Many people will tell you that tempering chocolate is easy. Well, I’m afraid I don’t agree.
The theory is easy. The practical side of it? Not so much.
It’s messy. It likes to screw with my brains; and quite possibly with my white jacket too.
It’s something from which I understand the underlying science. And yet, at times – palette knife in one hand, triangle scraper in the other, and thermometer in my teeth – I still manage to spot the fat bloom that we all fear so much.
Other times, when I really need some chocolate decorations because I’ve been procrastinating for a bit too long, I will table the chocolate in less than ten minutes, using my lips as the only temperature sensor.
Luckily for my sanity, shininess is – these days – the fate of pretty much all the kilograms of chocolate I temper.
But this would have probably never happened if I didn’t have to go out from my comfort zone. Because have you had asked my thoughts about working with chocolate in the past, the answer would have included three words: I HATE CHOCOLATE. Or in a French accent, I ATE CHOCOLATE; which makes it sounds totally different, although somewhat accurate.
So today, I’m not telling you that tempering chocolate is easy. But instead, I’m telling you it will become so.
Because in the end, there is no such feeling as the one experienced when you get something right after many failures.
And no matter how cute those little chocolate-covered pretzels look – because, we know that your heart is shaped like a pretzel – they’re really just an excuse for a very unacademic chocolate-tempering-management 101.
On a practical point of view, tempering is essential for the chocolate to set quickly into a glossy and hard form.
How do you temper chocolate?
There are different methods to temper chocolate. However, the basic principle relies on the stabilisation of cocoa butter crystals.
First, all the fat crystals are melted to a somewhat high temperature. Then, the chocolate is cooled down so that both stable and unstable cocoa butter crystals get the chance to form. Finally, the chocolate is reheated just very slightly in order to melt the unstable crystals.
Crystals, crystals? Give me diamonds not cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter fat molecules can take different shapes when they set into solid. They are the crystals.
Some of them are stable. They are the crystals V and VI.
The others – I, II, III and IV – are unstable and since they do not fit together as tightly as the stable crystals, they will result in fat bloom or sugar bloom – read white strikes.
So how to get rid of those unstable crystals?
The good thing is that each crystalline form has a different melting point, the most unstable ones melting at lower temperatures
Practically, it means that – for dark chocolate – you heat it to 55°C, then cool to 27°C, and finally reheat to 31°C.
For milk chocolate, the curve is: 48°C – 26°C – 30°C.
And for white chocolate: 45°C – 26°C – 39°C.
Give me the techniques now!
I will only share the two techniques I use. One at work – the tabling. The other one at home – the seeding.
I’ve found the tabling to be the faster method, but since I’m not lucky enough to have a marble work plan at home, I usually go for the less messy seeding.
Both start by melting the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water until it reaches 55°C (for dark chocolate).
Pour three-quarters of the melted chocolate onto the slab and spread it with a palette knife, then clustering back together with a triangle scraper. Repeat until it thickens slightly and records a temperature of 27°C. Return to the bowl along with the malted chocolate and stir well.
Add solid pistoles – one handful at a time – to cool down the melted chocolate to 31°C. If it even drops to a lower temperature, simply warm it over the bain-marie for a few seconds.
Enough for the I’m-wearing-thick-glasses details.
Just try tempering chocolate. Smear it on your fridge door or your stove – unintentionally. With success or not, I don’t mind.
Then dip some giant pretzels inside, drain carefully using a fork, and leave them to set on baking paper at room temperature.
Now, it doesn’t matter whether the chocolate looks shiny or not, because you’ll have plenty of perfectly sweet and salty hearts to bite into.