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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tempering Chocolate 101

I have added a second post on tempering which includes some additional thought and tips. You can click here to go to that post.

Tempering chocolate can be tricky. Even the pros don't get it right all the time. And those special chocolate tempering machines can still mess up from time to time. But it must be done! If not, chocolate can have some very unappealing characteristics, like the streaks seen in the photo here. It's still fine to eat, but it doesn't look as nice. If chocolate is really out of temper, it can become very chalky.

Why is this a problem? It has to do with the chemical properties of cocoa butter. Cocoa butter can form six different types of crystals, depending on how the chocolate cools. Unfortunately, only one of these six types has appealing characteristics for chocolate candies. The trick is to follow a procedure which allows only the most desirable crystalline structure to form.

How do we do that? Well, there are a couple of methods. The easiest - if you are starting with chocolate that has a good temper - is called the "seed" method. If the chocolate you are using is glossy and firm, snaps nicely, and does not have any streaks in it, you can use this method. If not, you will have to use the "seed-free" method I've outlined below.

"Seed" Method of Tempering

In a double boiler (same set up as for making ganache), place about 2/3 of the chocolate that you want to temper. Reserve the remaining third for later. Melt the chocolate slowly and use a thermometer to make sure you always know where you're at. Melt the chocolate until it reaches 105-110 degrees F. Remove from heat (be careful not to get any moisture in your chocolate from the condensed steam on the bottom of the bowl).

Keeping a careful eye on the thermometer, add about half of the reserved chocolate. Stir slowly but continuously, adding little bits of the remaining chocolate as it melts in. Stop adding any more chocolate when the temperature gets to 100 degrees or it may not melt. It's hard to work with when it's all lumpy! Continue stirring until the chocolate gets down to 87-92 degrees. Do NOT let it fall below 85 degrees or go over 95 degrees otherwise you will have to start all over.

Test your temper by smearing a bit of chocolate on a piece of wax paper. Put it in the fridge for about 2 minutes. Take it out and look at it. Is it shiny? Is it streak free? Does it break with a nice, clean snap? Does it refrain from immediately melting when you touch it with your finger? If the answer to all of these questions is "yes," your chocolate is good to go. If not, restart the process (you can use the same chocolate). If you do not have any more seed chocolate, use the "seed free" tempering method listed below.

Keep the chocolate within this 87-92 degree range while working with it. Stir regularly to keep the crystals in the chocolate from getting too large. To hold the temperature while I am working with the chocolate, I nest two bowls with a heating pad in between (see picture). My heating pad set on high is just right for keeping it at about 90 degrees. Be sure to have a towel to protect your heating pad from chocolate drips.

Let the finished chocolates harden either in a cool room or in the refrigerator.

"Seed-Free" Method of Tempering

This method is very similar to the one above, but instead of adding "seed" chocolate, you are simply using temperature control to provide seed crystals.

Heat all of the chocolate you want to temper in a double boiler. Heat it up to 115 degrees F. This melts all six of the cocoa butter crystal forms. Remove from heat, stir periodically while cooling down to 80 degrees. When chocolate reaches 80 degrees, give it a good stir and then return to the heat (I only need the heating pad here) and bring up to the working temperature range of 87-92 degrees.


  1. Your chocolate in the picture bloomed. This makes me sad.

  2. Very informative, and much appreciated!

    p.s. to Alico and Castelle (April 22 above) -- the photo is showing the fat bloom as what can happen with failed tempering; hence the detailed tutorial on how to avoid it. (So, now you can be happy!)


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