Chocolate is an undisputed part of American culture. Good for us, then, that recent studies have overwhelmingly shown positive effects dark chocolate has on the body. With Valentine’s Day chocolate residue still fresh, it seems like the perfect time to embrace not only the science of chocolate, but the art of its creation. Today we’re lucky enough to have Todd Masonis, co-founder of Dandelion Chocolate, share with us how his team creates the delicious bars and pastries that have made Dandelion a San Francisco landmark.
Noplaize: Introductions come first, naturally. How would you describe your role at Dandelion?
Todd Masonis: I’m a co-founder of Dandelion Chocolate. We started out making tiny batches of chocolate in a garage with home-built machinery. So I used to work on making all of the chocolate, machinery, and experiments, but as we’ve expanded, my role has become more of hiring good people and making sure that we’ve make even better chocolate as we get bigger.
N: On the subject of roles, I’m really curious as to your perspective on chocolate overall. Its usually got a few negative associations – that its a ‘guilty’ pleasure, that its addictive. But I would also say, hands down, chocolate is the most romantic food item there is. Is there a specific role or character you think chocolate fits into?
TM: I think there’s a pretty big divide between the type of chocolate that we make and industrial chocolate (or candy). Chocolate is a food that is both fermented and roasted and can actually have more flavor complexity than wine or coffee. For the last 50 years, the big goal of industrial chocolate has been to achieve consistency and low cost — basically to use not-great ingredients and make something that always tastes the same.
The type of chocolate we make is more similar to wine or coffee — or even what happened in the microbrew industry. We are looking for very specific flavors in rare beans and working very hard to coax out the individual nuances of each bean.
N: Same subject: lets talk about Dandelion – what characterizes your chocolates specifically?
TM: In addition to what I said above, there a couple of things that are interesting about our chocolate. For one, we only use two ingredients: cocoa beans and cane sugar. We don’t add any additional cocoa butter, vanilla, or lecithin — ingredients found in most other high-end chocolate. And we certainly don’t add transfat, PGPR, or any other flavorings.
We also tend to make 70% bars and only vary the origin. What that means is if you taste our bars back to back, you will be able to pick out the flavor differences in each bean, simply because there’s nothing else getting in the way of the bean.
And I would also say in terms of our “house style,” we tend to prefer a much lighter roast. We find that heavier roasts bring out a more chocolatey, coffee flavor and (except in certain circumstances, like brownies) we are trying to pick out and expand upon the flavors that show up earlier in the roast.
N: How big is the team at Dandelion? How does your team work in making the miracle of chocolate happen?
TM: We are about 50 people now — that’s divided between the production team, sourcing, cafe, pastry, flavor development, finance, education and lots of other functions. For our process, we spend tons of time sampling new beans and then trying to figure out the best roast for a new origin. It may takes us months to crack the code on a particular bean even before it goes into production.
N: How do you select your ingredients and processes? How do you decide which pastries will best showcase your chocolates?”
TM: Since our chocolate only has two ingredients, we spend the majority of our time looking for good beans. Most of the world’s chocolate comes from Africa and Indonesia, but those are beans that are not well-regarded for flavor. We generally buy beans from Central and South America, the “fine flavor” or heirloom beans.
TM: In terms of pastries, we have an amazing pastry chef, Lisa Vega, who was formerly at Gary Danko. She’s also done tons of testing to figure out how to use our chocolate — it’s actually not been easy. We don’t make cocoa powder and our chocolate has very different properties from industrial chocolate, so it takes many iterations to figure out what works.
N: Is there anything happening at Dandelion you want more people to know about?
TM: Just that they should come check out our cafe / factory. We offer tours, and classes in chocolate making, and even trips to origin. We’re actually one of the few places in the world you can hang out and see chocolate being made from the bean, so I definitely recommend a visit!”