December 24, 2015
Gorgeous chocolate bark, decadent chocolate-dipped strawberries, homemade truffles—they all require smooth, creamy chocolate. But not just any microwaved fondue will do. Each of these desserts requires tempered chocolate.
What is tempered chocolate, exactly? Tempering refers to the process of melting and cooling chocolate so it sets to a glossy, smooth finish. Think of the best bar of chocolate you’ve ever tasted. Remember the satisfying snapping sound it makes as you break off a piece. Envision the sheen, the perfect shape. That’s well-tempered chocolate.
On the flip side, improperly tempered chocolate can develop a grainy texture or unattractive white streaks.
Tempering gets a bad rap for being difficult to do, but if you pay close attention and work carefully, it’s really not so bad. Here’s the easiest method—all you’ll need a candy thermometer, microwave or double boiler, and plenty of chocolate.
First, chop your chocolate into small pieces. Place two-thirds of it in a microwave-safe bowl or in the double boiler over boiling water. If using a microwave, heat the chocolate in 30-second increments on medium heat. If using a double boiler, stir frequently as the chocolate starts to melt.
Check the temperature of the chocolate frequently—once it reaches a certain temperature, depending on the type, you’ll need to stop heating it immediately. According to Ecole Chocolat, target temperatures are as follows:
Once your chocolate reaches the desired temperature, start incorporating the remaining unmelted pieces of chocolate. This shouldn’t require more heat—the molten chocolate will melt any solid chunks. Continue stirring until all chocolate is melted and the temperature drops back down to 81 degrees Fahrenheit.
Last, carefully reheat the chocolate just slightly, to bring it back to the following temperature:
Finally, your chocolate is tempered! It’ll harden quickly, so keep it at the above temperature while you work with it. It should have a glossy appearance and snappy texture.
All right, why the precision just to melt some candy? It all has to do with cocoa fat, the compound that gives chocolate its unique texture. When it hardens, cocoa fat actually forms crystals. Depending on the temperature at which chocolate is heated, cocoa fat can form different types of crystals—ranging from unstable and loose to well-structured and tight. Since tempering precisely controls the temperature of chocolate, you’re able to better control the way the crystals turn out.
This explanation also reveals a couple of the common pitfalls home cooks encounter when tempering chocolate. Overheat the chocolate too much, and it won’t be able to properly form crystals—or in other words, it will scorch. Add even one drop of water to melted chocolate, and the crystal structure will be ruined—causing it to seize up into a gritty paste.
The moral of the story here? Work carefully and consistently, checking the temperature at each stage. As long as you pay close attention, there’s no reason you can’t temper beautiful chocolate.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont
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