Know Your Chocolate: A Primer from Michael Laiskonis


Jessica Yoon
Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis explains the bean to bar process at ICC 2015
Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis explains the bean to bar process at ICC 2015

Pastry chefs often underuse chocolate as a platform for showcasing other flavors (or to pander to guests at the end of a meal). At this year's International Chefs Congress, Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis challenged his compatriots to go further. "There are a rainbow of flavors in chocolate. If you understand the bean-to-bar process, you get a better sense of the causes and effects that occur at each step. Are we using the right chocolate for the right application?" 

To demonstrate, Laiskonis presented a Dominican Republic single origin bar that he created at International Culinary Institute's chocolate lab. With 73 percent cacao content, it is made with 65 percent liquor and 8 percent added cocoa butter (a relatively small amount because Domincan beans have a naturally high cocoa butter content). Made with two of the three main cacao varietals, Criollo and Trinitario (the third and most ubiquitously used varietal is Forastero), it was roasted at a low temperature, 275ºF, due to the delicate nature of the beans. The resulting beans have strong impressions of licorice and anise.

To contrast his own bar, Laiskonis passed around Valrhona's Tainori made with 100 percent Trinatrio beans. While the Tainori's beans also hailed from the Dominican Republic, Valrhona used different processing parameters, and the flavor is brighter with hints of yellow fruit, acidity, and nuttiness. Though the differences can be subtle, Laiskonis imparted the value and possibilities of digging into a chocolate's origin, genetics, and processing.

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