How To

How to temper chocolate

This technique is used to achieve a crisp chocolate snap. It is technical requiring temperature precision (but we've included a microwave cheat too!).
Melted chocolate on a bench with a spatula

To temper chocolate, you heat it and cool it, changing its structure. There are three basic stages: heating, cooling and crystallising, and reheating.

HEATING

The first stage is to gently melt the chocolate until all cocoa butter crystals are completely melted; this happens at 48C. The best method is to bring three centimetres of water to a gentle simmer in a medium saucepan. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl that fits snugly onto the saucepan but ensure the bowl doesn’t touch the surface of the water. You must be vigilant in ensuring absolutely no moisture gets in the bowl. Stir the chocolate frequently until it melts and monitor the temperature with a thermometer. You want to warm it only until it just reaches 48C, then remove the bowl from the saucepan.

A cheat’s method is to use the microwave to melt smaller amounts of chocolate in 10- to 15-second increments, stirring well after each burst of heat. Either way, be careful not to overheat the chocolate because once it’s heated over 60C it’s ruined.

COOLING & CRYSTALLISE

The next step is to cool and crystallise the chocolate. Tabling is the traditional method and a good way to temper large quantities of chocolate. It involves cooling and agitating some of the melted chocolate on a cool surface (like marble) until the desired crystals form, then introducing it back into the remaining chocolate.

Pour two-thirds of chocolate onto a granite or marble surface. Spread the chocolate out to cool with a scraper and palette knife, then immediately scrape back together to start crystallisation. Continue this process until chocolate starts to thicken. Return thickened, pre-crystallised chocolate to remaining warm chocolate. Stir well until chocolate reaches 26C and mixture is even.

An easier way to cool and crystallise chocolate is a process called seeding. Add one-quarter of the weight of the melted chocolate as grated or finely chopped tempered chocolate into the melted chocolate (for 500gm of chocolate, melt 375gm to 48C and seed with 125-130gm of grated tempered chocolate). Stir until temperature reaches 26C, all pieces have dissolved and chocolate is smooth. If chocolate remains too warm, add more tempered pieces.

REHEATING

After cooling and crystallising, you need to carefully reheat the chocolate to bring it to working temperature. This will melt away some of the unstable cocoa butter crystals that make chocolate set without a gloss. To reheat the chocolate, you have to be exact with the temperature. A hot-air gun – available from hardware stores – is a good way to reheat chocolate, but believe it or not, a hair dryer does the trick just as well.

Warm the chocolate with your hot-air gun or hair dryer, (or return to the double boiler) stirring continuously, monitoring with a digital thermometer until it reaches the desired temperature. For dark chocolate, the perfect working temperature is 32C, for milk chocolate it’s 30C, and for white it’s 29C.

It’s a good idea to check a small sample to see if the chocolate is tempered correctly as you go. The easiest way to do this is to dip a small piece of baking paper into the chocolate. If it sets quickly and without streaks, you have perfectly tempered chocolate.

Untempered and incorrectly tempered chocolate develops an unsightly mottled, streaky look called bloom, compared with the sheen of perfectly tempered chocolate.

Want to know the difference between cocoa powder and Dutch-processed cocoa powder? Or the best way to melt chocolate? Read our Chocolate 101 guide here.

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