New chocolate makers might wonder why their sweet treats crumble easily, fail to set, or lack a glossy finish. The key to making good chocolate is temper, and it can be achieved with a little know-how — and an accurate thermometer!
Chocolate making may be an art to some, but there is actually science behind it: the cocoa butter in properly tempered chocolate forms tiny beta crystals during the stages of heating and cooling. These crystals give the chocolate its characteristic shine and crispy texture. Try these tips to obtain the correct stage of crystallization:
Select the Right Type of Chocolate to Temper
Couverture is the name given to high quality chocolate that contains a high percentage of real cocoa butter, and is the best candidate to temper. (Some chocolate couverture is sold already tempered and will not need the additional treatment). Avoid the use of chocolate made with large amounts of soy or hydrogenated oils, and do not use chocolate chips, which may have too many additives. Dark, milk or white chocolates can all be tempered, but their heating requirements vary due to the amount of sugar and milk they contain. Remember, it is not necessary to temper chocolate that you plan to roll in sugar or add to cake batter.
Work with a Sufficient Quantity of Chocolate.
It is much easier to temper large batches of chocolate than small amounts. A minimum of 12 ounces is recommended. The temperatures during the heating and cooling processes can be better managed with large quantities and so there is a greater chance of success. Besides — who wants to make small batches of chocolates, anyway?
Use the Seeding Method
The seeding method is the easiest way to temper chocolate in the home. Prepare a pot of boiling water on the stove top and keep it at a slow simmer. If you’re using chocolate that has been packaged in a block, it is necessary to chop it into half inch square pieces. Place 75 percent of the chocolate that you’ve chopped into a stainless steel bowl (or a pot that is slightly smaller than the one on the stove). It is crucial that the bowl or pot that you put the chocolate into is completely dry: any drop of water that is mixed with the chocolate will cause it to seize and your recipe will be ruined. Put aside the remaining chopped chocolate: it will act as your “seed” later on.
Place the bowl or smaller pot into the pot of boiling water on the stove and allow the chocolate to melt. Stir constantly with a silicone spatula. If the double boiler is creating a lot of steam, you can turn off the heat — you don’t want any water droplets accidentally mixing with your melting chocolate.
Frequently check the temperature of the melting chocolate with a candy thermometer: for milk and white chocolate, the temperature should not exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit; for dark chocolate, 120 degrees Fahrenheit. (This is a general guideline, as these temperatures may vary depending on the quality of the chocolate and quantity of cocoa butter it contains).
Once your chocolate has reached the correct temperature, it is time to seed it. Add the remaining chopped chocolate and combine thoroughly to initiate the process of cooling and crystal formation. Dark chocolate will reach temper at about 89 degrees Fahrenheit, and white and milk chocolate will form beta crystals at 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Your resulting chocolate should look shiny and smooth.
Tempering Chocolate in the Microwave
Chocolate can also be tempered in the microwave. Chop the chocolate into small pieces, reserving 25 percent of it for seeding. Microwave the remaining chocolate at half power for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir the chocolate every 30 seconds and do not allow all of the chocolate to completely melt in the oven. Removing the bowl while there are still a few chunks of chocolate left will prevent scorching. Once the chocolate has melted, check the temperature: it should not exceed the guidelines outlined in the double boiler method. Add the reserved chocolate and stir to mix thoroughly.
Once your chocolate is in temper, you can use it to make hand-dipped bonbons or truffles, or set it up in molds. If the chocolate has cooled and set by the time you’re ready to use it, you can reheat it to a maximum of 90 degrees Fahrenheit without losing temper. Do not store tempered chocolate for long periods, or in the extremes of heat or cold, as the crystals will begin to break down.
Sheryl Normandeau, BA, is a Master Gardener and writer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her articles and short stories have appeared in several international publications. She is the co-author (with Janet Melrose) of the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series.