Why should you be tempering chocolate? Chocolate is a complex mixture of cocoa solids, fats and sugars; every time you melt chocolate the sugar gets all excited and wants to turn to crystals, the various fats talk to each other and gang up against you – they are very keen on leaching out of the mixture. However, once properly tempered and set the chocolate will be shiny, will snap, will keep for longer, will shrink away from whatever you are moulding into – so all in all a good thing.
Now I’m no scientist, but my understanding of what is occurring is that in properly tempered chocolate there are up to 6 different types of crystals, as you heat it up some of the ‘baddie’ crystals come to the fore and overpower the ‘goodies’. All that tempering does is give the goodie crystals as much encouragement as possible, whilst the correct temperature will inhibit the less desirable ones.
Firstly, always temper as much chocolate as you can manage, with a bigger pot of choc you’ll average out any inconsistencies; working with a small amount will require more accuracy. I have a special chocolate spoon, this is flat at the spoon end; a curved one would incorporate air into the mix and that’s not desirable whilst tempering chocolate. Choose your shallowest wooden spoon or a spatula.
If you are using bars of chocolate chop it up into small pieces, or use chips. Pop the bowl of chips into the microwave (yes, microwave) and heat on full power for 30 seconds. Take the bowl out and stir, it will not look like anything is happening, but it is essential that you mix the chips up otherwise you’ll end up with ‘hot spots’ and these will burn, rendering the mixture totally useless.
Repeat the 30 seconds heating and mixing until you have a 2 thirds melted– 1 third solid mixture; you have now finished with the microwave. Then mix and the residual heat will continue to melt the hard bits. Tempering requires three things, temperature, time and movement – the movement is the stirring.
If you have stubborn lumps that refuse to melt you’ll need to melt them with a heat gun, you could use a strong hairdryer, but I was taught to use a hot air paint-stripper, sounds over industrial, but used with care it is the perfect tool. Do not go too close to the surface of the chocolate as you can burn the mixture with such a strong heat source.
With time and mixing you have a smooth glossy mixture, the gloss is important and will come with time and stirring, dip a metal knife or spatula in the mixture and put it aside to set at room temp. You need to keep an eye on this; you want the chocolate on the knife to set in five minutes, not more, not less.
In my example (to the right) at five minutes I have solid chocolate on one side of the pink line and molten on the other. This means that there is a little too much heat in the mix – stir your pot for a few minutes and then repeat the dip test again and it should set in five minutes.
Alternatively, if the sample sets fully in 4 minutes it does hot have enough heat in the mix – give it some warmth from the heat gun or 5 seconds in the microwave and repeat the dip test.
I’ve dropped two samples onto acetate sheets to show you a good example and a bad one. In the top one the set chocolate lifts away easily, snaps in half and does not melt onto your fingers.The bad version is a struggle to peel away from the surface, it bends rather than snaps, instantly melts all over my fingers and you can see greyish areas where the fat is coming out of the mix – all in all thoroughly unsatisfactory.I would urge you to have a couple of goes at tempering chocolate, this as an exercise before you need to do it as part of a recipe, a couple of goes and you should know what you are doing – as in all things practice makes perfect.
My chocolate supplier of choice is Home Chocolate Factory – very nice people to deal with! Good luck with tempering chocolate!