Tempering is the unglamorous and sometimes tricky part of making chocolates, but if you want a good shine and snap, then you need to master this essential technique.
There is a lot of science involved and it can seem a bit baffling at first but it’s worth the effort. A little practice and perseverance should bring fast results. So, we enlisted the help of Chocolatier, Nick Shearn, from Seven Hills Chocolate, to talk us through the essentials when it comes to mastering this tricky technique…
“I won’t go into the physics involved beyond saying that what you’re trying to achieve is a specific stable crystalline structure within the fats of the cocoa butter of your chocolate. To do this essentially involves different ways of cooling, stirring and warming.
There are a few tools you will need depending on which method you use but a good, well-calibrated thermometer is essential. It’s also helpful to have your chocolate chopped into small pieces. Once these simple factors are in place, there are three primary tempering methods that can be used at home:
Put your chopped chocolate pieces or buttons in a plastic bowl (not glass as it will retain too much heat). Heat for 60 seconds. It will still look mostly solid but stir well so that there are no hot spots in the centre. Heat again for multiple short bursts of between 10–30 seconds and stir well every time. The total time will depend on the strength of your microwave and the amount of chocolate you’re using but it’s important not to go over 34C so be patient. When the chocolate is about 90% melted continue without the microwave to stir the unmelted pieces into the melted mass until you have a smooth bowl of chocolate. If you do overheat you can add a few more chocolate pieces and stir them in until melted.
Melt a bowl of chocolate either over a bain-marie (water bath) or in a microwave until fully melted. Don’t let the bowl touch the water as this will scorch the melting chocolate, and don’t let any water get into the bowl. Your chocolate should be at around 45C. To this mass you will slowly add handfuls of unmelted, tempered chocolate pieces, stirring regularly. The amount you add will be approximately one-third of the total amount of chocolate used, but this figure is flexible. As one handful is melted in add another, but again, you must be patient – don’t add too much in one go. Eventually, when your chocolate is at around 31C for dark chocolate, or 30/29C for milk or white chocolate you’ve hit the ‘working temperature’ and it will be tempered. If you’ve been patient there should be no unmelted bits. This method is very good if you just want to temper a very small amount of chocolate.
This is the traditional way for chocolatiers to temper chocolate and the one that will most impress your friends. Heat your bowl of chocolate in a microwave or in a bain-marie until it reaches around 45C and is totally melted. You then need a large, clean surface, preferably granite or marble (something that stays cold). Pour two-thirds of the mixture onto the surface. You’ll need two metal scrapers (that can be bought in any DIY store). Quickly swirl the chocolate around on the surface in wide arcs using the scraper to agitate it, scraping the mix back into the centre. Continue this process until you notice the chocolate thickening. Once it hits around 29–31C (depending on the type of chocolate) return the mix to the remaining one-third left in the bowl and stir in well to incorporate. The resultant mixture should be tempered. If it’s below the required temperature just heat it quickly with a hot air gun (or hair dryer).”
How do you check if your finished chocolate is tempered?
The simplest way to is to dip the head of a teaspoon into the mix and leave it to one side. It should have dried within 2–3 minutes and have a nice shine. If it looks dull, takes longer to dry or has streaks in it then it isn’t properly tempered. Even if you’ve followed the instructions perfectly your bowl will go out of temper quickly through factors such as humidity, the heat of the room you’re in and the quantity of chocolate used. You can briefly warm the bowl with a hot air gun (or hair dryer) if it starts to get too thick, but just remember to stay in the correct temperature range: 29C for white chocolate; 30C for milk chocolate; and 31C for dark chocolate. If you go much over that, the whole batch will go out of temper and you will have to start again.
You won’t always get it right first time but with practise you’ll soon learn how the chocolate should look and react, and you will become more confident in your tempering abilities.”