The magic and mystery of chocolate tempering

Chocolate, who doesn’t like it?  Ok, I have met a few people that don’t like chocolate, I can’t get my head around that. Why pay a fortune for “boutique” chocolate bars when you can make them yourself. Most places don’t make the chocolate from bean to bar and start with already made pistoles or bar chocolate (explained further down). First of all let me give some great reference material: Chef Ewald Notter’s The Art of the Chocolatier (ISBN 978-0470398845)  is a great book and I took a class from him back in Orlando years ago. Jean-Pierre Wybauw any of his books on chocolate decoration. I took his truffle class at the Notter School as well. (the Notter School is unfortunately closed now). Materials:

Chocolate of your choosing (or mostly your choosing).

Do not use chocolate chips as they have wax in them to keep them stable so you get that great look. Do not use stuff from Michaels or anywhere else that is used for fountains or for coating.

Go to Whole Foods, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Sur La Table, Williams and Sonoma or your favorite store that carries the pure chocolate form. Pistoles are my favorite but you can use the block form as well.

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Block chocolate requires a chocolate fork to break it up easily.  A chef’s knife can also be used. Either way be vary careful when breaking up block chocolate to keep all ones fingers.

I myself lean towards the pistoles as they melt evenly and when you are hungry easier to snack on (little discs of chocolate, basically a squished large chocolate chip) .

Chocolate is defined by cocoa solids percentage. White Chocolate has no cocoa solids thus isn’t really chocolate instead its milk solids, sugar and cocoa butter. Milk Chocolate is in the 33-34% range that I prefer, Dark around 63% is my favorite. I can’t do darker than 63% without getting a migraine. I have used 70% in the past for truffle filling but not for coating as it can be close to bitter. Yes there are people out there who like to brag about like 80% chocolate, I am like more power to you. I don’t need to eat baking chocolate, I like my sugar.

I order my milk chocolate in small pistoles from Bakers Cash and Carry in Utah and my Dark from AUI-Swiss

Note, people have different tastes, what works for me doesn’t work for everyone.  Before you go buying 11lb boxes try some smaller samples if you can.  Guittard is what the chocolate factory uses and several places carry that.  Callebaut is great as well.  A few varieties of each brand can have vastly different cocoa contents and texture so search around.  Maybe you’ll love the science of it enough to make it from bean :). One companies milk chocolate tastes very different from another companies at the same cocoa solids percentage.

The chocolate arrives tempered in the box or bag. There really is no great reason to re-temper it if you don’t want to. You can just melt it and make sure you do not take it above the temp that will melt the crystals (See table at the end), But lets back up a bit. What is temper? Cocoa butter has crystals when it cools from a liquid to a solid. If this cooling is too fast or too slow you get the wrong crystals. The wrong crystallization structure gives you chocolate that melts in your hand and does not have a nice sheen to it. Tempered chocolate is chocolate that has been cooled down properly to form the right crystal structure. When fully cooled it will separate from the molds easily, have a snap and gloss to it. The cocoa butter crystallizes not the chocolate solids.  Since its very hard to see cocoa butter through the cocoa solids, Lets start with straight 100% cocoa butter so this is easier to understand.

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One tub of cocoa butter, yes I paid too much for this but the education was worth it. We melt the cocoa butter over a pot of water.  Note, you do not need buckets of water in the pan below, it should be at a simmer not a boil and it does not have to be in an expensive pot, tempering machine, chocolate warmer,  etc (unless that is what you want)!

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Keep it moving around and we start to see the crystals melting and changing back into liquid form.

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Now if you take it too hot you will get rid of all the crystals as they can’t survive  have to reform the crystals.  There are two ways to introduce proper friendly crystals: tabling and seeding.

Tabling involves pouring on to a marble slab or other surface and you control the cooling to get your crystals started.  These are then folded into the rest of the ,melted cocoa butter on the slab and they seed and multiply the cocoa butter with good crystals. This is fast and requires a bit of practice but it works well and I have to say great to learn.

Seeding is the method of melting the chocolate and dropping in roughly 1/3 already tempered chocolate with the proper structure, these then seed the crystals that form when the hot chocolate cools down.

Tempering take the temps up to 115-120 ish, I have read up to 125 degrees for dark and 110 to 115 for milk and white to completely melt out the crystal structure.

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Fully melted. Now to the table, see how clear that is, no crystals. And notice this is just a 1 inch pastry slab, you don’t need a marble counter though it would be nice 🙂

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Crystals are starting to form its darker, you will actually see the cocoa butter change as you work it.

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And we get closer to temper state here. Consistent agitation helps encourage crystal growth.

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Don’t make this hard!  Its really quite simple.  We melt all the crystals away. Then with controlled cooling and agitation we introduce them back into place. With chocolate you just have to take on faith what is happening as you can’t see the crystals form like you can with cocoa butter. Don’t go crazy with a thermometer, they are helpful but don’t have it be your only tool. You can see the look of tempered chocolate with experience.  You can take a sample on a pastry scraper and cool it in the fridge quick.  If it has the shine and snap to it you are there. There is no rush here, you don’t need to panic, you are not on a food network contest.  You can keep it warm with a heating pad or use the poor mans double boiler above.  If you keep the chocolate within the tempered range after tempering it will stay there. Temperature ranges at temper

  • 88-91 degrees for dark
  • 84-87 degrees for milk and white

If you fail, you start again! Chocolate can be re-tempered multiple times. It may get thicker though so you may have to add more chocolate to the mixture. Be aware of seizing the chocolate.  Chocolate and water DO NOT MIX!  If water gets in from the double boiler being too hot, etc it will seize up, you’ll know it happens.  No going back, use it for brownies or chuck it. Some other useful info:

Hotter rooms with more humidity will take chocolate longer to set!  AC is your friend as is working on a cool day or evening in the summer.

I have used a heat gun to warm the surface of the chocolate in the bowl, then stirring it in

Much more detailed information and trouble shooting can be found in Chef Notter’s book or feel free to ask in the comments. Stay tune for more posts to follow when I get to the real chocolate and not just cocoa butter.

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