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The Vantage House Guide to Tempering Chocolate

Why is tempering important in chocolate making?

For a chocolate to be considered "real", it must be made from cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is the ingredient that's responsible for the rich, creamy texture of chocolates. Chocolate liquor, the paste that comes from grinding the roasted cocoa beans, contains about 53-60% cocoa butter. If your chocolate is un-tempered, the cocoa butter would break up and appear as white spots on your chocolate's surface (a condition called blooming), would melt very readily in your fingers and, if you are moulding, stick in your moulds.

What makes tempering complicated is the fact that cocoa butter is made up of several fatty acids that have different melting and solidifying temperatures! When melting chocolate, the fat crystals in cocoa butter separate. The objective of chocolate tempering is to stabilize the fat crystals and bind them tightly together to avoid blooming, a dull appearance, or a crumbly texture.

Chocolate in block, button or callet forms arrives set and tempered. It is hard, it snaps, it stays shiny and solid at room temperature.

In order to turn it into a moulded chocolate or figure, or to cover a centre in an even coating of chocolate, it must be initially melted to liquid form in order to enable it to take the new shape.

However, to hold the new shape and stay solid, hard and snappable it must be tempered first.

More about tempering chocolate

When cooled, the tempered chocolate will set hard; as it was when it arrived, but in the new form of a figure or coated centre. Tempering is simply taking chocolate and melting it (at ideal melting point), lowering the temperature (to the ideal cooling point where the proper crystals form) before finally raising the temperature to temper temperature. It is held at temper in a holding tank (for hand work), or moulding machine, or enrobing machine. At this working temperature you can mould or enrobe the fluid chocolate, which, once cooled, will neatly coat a centre, or easily demould from a chocolate bar or figure mould. The finished product will be stable, snappable and hard at room temperature (18-22°C).Each type of chocolate has ideal optimum temperature points at melting point and at temper, so the tempering range will vary slightly according to the type and colour of the chocolate. Your chocolate supplier will give you the ideal melting temperature (MT) and ideal tempering temperature (or working temperature) (TT) of the chocolate you are buying. This will depend on the colour (dark, milk or white) and the usage (moulding or enrobing). A tempering machine can handle the tempering process automatically; however the MT and the TT are programmed in or set on the machine according to the specific type of chocolate you are using.

A Short Word on Crystal Structure

Solid chocolate (as it arrives in block or button form) has a rigid crystal structure that is broken down by melting. Once cooled, it will eventually solidify but without tempering, the solidified crystals are weak and unstable; they readily revert to liquid and give a sticky finished product that will not have the strength or rigidity to demould or stick to a centre. Chocolate crystals grow on themselves. They act quite literally like seeds, growing through the liquid chocolate - so tempering is a process whereby some tempered crystals are introduced to a batch of melted chocolate (sometimes known as seeding the chocolate). They progressively grow through the rest of the batch until it reaches the optimum point, at which it has a balanced structure that holds temper while you work. The secret is the three optimum points; the right melting point, cooling point and tempering point. These are easily achieved by machine and readily learned by hand. The fat content of the chocolate being used largely determines optimum points. The higher the fat content, the more fluid the chocolate and your supplier will have different chocolates for different purposes to give you the best results for the products you are making. The manufacturer will always give the optimum points for each type of chocolate, whether it is dark, milk or white. If the chocolate is under tempered, insufficient stable crystals are present in the melted chocolate to temper it evenly throughout (or it is too warm for them to stabilise). If the chocolate is over tempered (too many stable crystals) then it will set too readily and go lumpy and thick as the excess of stable crystals multiply. A common mistake in working with chocolate is to have tempered the chocolate perfectly, but then transferring it to a machine or holding vessel in which is too hot or too cold. This causes the chocolate to be taken off-temper by the machine and either causes the chocolate to set in the machine (too cold), or to revert to untempered (too warm). These are extremes, however, and can easily be avoided. There are several methods of tempering which readily divide into manual and automatic. Automatic Methods involve Wheel Tempering, Batch Tempering and Continuous Tempering machines.

Three Manual or Hand Tempering methods

You will need:
  • A bain marie with heat source or electric melting kettle
  • Palette knife and fish-tail scraper
  • Thermometer suitable for chocolate
  • Ladle (and optional stirring paddle)
  • Marble slab (see method 2 if not available)

You will need to know: The optimum temperature points of the chocolate you are using. The table below gives a general list for standard couverture - please check with your chocolate supplier for the temperatures of the product you are buying. Make sure you do not over or under heat the chocolate.


Method 1 (using Marble Slab)

Having melted chocolate in a bain marie or melting kettle to the correct melting temperature (MT), stir it gently and thoroughly with the ladle (or paddle) ensuring that all the liquid chocolate is evenly melted. A melting kettle will include a built-in thermostat to ensure that the chocolate is held at the optimum melting temperature. Make sure you do not over or under heat the chocolate if you are working on an open flame and that the temperature is taken from an evenly stirred mix. Spot temperatures can cause a misreading. Pour one half to two thirds of the melted chocolate out on the marble slab. Turn the melting kettle with the remaining chocolate down to the Tempering Temperature and lower the heat on a bain marie. Start to work the chocolate on the marble with the fishtail scraper, (cleaning that with the palette) in scraping and turning movements across the mixture, stirring it over the surface to cool it. The cooling time will depend on the ambient temperature but check it at 5 minutes and then every 2 minutes after that. (It is important not to take the chocolate too low at this point as this can result in over tempering which will give a thicker working chocolate). Once the chocolate has reached the cooling temperature, return it to the remaining chocolate in the kettle or bain marie. This will still be warmer than the chocolate you have been working. Stir the mixture well and effectively the cooled chocolate will bring the remaining chocolate down to the tempering (or working temperature). A kettle will help to hold this temperature thermostatically. A few chocolate buttons added to the mixture will also help to lower the temperature.

  • Regularly stir tempered chocolate to keep growing crystals evenly distributed throughout the holding vessel.
  • Over the working time you may want to very slightly increase the temperature of the kettle to keep the chocolate fluid. Maximum 2 C over the working period, so less than half a degree at a time is enough.

Method 2 (without Marble)

Melt the chocolate to the melting temperature, ensuring there is enough room in the vessel to add about one quarter of the volume again and still be able to stir without overflow. Having reached the melting temperature, turn the thermostat down to the tempering temperature and begin to add flaked or button chocolate to the melted chocolate, stirring continuously. Once you have added just under one quarter of the original volume, begin to check with a thermometer that the mass has reached the tempering temperature - allowing for a slight overshoot while all the buttons melt. Add more buttons or flakes in small amounts until TT is reached. This method is quicker than the first, however it can be more haphazard. As with the first method it is important to keep the chocolate stirred and any increase must be very gradual over the working period.

Method 3 - Microwave

A faster way to temper chocolate is to melt buttons or grated chocolate in the microwave for no more than 45 seconds at a time, stirring well each time. When three quarters of the chocolate is melted, take it out of the microwave and stir, after a few minutes the chocolate should be fully melted and around 30 degrees. If there are any lumps use a hairdryer to apply gentle heat whilst stirring, try not to apply too much heat as this will prevent the chocolate from setting correctly.

The Knife Test

In all methods of tempering, the knife test will save you time in the long run. Take the clean (polished) palette and dip it in the tempered chocolate, shaking of excess so you have an even layer over the knife. Place the knife in your fridge or down your cooling tunnel (optimum temperature between 8 & 12 °C). Once set, bend the palette away from the chocolate and it should come off in a strip. The strip of chocolate should have the following qualities:

  • It should snap in half
  • The side against the polished knife should be shiny
  • It should not melt instantly against your fingers
  • It should be set in 10 - 20 minutes, without becoming too cold or wet
Tip: if the chocolate on the knife is wet, then the fridge is too cold and condensation has begun to form. This test also gives you a good idea of how long to cool the product you are making.

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