Professional Chocolatiers know the secret to perfect chocolate is in the tempering. Tempering is the process of heating and cooling chocolate in such a way that encourages the cocoa butter to harden into a specific crystalline pattern, which maintains the chocolate’s sheen and texture. If done correctly, the process will turn dull, malleable chocolate into a shiny, firm confection that breaks with a sharp – satisfying – snap.
To produce the best chocolate possible, you’ll need to look past chocolate morsels and find something a bit more substantial. Chocolate chips have additives that allow them to retain their shape at higher temperatures (like in chocolate chip cookies) and will not temper correctly. Look for blocks of chocolate – even chocolate bars will do.
What happens if chocolate is not tempered?
Not tempering chocolate can lead to a number of problems including failure to set up hard at room temperature. The chocolate may become hard, but will look dull and blotchy. The internal texture may be spongy rather than crisp, and it can be susceptible to “fat bloom,” meaning the fats will migrate to the surface and make whitish streaks and blotches.
Chocolatiers recommend tempering in one pound quantities because chocolate will temper easier in larger batches. If you feel like one pound of chocolate is more than you need, don’t worry, tempered chocolate can keep for months at cool room temperatures. Chop your one pound block into smaller, more manageable pieces.
Tempering starts with melting; and when it comes to melting chocolate, things aren’t always as easy as they seem. Since chocolate’s melting point is just below body temperature, it’s easy to melt, and even easier to burn. When heated at, or above 200°F (95°C), chocolate will burn. Melted directly over an open flame, burning is also very likely to happen. Using a double boiler and an instant-read thermometer you can ensure proper temperatures are reached and that the chocolate will not burn.
Place two-thirds of your chocolate pieces in the top of the double boiler as it sits over simmering water. Securely clip an oven alarm thermometer to the side of the boiler to monitor the temperature of the chocolate. Stir gently, and steadily, as the chocolate melts and temperatures rise.
Bring dark chocolate to 115°F (46°C), or if tempering milk/white chocolate, 110°F (43°C). Be very careful not to let your chocolate exceed this recommended temperature. Remove the chocolate from the heat, wipe the bottom of the bowl, making sure that no water droplets reach the chocolate, and set on a heat-resistant surface.
Add the remaining chocolate pieces and stir allowing the residual heat to melt the chocolate. As the chocolate melts, the batch will begin to cool. Once it reaches 84°F (29°C), remove the remaining (unmelted) pieces of chocolate and reintroduce the mixture to the double boiler for 5-10 seconds, or until the temperature climbs back up to 87°F (30°C). Do not allow the chocolate to exceed 91°F (33°C).
Congratulations, your chocolate is now tempered! You can spot test the batch by spreading a spoonful thinly over an area of wax paper and allow it to sit for 2-3 minutes. If the chocolate is shiny and smooth, it has been properly tempered. If it is dull and streaky – scrap the batch and try again.