Tribeza – Behind the Scenes – The Sweet Science of Chocolate

Jaime Netzer
Photography by Bill Sallans

Chocolate Makers Studio

The making of chocolate is a surprisingly scientific process, and like any good science, it also comes with its very own assortment of unusual tools of the trade.

There are no Bunsen burners in Steven Lawrence’s North Austin Chocolate Makers Studio kitchen, but there are plenty of other unusual gadgets: veterinary syringes, used to pipe ganache into hollow chocolate shells; a vibrating device for making dentures that Lawrence instead uses to help shimmy liquid chocolate into every last crevice of a mold; and something called a guitar, which is basically an elaborate paper cutter-like device named for its taut strings, which slice through chocolate with precision and ease.

According to Lawrence, proper chocolate crafting is all about time, temperature, and movement. In his studio, a large vat swirls milk chocolate continuously over itself and around in a circle, practically begging to be sampled. Lawrence explains that chocolate changes in structure and shine on a molecular level depending on heat, and all makers aim for a finished product that is firm but not dull. He dips a ganache-filled treat into the vat of melted chocolate, covering both sides, lingering for the precise amount of time required for a good coating. Then he moves the chocolate to a wax paper-covered baking sheet, where he presses into it a clear acetate strip adorned in a bit of 24-karat gold. For a little added pressure, he uses his son’s wooden alphabet block. Several minutes later, he peels the sheet off, and the gold remains: a beautiful, tasteless delicacy atop a sinfully good treat.

[misquoted description of chocolate process deleted]

All of this careful, complicated work brings Lawrence joy. And you can taste that joy in the results: peanut butter and jelly chocolates, cardamom and honey caramel chocolates, orange peel dipped in chocolate, truffles filled with port-wine ganache.

A long-time pastry chef, Lawrence first started in chocolate in Seattle, at Fran’s chocolates. There, his job was to monitor the chocolate conveyer belt—“just like in ‘I Love Lucy,’” Lawrence explains. A job offer for his wife eventually brought Lawrence to Austin, where he hopes to soon open a retail shop. “Making chocolate is very much like making art to me,” Lawrence says. “That’s what I love about it.”