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the science of chocolate tempering

Chocolate Tempering

What is chocolate tempering?

Tempering chocolate is the process of carefully heating and cooling chocolate to achieve its most optimal chemical structure, resulting in the most smooth, shiny, and tasty chocolate possible. Perfectly tempering chocolate also results in durability – the chocolate will have a crisp “snap” when broken or bitten and will not melt or lose its shape easily in your hands. That is why tempering chocolate is so crucial for chocolatiers looking for perfection in the appearance and flavor of their confections.

How does it work?

When chocolate is melted (brought to 110-120°F), its fat molecules (cocoa butter) separate. This gives you a blank canvas to restructure the chocolate molecules, as chocolate can actually crystallize into six different chemical configurations. Chocolatiers know that the fifth configuration, or form-5, is optimal for appearance, texture, and flavor.

By cooling the chocolate to an exact temperature for form-5 beta crystals to start forming (88°F for milk chocolate and 91°F for dark), this structure can be achieved. Thus, bonding the molecules back together with as many form-five beta crystals as possible – what we call being “in temper” – leaves you with the glossy finish and crisp texture that is desired for molding chocolate into beautiful confections.

If tempering is not performed properly and you end up with too many form 1-4 beta crystals, the chocolate will appear dull, off-color, and will be less chemically stable (i.e., crumbly and easier to melt).

When creating sweets where the smoothness and shininess of the chocolate does not matter or you’re baking it (e.g., making cookies or brownies), simply melting the chocolate will suffice. But when making fine confections like chocolate bars, truffles, and bonbons, tempering allows you to control the appearance of the chocolate to make sure everything is just right.

A few tips

  1. There are many methods for tempering chocolate at home (using a double boiler or sous-vide method, for example), but the most important piece is having a good digital thermometer on hand.
  2. When melting the chocolate, make sure the temperature never exceeds 130°F. Chocolate is very sensitive to heat and will seize up above this temperature, ruining the product.
  3. Make sure all equipment touching the chocolate is completely dry, as even a tiny drop of water can also cause the chocolate to seize.
  4. Make sure to keep stirring the chocolate throughout the process, as it keeps your melt even and encourages chocolate crystals to form.

continue your chocolate education with our "what do chocolate percentages mean?" blog.

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