Tempering chocolate to achieve that lustrous shine and crisp snap associated with fine chocolate products is really quite simple once you have a basic understanding of why it is necessary and what steps to take in the process.
Chocolate contains two main components – cocoa solids and cocoa butter, the native fat of the cocoa bean. Real chocolate ranges from milk to dark sweet, semisweet, bittersweet and extra-bittersweet. The type and blend of the cocoa beans that are selected, the degree that they are roasted, the sugar content, the cocoa butter content, and the method and degree of refining all effect the characteristics of a chocolate. Couverture chocolate is a very high quality chocolate that contains extra cocoa butter which when combined with proper tempering gives chocolate that desired sheen, snap and creamy, mellow mouth feel as it melts on the tongue. It comes in various forms such as blocks, bars, coins (aka pistols or callets), and chips (not to be confused with baking morsels or baking chips which have a lower cocoa butter content so they will retain their shape after being baked in a product).
Chocolate Liquor (cocoa mass) is pure unsweetened chocolate from roasting and grinding cocoa beans. Its main two components are cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
Dark chocolate consists of cocoa mass and cocoa butter to which varying degrees of sugar have been added. Dark chocolate will have a minimum of 15% cocoa mass and may go as high as 73% (or higher). Highly influenced by bean selection, blend and roasting used to make the cocoa mass, flavor characteristics range from simple, strong, basic chocolate flavor to fruity, floral, spicy, earthy, hay-like, tobacco-like, and roasted notes.
Milk chocolate consists of cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk or cream. In addition to the flavor influences listed under dark chocolate, flavor characteristics come from the type of processing techniques for the dairy ingredient. Milk chocolate will have on the average 10%-14% cocoa mass, but may range beyond 35%. Flavor characteristics are described as very light nutty, creamy, condensed milk, cooked milk, and caramelized.
White chocolate contains no cocoa mass but does contain sugar, cocoa butter, and milk or cream.
Chocolate flavored coatings and pastel coatings are made with the same ingredients as chocolate except the cocoa butter is replaced with a similar type of specially processed fat (usually hydrogenated tropical oils). These are often known as compound coatings. These do not require tempering as does real chocolate.
Essentially tempering chocolate involves a three step process – melting, cooling and pre-crystallizing (don’t let this word frighten you; more about that in a moment), and rewarming. Why does chocolate have to be tempered?
Remember, chocolate is composed of two main components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter, the native fat of the cocoa bean and a main component of chocolate, has a very complex system of fat crystals. Each of the crystals has a different melting point ranging from 63°- 95° F. Once melted, cocoa butter will remain in a liquid state for a long period of time. For this reason, chocolate goes through a process called tempering. Without tempering some of the fats in the chocolate migrate to the surface and cause fat bloom (those unsightly grey streaks that you may have seen before). Once the chocolate finally sets up its texture would be coarse and crumbly. The fats that melt at higher temperatures are the ones to solidify first. These high melt point fats give chocolate its shine and snap.
The objective of tempering is to create a very fine fat crystal structure in the chocolate. In a melted tempered chocolate these high melt point fats have begun to solidify into very fine crystals that are distributed throughout the melted chocolate. When the chocolate is left to cool, the chocolate solidifies quickly, because the fine crystals act as seeds around which the rest of the chocolate solidifies. Tempering is simply is a process of cooling and mixing for a period of time, and then rewarming it until the chocolate reaches a desired temperature which will insure it to solidify properly, usually in the range of 86° - 88° F.
Now before we proceed to the step-by step procedure for tempering chocolate, let’s review:
- Couverture must be tempered because it contains cocoa butter
- Cocoa butter is a complex fat made several types of fats.
- Each of these fats has a different melting point – some at high and some at low
- The high temperature melting fats are the ones to solidify first as the melted chocolate cools. The objective of tempering chocolate is to create a very fine fat-crystal structure in the chocolate.
- In a melted, tempered chocolate, the high-melt point fats have begun to solidify into fine crystals that are distributed throughout the melted chocolate. When the chocolate is left to cool, the chocolate sets or solidifies quickly because the fat crystals act as seeds around which the rest of the chocolate crystallizes.
Chocolate must be tempered if it is being used to coat confections or made into chocolate decorations. If the chocolate is being used as an ingredient in a baked product such as a cake or a cooked product such as a pie filling, tempering it is unnecessary. There are two methods for tempering chocolate – the Inoculation method, and the Tablier method. Before you begin have all of your ingredients and tools ready. You may find using a yoghurt/chocolate thermometer helpful in determining the correct temperatures until you are comfortable with the procedure.
A word of precaution - the temperature of the room in which you are working is very important. The ideal room temperature for working with chocolate is 65° to 68° F. If the room temperature goes over 70° F the chocolate will not set up properly and will go out of temper. In addition, if you plan to coat candy centers in chocolate, make sure the centers are not too cold when dipping them. This can cause the chocolate to crack once it hardens. Ideally, the temperature of the centers should be close to that of the tempered chocolate.
You can temper any amount of chocolate that you wish. The following directions are for 1 pound of chocolate.
Step I – Melting the Chocolate
- Chop the chocolate and place in a stainless steel or glass bowl.
- Place one inch of water in a small heavy saucepan.
- Place the saucepan on the stove and heat the water just until it is steaming.
- Keep the pan over low heat and avoid letting the water come to a simmer.
- Place the bowl containing the chopped chocolate on top of the pan of steaming water.
- Stir the chocolate until it is completely melted (115° to 118° F)
- Remove the bowl from the pan and wipe the moisture from the bottom of the bowl with a dry towel.
Step II – Tempering the Chocolate
- Add a piece or two of solid, tempered chocolate (about 3 to 4 ounces total for 1 pound of melted chocolate – 20% to 25% of the weight of the chocolate you have melted) or the same amount of coins a few at a time to the melted chocolate. Work the piece of chocolate with your hand (like you were using a bar of soap) while stirring the chocolate if using a solid piece or just stir it if using coins. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl as you go.
- Continue to do this until the chocolate is cool - 86° to 88° F for milk chocolate, 88° to 89° F for dark chocolate.
- Check it with a chocolate or yoghurt thermometer to be certain. An old candy maker’s trick is to test a bit on your lower lip. It should feel just slightly cool, neither warm, cold or neutral. Smear a bit of chocolate onto a small piece of parchment paper. The tip of a metal icing spatula may be used instead. It should set up within a minute if it is in temper. Once the chocolate is in temper it must be used right away. Remove any solid pieces of chocolate that were used for tempering and the chocolate is now ready. As the chocolate continues to cool, re-warm it following the directions given below.
This is the easiest method for home use, particularly when you are tempering a large amount of chocolate.
Tablier or Mush Tempering
- Pour about one-third of the melted chocolate onto a marble slab or onto a biking sheet.
- Using a metal palette knife or dough knife, work the chocolate back and forth quickly.
- Stop to scrape down the knife with a metal icing spatula. Continue paddling the chocolate until it begins to thicken.
- Add the chocolate back into the melted chocolate and stir to incorporate the two. Test for temper and temperature as described in the Inoculation Method. If the chocolate is not tempered, perform the technique again.
- Always test the chocolate before using to make sure that it is in temper (refer step 3 Inoculation Tempering). As the chocolate continues to cool, re-warm it following the directions given below.
Unless you have a large marble work surface at home, this method is best reserved for tempering small amounts of chocolate.
Step III - Re-warming the chocolate to keep it in working condition
As you work with the chocolate it will become too cold and it is necessary to re-warm it. Chocolate that is too cold will be dull when it hardens. Re-warming can be accomplished in two ways.
1. Keep another bowl of warm, melted, un-tempered chocolate over a pot of hot water. Add a little of the warm chocolate to the tempered chocolate to bring it back then add it back to the tempered chocolate. Never add more than 20% of the weight of the tempered chocolate. Start with a small amount and add more if necessary.
2. Place the bowl of tempered chocolate back over the steaming water stirring constantly for just a few seconds. Remove the bowl from the pan and wipe the moisture from the bottom of the bowl with a dry towel.
In either case, if the tempered chocolate becomes too warm it will go out of temper and the tempering process will have to start all over again. To be on the safe side, test the chocolate to see that it is in temper each time you warm it back up to working temperature.
Once you have done the tempering procedure a few times you’ll get the hang of it. Soon you will be on your way to amazing friends and family with your own chocolate creations.