
Dessert before main course? Not bad! I then joined Carmen in her kitchen to prepare some delicious “beignets”. To be honest, I don’t remember any of the ingredients, or the recipe. But it was very tasty and an honor to experience local cuisine with generous local people. Carmen and her family are genuinely nice people.