Working with chocolate can be both fun and frustrating, especially for home bakers. Chocolate is without a doubt one of the greatest culinary inventions. Despite the increasing number of flavours available now, chocolate remains a timeless classic. And really, it’s hard to imagine life without chocolates. Cakes, brownies and pastries would surely be not as enjoyable as they are now without this magic ingredient.
There are many chocolate techniques and methods used in baking. And one of the most useful and relatively easy to learn is chocolate tempering. This process allows you to create a glossy, beautiful and evenly coloured coating for chocolate dips. Of course it also gives chocolate its delicious creamy texture.
Why temper chocolate?
Tempering prevents chocolate from having that greyish dull colour, and waxy texture when the cocoa fat separates out (known as “blooming”). This process is essential to the chocolate-making process because it produces a crisp and satisfying snap when you bite into it. Chocolate bars eaten as snacks are already tempered, that’s why they look very smooth, silky, and glossy. There is no need to temper the chocolate you bake with, such as when you are making brownies. You also don’t need to temper chocolates if you are going to make truffles and roll them in sugar, cocoa or nuts.
The type of chocolate you use is important to achieve the right consistency and texture for your tempered chocolate. Bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolates aren’t good for tempering because they have less cocoa butter and more sugar. Dark baking chocolate, in the range of 60-70% will do. But if the only choices in the store are bittersweet and semi-sweet, opt for the former as it contains less sugar.
The best form of chocolate to use in tempering is those in already tempered discs called fèves, because they tend to have higher cocoa butter content. There are chocolates that are especially used for tempering, and they are called “couverture” in French. For best results, please don’t use any chocolates that contain added wax. It should just be cocoa butter and solids, and sugar.
The flavour of the chocolate you’re using is also an important thing to consider before proceeding with the tempering process. Most people do not realise that like coffee and tea, chocolate comes in many varieties and flavours too. Some chocolates are nutty, while others are spicy or fruity. The flavour of your chocolate should match that of the ganache filling you are going to use for your chocolate dips.
How to Temper Chocolates
The easiest way to temper chocolates is to use a machine. But this method is very expensive and if you are just baking at home for friends and family, it isn’t a practical approach. The tempering machine works by heating up the chocolate very, very slowly and cooling it down in the same phase, resulting to silky and smooth chocolate finish.
Fortunately, there is a great method for tempering chocolates that doesn’t involve the use of a machine, but just a few basic kitchen tools. This technique is used by many master chefs and is being taught in culinary schools. It is called “seeding”.
The basic idea behind ‘seeding’ is to combine tempered with untempered chocolate. As you do this, the tempered chocolate will introduce or ‘seed’ the proper crystalline structure to the rest of the untempered ones, bringing everything into temper.
Using a double broiler (or a heat-proof bowl on top of a casserole with simmering water), melt the un-tempered chocolate, which must consist of about 2/3 of the mixture. One very important caution is to make sure the water never touches the chocolate as water mixed with chocolate will cause the chocolate to seize and this process is not reversible. This mistake is expensive and most cooks only do it once as the lesson learned is very costly 🙂 in both ingredients and time.
Once the chocolate is melted*, remove it from the heat and put in the tempered chocolate discs (about 1/3). Again watch for drips of water from your pan on the chocolate – even the smallest drop can cause problems. Slowly stir the discs in until they melt and cool slightly.
*Another note here is that working with chocolates is a little tough because it is very temperature-sensitive. Too much heat could burn the chocolate and cause it to bloom, whilst not enough heat will not give it the smooth, dipping texture you need. If you’re using dark or bittersweet chocolate, it should need about 55C-58C (131F-136F) of heat. Once it reaches this point, remove from the double-broiler and start adding the tempered chocolate discs, stirring constantly.
Having a candy thermometer ensures that you get the precise temperatures for melting and cooling the chocolate. As a Food Scientist I prefer to use a thermometer for accuracy however many chocolate chefs prefer to use another method. You can like many chefs still temper chocolate even without this important tool. How? One old school technique is bringing the spatula just below the bottom of your lip and dabbing a small amount. This area, as well as the inside of your wrist, are very sensitive to heat, and helps you determine if the chocolate is ready.
You need to take note that tempered chocolate solidifies quickly as it cools down, so you have to keep it moving as you do the fondant dipping. You can have a friend or a family member stir it while you dip. You know it’s getting too cool when it begins to set up on the sides, becomes thick and difficult to stir, and its texture starts to turn to glossy to matte. If you see these signs, submerge the bottom of the bowl in hot water for one or two seconds, scraping the chocolate in the bottom and mixing it throughout.
Tempering chocolate seems difficult but it is really about following the rules. Those rules by the way are not easily toyed with and if you choose to play with them you generally do so at your own peril 🙂
Happy Chocolate making!