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Making chocolate bars - type of chocolate to use and inclusions


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Hello all - I'm new to the Forum, so thank you in advance for taking time to read this.  I tried to find an answer to this on the Forum, but couldn't find it, so sorry if I missed it!

 

I've been working with chocolate for a few years, but wanted to get people's thoughts on chocolate bars with inclusions / flavor infusions.  If you are looking to make and possibly sell chocolate bars with infusions such as nuts/fruit, etc., is it bad form to use a single origin / nicer brand of chocolate for the base?  Or should you only be doing that if you are making (roasting/conching, etc.) your own chocolate?  I'm not looking to repackage another company's chocolate to make a buck, but to add some additional flavors that I think would complement the original single origin / gourmet flavor for a fun spin.

 

For example, I would like to make some dark chocolate bars that have fruit powders added in, but I don't really love the taste of workhorse/cheaper chocolates and would prefer not to use them (for this product, at least).  I recognize that you will lose some of the nuance of a single origin bar if you mix stuff into it, but how can you end up with a quality bar of chocolate if you aren't using a chocolate base that you really love to eat on its own?  Or is it silly to use one of the more expensive types because you kill the flavor, which defeats the purpose and increases your costs in a way that's not worthwhile?  :)

 

On another note, and please forgive my ignorance as I haven't worked as much with chocolate bars, is there a good rule of thumb for how much of a dry ingredient or a nut paste that you can include in a chocolate bar and still be able to mold it and have it be tempered?  Thank you all for any help and your thoughts!

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Welcome @Emily440 

 

I'd probably experiment with the base chocolate you like  and compare with a workhouse/cheaper chocolate and see what result you get to decide if the inclusions hide or compliment the flavor. I suppose to an extent if you are using more expensive base chocolate you'll need to see what the market will bear in terms of pricing to determine if it's sustainable. 

 

Nut pastes will soften the chocolate and change the melting point  - that will require some experimentation to determine how much you can add without getting a product you can't easily handle. As far as dry ingredients - I don't know that there is a rule of thumb - more experiments in your future I fear. 

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There are chocolatiers, who buy chocolate and make into other things and chocolate makers, who make chocolate from bean to bar.  There's room for all of us.  Nothing wrong with buying couvertures you like and adding flavors or inclusions.  Go for a balance, where you're not 'killing' the flavor but complimenting it so people can taste the quality of your .base chocolate and also your creative additions.

 

What chocolates are you using now?  

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Thank you, Kerry, I really appreciate it.

 

10 hours ago, pastrygirl said:

There are chocolatiers, who buy chocolate and make into other things and chocolate makers, who make chocolate from bean to bar.  There's room for all of us.  Nothing wrong with buying couvertures you like and adding flavors or inclusions.  Go for a balance, where you're not 'killing' the flavor but complimenting it so people can taste the quality of your .base chocolate and also your creative additions.

 

What chocolates are you using now?  

 

Thanks, @pastrygirl  :)  The chocolates I'm using right now are TCHO and Cacao Barry and tend to lean towards deeper undertones, with caramel notes (probably because that's what I love eating).  However, I'm looking at doing fruitier inclusions, so I am looking at chocolates with fruit undertones, such as TCHO 68% Fruity or Cacao Barry Madirofolo.  I welcome any thoughts you have.

 

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Cacao Barry is reasonably priced, haven't looked at TCHO in a while.  I'd say use what tastes good to you and figure out the pricing and marketing from there.  As long as you're not melting down Askinosie bars or something $$$$$

 

There are sooo many variables and no one size fits all answer.  Things to consider - where are you and what is your competition?  If you are the first person in your area selling high-end chocolates, you may get some pushback on price, but if you're the fourth, then the first three have already done some of that consumer education on what good chocolate tastes like and what it costs.  Location will also affect your labor cost.  In west coast cities, labor cost has taken over food cost as the biggest expense.  A sole proprietor can do it for love but when you have to pay someone $20/hr, the picture changes.  If you want to ultimately get into stores, your wholesale price is usually  half of retail - can you still make a profit at wholesale?  If you just want a part time hobby selling directly then charge enough to make it worth your while but you don't have to worry about wholesale margins.  Packaging costs can add up and remember packaging takes time too.  I spent much of my day "off" yesterday stuffing 5-600 chocolate bars into envelopes at my dining room table.  Easy and mindless but still takes time.  Inclusions can help or hinder your cost as well.  If your chocolate is $8/lb, something cheap like rice krispies or pretzels will lower your per-bar cost while pistachios, macadamias, or dried sour cherries will raise it. 

 

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14 minutes ago, pastrygirl said:

Cacao Barry is reasonably priced, haven't looked at TCHO in a while.  I'd say use what tastes good to you and figure out the pricing and marketing from there.  As long as you're not melting down Askinosie bars or something $$$$$

 

There are sooo many variables and no one size fits all answer.  Things to consider - where are you and what is your competition?  If you are the first person in your area selling high-end chocolates, you may get some pushback on price, but if you're the fourth, then the first three have already done some of that consumer education on what good chocolate tastes like and what it costs.  Location will also affect your labor cost.  In west coast cities, labor cost has taken over food cost as the biggest expense.  A sole proprietor can do it for love but when you have to pay someone $20/hr, the picture changes.  If you want to ultimately get into stores, your wholesale price is usually  half of retail - can you still make a profit at wholesale?  If you just want a part time hobby selling directly then charge enough to make it worth your while but you don't have to worry about wholesale margins.  Packaging costs can add up and remember packaging takes time too.  I spent much of my day "off" yesterday stuffing 5-600 chocolate bars into envelopes at my dining room table.  Easy and mindless but still takes time.  Inclusions can help or hinder your cost as well.  If your chocolate is $8/lb, something cheap like rice krispies or pretzels will lower your per-bar cost while pistachios, macadamias, or dried sour cherries will raise it. 

 

 

Thank you again, @pastrygirl  :)  I really appreciate all of your wisdom.  I live in a VA suburb near DC, but I just moved out of DC about a year ago.  When I was in DC, I started a cottage food business to sell chocolates (crazily enough, 1st one ever in DC!), but the DC law was such that I could only sell in farmer's markets or public events (we since worked to change it).  Anyway, I quickly learned how idiotic it was to sell anything chocolate in a farmer's market and then started moving to other products such as granola.  Then I learned all about the pain of packaging too, haha.  Weighing, sealing, bagging, stamping, stickering.  Torture.  You have to really love making the product to put up with that and I really don't love making granola.

 

The price point can be higher in this area, so I'm fortunate.  I did costing in the market and I'll definitely do it in these instances too.  Haven't done wholesale, though, so thank you for bringing that up!  Around here there are a lot of excellent bean-to-bar chocolate makers and bon bon makers.  The tricky part for me will be figuring out where to sell it around here now that I'm not in a farmer's market.

 

For your chocolate bar packaging, do you put the bars in some sort of plastic-y sleeve and then into a box or just into a box?  Do you mind telling me where you get your plastic-y sleeves if so, please?  I was buying my granola packaging at Uline, but obviously that's not the same.

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I do not use the plastic sleeves for bars, I wrap them in confectioners foil then they just happen to fit in a small, off-the-rack envelope.  Could be simpler, but that's where I am 😆

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3 hours ago, Emily440 said:

 

Thank you again, @pastrygirl  :)  I really appreciate all of your wisdom.  I live in a VA suburb near DC, but I just moved out of DC about a year ago.  When I was in DC, I started a cottage food business to sell chocolates (crazily enough, 1st one ever in DC!), but the DC law was such that I could only sell in farmer's markets or public events (we since worked to change it).  Anyway, I quickly learned how idiotic it was to sell anything chocolate in a farmer's market and then started moving to other products such as granola.  Then I learned all about the pain of packaging too, haha.  Weighing, sealing, bagging, stamping, stickering.  Torture.  You have to really love making the product to put up with that and I really don't love making granola.

 

The price point can be higher in this area, so I'm fortunate.  I did costing in the market and I'll definitely do it in these instances too.  Haven't done wholesale, though, so thank you for bringing that up!  Around here there are a lot of excellent bean-to-bar chocolate makers and bon bon makers.  The tricky part for me will be figuring out where to sell it around here now that I'm not in a farmer's market.

 

I too live in Virginia, though mercifully far away from the Northern Va. chaos (and expense).  Are you making your product in your home kitchen now?  I do that but have it inspected by the Department of Agriculture so that I can sell wholesale and online (if I wanted to) as well as retail.

 

At some point you might want to look into the products offered by AUI (Albert Uster).  They are located in Maryland, and I get delivery in one day.  They are exclusive sellers of Felchlin chocolate, which both pastrygirl and I use a lot.  I have never tasted a couverture better than their Maracaibo Clasificado dark.  Friends here sometimes take my chocolates to relatives who live in your area and bring me back samples of the bonbons being sold in the Arlington and Alexandria area--Fleurir is one example, Blüprint another (clever name, but they are now closed).  They are quite expensive and (in the case of Fleurir), packaged spectacularly well. They will be your competition, but from my experience--and not to sound overly critical--there is still room for you.

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Thanks again, @pastrygirl  :)

 

3 hours ago, Jim D. said:

I too live in Virginia, though mercifully far away from the Northern Va. chaos (and expense).  Are you making your product in your home kitchen now?  I do that but have it inspected by the Department of Agriculture so that I can sell wholesale and online (if I wanted to) as well as retail.

 

At some point you might want to look into the products offered by AUI (Albert Uster).  They are located in Maryland, and I get delivery in one day.  They are exclusive sellers of Felchlin chocolate, which both pastrygirl and I use a lot.  I have never tasted a couverture better than their Maracaibo Clasificado dark.  Friends here sometimes take my chocolates to relatives who live in your area and bring me back samples of the bonbons being sold in the Arlington and Alexandria area--Fleurir is one example, Blüprint another (clever name, but they are now closed).  They are quite expensive and (in the case of Fleurir), packaged spectacularly well. They will be your competition, but from my experience--and not to sound overly critical--there is still room for you.

 

Hey @Jim D. :)  Yes, I went on to your website to try and get some chocolates, but Staunton would be too long of a drive, alas!  I am making it in my kitchen, but I only got the home occupation permit for VA so far.  I'm going to apply for the same license you have, but I try to get all of my ducks in a row (products, costing, packaging, etc.) before I start paying the licensing fees.  Actually, maybe you can help me, if you don't mind, please.  I've been looking at all of the VA rules and I understand I have to submit the items and recipes.  What do you do if you want to add on a product or change a recipe?  In DC you had to reapply.  So fun.

 

Thank you for the Felchlin rec!  I have had one of their flavors before and I loved it!  I can't recall which it was, but I found my distributor (IGF) doesn't carry it.  Maybe I'll have to check into AUI.  Have you tried TCHO, particularly their 54%?  Curious what your thoughts are.

 

Oh yes, I appreciate your thoughts on the local competition.  I haven't had Fleurir, but I have had Bluprint and another called Chouquette.  I hope to squeeze in there too with something a little different.  I'm definitely working on some nice packaging - you're right.  That's pretty important to compete with these guys.  :) 

 

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22 minutes ago, Emily440 said:

Thanks again, @pastrygirl  :)

 

 

Hey @Jim D. :)  Yes, I went on to your website to try and get some chocolates, but Staunton would be too long of a drive, alas!  I am making it in my kitchen, but I only got the home occupation permit for VA so far.  I'm going to apply for the same license you have, but I try to get all of my ducks in a row (products, costing, packaging, etc.) before I start paying the licensing fees.  Actually, maybe you can help me, if you don't mind, please.  I've been looking at all of the VA rules and I understand I have to submit the items and recipes.  What do you do if you want to add on a product or change a recipe?  In DC you had to reapply.  So fun.

 

Thank you for the Felchlin rec!  I have had one of their flavors before and I loved it!  I can't recall which it was, but I found my distributor (IGF) doesn't carry it.  Maybe I'll have to check into AUI.  Have you tried TCHO, particularly their 54%?  Curious what your thoughts are.

 

Oh yes, I appreciate your thoughts on the local competition.  I haven't had Fleurir, but I have had Bluprint and another called Chouquette.  I hope to squeeze in there too with something a little different.  I'm definitely working on some nice packaging - you're right.  That's pretty important to compete with these guys.  :) 

 

Sarah of Chouquette is on eG - though I haven't seen her around for a bit - mostly on Facebook. She makes a fairly focused line as I recall - so defiantly there would be room for you in the same market. 

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@Emily440, I completed the VDACS (Dept. of Agriculture) application, paid the $30 fee, and submitted the recipes.  After a while an inspector came and took a look.  I think much depends on your inspector.  My experience has been that they see the visit as an educational opportunity more than seeing whether your kitchen measures up.  You need to be familiar with the VDACS rules, especially on sanitation, before the visit.  I showed the inspector a box of my chocolates.  He wanted to see the ingredient list--that's a big thing, especially including the allergens (food allergies are very "in" these days).  One mistake I made and will warn you about:  Don't offer him or her a taste!  He said he wasn't allowed to take anything from inspectees, not even a bottle of water, had I offered it.  If you change your recipes or add new ones, you are supposed to submit those.  So far he has come an average of once every 1.5 years.  It isn't (at least in my experience) a surprise visit; an appointment is made.  The visits have varied in nature, with different issues highlighted each time.  A thermometer in the fridge is a must, it turns out.  The fee is $30 per year, whether you are inspected that year or not.  That's a very low fee, I would say.  I can tell you more if you want, so don't hesitate to ask. 

 

I have never tasted TCHO, not sure offhand where I could obtain some.  I will be glad to make an exception and send you some chocolates if you like.  I don't do it routinely because I am a one-person operation and adding the protective packaging inside the box plus getting the boxes to USPS is just too much to do very often.  The best thing that has happened so far is getting the chocolates on the menu of one of Staunton's two best restaurants.

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4 hours ago, Jim D. said:

At some point you might want to look into the products offered by AUI (Albert Uster).  They are located in Maryland, and I get delivery in one day.  They are exclusive sellers of Felchlin chocolate, which both pastrygirl and I use a lot. 

 

Felchlin Sao Palme 60% is my 'workhorse' dark chocolate.  Solid flavor that doesn't veer too far in any one direction so goes with most things and only $15/kg list (currently on sale 10 or 15% off).  Also nice fluidity.  It's a 20 kg case though, you'd definitely want to track down a rep and some samples before committing to that.  The pricier blends come in 6kg boxes, and AUI is even offering a few couvertures by the 2kg bag.

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6 minutes ago, pastrygirl said:

 

Felchlin Sao Palme 60% is my 'workhorse' dark chocolate.  Solid flavor that doesn't veer too far in any one direction so goes with most things and only $15/kg list (currently on sale 10 or 15% off).  Also nice fluidity.  It's a 20 kg case though, you'd definitely want to track down a rep and some samples before committing to that.  The pricier blends come in 6kg boxes, and AUI is even offering a few couvertures by the 2kg bag.

I have tasted Sao Palme (I think I got it from you, actually).  I don't think it has quite the complexity of flavor as Maracaibo does.  AUI now has a discount on 6kg boxes of Maracaibo (not, alas, on the Maracaibo Créole milk, which you also introduced me to).

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9 hours ago, Emily440 said:

 

Thank you again, @pastrygirl  :)  I really appreciate all of your wisdom.  I live in a VA suburb near DC, but I just moved out of DC about a year ago.  When I was in DC, I started a cottage food business to sell chocolates (crazily enough, 1st one ever in DC!), but the DC law was such that I could only sell in farmer's markets or public events (we since worked to change it).  Anyway, I quickly learned how idiotic it was to sell anything chocolate in a farmer's market and then started moving to other products such as granola.  Then I learned all about the pain of packaging too, haha.  Weighing, sealing, bagging, stamping, stickering.  Torture.  You have to really love making the product to put up with that and I really don't love making granola.

 

The price point can be higher in this area, so I'm fortunate.  I did costing in the market and I'll definitely do it in these instances too.  Haven't done wholesale, though, so thank you for bringing that up!  Around here there are a lot of excellent bean-to-bar chocolate makers and bon bon makers.  The tricky part for me will be figuring out where to sell it around here now that I'm not in a farmer's market.

 

For your chocolate bar packaging, do you put the bars in some sort of plastic-y sleeve and then into a box or just into a box?  Do you mind telling me where you get your plastic-y sleeves if so, please?  I was buying my granola packaging at Uline, but obviously that's not the same.

 

Welcome @Emily440, I am a chocolatier in Fairfax Country Virginia. I haven't set up my website yet and have paused the chocolate business for a bit due to the global pandemic but have been doing this for a few years.

 

Sorry to hear that Bluprint is closed.  Another chocolate shop to check out is Artisan Confections. Jason has been in business for a long time and has some great chocolates.  

 

Along with AUI you may want to check out Chef's Warehouse.

 

Looking forward to seeing your chocolates.

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@Kerry Beal you're right.  She has a pretty focused line based around chewy caramels with different flavor variations.

 

Thank you for the inspection tips, @Jim D.  And yes, I'd love to take you up on the offer of me buying chocolates from you.  Thank you in advance for the trouble!

 

I'm going to have to check out this Felchlin chocolate.  :)

 

Sorry to hear that you've had to pause the chocolate business for a bit.  I'm in Fairfax County too - love to connect if you're open to it, @curls  :) 

 

 

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21 hours ago, Emily440 said:

@Kerry Beal you're right.  She has a pretty focused line based around chewy caramels with different flavor variations.

 

Thank you for the inspection tips, @Jim D.  And yes, I'd love to take you up on the offer of me buying chocolates from you.  Thank you in advance for the trouble!

 

I'm going to have to check out this Felchlin chocolate.  :)

 

Sorry to hear that you've had to pause the chocolate business for a bit.  I'm in Fairfax County too - love to connect if you're open to it, @curls  :) 

 

 

Would be great to meet! I’m just being cautious... Covid-19 is dictating my social calendar right now.

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1 hour ago, Emily440 said:

Has anyone tried Cordillera chocolate?  My distributor is recommending it, which I take with a grain of salt...

 

I am familiar with it, and it is quite good.  A pastry chef in my locality uses it exclusively.  I don't think it is quite as good as Felchlin, but then I am prejudiced about Felchlin.

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