I often get asked about the best way to temper chocolate – ensuring it’s got that beautiful shine and snap. It’s quite a technical process and chocolate’s quite a tricky food to work with, so it can take time to master.
Firstly, we need to melt the chocolate and there are several easy ways to do this. For small quantities, we use the microwave method. The chocolate should be in relatively small pieces (chocolate buttons are ideal), and you should microwave in short bursts, about 30 seconds at a time, and stir between each session to ensure even heating, even if there’s no sign of the chocolate melting. As the chocolate begins to melt, you will need to stir for longer after each session. Keep stirring and allow the residual heat to melt the rest of the chocolate. Heat it too much and you’ll lose the temper, or burn the chocolate.
The double boiler method gives the most control while melting chocolate. You can melt larger quantities of chocolate with this method and use larger pieces. Place your chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Put a small amount of water into a saucepan and bring to the boil, then turn it down to a simmer before placing the bowl of chocolate on top of the pot. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir the chocolate using a silicone spatula until it has melted. Be careful not to allow any steam or condensation to get into the chocolate or it can seize. Now we’re ready to temper our chocolate.
When melted chocolate returns to solid form the cocoa butter in the chocolate forms a crystal structure. The crystal structure they take on depends on the temperature at which they are formed. If the chocolate is allowed to cool on its own, the crystals of fat will be loose, resulting in a chocolate that is dull in appearance, soft & malleable, and greasy to the touch. This loose crystalline structure has a slightly lower melting point than tempered chocolate crystals. Instead, while cooling, we keep the chocolate at 31°C so the loose crystal structure will not form but instead forms a dense crystalline structure. Holding the chocolate at this temperature and stirring will allow these stable crystal structures to form. When the chocolate is allowed to cool fully, the chocolate will harden into a very stable hard chocolate with a slight sheen, snap when broken, and will keep for months at cool room temperature.
To temper, once the chocolate is fully melted, we pour three quarters of it onto a marble slab and repeatedly fold the chocolate onto itself across the marble until the chocolate is a uniform 28°C. The chocolate is then stirred back in to the remaining melted chocolate to bring the temperature back up to 31-32°C. This technique can be a bit tricky and requires a marble slab, so we also use the seed method.
Once the chocolate has fully melted and reached a temperature of over 41°C we remove it from the heat. At this temperature all the crystals, loose or stable, will be melted. We then add solid chocolate to provide the seed crystals. We use chocolate buttons and stir them in until they melt, which brings the temperature down. We then repeat this process, adding more buttons and stirring again. Eventually we will reach a stage where the buttons no longer melt and the chocolate will be around 28°C. We then add some gentle heat to bring the temperature back up to 31-32°C, melting the last of the buttons. The chocolate is now tempered and ready to use.