Updated: Apr 5, 2020
With Valentine's Day coming up my mind is turning to fancy colorful mysterious chocolate bonbons, the idea of chocolate-covered strawberries, and the weird salty, bitter, sweet treats that I'd rather have than the supermarket candies in goofy bright boxes and oversized stuffed animals. Anyone else with me? Well we could make our own*! (Keep in mind, some of this is definitely easier at my school, Johnson & Wales, with their equipment and supplies).
If you've tried to make chocolate-covered things before (pretzel sticks or strawberries or even cake pops) and used chocolate NOT candy melts, then you may have experienced some of the complications like your product melting in your hands, clumpy thick or dull chocolate, chocolate with white stuff on it after it's hardened. Those results are most likely because you were unable to temper your chocolate correctly before using it! My mind was blown throughout my chocolate class because my instructor broke down this relatively complicated topic in a way that I hope I can share with you!
Tempering is just the process of putting the melted cocoa butter that's in your chocolate back together the way you want it to, instead of letting it harden however it feels. Chocolate is made of cocoa butter, cocoa solids, sugar, and potentially vanilla/vanillin, and dairy. Ever melt butter all the way and let it harden and it just doesn't look the same as it did before you melted it? The fat in chocolate also has trouble setting back up the same way it started - the fat crystals actually have 6 ways they can reform and only 1 of the 6 is the shiny, snappy, smooth kind you see in the specialty chocolate shops. Tempering is when you help the cocoa butter (fat) set up the way you want it to. But how do you do it?
When tempering you need to be aware of the timing, temperature, agitation, look, and fluidity of your chocolate.
Here Chef Haas is tempering straight cocoa butter using the tabling method
There are a few ways to temper and we will focus on the seeding method (almost the easiest way to temper). Two other ways are the direct method and the tabling method. Direct method is the easiest to do at home as long as you have a good thermometer, but seeding is the way to fix it if you heat your chocolate too high. Tabling isn't recommended for home, since it requires a decent amount of clean marble space (which I don't have) and can make a super big mess! The seeding method uses more set/tempered chocolate to encourage the cocoa butter to set up the "right" way again. It's putting good seeds of properly formed cocoa butter in a pool of melted cocoa butter and chocolate ingredients.
So, but how can you do it?
What you need:
-heat source (microwave, chocolate warmer, double boiler)
-spatula (silicone, is my favorite)
-thermometer (instant read)
-chocolate (to melt)
-chocolate (as seeds)
-metal or glass bowl
-other containers as needed
-paper towels/rag to clean as you go
-strips of parchment paper for a set test (appox 1.5in x 3in)
1) Know the weight of the chocolate you are going to melt (here is where a scale will come in handy).
2) Heat your chocolate to its melting point and not much hotter or you can burn it! Find your chocolate's melting point on the bag or email the company. *Note: If your chocolate's ingredient list has other fats and oils in there, it may not be able to be tempered.
3) Find out what 1/3rd of the weight of your melted chocolate is. Weigh out that much chocolate to use as seed. *Note: Using small chips/coins here is best, or chop up your block of chocolate to small pieces - the goal is for it to melt into your melted chocolate by the time your chocolate has come down to the working temperature.
4) Add all of your seed chocolate to your melted.
5) Stir your chocolate together, keep stirring and checking the temperature in regular intervals.
6) Near the working temperature your chocolate should still have a few lumps to use as it cools all the way to the working temperature. Keep stirring! The cocoa butter needs the agitation! If there are a lot of lumps, go ahead and get out a few more pieces of tempered chocolate. You may need to break them up smaller if you are using a small batch of chocolate. Or you may only need one or two pieces.
7) At the working temperature it could be ready to work with!
8) Check that it's ready: NO lumps/fluid viscosity, temperature is at the working temperature, sets up within a couple minutes on a set test.
SET TEST: Dip an end of a piece of parchment a few times in the bowl of chocolate and set aside, check in a couple of minutes to see if it's ready. It's ready when the chocolate is starting to set up and there are no streaks or speckled fat bloom.
9) Dip, roll, pipe and use your chocolate now! Keep it in the workable range either by microwaving for 5 seconds at a time, or putting it in the oven for a few seconds. Note: Do not over heat OR let it get too cold, or you risk having to do the whole process over again (use the same chocolate, but add new seed). If those things do happen, check this post to fix it!
1) 600 grams of dark chocolate.
2) Heat to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, the melting temperature.
3) Have 200 grams of dark chocolate in small pieces as seed.
4) Add all of the seed to the melted chocolate.
5) Stir until most of the chocolate has melted.
6) Check the temperature - around 95 degrees, decide if you need to add any extra chopped up seed chocolate.
7) At 90 degrees it is in the working temperature.
8) Perform the checks to see if it's ready to work! (No lumps, temperature is 90 degrees, it sets up without fat bloom in a set test)
9) Use your chocolate!
Keep a rag or a bunch of paper towels nearby with a trash container - always clean the lip of your bowl and don't let the handle of your spatula get chocolaty.
Noticing your chocolate is too hot and you're out of seed? Chop up some seed super fine, or use chocolate shavings - this will add the "good" cocoa butter and melt easier at the lower temperature. (All the way out of fresh chocolate at home? Call it quits for the day, spread your chocolate out in a tray and let harden - even with fat bloom you can start the process over the next day when you have more seed to work with).
Extend your working time by tempering in an oven and microwave safe bowl - that way the warmth from the bowl can keep your chocolate at the working temperature longer.
Running into problems? Check this post to learn 6 ways to fix your chocolate!