For many chocolatiers’, the tools of their trade takes the form of shiny, solid chocolate. But like all other chocolates, it has to first be tempered.
The art of chocolate tempering alludes to basic science – the formation and breakdown of crystals in a substance via heating and cooling. As ice is composed of water molecules compressed together, so is hardened chocolate composed of stable crystals. As ice melts, its molecules are provided with energy to separate, forming water; in this manner, when chocolate melts, its crystals are broken down. Just as water might be frozen again to re-form ice, chocolate, too, can be re-tempered to reach the ideal temperature in which to form uniform crystals.
Ultimately, tempering serves to facilitate the formation of ß-type crystals in your cocoa butter; this occurs between the temperature range of 32 – 34°C. These ß-type crystals are the kings of tempered chocolate – when formed, they allow for your chocolate to take on a stable state, being both glossy and firm and producing a sharp snap when broken.
There are many ways in which one might choose to temper their chocolate. A fool proof way lies in using a tempering machine – but for those without access to one, a bain-marie and an instant-read food thermometer will do the job just fine.
In order to temper by hand, one might choose to do some tabliering – pouring molten chocolate onto a cool surface and working it with spatulas until it has cooled to the desired temperature. Otherwise, one may opt to try another process – seeding. In seeding, one sets about 25% of the chocolate required to melt in a bain-marie, then slowly incorporate solid chocolate to start the tempering process. Both are sufficiently fruitful for the purpose of tempering small quantities – both result in visually palatable and delicious results.
You may wonder why one might go to so much trouble with chocolate. After all, isn’t it okay as long as it’s hardened and in easy, bite-sized blocks?
The answer is no – not for certain uses of the stuff, at any rate.
Ask any chocolatier and he or she will tell you that tempering chocolate is the last word in their line of work. It is crucial in the final appearance of your dessert – it ensures that fat and sugar does not bloom over the surface of your chocolate, keeping it visually appealing. It also preserves the keeping quality of your chocolate, making sure it lasts longer, and raises its melting temperature so it doesn’t turn to mush within seconds on contact with your fingers. A perfect temper will ensure that your chocolate eventually takes on a glossy, shiny appearance, not unlike the carefully-styled hair of Hollywood’s finest celebrities. It even sounds delicious, producing a hard, clean snap when broken.
Ultimately, the final product of your labour depends on how well you temper your chocolate. If you’re going to be spending money on purchasing only the best of chocolates for your work, then why not make sure it is utilised well? For that matter, why not ensure that it is used to craft nothing but beautiful things to be savoured? Chocolate tempering, after all, is an art.
So paint away.
Chocolate that has been correctly tempered is bright, crisp, and shiny when set. Chef Frederic Oger demonstrated the following method to temper chocolate:
1. Melt the chocolate at between 45ºC to 50ºC.
2. Pour about two-thirds of the melted chocolate onto a marble worktop and spread it out with a metal spatula or scraper.
3. Scrape the chocolate back into a pile and keep on doing this to agitate the chocolate until it reaches a temperature of 26ºC.
4. Pour the two-thirds chocolate back into the one-third and reheat to 32ºC.
5. Once chocolate has reached the desired temperature, spread a small amount on a piece of plastic to see if it sets properly. The chocolate should set in the next 10 minutes. Properly tempered chocolate sets into a crisp and shiny chocolate devoid of white streaks. Once it has been ascertained that the chocolate has been correctly tempered, it can be used in moulding, for dipping or for coating.