Tempering Chocolate

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.

4 Replies to “Tempering Chocolate”

  1. Hey,

    I know this post is fairly old, but I thought you might be interested in a far less time consuming way to temper chocolate.

    I used to seed or tablage chocolate, but the pastry chef who taught me told me a far easier way a few years ago; par-melting.

    All you do is melt your chocolate in 30 second bursts in the microwave (mixing between microwaving) until it’s 2/3 melted, and then immersion blend the remaining solid chocolate to make a uniform, tempered mass. You can (and I have) done it without an immersion blender, you just need to put a little elbow grease into working out the chocolate lumps.

    In kitchens you don’t really have time to faff around too much with thermometers, so I’ve always done it by eye, but as long as you haven’t heated your (dark or milk) chocolate over 34-35C (which is around 93F I think?) , which is practically guaranteed if it’s not over 2/3 melted, it’ll come out perfectly tempered each time, with only five minutes hands on time.

    I know Jacques Torres made a tutorial many years ago basically showing this method, though I’m unsure of whether that is around still.

    I always enjoy seeing people who haven’t trained trying techniques like tempering and using recipes from scratch; your recipes seem more or less the same as many I’ve encountered throughout kitchens, without maybe just a few tweaks that go with commercial kitchen knowledge.

    Your blog is great, keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks for the detailed info. I’ll be sure to try it next time I need to temper some chocolate. I’ve also read that it can be useful to place the bowl of chocolate on an electric heating pad to keep it warm while you work; it does seem like small amounts of chocolate cool rather rapidly.

      Also, many thanks for your kind comments.

    2. I was finally able to try this method of tempering chocolate. It works perfectly. I had the best results with grating dark chocolate, microwaving in 30 second intervals and stirring until 2/3 melted, then it was pretty easy to stir/blend in the unmelted chocolate with a rubber spatula.
      Thanks again for the info; this makes Christmas candy making all the easier!

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