Oh, tempered chocolate. Beautifully, snappy, glossy tempered chocolate. How tempered chocolate completes a cake, adds the perfect snap to a dessert. Tempered chocolate is one of those glorious baking techniques that only requires a few ingredients and tools and truly any homebaker can accomplish with a little persistence and arm muscle. It's also one of those glorious baking techniques that take your desserts from looking homemade to looking professional.
So, first, what is tempered chocolate and what it makes it different from simply melting chocolate? An easy way to think of it is that tempering chocolate is one step further than just melting it, though in actuality tempering is many more steps more complicated. When you melt chocolate, you separate the molecules that bind that chocolate together. Tempering asks you to bring the chocolate to a precise temperature, between 91 - 114 degrees Fahrenheit, the perfect temperature to develop the most stable and strongest structure for the chocolate and to agitate the chocolate during this process. If you're interested in the exact science of this process, I recommend this Serious Eats article.
Tips & Tricks for Tempered Chocolate
- Have the appropriate tools. A candy thermometer, a bowl, a large pot to simmer water, and a spatula are all essential. A marble slab is required for certain recipes, and though I have one, I've never used it when tempering.
- Purchase high-quality chocolate in bar form and not in chips. Chocolate chips are created to maintain their shape in cookies, brownies, and other confections and so they don't make for the best tempered chocolate.
- Keep water away from chocolate at all costs. Water is chocolate's enemy, the animosity is as deep as egg whites and fat. Do not let any water from the simmering pot into the chocolate.
- Use the double boiler method to heat the chocolate. The double boiler method involves a medium or large pot of simmering water and a bowl that fits over the pot without being submerged. The water should be simmering, but not high enough in the pot to touch the bowl, and the chocolate should be resting in the bowl to melt. This is a gentler method of melting the chocolate and gives you more control over the tempering process.
- Don't overheat your chocolate. This will cause the chocolate to "seize," as we say, the same way any water that finds its way into the bowl will. The chocolate will go to a sad, dull, grainy texture that will make it utterly useless.
- Only add 2/3 of your chocolate to the double boiler. The remaining third should be added after this has melted and the bowl has been removed from the simmering pot.
- Use HIGH-QUALITY chocolate in bar form! It's worth mentioning twice because once you melt about 2/3 of your chocolate, you'll add the remaining 1/3 in a hunk and stir vigorously. Nice, store-bought chocolate is already well-tempered, so adding it to the melted chocolate helps create the solid structure you are looking for. This is called "seeding.1"
- Whether you use white, milk, or dark chocolate affects how high you should bring the temperature of the chocolate. White chocolate, which is made from cocoa butter and not cocoa fat, tempers at a lower temperature (from 82 - 84). Milk chocolate while made from cocoa solids also has milk added to it. By definition, milk chocolate must be at least 10% chocolate liquor and 12% milk solids. Milk chocolate should be tempered 86 - 88 degrees. Dark chocolate can't have as high of a percentage of milk solids, no more than 12% milk solids and at least 15% chocolate liquor. It has the highest tempering temperatures of 88 - 91.
- Use tempered chocolate immediately! It will begin to harden pretty quickly after fully tempered.
- Once ready, follow David Lebovitz's fantastic and simple instructions for tempered chocolate.