Tempering Chocolate

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A few digestive biscuits coated in chocolate.
A few digestive biscuits coated in chocolate.

Confession time! Most of the time we don’t bother with tempering chocolate, as we don’t mind getting a bit of chocolate on our fingers when we eat some sort of treat. If you don’t mind having a soft chocolate coating on whatever you make, you can skip this post. But, if you’d like to have a chocolate coating that doesn’t melt on your fingers (at least not instantly), and has a nice pleasant snap when you bite into it, read on.

Tempering chocolate is nothing other than rearranging the fat molecules in chocolate so they’re tightly packed. Once packed in place, they resist pulling apart (melting or bending), leaving a chocolate that’s a bit harder to melt (so it melts mainly in your mouth,) and has a clean break or snap when bitten into. So, how do we move those molecules around? A tweezers? No, just a bit of heating, and adding some “seed” chocolate that’s already tempered.

We read this technique in many places, but, after seeing it in Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook, by Rick Mast and Michael Mast, two people who probably know more about chocolate than 20 of us ordinary people combined, we wrote down the steps needed to temper chocolate. Here are three numbers you must remember: 115, 83, 89.

Chop chocolate. To make tempered chocolate, we need to chop up some chocolate. Chop it fine, so it’ll melt easily, then place about half of the chocolate in the bowl of a double boiler (or a heat-proof bowl you can set in a pan over simmering water).

melting chocolate
Bring the melted chocolate to 115°F. Stir continuously so the chocolate is smooth.

Heat chocolate to 115°F. There’s the first number. Turn the heat to medium and get the water in the base of the double boiler simmering. Once simmering, reduce heat to low, and place the top of the double boiler (with half the chocolate) over the simmering water, and, stirring constantly, melt the chocolate and bring it to 115°F. Remove the top half of the double boiler and bring it to the counter. Turn off the heat.

adding seed chocolate
The chopped chocolate works like a seed crystal to start arranging the molecules.

Add seed chocolate. Stir in the remaining chocolate, and keep stirring until it melts and the temperature reaches 83°F (second number). It’ll be thick at this stage, too thick to work with easily.

Heat to 89°F. Place the double boiler back over the hot water (you probably don’t need to set on the stove; the residual heat in the water should be enough), and allow the chocolate to heat back to 89°F, but not hotter (all right, 90°F will work). It’ll now be at a stage at which you can spread it on cookies (or digestive biscuits), and, when it cools, it should keep its gloss and have a nice snap when broken.

We tempered just a small amount of chocolate (enough to coat about 2 dozen digestive biscuits), and it was troublesome. With a small amount of chocolate, it heats too fast and goes past 115°F, doesn’t have enough heat to melt the seed chocolate completely, and then is hard to keep at 89°F. But, it was worth trying, and it did, ultimately, work, although, for a small batch of chocolate, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. We may try this again when we make candies for the holidays.

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