The Three Fundamentals of Tempering
Melting Minutes Chocolate Academy - Lesson 3
Tempering chocolate can really be boiled down to three things: temperature, agitation, and time. It’s really that simple. Sure there are other tricks, nuggets of information, and skills that will help you along the way, but these three fundamentals are what matter most. Success will be yours if you keep these in the forefront of your mind. Do it for your chocolate. Do it for your sanity.
The Melting Minutes Chocolate Academy series is a great place to start if you’re new to tempering chocolate. Your reward will be delicious homemade chocolate candy made by YOU!
Tempering chocolate is a science…literally. Molecular magic happens when you reach specific temperatures during the tempering process. I offer more complete instructions on the varying tempering methods and some of the science involved in The Nuts & Bolts of Tempering – Lesson 4, but suffice it to say that cocoa butter crystals needs to melt and form at certain temperatures. Ignoring temperatures results in bloomed chocolate (see below), chocolate that doesn’t set properly, or worse yet, unusable chocolate.
In most cases, retempering chocolate will resolve issues relating to temperature, except for one: scorched chocolate. Chocolate is very sensitive to high temperatures. In general, dark chocolate should not exceed 120°F (48.9°C). Because of the higher milk solids and sugar in milk chocolate and white chocolate, they shouldn’t reach temperatures over 110°F (43.3°C). Scorched chocolate is often irreversible…well unless you like the taste of burnt chocolate. I’m just guessing that you’re not one of those people.
I recommend you invest in a decent thermometer. If you already have one, dig it out of your cupboards, dust it off, and apologize to it for all the years of neglect. It will be your best friend through the tempering process.
I picked up a laser infrared thermometer, which gives a quick reading without even touching my chocolate. You just point and shoot. Its downfall is that it reads the surface temperature of your food, but since you are constantly stirring your chocolate, this is not an issue. I wouldn’t recommend it for your Thanksgiving turkey though.
Now that you understand that chocolate is finicky when it comes to temperatures, it will probably come as no surprise that it’s also picky about how much agitation it gets. Stirring distributes the cocoa butter crystals evenly and prevents over crystallization. This is the second most laborious part of tempering chocolate, right after dishes and cleanup.
Making mistakes in the kitchen is sometimes the best way to learn. Fortunately for you, I make a lot of mistakes that you can learn from and hopefully avoid. For example, I can attest that not stirring your chocolate will cause it to solidify! It happened when one of my sweet darlings had a level ten melt down over a spilled popcicle right in the middle of tempering. Mopping up the tears and spilled popcicle took longer than I had hoped and by the time I returned to my chocolate it was thick and difficult to stir. I had abandoned it for too long and had no choice but to mop up my own tears and start the tempering process all over.
On the flip side, over agitating your chocolate will cause it to have a pudding-like consistency and could result in lots of bubbles. Those tiny air bubbles will haunt you the moment your chocolate candy pops out of the molds. To put things in perspective, it’s perfectly fine to use a kitchen aid with a rubber spatula on the stir setting. Just don’t crank that thing up any higher than that. I’ve also heard of folks using an immersion blender with success. Just remember, you’re stirring chocolate, not beating egg whites for a meringue. No need to be heavy handed. Stir. Breathe. Stir. Repeat.
The final rule is to be patient and don’t rush things. This may sound obvious, but maybe one day you’ll hear a little voice in your head that tells you to cut a corner. Ignore that voice. Instead, pour yourself a cup of tea and let your chocolate take its time for the cocoa butter crystals to form and grow.
That evil little voice gave me an idea one time of how to reduce the temperature of my chocolate faster. If I were to add more seeding chocolate, it will cool down faster. Well, it sure cooled fast, but it struggled to melt all the callets and the end result was an overly viscous consistency and large white stripes after hardening. In the end, over-seeding wasted time and chocolate (which is technically a sin).
That voice might also tell you to stick your molds in the freezer. This could cause condensation stains to form on your chocolate or a thing called sugar bloom that makes it difficult to remove your chocolate from the mold. A few minutes in the refrigerator is okay, but don’t push your luck by exposing your chocolate to anything longer or colder.
So now you can appreciate the importance of the three fundamentals of tempering. I would love to hear about the type of thermometer you selected in the comments below.
Next Post: The Nuts & Bolts of Tempering (Lesson 4)
Previous Post: Let’s Talk Couverture Chocolate! (Lesson 2)