Who doesn’t love receiving a gift of something sweet from their sweetheart? This Valentine’s Day make your own chocolate dipped strawberries! It couldn’t be easier: only two ingredients to work with, dip the strawberry in chocolate, allow to set, and they’re ready to serve. Keep an instant-read thermometer like a Thermapen®, ThermoPop®, or RT600C® nearby, and temper some chocolate for your Valentine.
Tempering: The Tabling Method
In our post, Christmas Chocolate: Tempering Made Easy, we introduced the concept of tempering chocolate with making peppermint bark. Tempering is a process of melting chocolate and manipulating its temperature to strengthen the cocoa butter so all of the fat crystals evenly reach the stable form 5 stage. The tempering method we used for the peppermint bark was seeding, this time we brought our chocolate into perfect temper with the tabling method.
In tabling, melted chocolate is agitated with palate knives (and often stainless steel putty knives) on a marble slab to very quickly cool it down (stabilizing the fat crystals), then rewarmed to a workable consistency—all while very closely tracking its temperature. Tabling is the method of choice for pastry chefs and chocolatiers for its quick results. If you have granite (marble is ideal, but granite surfaces work very well too) or marble counter tops, or have a slab of either, give tabling a try!
Why is marble the surface of choice for chocolate and sugar work? Whenever you touch a marble surface with your hand, or walk across a marble floor, have you noticed that it feels much colder than a wood floor in the same room? Well, the marble is the same temperature as anything else in the room. Marble is an incredibly dense stone, has high thermal mass (the ability of a material to absorb and store heat energy), and great specific heat capacity (the amount of heat energy required to change a unit mass of a substance by one degree in temperature). Simply stated, heat energy transfers very quickly to marble, and it takes a great amount of heat energy to increase its temperature. When you touch marble you’re not sensing its cool surface temperature, your own heat energy is transferring quickly to the marble cooling YOU down. Take a minute and let that sink in!
Apply this principle to a thin layer of melted chocolate, and it’s easy to see why marble is the go-to surface to cool it down. The heat energy from the chocolate is quickly transferring to the marble reducing its temperature, with minimal temperature change in the marble. This illustrates how heat and temperature are not the same thing.
Critical Chocolate Temperatures
* Use this table as a reference for landmark temperatures throughout the tempering process
Step 1: Melt the chocolate over a hot water bath (between 115-120°F [40-43°C] for dark chocolate), stirring occasionally. Spot check your temperature with an instant read thermometer—we used a Thermapen Mk4. Once you have reached your melting temperature, remove from the heat and wipe any condensation with a clean, dry cloth. All surfaces and tools must be completely dry when working with chocolate.
Step 2: Pour out about 2/3 of the melted chocolate onto a very clean marble surface, and reserve the remaining 1/3 in the bowl (do not set the bowl down directly onto the marble surface, the chocolate will begin to set up rapidly and it needs to maintain its temperature).
Step 3: Using a palette knife and scraper, spread out the melted chocolate into a thin layer over the marble, and scrape the chocolate pulling it back into the center of the chocolate, cleaning off the scraping knife with the palette knife in your other hand. Continue the spreading and scraping motions until the melted chocolate begins to thicken. It’s critical to keep the chocolate in constant motion while tempering to properly stabilize the cocoa butter for form 5 fat crystals.
Quickly check the temperature of the chocolate. Dark chocolate should be cooled to about 84°F (29°C). If it cools down below that temperature it’s ok as long as solid chunks haven’t begun to form yet—work quickly. We always recommend using an instant read thermometer when tempering chocolate; but many professional chefs and chocolatiers use an infrared thermometer like the Food Safety thermometer at this stage in tempering, as pictured below. An infrared thermometer is not necessary, but this is a case where it is considered acceptable to use a surface temperature reading because the melted chocolate is in a very thin layer and has been in constant motion.
Step 4: Once you have determined the chocolate has cooled down to its appropriate temperature, very quickly scrape (the chocolate will set up on the marble if not scraped quickly enough) the chocolate to the edge of the marble, back into the bowl with the remaining 1/3 melted chocolate. Stir vigorously with a spatula. Spot check the temperature with an instant read thermometer (the surface temperature as read by an infrared thermometer will not give an accurate reading at this point). If the chocolate needs to rewarmed slightly, place over a hot water bath for just a few seconds. If the chocolate’s temperature exceeds 91°F (33°C), it will lose its tempered structure and you’ll need to start the process over again.
Step 5: Test to be sure proper temper has been reached by dipping the edge of a spoon or knife into the chocolate and allow to set. If tempered it will set up quickly without any streaking. At this point, proceed with using your tempered chocolate. Maintain proper temperature while working with the chocolate by occasionally spot checking the temperature, and returning the bowl over the hot water bath to warm it. Keeping chocolate in temper while working with it is a dance.
Prep the Pan: Line a sheet pan with parchment paper to allow the dipped berries to set.
Prep the Berries: Rinse the strawberries under cool water and pat dry with paper towels. If the berries have moisture on them the chocolate will not adhere properly to their surface.
Dip: Holding the strawberries by the stem, dip into the chocolate to coat 3/4 of the berry. Shake off excess chocolate, slightly sweeping the berry on the side of the bowl, and allow to set on prepared pan. It takes a little practice to get the dipping motion down. The goal is to have a strawberry evenly coated with a thin layer of chocolate, set up with a minimal foot (the area, or “footprint” where the chocolate meets the parchment paper).
Dipped strawberries are beautiful and a delight to receive. Both methods of chocolate tempering achieve the same results. Which one you use is a matter of personal preference. Have fun with your chocolate, and Happy Valentine’s Day!
Cacao Noel chocolate couverture from Paris Gourmet, procured through Muir Copper Canyon Farms/Muir Gourmet
◆Whenever possible, all tools and equipment used in our demo kitchen are purchased on the recommendation of winning product reviews from America’s Test Kitchen.