Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Cheater's Guide to Tempering Chocolate

Ready for an installment of True Candy Confessions? Here you go: I sometimes have trouble tempering chocolate.

Whew. It feels so good to get that off my chest.

Tempering chocolate is a pretty fundamental skill any candy maker needs to have, but what people don't always talk about is that it is finicky and, let's face it, hard. Not necessarily hard as in difficult, but hard as in unpredictable. I know how to temper chocolate, but sometimes the chocolate just doesn't cooperate. During the summer months, when my kitchen is especially hot, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get the chocolate to cool down enough without the help of ice baths and other annoying props. Sometimes I struggle through the tempering process, sometimes I don't even bother and use candy coating instead, and sometimes I use what I call the "Cheater's Guide to Tempering Chocolate." This method has made my summer candy-making infinitely better, and I hope that you will find it equally useful.

The first thing you need to know about this method is that it is not foolproof, so if you're making something that will be RUINED without perfectly tempered chocolate, this is not the method for you. The second thing you need to know is that it depends upon your supply of chocolate being tempered before you begin. If you're trying to use up a big bar of bloomed chocolate, again, this is not the method for you. But, if you're flexible and willing to take a chance, and if you have a big bar of nicely tempered chocolate to use, I am about to rock your world.

I won't go into the deep science of tempering--if you want to learn more about it, you can read this article about how to temper chocolate. For our purposes, all you need to know is that in order to be hard and smooth and shiny, the cocoa butter in melted chocolate needs to harden into a specific type of crystalline structure. In traditional tempering, this structure is achieved through heating and cooling the chocolate to specific temperatures. But with the cheater's method, we don't bother with any of that. Here's what you do:

  • Take your big bar of chocolate and reserve about a quarter of it--for best results you'll want to use at least a half-pound of chocolate. Chop up the rest into smaller pieces, and place it in a microwave-safe bowl. Make sure the chocolate you are using is tempered already, meaning it is shiny and "snaps" when you break it.
  • Microwave it at 40% power in short intervals--about 30-45 seconds--stirring after every interval. This will be a slow process, but we don't want to overheat or scorch our chocolate. Stop when almost all of the chocolate is melted.
  • Stir to melt any remaining chocolate bits. Once your chocolate is melted, add the big chunk of reserved chocolate to the bowl and stir, stir, stir. After a moment or two, the big piece of chocolate will start to melt from the heat of the melted chocolate. Keep stirring occasionally. The tempered chocolate that you added is providing "seed crystals," or a crystalline structure for the melted chocolate to build off of. As it melts, it will encourage the rest of the chocolate to get "in temper" and will basically do the hard work of tempering your chocolate for you.
  • Continue stirring until the chocolate starts to thicken a little bit. When you touch it, it should feel cooler than your body temperature. The "seed chocolate" that you added should be partially melted, but probably will not have melted all the way. No biggie! Just take it out of the bowl, wrap it in waxed paper, and use it in another recipe later.
Aaaand...we're done. After a little microwaving and a little stirring, you should now have a bowl of tempered chocolate. Use it to dip truffles, make molded chocolates, or as a base for a bark candy, like this Toffee Pretzel Bark. You can't continually re-heat and re-melt this chocolate and expect it to stay in temper, but for one-off recipes, it's an extremely easy and painless way of getting smooth, shiny, crisp chocolate without breaking out a double boiler or a thermometer.

So tell me about your chocolate tempering experiences: ever done it? Have any tips or tricks? Best or worst tempering stories?

Get the recipe: Toffee Pretzel Bark

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Toffee Pretzel Bark Photo c2011 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.

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