If there’s a time of year to give working with chocolate a try, this is it. Chocolate bark is a simple application for a first time chocolate project, or if you need to prepare mass quantities of sweets to give away to neighbors and friends with minimal stress. The bark doesn’t involve any molds or dipping techniques—and it’s delicious! Whenever working with chocolate it must be tempered; we’re about to simplify the science and make it easy for you. Just keep an instant-read thermometer handy for spot checking temperatures. For this festive project we’re using a Super-Fast Pocket Thermometer—the RT600C.
Chocolate just out of the wrapper is shiny with a pleasant snap—it’s in perfect temper. If you melt the chocolate and work with it without tempering, it will take a long time to set up, will not be shiny, and won’t snap; rather, it may be flexible, dull and brittle.
Chocolate work is really very scientific; let’s break it up into basic pieces that are easy to understand:
• Chocolate contains cocoa butter that is made up of 6 different types of fat crystals (forms 1-6).
• Each form has a different density, level of stability, and melting point.
• The only crystal that is stable enough to achieve the desired shine and snap is form 5 (beta crystals).
• Form 5 has a higher melting point, so it won’t melt immediately on your fingers. The beta crystals are very stable—their structure will change little over time, and are very small—resulting in a shiny product with a nice snap.
How to Temper:
Tempering involves 1) melting all of the fat crystals, 2) cooling under agitation to ensure the formation of small crystals by way of seeding or tabling (tabling is a method typically only used by professionals) the melted chocolate to encourage the formation of the needed beta crystals. 3) The chocolate is then very gently rewarmed to bring it up to a workable consistency without breaking the stable beta crystalline structure. The chocolate tempering video below from our friends at Monarch Media helps to visualize this process.
The Seeding Method:
1. Melt: Scale the needed amount of chocolate (buttons, coins, or chopped) into a very clean, dry stainless steel bowl. Set aside about 1/4-1/3 of the chopped chocolate for seeding. Prepare a double-boiler by filling a saucepan about 1/4-1/3 with water. Bring the water to a boil and turn off the heat. Place the bowl of chocolate over the hot water bath to gently melt, stirring with a rubber spatula as it melts. Keep the chocolate over the hot water bath until it reaches the proper melting temperature as listed in the table below.
2. Cool: Remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the heat and wipe off the condensation from the bottom of the bowl. Add the remaining chopped chocolate to the melted chocolate to cool and seed the chocolate with the stable beta (form 5) fat crystals, stirring constantly. Add enough chopped chocolate to reduce to the proper cooling temperature.
3. Rewarm: Return the bowl of chocolate to the hot water bath and stir constantly as the temperature rises slightly. This will only take a few seconds. Keep an eye on the temperature with spot checking. If the temperature exceeds 90ºF (32ºC), the temper will be broken. Once the rewarming temperature is reached, immediately remove from the heat.
• Test for proper temper before proceeding by dipping the edge of a metal spoon or knife into the chocolate and set it aside. If proper temper has been reached it will set up quickly without any streaks. If not tempered, the chocolate will never seem to set up, or it will have gray or whitish streaks once it does.
Take great care to keep water away from the chocolate. Even one drop of water can cause the chocolate to seize.
Critical Chocolate Temperatures
Using the recipe follow these easy steps:
1. Temper white chocolate and spread onto a parchment-lined 10×15-inch sheet pan. Smooth with an offset spatula to level out the chocolate before it sets.
2. While white chocolate is setting up (the chocolate will likely set up immediately, but don’t allow it to sit longer than an hour before pouring the dark chocolate), temper dark chocolate. Mix the *peppermint oil into the dark chocolate, and spread over the white chocolate, smooth and level just as with the white chocolate. Sprinkle crushed peppermint candy on top of the dark chocolate before it sets.
3. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least an hour, then break into shards.
*Peppermint oil must be used, not extract. Extract will cause the chocolate to seize.
Use this recipe as a guideline to create your own variations. For example, omit the peppermint oil, sprinkle toasted chopped nuts, dried fruit, coconut, seeds, spices, rice crispies, crushed oreos, pretzels, or marshmallows on top. Use a topping on the white chocolate layer, then pour the dark chocolate over it and use a different finishing topping. The possibilities are endless!
We made another bark with plain tempered white chocolate and topped it with dried cherries and roasted pistachios. Yum!
Now you know why tempering is important, and that the process is probably easier than you thought. With an accurate instant read thermometer, it’s nearly foolproof. By spot checking temperatures with your RT600C (Thermapen or ThermoPop) along the way, you won’t lose your temper this holiday season.