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Tempering Tip Tuesday – There is No One Right Way to Temper

For my first Tempering Tip Tuesday I’m going to provide an  overview of how to temper chocolate.  These instructions list out the different methods used at the different stages of the tempering process.  Most people end up using a variety of technique depending on variables such as room temperature, amount of chocolate and type of chocolate. The one thing I’ve learned about tempering is that there is no one right way to do it.  And that is why Tip #1 is There is No One Right Way to Temper.


 

What is Tempering?

In order for chocolate to have its maximum aesthetic and utilitarian qualities, the chocolate needs to be prepared through a process called Tempering. To understand tempering, one needs to learn a bit about the chemistry of chocolate.  Tempering is the act of pre-crystallizing the cocoa butter in chocolate. The ingredients of dark chocolate are cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla.   Milk chocolate has the same ingredients, but with the addition of milk powder.  White chocolate is only cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder; no cocoa liquor is used.  Whether dark, milk or white chocolate, cocoa butter is the essential ingredient. When chocolate is heated, the crystals in cocoa butter break apart.  There are 6 different forms of crystals in chocolate, but it is the beta crystals that produce the desired aesthetic qualities in chocolate.  The beta crystal is also referred to as the stable crystal because its formation results in chocolate being hard, shiny, and with an even coloring.  To pre-crystallize chocolate, you melt the chocolate to break apart the cocoa butter crystals.  Then you stir and cool the chocolate so that the stable beta crystals are formed.   It is at this point that the chocolate is ready for use.

Chocolate does not stay tempered.  As the chocolate cools, the chocolate begins to harden. This means that too many crystals have formed and the chocolate is now over-crystallized.  This harden chocolate can be reused by re-tempering it.

Tempering doesn’t impact taste.  Chocolate that is not tempered or over-crystallized will taste the same as properly tempered chocolate.  You temper chocolate to maximize the look and feel of the chocolate.

Characteristics of Properly Tempered Chocolate

When chocolate is properly tempered it will have the following characteristics:

  • Shine – Shiny and glossy when hard
  • Even coloring – The color and shine will be evenly distributed throughout the chocolate
  • Hardness – A crisp hardness that snaps when broken
  • Shrinkage – Clean and consistent shrinkage in molds

If the chocolate is not properly tempered, it will 1) take a long time to harden, 2) have a grayish color, and 3) stick to moulds.

Ways to Temper

There are different methods for tempering chocolate.  These methods are defined by their means for heating or cooling the chocolate.  Probably the oldest and most well known method involves heating the chocolate in a bain-marie (double-boiler).  A more modern heating method is with a microwave.  In terms of cooling, you can pour the chocolate on a cool surface, such as a granite or marble table and mix it on the table until it is cooled. Or you can cool the chocolate by adding un-melted chocolate to the warm chocolate to bring up the temperature, called seeding.

Tools and Utensils for Tempering Chocolate

You probably have all the tools and utensils you need for making chocolate already in your kitchen.

  • Microwave oven or double boiler
  • Plastic mixing bowls (microwave safe)
  • Plastic spatula
  • Big spoon for stirring (preferably plastic).
  • Cooking thermometer  (You can use a regular or digital meat thermometer)

 


 

STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS

These instructions offer a variety of methods for heating and cooling the chocolate.

STEP 1 – Melting the Chocolate

The first step in tempering chocolate is to melt it.  Chocolate melts at 45 degrees Celsius.  There are two simple and safe ways you can melt chocolate in your kitchen.  The first is with a bain marie (double-boiler) and the second is with a microwave.

Bain Marie (double-boiler):  Because chocolate burns easily, one needs to keep the chocolate away from direct heat.  This is accomplished using a double-boiler rather than a saucepan.  Put the chocolate in a double boiler until it starts to melt.  Once some of the chocolate is melted, stir regularly.  As soon as most of the chocolate is melted, turn the heat off and stir.  When the chocolate is completely melted, pour the chocolate into a plastic bowl.

Microwave:  If you are going to use a microwave, put the chocolate in a plastic bowl that is no more than 2/3 full.  Heat the chocolate in short intervals until it starts to melt.  The amount of time will vary depending on how much chocolate you are using.  If you have a large bowl, start with 2 -3 minutes.  If you are using a tiny bowl, start with 1 minute.  Stir regularly from the center outwards until the chocolate is melted.

Chocolate heated in a microwave begins to melt from the inside. Be sure to stir after each 30 seconds to distribute the melted chocolate.  Once the chocolate starts to melt, stir it.  The melted chocolate will help melt the un-melted chocolate.

How full:  Do not fill the bowl more than 2/3 full.  You will need room to mix the chocolate.  If you fill the bowl to the top, it will be hard to stir without chocolate spilling out.

Type of Bowl:  You want to use plastic and not glass because you don’t want the bowl to retain heat.

Temperature:  Because the intensity of the heat can vary from microwave to microwave, use med-high instead of high to avoid burning the chocolate.

If you melt the chocolate slowly in a microwave, you can melt it at precisely the temperature that chocolate melts without getting the chocolate hotter than it needs to be.  The ability to have complete control of the temperature of the chocolate is one of the advantages of using a microwave instead of a Bain Marie (double boiler).

 

Step 2 – Cooling & Stirring the Chocolate

Once the chocolate is melted you begin the cooling process. For properly tempered chocolate you need the temperature of the chocolate to be within a specific temperature range. Dark, milk and white chocolate are tempered at different temperatures.  The differences in cooling temperature have to do with the amount of protein in the chocolate.  The more milk protein, the lower the temperature to melt and to cool.

There are three popular ways to cool chocolate: Seeding, using a marble table, and letting the chocolate cool on its own.

Seeding: 

With this method you slowly add un-melted chocolate (the same kind of chocolate that you melted) to the already melted chocolate.  You do this until the desired temperature is reached.  You start off adding handfuls of chocolate.  At first the added chocolate will melt very rapidly.  As the chocolate begins to cool, the added chocolate will take longer to melt and require more stirring.  Stirring is very important in the tempering process.  When the added chocolate no longer melts, then you are close to the desired temperature.

This un-melted chocolate you are adding is already tempered.  By adding tempered chocolate (un-melted chocolate) to melted chocolate you accomplish two essential steps in tempering: 1) the chocolate is cooled down because the un-melted chocolate is at room temperature and 2) the tempered chocolate begins the chain reaction necessary to form the proper beta crystals.

Marble Table:

Another way to cool the chocolate is to pour 2/3 of the chocolate on a cool table, such as granite or marble, and mix the chocolate on the table until it is at the desired temperature.  This mixing is important in forming the beta crystals.  Once the chocolate is cool, you put the chocolate back in the bowl with the remaining chocolate and mix the chocolates together.  This results in all the chocolate being properly tempered.

Cooling Naturally:

You can also just let the bowl of chocolate cool on its own.  This can take up to 30 minutes or longer.  You need to stir the chocolate throughout the cooling process.

 

Measuring the Temperature

To measure the temperature, you use a meat thermometer rather than a candy thermometer because a candy thermometer is for very high temperatures and a meat thermometer is for lower temperatures.   With chocolate you try not to get it hotter than 45 degrees.

Checking the temperature of the chocolate.

The Effect of Ambient Room Temperature on Tempering Process

Chocolate is highly sensitive to ambient room temperature.  If you are working in a cool room the chocolate will cool more quickly than in a warm room. When working with chocolate, you always have to factor in the ambient room temperature and humidity.

Importance of Stirring

The right temperature on a thermometer does not insure that the chocolate is properly tempered.  The chocolate also needs to be stirred. In fact, chocolate masters do not rely on a thermometer. They know when it is properly tempered by the look and feel of the chocolate when they are stirring it. One technique used by chocolate masters to test the temperature of chocolate is to put a dab under their bottom lip.  Since chocolate melts at body temperature, if it feels hot, the chocolate is too hot.  If it feels just right, then the chocolate is at the right temperature.

The difference between chocolate chips and the chocolate used for making chocolates:  There is a difference between the chocolate you use to make chocolate chip cookies and the chocolate used to make chocolate candy (or bon bons, as they are called in Belgium).  Chocolate chips are heat stable chocolate so that they will not lose their shape and melt while baking.  To make chocolate heat stable, less cocoa butter is added.  The chocolate used to make candy (bon bons), on the other hand, has more cocoa butter so that it will melt into a liquid form at 45° celcius.

 

Temperatures for Tempering Chocolate
Type Celsius Fahrenheit
Dark – Callebaut 31° – 32° c 88° – 89° f
Milk – Callebaut 30° – 31° c 86° – 87° f
White – Callebaut 28° – 29° c 82° – 84° f

Step 3 – Testing if Properly Tempered

You can test to make sure your chocolate is properly tempered and ready to use by dipping a spoon into the chocolate and then letting the spoon sit for 3-5 minutes.  If the chocolate is properly tempered, the chocolate on the spoon will turn hard and glossy.  If the chocolate is not tempered, the chocolate will still be liquid and/or will have a marble-like color indicating the fat and cocoa are still separated.

When the chocolate starts to get Thick (Over-crystallization)

When the chocolate cools too much, it will become thick.  This means that the chocolate has started to over-crystallize.  To get it back to a nice liquid form, you just need to re-temper.

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