It’s chocolate season. Chocolate covered strawberries for Valentine’s anyone? Chocolate truffles? Chocolate covered cinnamon bears?
Chocolate is a tricky lady. She is so delectable and smooth, but can be quite temperamental if not treated properly.
Ever heard of tempering chocolate? It’s basically giving your chocolate mistress a spa treatment in order to ensure that she plays nicely and looks her best.
(I can only make these silly metaphors because I also happen to be a temperamental lady who would respond well to a spa treatment.)
What is Tempering and Why Do I need to do it?
It’s actually the cocoa butter in chocolate that necessitates tempering. There are a bunch of ways that cocoa butter will crystallize when it turns from liquid to solid. Some of these crystals are desirable. Some are crazy. If you’ve ever melted chocolate in the microwave, then let it solidify without any intervention, you may have noticed that the chocolate had white spots or streaks. Or that the chocolate didn’t set up firm. These both happen because the wrong type of cocoa butter crystals formed.
So if you want shiny, smooth chocolate that has the proper snap, then you need to help it form the desirable crystals.
Tempering is heating and cooling chocolate in a very specific way to encourage desirable cocoa butter crystals to form.
Different crystals melt and form at different temperature and under different conditions. Tempering uses an understanding of these variables to encourage the good crystals to form.
See the difference between these strawberries? The first one is shiny and smooth. If you touched it, it wouldn’t melt easily and if you bit it, it would snap. The second one and third ones are not glossy, the third one is even dull and splotchy. The fourth one is all streaky and speckled.
Please tell me you can see the differences?
They will all still taste decent, but the texture could be funky and for sure they won’t be as pretty.
When to Temper?
If you are baking with chocolate, or adding chocolate as an ingredient, then you don’t need to temper it. If your chocolate has any other fat listed (like palm oil or anything hydrogenated) on the ingredient label then it doesn’t need to be tempered. There are dipping chocolates designed specifically so that they don’t need to be tempered.
But any time you are dipping or coating something in pure chocolate, it needs to be tempered.
How to Temper?
There are several methods. Today, I’m presenting the seeding method, which is probably the least messy.
To use the seeding method, you must start with tempered chocolate. (If you bought the chocolate and it’s hasn’t been melted before, it is tempered.) If you have untempered chocolate, you need a different method.
What you will need
-Chocolate- you can use dark, milk or white. My instructions will be for dark chocolate. If using white or milk chocolate, you should subtract 5 degrees from all the temperature ranges.
-An accurate and quick thermometer. This is essential in chocolate tempering. A couple degrees can be the difference between perfect chocolate and a chocolate disaster. My absolute favorite kitchen thermometer is the Thermapen, it’s worth EVERY PENNY!
-A double boiler (or just a glass bowl set over a sauce pan with an inch or so of just barely simmering water. The water shouldn’t touch the top bowl.)
-A rubber spatula
-This is what my setup looks like (except imagine that the double boiler is actually on the stove top.) I like to have the saucepan with simmering water on the stove top and another empty sauce pan on the counter, that I can set my bowl on while stirring. I can go back and forth between the two pans easily. I have my thermometer and spatulas handy.
2.5 words of warning before you begin.
You must be very careful that no water gets into the melting chocolate. The water will cause the chocolate to seize and you will be sunk. You are tempting fate by using the water bath of a double boiler, unless you are being uber-cautious.
Don’t scorch your chocolate. If it gets above 125 degrees it’s pretty must toast. You can’t fix it.
A semi-warning. Once you have added the unmelted chocolate, if you heat the chocolate beyond 91 then you have lost your temper and will have to begin again. All is not lost in this case. Just your time. And you will need to use different method as you are now beginning with an untempered product.
Now that you have been duly warned, let’s get to it.
Begin by chopping your chocolate into small pieces. A serrated knife works best for this task. Just shave off the edge of your chocolate bar.
Make small pieces. Smaller pieces melt easier and make life easier.
Place about 3/4 of your chopped chocolate into the top of the double boiler. Set aside the remaining 1/4. Try not to nibble it all away before you actually use it.
Stir the chocolate around with the rubber spatula as it melts. Scrape the sides of the bowl frequently.
Take the temperature of the chocolate when it is almost all melted. You need to get the temperature up to 115 to make sure all the naughty crystals are fully melted.
Once it reaches this temperature, remove the double boiler from the heat and continue stirring it. Measure the temperature every few minutes. Once it is down to about 110, add the set aside chocolate. Don’t return to the double boiler.
Stir the remaining or “seed” chocolate into the already melted chocolate. It will seem like it’s not going to melt, but give it time. This takes some patience. Measure the temperature every few minutes.
The stirring is absolutely necessary at this point. If the chocolate isn’t agitated enough, then the good crystals won’t form.
If the temperate drops to 85 or lower, place the bowl over the water for 2-3 seconds while stirring constantly. (Don’t be tempted to leave it there any longer. If the temperature exceeds 91, then you have lost your temper and will have to start over using a different method.) The unmelted chocolate will have a hard time melting the rest of the way at the lower temperature. Any little chunks will invite more chunks to form.
Continue stirring and returning to the water as needed until all the chocolate is melted. You will want the chocolate to be at 87-90 when you’re working with it. So return it to the simmering water for 2-3 seconds at a time until it reaches that range.
It is better to melt more chocolate than you are going to need, if possible. A bigger mass of chocolate will hold its temperature better and allow you to work longer.
Before you go dipping away. Place a small piece of the melted chocolate on a plate or pan or parchment. Place in the refrigerator for a couple minutes. Then remove it and see what it looks like. It if has streaks or spots, then don’t start dipping. You’re chocolate isn’t tempered and your end product probably won’t be right. If it is shiny and smooth and snaps in half easily, then you are good to go.
Yep it looks good. Ready to go.
While you are working, if it starts to get too thick, then carefully bring it back to the desired range by placing over the simmering water for 2-3 seconds at a time while stirring. Again, be very careful not to over heat.
Here’s a little cheat sheet to pin for later and to share with your friends and family.
Go get dipping for Valentine’s Day now that you are pro at tempering chocolate!