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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A few more thoughts on tempering...

In the first few months after starting this blog, I posted a whole series on making chocolates. In my Tempering Chocolate 101 post, I discussed the technique involved in making sure your chocolate cools in the right crystalline form. Improper crystallization results in the development of an unappealing fat "bloom" in the final product. The amount of bloom shown here is excessive, and is the amount I typically see - for instance - with the chocolate that is leftover after dipping truffles that gets collected and thrown in the back of the pantry for eight months. It also can happen with a chocolate bar that is left in a car on a hot day and then eaten a week later. While it doesn't look appropriate when making chocolate confections, I do think it's pretty in its own, strange way. It may have something to do with my geology background regarding the crystallization of minerals, but I find fat bloom in chocolate fascinating.

Unfortunately, it's not very fascinating when it happens to the results of my hard work. I try very hard to be sure my chocolate is in temper before I dip a batch of truffles. I made a batch the other day for the first time in a while. I tried some new things; I tried to perfect some old things. In the end, I decided I had a few additional thoughts to add regarding tempering:
  • Tempering is a pain in the butt. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. So I often catch myself pushing the envelope of what I deem acceptable when testing whether my chocolate is in temper. Tempering is a pain, but it's even more of a pain when you jump the gun and coat a bunch of truffles with chocolate that dries with horrible looking streaks, or - even worse - won't properly harden at all. In the end, it's always better to be safe than sorry. If you have to go through the procedure again to ensure a good temper, do it!
  • I have found that I don't usually have great luck getting proper temper using the seed method (see my other post for a refresher). It's been three times in a row now of tempering chocolate when I try to do the seed method first, am not satisfied, and then go through the longer but very straight-forward seed-free method. In the future, I may just start with that method. Again, it takes longer, but you can be doing other things for the vast majority of the time.
  • Although I described a series of things to look for to determine the level of temper in your chocolate, the frustrating thing is that you often can't be totally sure you got it right until the next day. Sometimes, it all looks right, but by the next day, those darn streaks have shown up! The moral here is that I never make truffles the same day or day before I expect to give them away. I like to be able to make sure that fat bloom doesn't show up after the fact!
  • In my previous post, I only discussed dark chocolate. If you want to use milk chocolate or white chocolate, you still have to temper them, but they require slightly lower temperatures. As a guideline, use temperatures 2-3 degrees less than what you use for dark chocolate. Speaking of white chocolate... it's pretty darn hard to find real white chocolate these days. Virtually all white chips sold in stores today are not chocolate at all. You have to look closely. If it doesn't actually say "white chocolate" and have cocoa butter in the ingredient list, you are using a totally different beast. White "chips", such as Ghirardelli or Nestle, do not need to be tempered (but they don't really taste that good either). Real white chocolate must be tempered to ensure proper set up, gloss, and shininess. Baker's brand white chocolate blocks are the only real white chocolate I've seen around in a long, long time.
  • Remember that chocolate can build up heat very rapidly. Be sure to heat it slowly. If you get impatient and crank the heat up too much, there will be too much residual heat and even once you remove the chocolate from the heat source, chances are it will continue heating another 5-10 degrees. So go slow and easy. Patience is key.
  • Lastly, you really do get what you pay for. The cost of chocolate is typically proportional to how pure it is. Cheap brands have more sugar and other fillers in them and can be more challenging to work with. Most confectioneries use couverture when dipping truffles because it has more cocoa butter and is easier to work with and has a nicer mouth feel. Unfortunately, it's really expensive. I've had very good luck using Ghirardelli's 60% cacao chips and find it to be a nice middle ground compromise.

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