Chocolate 201: About Tempering Chocolate, What it is, and the Alternative

What It Is, How To Temper Chocolate and The Alternative

By Steve Leffer, Chocoholic & Chief TasterHow to temper chocolate

Before you read further, please note that you DON’T temper chocolate when you are baking or are going to consume the chocolate immediately, such as melting and pouring over ice cream. We suggest that for the very best results in making candies and other dipped items, you temper the chocolate – even if it’s going to be used within 24 hours – especially if you want the chocolate to set up perfectly, to have a snap and a sheen, and if you want to coax the most flavor from the chocolate. If these details are not important to you, then you can use the chocolate without tempering if it will be consumed within 24 hours.  And of course, you should use a superior quality Chocoley couverture chocolate.

If you don’t want to deal with the following steps, get yourself a nice chocolate tempering machine or try delicious Chocoley Bada Bing Bada Boom Gourmet Compound Chocolate — with that there’s no tempering required.

Now, about tempering…

How do you know if you need to temper chocolate? If you are using real chocolate (couverture chocolate made with cocoa butter) you need to temper except as stated above. When using compound chocolate, often referred to as coating chocolate, you do not temper.

If you are a mathematician or scientist, you’ll find the subject about tempering chocolate to be a simple concept. For the rest of us, the details are dull, boring, and sound a lot like mumbo jumbo or a bunch of nonsense. I made it all the way through college only taking one biology class, so its taken me a while to really grasp the concept of why the process of tempering produces the results that it does. To make matters even more complicated, every book, article or website I have researched about tempering chocolate has different methods or techniques for achieving this much desired “tempered state.”

The good news is, I am going to attempt to simplify and explain tempering so that you can understand it. If you are one of those mathematician or scientists mentioned above or already know this stuff, you can skip down to the methods of tempering below.
Okay, so what does tempering chocolate achieve?

When you temper chocolate, you’ll produce a finished product with a professional sheen, snap and taste – and your creations will not bloom when kept at the proper temperatures. Tempering is the process that re-establishes the cocoa butter crystals that are in real chocolate (versus compound chocolate). So, what on earth does re-establishing cocoa butter crystals mean? Let’s think about liquids becoming solids. When water turns into ice, most of us think this “happens” because of temperature. In part, that’s true, but what really happens is that when the water temperature drops to 32°F, water molecules come together to form crystals, and all of those crystals attach themselves together to form a solid mass – ice. Just think about the shape of a snow flake. A snow flake is an individual ice crystal.

Chocolate, not unlike the description of water/ice, starts as a solid (when you get your hands on it), then you melt it, turning it into a liquid. Ultimately, you want it to turn back into a solid (unless your using it in a fountain or fondue…then you can ignore this stuff!) to create wonderful chocolate candy, molded items, dipped items, etc. But unlike water turning to ice, where nobody cares how or why it happens, we need to be concerned with how to properly harden the chocolate so that it has the best sheen, snap and taste and so that it doesn’t bloom or separate.

Wikipedia.com (the free encyclopedia) explains how the cocoa butter in chocolate can crystallize in six different forms. The primary purpose of tempering is to assure that only the best form is present. Below is the Wikipedia.com chart showing the six different crystal forms and their different properties, followed by an excellent explanation of what the tempering process is actually trying to achieve.

Crystal Melting Temperature Notes
I 17°C (63°F) Soft, crumbly, melts too easily.
II 21°C (70°F) Soft, crumbly, melts too easily.
III 26°C (78°F) Firm, poor snap, melts too easily.
IV 28°C (82°F) Firm, good snap, melts too easily.
V 34°C (94°F) Glossy, firm, best snap, melts near body temperature (37°C).
VI 36°C (97°F) Hard, takes weeks to form.

For the best possible finished product, proper tempering is all about forming the most of the type V crystals. This will provide the best appearance and mouth-feel and creates the most stable crystals so the texture and appearance will not degrade over time. To accomplish this, the temperature is carefully manipulated during the crystallization.

The chocolate is first heated to melt all six forms of crystals (heat dark chocolate to 120°F, milk chocolate to 115°F, and white chocolate to 110°F). Then the chocolate is cooled to allow crystal types IV and V to form (VI takes too long to form) (cool dark chocolate to 82°F, milk chocolate to 80°F, and white chocolate to 78°F). At this temperature, the chocolate is agitated to create many small crystal “seeds” which will serve as the nuclei to create small crystals in the chocolate. The chocolate is then heated to eliminate any type IV crystals, leaving just the type V (heat dark chocolate to 90°F, milk chocolate to 86°F, and white chocolate to 82°F). After this point, any excessive heating of the chocolate will destroy the temper and this process will have to be repeated.

Two classic ways of tempering chocolate are:

Working the melted chocolate on a heat-absorbing surface, such as a stone slab, until thickening indicates the presence of sufficient crystal “seeds”. The chocolate is then gently warmed to working temperature.

Stirring solid chocolate into melted chocolate to “inoculate” the liquid chocolate with crystals (this method uses the already formed crystal of the solid chocolate to “seed” the melted chocolate).

Thank you, Wikipedia, for the above valuable information, but let’s take it a bit further and define, step-by-step HOW to temper chocolate.

METHODS OF TEMPERING CHOCOLATE:

With the help from the good folks at baking911.com, here is their expert step by step instructions for three different methods of tempering (temperatures have been adjusted to reflect the best temperatures to work with Chocoley’s couverture and ultra couverture chocolates):

Classic Method:

Traditionally, chocolate is tempered by pouring some of it on a tempering stone and worked into a “mush” as it cools. It results in the most glossy, crisp chocolate that will set with the most reliability and is recommended for the most demanding chocolate work. Before using, make sure the surface is a cold, clean and dry. If necessary, cool it by wiping with cold water and then dry it thoroughly, as tiny beads of water left on surface will cause the chocolate to seize.

  • To temper, melt up to one pound of chocolate in a double boiler or use a double boiler insert. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the chocolate; (Temperature guide: Dark chocolate 120°F, milk chocolate 115°F, white chocolate 110°F). Pour 2/3s on a cold table or marble surface. (Keep the other 1/3 at the same melting point temperature; do not let it harden).Measuring chocolate with a laser thermometer
  • Using a pastry or bench scraper and angled spatula (offset spatula), spread the chocolate. Then move it to the center, clean the scraper with the spatula and spread continuously. Continue this spreading and scraping process until the chocolate cools to the following temperatures: dark chocolate 82°F, milk chocolate 80°F, white chocolate 78°F, which are a lower temperature than quick-tempering. It will lose its shine and form a thick paste with a dull matte finish. Work quickly so that the chocolate does not lump. This process can take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes, depending on the amount of chocolate and the type, as well as the temperature of the kitchen. The professional term for this is “mush.”
  • Add the “mush” from the previous step, to the remaining 1/3 melted chocolate. Using a clean, dry rubber spatula, stir the chocolate gently, until smooth. Be careful not to create air bubbles as you do. Return the mixture to heat, stirring constantly until the desired temperature is reached. For dark chocolate it should register 90°F for dark. For milk it should register 86°F and white chocolate should register at 82°F. Check temper before using.
  • As you work, regularly stir the chocolate and check its temperature to keep it “in temper”:
    dark chocolate 88-90°F
    milk chocolate 86-88°F
    white chocolate 82-84°F

Seed Method/Ice Cube Method*:

  • MELT: Reserve 1/3 of the chocolate you plan to temper. The remainder is melted in a double boiler to no more than 120°F. Above 120°F, the chocolate separates, burns and can no longer be used. When cocoa butter crystals melt at this temperature, they lose their shape and the crystals become unstable, so Step#2 is necessary.
  • COOL: The chocolate is then cooled by “seeding” or mixing in discs or wafers of solid chocolate because they are at a cooler room temperature of 68 to 70°F. The molten cocoa butter also does a kind of follow-the-leader and arranges itself after the fashion of the “seeds”, which are already tempered by the manufacturer. Don’t add too much at a time as it may not all melt and the mixture will become lumpy. If it does, use an immersion blender which is invaluable, or strain the lumps out, which is trickier. Don’t use a mixer. The key is to keep stirring rapidly and to take its temperature frequently until the proper one is reached. This gets the crystallization of the good beta crystals started, but it does allow some undesirable beta-primes to form, too, so go to Step #3.
  • REHEAT THE CHOCOLATE: in the double boiler so it will harden with a perfect consistency. Here reheating melts any of the undesirable crystals that are formed in cooling during Step #2. When it reaches the desired temperature, the chocolate is now tempered. If it is reheated to more than 89°F (milk) or 91°F (dark), it goes out of temper, and you have to start again from the beginning.
    For advanced chocolate-makers, test the temperature by placing a dab just below the lower lip. It should feel just warmer than warm milk.
  • CHECK TEMPER BEFORE USING: A simple method of checking if the chocolate is in temper, is to apply a small quantity of chocolate to a piece of paper or to the point of a knife. If the chocolate has been correctly tempered it will harden evenly and show a good gloss within five minutes. Or, spread a thin layer on a scrap of parchment, wait five minutes, and then try to peel the chocolate from the paper. If you can, and it’s not blotchy, you’re in business. If not, start the tempering process again.
  • KEEP CHOCOLATE IN TEMPER DURING USE: Ideal temperatures are 88-90 °F for Dark; 86-88°F for Milk and 82-84°F for White. The chocolate will cool if not kept at a constant temperature, and gets thick and dull as is does. If chocolate cools too much and is still melted, you can reheat it multiple times back to “temperate zone” of 88 to 90°F (dark), 86 to 88°F (milk), 82-84°F (white). If the chocolate cools to the point of hardening, the tempering process must start again. Never let the chocolate’s temperature exceed 92°F, for the dark chocolate or 88°F for the milk and white chocolate, or the stable cocoa butter crystals will start to melt and the temper will be lost.
  • *Baking911.com refers to the seed method as the ice cube method.

The Three Step Method:

Stir constantly during the steps and avoid having moisture from coming in direct contact with the chocolate:

  • Melt chocolate, in a double boiler, to the following temperatures as measured with a chocolate thermometer: Dark 120°F, Milk 115°F, White 110°F.
  • Cool chocolate to the following temperatures: Dark 82°F, Milk 80°F, White 78°F.
  • Reheat chocolate to the following temperatures: Dark 90°F, Milk 86°F, White 82°F.

IT IS NOW TEMPERED. A simple method of checking if the chocolate is in temper, is to apply a small quantity of chocolate to a piece of paper or to the point of a knife. If the chocolate has been correctly tempered it will harden evenly and show a good gloss within five minutes. Or, spread a thin layer on a scrap of parchment, wait five minutes, and then try to peel the chocolate from the paper. If you can, and it’s not blotchy, you’re in business. If not, start the tempering process again. KEEP CHOCOLATE IN TEMPER: Ideal temperatures are: Dark 88-90°F, Milk 86-88 degrees F, and white 82-84°F. If the chocolate hardens, you must start the tempering process again.

Thank you Baking911.com for your expertise in this area. Unfortunately, every expert has their own opinion of the proper method and techniques for tempering. While they all seem to be relatively similar, they often state completely different melting, cooling and reheating temperatures. The things that seem to remain constant, regardless of the expert opinion is:

  • Always use an accurate chocolate thermometer, and keep the temperature low; Always work in a cool environment with relative humidity of 50% or lower (our Indoor Humidity Monitor shows room temperature & humidity as well as highs and lows)
  • Always use the right tools for the job
  • Always test for temper, using the tip of your offset spatula
  • Don’t worry, have fun, if the chocolate goes out of temper, you can always re-melt and start over, you didn’t hurt anything.

Oh, and one last thing, remember, if you don’t want to deal with all these steps, get yourself a good chocolate tempering machine or try delicious Chocoley Bada Bing Bada Boom Gourmet Compound Chocolate which does not require tempering.