Tempering chocolate

Tempering chocolate is a skill, a science or an art depending on how you approach it. It is the key to a perfect finish. It can’t be rushed, or delayed, or approximated. Tempering sets its own pace, but chocolate is delicious at every step of the way, and that’s what makes chocolate making such a beautiful activity.

Tempering chocolate means pre-cristallizing it. It means the chocolate is in a liquid state, but is ready to set when the inner elements of the chocolate, the cacao, the cacao butter and the sugar are all perfectly aligned, and so when setting they will form a uniform texture. If not correctly pre-cristallized, the chocolate will set slowly, and form grey-ish or red-ish streaks, will have a poor snap, a grainy texture, and will taste bland.

The basic principle to temper chocolate is simple, the method are plentiful, and the margin of error extremely narrow.

Basic Principle:

To be tempered, chocolate which has melted must be cooled off to be firm, yet still liquid so it can be poured. Chocolate tempering depends on three factors: temperature (see below), agitation(constant), time (depends on temperature and volume).

For dark chocolate, stirring constantly:

  1. Melt chocolate to max 140˚
  2. Cool it off to 80˚(79 for White and Milk)
  3. Bring it back up to 88˚(81 for White, 84 for Milk)

Tools:

Spatula: extremely important. Don’t use wood as it keep moisture. CHOCOLATE IS NOT COMPATIBLE WITH WATER, and even a drop on the spatula will ruin the chocolate. I like silicone spatulas made in one piece, so there isn’t any cavities where water, or bacteria can hide.

Heater:

Double-boiler: the most economical way, but I saw lots of people burning chocolate that way. Even though it doesn’t looks like. Chocolate burns at 155˚. It doesn’t do flame or blackens, but you can smell it, and it won’t just look too pretty when set. If chocolate burns, set it aside and keep it for a cake or baked dessert, and start over. So DON’T KEEP THE FLAME ON! Just bring the water to a boil, then turn the stove off, and then let the steam heat up the chocolate. Be very careful that the steam should stay away from the bowl, you’ll need towels. This way is useful to do a batch of chocolate, but since the temperature of the water will slowly decrease, it isn’t practical to keep the chocolate at temperature. for that you need an electric melter.

Electric melter: Costly if you want to do more than a couple of pounds. I built my own melter (I’ll show you pictures one day). I use a wooden box, filled with Christmas lights with a dimmer, topped with a lasagna pan. Total cost $50 (the dimmer was $35) and it worked great, but a lasagna pan isn’t deep enough to be really comfortable. I got since different pro melters, but one I can recommend, if you want to do chocolate at home, is a small, double electric melter that do wonders for small quantities. You can find it on eBay.

Thermometer: Essential element. My favorite kind is an infrared thermometer because it’s instant, it’s clean, and it’s useful to when doing multiple tasks to keep track of the temperature of different elements.

Methods:

One  way is to melt the whole thing, then cool it off, the melt it again.

Another way is, as long as the chocolate was perfectly tempered to start with, to melt half of the chocolate, then let it cool off while melting the rest of the chocolate. That way is the fastest, but if there’s too much or not enough unmelted chocolate in the mix it won’t work properly and takes twice as long.

Useful links:

Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner by  Peter P. Greweling and The Culinary Institute of America

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