Sugar-free Dark Chocolate

Following up on my recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Protein Bites – here’s a simpler (but a bit more finicky) recipe I use to make my own sugar-free dark chocolate. I love dark chocolate, but generally speaking, if it says “70% cacao” on the package, it means it’s got 30% sugar, and I try to keep my diet clear of sugar. There are a few sugar-free brands out there – Lily’s is wonderful – but they’re expensive, and they generally include Stevia, which I don’t care for. This recipe puts your dark chocolate supply under your own control, and for a price as low as $2.00 for an 80g bar.

Equipment Needed

There are a few less-common pieces of kitchen equipment I use here:

  • A Vitamix with a dry container to make my sweetener into powdered sweetener. (Alternative: a coffee grinder, though it would need to be a pretty powerful one. Or buy pre-powdered sweetener.)
  • A double boiler. (Alternative: Place a metal bowl on top of a regular saucepan.)
  • A scanning digital thermometer, or a digital meat thermometer – something that’s accurate in the range we’re working in, 80°-120°F.
  • A digital kitchen scale, accurate to the nearest gram.
  • Silicone chocolate molds. (Alternative: leftover containers. Sushi trays also make fun chocolate bar shapes.)


I use weight-based measurements in grams because they’re easier and more precise. There are just three ingredients:

The trick with that last one is the word “powdered”. This recipe has no water, so the sweetener doesn’t dissolve; if you use something like regular granulated sugar, your chocolate will be full of little sugar crystals that tend to sink to the bottom of the bar – not a good result. It’s possible to find good sugar alcohol based powdered sweeteners, but it’s a bit challenging and sometimes expensive; instead, it’s possible to make your own powdered sugar using a Vitamix or coffee grinder. (See also my Sweetener Notes in the Cookie Dough recipe; xylitol works here as well.)

The links above are to the products I actually use, from Amazon. And they’re all large quantities – I make this stuff often.


  • Melt cacao butter in the double boiler. Keep an eye on it and take it off the heat (take the top bowl off the water bowl, and dry the bottom of it) when the cacao butter has just a few small pieces left. Then stir until they’re gone too.
  • Meanwhile, mix the cacao powder and the powdered sweetener.
  • Stir the dry ingredients in to the melted cacao butter. Stir thoroughly – you want this to be as smooth as the chocolate waterfall in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
  • Check the temperature. At this point it’s probably in the 90’s, or maybe the low 100s. You need to let it cool, while stirring periodically, to about 82°F. This takes quite a while just sitting on the counter; I sometimes use the fridge to bring it down to about 88°, checking on it every 5 minutes, and then let it go the rest of the way at room temperature.
  • Once it’s down to 82-83°F, put it back on the double boiler for more heat, and bring the temperature back up to 86-87°F. This is a delicate process – you don’t want to bring the water in the lower pan to a boil, it’ll heat it up too fast. Just leave it on medium heat, stir often, and check the temperature every 10 seconds or so.
  • Once it reaches 86-87°, take it off the heat and pour it into molds. Put them in the freezer for rapid, solid cooling.
  • After 3 hours or more, remove from the freezer, pop the chocolate out of the molds, and store at room temperature. (You can eat them right out of the freezer, but the full flavor doesn’t come out until they’re warm.)

What’s with all this cooling and heating?

Taking the molten chocolate down to 82° and back up to 87° is what’s known as “tempering”. This is what gives real dark chocolate its unique texture, crisp and hard at room temperature, then melting in your mouth. Cacao butter, the dominant ingredient here, actually has a wide range of crystal states; if you just take your 90° molten chocolate and freeze it, you’ll wind up with an incoherent mix of crystal states that come out soft, and which don’t bring out the flavor of the cocoa powder. By going down to 82°, slowly, you bring the cacao butter into two crystal states; and then by heating up to 87°, one of those melts and you’re left with just the ideal state.

If you try to cool too fast (by using the fridge to go all the way down to 82°, or by starting with cacao butter that’s only 90° before you add the dry ingredients), you can get premature solidifying – the chocolate turns into a big lump in your mixing bowl, and it’s pretty hard to recover. If you overheat on the final heating round, going up to 91° or more, you lose the target crystalline state and you’re left with soft, less flavorful chocolate. So this is a bit of an art – use the thermometer frequently, and get to know how fast things happen.

Nutrition and cost

Using the above ingredients, I estimate that the cost of a full batch is a little over $20. 80g of it, which is the size of a typical store-bought bar, costs just over $2. 1/2 ounce = 14g, the size of a few squares of a typical chocolate bar, has:

  • 91 calories. (“Not a low-calorie food”, as they often say on keto product packaging.)
  • 1.1g Protein
  • 9.1g Fat
  • 3.0g Carbohydrates
  • 0.1g Sugar
  • 1.3g Fiber
  • 1.1g Sugar Alcohol
  • Net carbs = 3.0g – 1.3g – 1.1g = 0.6g.

Since net carbs are so low, and the fat content is so high, this makes a great Keto food. If you’re inclined at all towards a Keto diet, this is basically a health food – the right macronutrient ratios, a really healthy fat, and rich in polyphenols from the cocoa powder.

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