Tempering chocolates for cakes and pastries is one of those things that seem easy, but is actually quite difficult. Chefs have varying ways of tempering chocolate, and each of them believes that their method is the absolute best. When chocolate is tempered properly, it has a shiny, even mirror-like appearance. When you bite into well-tempered chocolate, it gives an audible snap then melts in your mouth. Some even argue that tempering improves the flavor of your favorite chocolate. We’ll take the top aspects of the methods available to devise the best way to temper chocolate.
Why Do We Temper Chocolate?
Before anything else, though, we need to talk about why we temper chocolates in the first place. For chocolate to be considered “real”, its fat content should only be cocoa butter, and not anything else. When you melt real chocolate, there’s a tendency for the cocoa butter to separate, which may negatively affect the taste and texture of the chocolate. When we temper chocolate, we’re basically bringing back all of these fat particles together so we can keep the pleasant flavor and mouth feel.
When you temper chocolate properly, you are also raising its melting temperature. This is due to the tight organization of the fatty acids in the chocolate – it’ll be harder to pry them apart. It is because of this unique characteristic that properly tempered chocolate is resistant to developing so-called chocolate bloom. Chocolate bloom are those white blemishes that appear on the surface of the chocolate because of its splitting cocoa butter content. You’ll need to temper chocolate properly if you want to achieve the look, taste, and feel of some of your favorite desserts.
Tempering Gone Bad
It’s also important to know when your tempering has gone wrong. This will give you enough time to start over and, in some cases, you may even be able to salvage your work. Start over if you don’t use the right type of chocolate. For instance, don’t use chocolate chips, especially if you’re going to use the end product for dipping or coating. When melted, chocolate chips become too thick, which won’t be ideal for creating delectable coatings. Use the best chocolate you can afford. We promise it’ll be worth the investment.
You should also try your best to properly store the chocolate. After all, the freshest ingredients yield the best results. It would be ideal to store chocolate in air-tight containers, away from strong odors. The temperature should be around 65 to 68ºF. The relative humidity should also be considered, as it should be no more than 50% at any given time. Avoid getting any moisture into the chocolate you’re tempering as well. It will seize if even the smallest amount of water makes contact with it, creating a grainy, basically inedible mess.
When you’re not stirring enough when you temper chocolate, the solid crystals won’t form properly. When you stir constantly, these crystals will instead form in a uniform size and shape. The temperature throughout the entire mixture will also be constant. Under-stirred chocolate will easily dry up and become susceptible to developing unsightly chocolate bloom. We recommend using a rubber spatula to mix and stir your chocolate. A rubber spatula is heatproof and allows you to scrape every last bit of chocolate from the sides and the bottom of the bowl. This will give you a higher yield of tempered chocolate and will help avoid burning.
Tempering by Seeding (Using a Microwave)
Now that we know what tempering chocolate is and what it does, as well as what to avoid when we’re tempering chocolate, we can now discuss the proper way to temper. The most recommended way of doing this is through seeding. Experts also say that this is the easiest and quickest way. To temper by seeding, you’ll need either a microwave or a double boiler, a microwave-safe bowl, a spatula, and a thermometer that can read temperatures as low as 70º F.
When you seed, start off with 24 ounces of high quality chocolate. You could even start with more chocolate if you wanted to, just not any less. This may sound like a lot, but it’ll quickly be used up when you’re dipping or coating other desserts. It’s also more difficult to overheat chocolate when you have a lot of it, which actually works to your advantage when you’re tempering. If you have any leftovers, you can just re-temper it some other time or reuse it for some other purpose. If you need a sugar fix, you could even eat it straight out of the bowl.
To start, you’ll need to heat the chocolate, but not too much. This will melt all the fatty acid crystals present. It would be easier to do this if you chop the chocolate into smaller pieces. Doing so will make the process of melting and tempering the chocolate a whole lot quicker. Before cranking the heat up, you should save around 25 to 30% of the chocolate you chopped. This will act as the “seed” for your temper. Don’t worry, there’s no need to be super exact just yet, you just want to have enough chocolate to act as the “seed.”
Now it’s time to heat up and melt the remaining three quarters of your chopped chocolate. If you’re using the microwave, only put it on half power to avoid burning the chocolate. You should also stir the mixture constantly to lessen the chances of it burning. Constant stirring will also help uniformly incorporate every last bit of chocolate that you added during the tempering process.
Use a thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature of the chocolate, as different kinds of chocolate have different ideal temperatures. For example, dark chocolate should be kept somewhere in between 114 and 118º F when tempering, while milk chocolate should be kept at a steady 105 up to 113º F. Meanwhile, you should be careful with white chocolate because of its high milk and sugar content, which could get it burned easily. You should only raise the temperature of milk chocolate to around 100 to 110º F.
Once you’ve gotten your chocolate to the desired temperature, it’s now time to gradually add the seed. Again, it would be easier to do this if you increase the surface area of the seed chocolate by chopping it into smaller pieces or by grating it. Add handfuls of your chopped or grated chocolate little by little until you reach the desired temperature. You should also make sure that every last bit of that seed is melted in. Dark chocolate should ideally be brought down to 88 to 89º F. On the other hand, both milk and white chocolate should be somewhere between 84 to 86º F. This usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes once you get the hang of it.
Once you’ve reached the recommended temperature listed above and you’ve thoroughly mixed in the seed, you’ve successfully tempered chocolate. Use your tempered chocolate as quickly as possible. If you can’t, then the work doesn’t stop there. You’ll need to maintain the chocolate’s texture and consistency, lest you have to start all over again. Keep stirring the mixture as you’re using it. Don’t let the temperature drop too. If it starts to do so, pop your tempered chocolate into your trusty microwave for 10 to 15 seconds at half power. Just make sure that it doesn’t go above 90º F or it’ll be ruined.
Tempering by Seeding (Using a Double Boiler)
If you don’t have a microwave in your kitchen, you can also use a double boiler to temper chocolate. If you’re going to use this method, start out with about a pound and a half to two pounds of chocolate. As we’ve said before, using a small amount of chocolate makes it hard to control the temperature during tempering. Chop or shave this chocolate to make it easier to work with. Take two-thirds of that chocolate for the initial melt and reserve the remaining third.
To set up your double boiler, bring a saucepan full of water to a simmer. Afterwards, put a glass or metal bowl on top with the first two-thirds of your chocolate as well as a good candy or digital thermometer. You should avoid letting the bowl touch the water, as this may burn the chocolate. You should also avoid using a cheap thermometer because it may give inaccurate readings.
Don’t let the temperature of the chocolate go above 120º F for this method. On the other hand, don’t let milk or white chocolate go above 105º F. When the chocolate has completely melted and the recommended temperature is reached, remove the bowl for the heat. Afterwards, thoroughly wipe the bottom of the bowl to get rid of any moisture, as this may cause your final product to seize. Don’t get rid of your double boiler setup just yet, though. We’ll use that again in a later step.
Get the remaining chocolate and add it bit by bit to the melted chocolate, which will lower its temperature to achieve a temper. Don’t add too much chocolate at a single time, as this may lower the temperature too much. Let the first handful you added in completely melt before you add a little bit more. You should aim for your chocolate to reach about 82º F.
Once you get a reading of 82º F, it’s now time to reheat the chocolate. Do this by returning the bowl to your pot of simmering water. If you’re using dark chocolate, reheat it to around 88 to 91º F. If you’re using milk or white chocolate, reheat it to somewhere in between 85 to 87º F. Remove the bowl from the heat once more and wipe it off, once you’ve reached the desired temperature for the type of chocolate you’re working with. To check if you’ve properly tempered the chocolate, take a spoonful of it and spread it over a bit of wax paper. If it looks dull or streaky, start over again from the second step. If it looks glossy, you’ve done a successful job.
Use the tempered chocolate as soon as possible. Maintain the temper of your chocolate by using a double boiler. If it cools down, but still maintains more of a liquid consistency, then you can get away with simply reheating it to the right temperature. Reheat the chocolate in five to 10-second bursts in order to avoid burning. Constantly stir as well while you’re reheating. However, if your chocolate cools down to the point of being solid once more, you’ll need to restart the tempering process.
Don’t Have a Thermometer?
If you don’t have a thermometer, don’t fret. You can still temper chocolate; although, this may take a bit more effort. You can check if the temperature of your tempered chocolate is too high or too low by taking a small amount using your rubber spatula and dabbing it on to the bottom of your lip or on the inside of your wrist. These areas are particularly sensitive to temperature, so you can quite easily tell if the temperature on your temper is wrong. Again, this method may take a bit of practice, but it’ll come in handy if you don’t have a thermometer on you at all times.
Are Substitutes Any Good?
Nothing can ever truly compare to the flavor and texture of well-tempered chocolate. They may come close, but products such as confectionery coatings, coating chocolates, and chocolate bark coatings can never completely duplicate what tempered chocolate has to offer. They may be easier to use – these products can be cooled and reheated quickly, and can be used as often as needed – but their advantages usually stop there. These may not even have actual chocolate in them.
Now you know how to properly temper chocolate for all kinds of pastries and confections. Gone are the days of having streaky, grainy chocolate ruin your best efforts at making dessert. Just use any of these three methods and you’ll be sure to get amazing results each and every time.