Why temper chocolate?Without tempering, chocolate cools and becomes solid in a dull brown mass with chalky white or gray streaks. Tempered chocolate is shiny, smooth in appearance and taste, and breaks with an audible snap. Proper tempering is critical to finished chocolate quality. Not only unappealing, it has a chalky taste and can be unappetizing. Most commercial chocolate manufacturers then mold this tempered chocolate into 10 pound slabs, bricks, or blocks for shipping and use by other companies.
Here you are with some delicious 10 pound slab of expensive, quality chocolate. What do you do with it besides eat it? There are always the old standbys: hot fudge, brownies, fudge, ganache, etc. To make any truly elegant dessert or chocolate dipped item, one must temper the chocolate.
We offer these important tips on tempering chocolate:
This is the most critical step in the tempering process. Chocolate cannot be exposed to extreme heat, anything over 120 degrees can cause the chocolate to scorch or burn. To melt chocolate, the key is to expose it to small amounts of heat slowly. A microwave can be effective but requires extreme diligence to prevent scorching. Chop your chocolate in small pieces and place into a microwave safe container. Use a medium cooking setting and take the bowl out at least every 30 seconds to stir it. It will take about 2 minutes to melt 1 pound of chocolate. Milk and white chocolates are the most sensitive to scorching, so watch them closely and stir often!
Other methods to melt chocolate would include a double boiler. Be cautious around any steam-chocolate does not tolerate any moisture and if exposed to steam or droplets will seize into a semi-solid disgusting mass. The method we personally find works well, is to use the oven. This surprises many people, but used properly it avoids the problems of scorching and moisture thanks to the dry oven environment. Place up to 5 lbs of chocolate in a metal 9"X 13" baking pan. Set the oven temperature to WM or less than 150 F if possible. When the oven is warm, place the chocolate on a center rack and stir every 10 minutes or so. As long as the oven temperature never exceeds 120 F the melted mass will be ready to temper when you are. It may be necessary to turn the oven on or off during melting to maintain that warm temperature without scorching the chocolate as every oven is different.
Methods for Tempering Chocolate
Method 1: Tempering Machine
This is by far the easiest method for the inexperienced chocolatier. Tempering machines may be rented for about $25-100 per weekend or purchased for $350-850 for home use. Although the information from the company usually says that you can put block chocolate into the bowl for melting and tempering, it generally takes a great deal of time. The faster way to achieve tempered chocolate ready for use is to first melt what you need. Pour it into the bowl and toss in 4-10 small chunks of block chocolate to "seed" the molten chocolate as it is cooled. In about 15 minutes you should have 1-2 lbs of tempered chocolate.
Method 2: Bowl Method
Although simple in theory, this method can be difficult to achieve consistent quality results with for the inexperienced chocolatier. Melt chocolate using any method which works for you. Pour the warm liquid chocolate into a plastic or glass bowl (if you melted it in a glass bowl, pour it into a second bowl so that heat is not transferred from the bowl to the chocolate). Toss in 2-3 larger chunks of block chocolate per pound. When you are ready, stir with a spoon or scraper to both seed and cool the chocolate at the same time. White and milk chocolate should be 88-90 degrees F, bittersweet and semisweet should be 90-92 degrees F before use. Remove seed chunks of chocolate before use.
Method 3: Marble Slab (Gold Standard)
This method is known worldwide as the standard for tempering chocolate for small scale use, and also requires some equipment that average home chefs may not have lying about. A 1" thick piece of smooth marble is necessary for this method, and really no other material works well. The larger the better, but at least 16" X 16" of area is needed to work in. Melt the chocolate using your preferred method. Keep the molten chocolate on the counter in the bowl to keep it slightly warm and pour out 1/3 to 2/3 of the chocolate onto the marble slab. Using a dough scraper or other nice flat utensil, spread the chocolate onto the slab to cool for about 20-60 seconds (depending on the volume) until a hand held over it no longer registers it as warm. Using 1 or 2 scrapers, move the chocolate, folding over itself on the slab to stir it and cool it evenly. Try not to introduce air bubbles or solid pieces scraped from the slab. When the molten chocolate assumes the texture of cake batter it is considered "seeded" and ready to add back to the molten chocolate remaining in the bowl. Stir these two portions together until they are homogenous.
Once your chocolate is successfully tempered, it is important to verify that it will set up the way that you want it to. One way to check is with a thermometer, white and milk chocolate should be 88-90 degrees F, dark chocolates should be 90-92 degrees F. Another way is to place a small swipe of chocolate onto a cool, smooth surface. Correctly tempered chocolate should set up within just a minute or two and when it sets up the surface should be slightly glossy. When you pull this piece off the surface it should break with a bit of snap. It should not bend. If you see streaks of white or gray then the chocolate was likely improperly tempered. Try the seeding step again.
If your project is improperly tempered, removal from molds will be difficult to impossible. Don't panic! Place your mold in the freezer for an hour or so and even untempered chocolate can usually be removed and remelted. Even improperly tempered chocolate is edible, though some chocolate snobs may feel that the flavor and texture is altered. We recommend feeding such ugly pieces to very good friends who are eager to devour your mistakes. Everyone should have at least one good friend to rely on for such services. Hopefully you will find the effort worthwhile to use real chocolate in your candies, pastries, and other confections.
If you find this daunting, please read our Help! I don't want to temper chocolate page for the benefits of using real chocolate as well as the alternatives.
We also teach classes for those interested.
See our links page for more information about tempering chocolate, and tempering machines.