A Basic Guide to Tempering Chocolate

Written by Roar Elias

Tempering chocolate will make a world of difference to the end result.

Have you ever wondered what goes into making those delicate chocolate garnishes that come with your dark chocolate mousse at a five star restaurant? You may think a pretty chocolate flower or an involved white chocolate twirl perched on top of your mousse is something you will never be able to manage, but you may just surprise yourself. Once you know about tempering chocolate, you will find there are a whole range of opportunities available in the wonderful world of chocolate making.

When and Why is Tempering Chocolate Necessary?

You probably know how to melt chocolate over a double boiler already. If you are someone who can't get enough of chocolate - good quality stylish creations, that is! you will probably know about a few tricks already. However, melting is not the same as tempering chocolate. This is what a lot of people think, but it is a little more involved than that.

Most of the time, you won't be needing this for cakes and bakes. If you are making a batch of brownies and you need chocolate to add to your mixture, then this is going to be melted. However, if you want to really finish your cake off to add a fantastic silky smooth texture then tempering is the way to go.

Now, for the purpose of making classy garnishes to impress your guests with, a good chocolatier will tell you to temper the chocolate. It will make the world of difference. Not only does this give the chocolate a better appearance, but it is also easier to work with. The first thing you want when working with garnishes like these is the best ingredients. If you haven't done anything like this before, then do yourself a favour and start with the best.

It's going to be well worth the couple of extra dollars. I have been there, trying to save some cash, but at the end of the day it gets you down psychologically because you can't perform.

A Basic Guide to Tempering Chocolate

So how exactly do you temper chocolate?

For beginners, it's important to have all the right tools. Don't skip the thermometer because you can't expect to become an instant French choclatier overnight. Once you get used to this a couple of times you will know how long the chocolate needs to be on the heat, but for now just take it one step at a time.

Don't be put off by this term. It's just a fancy way of taking things to the next level, but it is a small step and once you get there you can achieve so much more.

  • Start with 1 pound (450g) of good quality chocolate in its solid form. We don't want any old chocolate made from cocoa powder. You know the drill - quality counts! Don't use chocolate chips because this still contains things that make it difficult to work with.
  • So now you can begin breaking or chopping it up. It's easier to start with a larger amount of chocolate, especially if you are learning to do this for the first time. Melt 2/3 of your chocolate over a double boiler. Make sure that the water is just simmering and place the chocolate thermometer on the side of the boiler.
  • If you stir too much, your chocolate is going to split or seize. This looks like one big clump of something that has really gone wrong so always watch it and give it an occasional stir with a rubber spatula. It can also seize up if you get any water in there. Just one drop will destroy everything so watch out for this.
  • Keep an eye on the thermometer. It should reach 115 degrees F / 46 degrees C for dark chocolate or 110 degrees F / 43 degrees C for white or milk chocolate. At this temperature you should take it off the heat and leave it on a surface. Now you can add in the rest of the chocolate and stir to combine. This will melt and bring down the temperature a little. Keep stirring until you get a reading of about 90 degrees F / 32 degrees C for dark chocolate or 86-88 degrees F / 30 degrees C for milk or white chocolate.
  • *The next step is to reheat the chocolate just slightly. Put it back on the hot water for about 10 seconds, remove it and then stir it. Do this again until you have a reading of 88-89 degrees F / 31 degrees C for dark chocolate or 86-88 degrees F / 30 degrees C for white or milk chocolate. Don't leave the chocolate on the double boiler or let the temperature go above these readings otherwise you are going to run into trouble.
  • You should now be set. To know for sure that you have passed the test, just spread a little chocolate over some waxed paper and let it cool a little. It should be smooth and shiny. If it is streaky looking then something has gone wrong, but if you stick to the readings then that's not likely to happen.
  • The trick to making sweet creations is to keep the chocolate at an even temperature. This should be about 85-88 degrees F / 31 degrees C or 86 degrees F / 30 degrees C for milk and white chocolate. Just keep your hot water handy with your thermometer ready so you can warm it up every so often.

Tips & Tricks

Here are a few simple techniques for tempering chocolate just to get started:

  • You need to work on the smoothest surface like stainless steel or marble. You can also use a Teflon sheet or good grease proof paper.
  • Take a good scoop of chocolate and then use a wax scraper to run it down the surface so you have a widish line going down. The secret with this is waiting so it is just dry enough to work with. If it is completely dry then it won't work, but don't worry if you don't get it right first time. Just put the chocolate back on the heat and start again. So start at an angle and keep on rolling the chocolate up, tightly until you have a thin cigarette like shape.
  • Next, get yourself some good quality grease proof paper. Make a small square and fold it into a triangle. From here you keep on rolling until the ends meet and then you have to tuck them in. Nobody gets this first time so practice a couple times. This is a great way of making a piping bag for your chocolate. Just pour your chocolate in here and snip the front off.

Now you can go wild, making your own designs. Getting to know the basics from scratch methods of making and tempering chocolate is really all it takes. Tempering chocolate is both an art and a science. You will soon find that all those pretty creations you see at classy restaurant can actually be made by you with a little practice.

This is all it takes…practice!

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