Lesson—Tempering Chocolate and Why
Cocoa butter is the fat in the cacao bean that gives chocolate
its unique mouth-feel and stable properties. To be considered “real”
chocolate, a chocolate bar or chunk can contain only cocoa butter,
not any other fat. Cocoa butter is the reason why you have to “temper”
Cocoa butter is fat that is composed of three to four glycerides
of fatty acids. What complicates matters in chocolate making is
that each of these different fatty acids solidifies at a different
temperature. Once you melt a chocolate bar, the fatty acid crystals
separate. The objective in tempering melted chocolate is to entice
the disparate fatty acid crystals of cocoa butter back into one
Tempering is like organizing individual dancers at a party into
a Conga line. For chocolate, temperature and motion are the party
organizers that bring all the individual dancing crystals of fatty
acids together in long lines and, in the process, create a stable
crystallization throughout the chocolate mass.
Also, strange as it may sound, the temperature at which well-tempered
chocolate melts is much higher than untempered chocolate because
the fatty acid crystals in tempered chocolate are locked together
tightly—it takes a higher temperature to pull them apart.
Being tightly bound, well-tempered chocolate is resistant to developing
chocolate bloom—that whitish film, streaks or spots of cocoa
butter that form on the surface of chocolate.
In the tempering process, melted chocolate is first cooled, causing
the fatty acid crystals to form nuclei around which the other fatty
acids will crystallize. Once the crystals connect, the temperature
is then raised to keep them from solidifying.
To help the chocolate to crystallize during the tempering process,
chocolate makers use one technique called seeding. The "seed"
is tempered chocolate in hunks, wafers or grated bits. It is added
at the beginning of the tempering process. These crystals of tempered
chocolate act like magnets, attracting the other loose crystals
of fatty acids to begin the crystallization process that results
in well-tempered chocolate.
Learning to Temper Real Chocolate
"Tempering by Seeding" is the easiest and quickest way to temper chocolate.
You will need: Microwave (or double boiler), microwave-safe bowl,
spatula for stirring and a good thermometer that has a range as
low as 70° F (21° C).
I suggest you have at least 24 ounces (680 grams) of chocolate
when you start to temper. I know it sounds like a lot, and a big
monetary commitment, but this amount gives you enough to work with
when you are dipping or molding.
Also, it is much easier to control temperatures and not overheat
when you have a mass of chocolate. You can re-temper or reuse any
of the chocolate you have left over, so the extra won’t be
wasted. At my former shop, "au Chocolat," we sold our bulk chocolate in one-pound
(454 g) round bars so I could easily show that a one-pound (16 oz.)
puddle of melted chocolate only came up about an inch in the bowl.
That is not a lot of chocolate mass in which to dip something.
Step 1. You need to heat the chocolate to melt all fatty acid
Chop the chocolate into small pieces. The smaller the pieces, the
quicker your chocolate will melt and temper. Set aside about 25
to 30 percent of the chocolate. There is no need to be exact on this
measurement, as you just want enough unmelted, tempered chocolate
to start the seeding process.
Place the remaining 70 to 75 percent of chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe
bowl and microwave on half-power, being very careful to stir the
mixture every minute until it is almost completely
melted, which should take about four to five minutes.
Remove the bowl of chocolate from the microwave and stir to cool
it slightly. Removing the bowl before all the chocolate is completely
melted will help prevent over heating. You don’t want your
chocolate to burn. Those last bits of solid chocolate will melt
as you stir. Using a thermometer, check the temperature of the melted
chocolate—it should be between:
- Dark Chocolate: 114 – 118° F (46 – 48° C)
- Milk Chocolate: 105 – 113° F (40 – 45° C)
- White Chocolate: 100 – 110° F (37 – 43° C) Note: be very
careful as the high milk and sugar content in white chocolate
will cause it to burn easily.
I’ve indicated a range of temperatures above as not all thermometers
are perfectly accurate.
Step 2. Add the seed chocolate you have set aside.
Start adding handfuls of the grated chocolate you set aside to
the melted chocolate. Stir in the seeding chocolate bits continuously
until the desired temperature (see below) is reached and the bits
have dissolved completely. This could take anywhere from 10 to
15 minutes, depending on the temperature of your environment.
Your chocolate should now be tempered.
- Dark chocolate should be between 88 – 89° F (31° C)
- Milk and white chocolates should be between 84 – 86° F
(29 – 30° C)
Make sure to stir the tempered chocolate and check the temperature
during the time you are using it for dipping or molding. You can
put the tempered chocolate mass in the microwave for 10 – 15 seconds
at half-power if the temperature starts to drop. Just make sure
that you don’t raise the temperature above 90° F (32°
C) or you will lose your temper and have to start over again at
A heating pad put around the bottom and sides of the bowl will
help if you are doing a lot of work at one time. Again, make sure
the heating pad doesn’t raise the temperature of the chocolate
too high. Keep stirring and checking the chocolate mass with a thermometer.
About Chocolate Seize
This is when your melted chocolate mass becomes a paste that is
grainy, dull, and thick. There are two conditions that bring about
Chocolate is made up of dry ingredients (cocoa solids, sugar,
and possibly milk powder) suspended in cocoa butter. A small drop
of liquid will moisten the dry ingredients and allow the cocoa
solids to clump together and separate from the cocoa butter. Remember
the old saying that oil and water don't mix? This is why you never
cover a pot of chocolate with a lid (because the steam will condense
and drop into the chocolate) and why you need to be very careful
when using a double boiler. If this happens, the chocolate will
not temper, but it doesn’t have to go to waste; it can be
used in baking or truffle centers.
Interestingly, if you add in more liquid to the chocolate (a
minimum of one tablespoon of liquid per ounce of chocolate), the
melted chocolate will remain in a liquid state because the dry
particles get saturated by the moisture and detach from each other.
They then are suspended in the liquid again so the chocolate mass
is back to a liquid form. You'll find this technique used to make
chocolate sauces and syrups or for flavoring cakes and pastries.
Overheating separates the cocoa solids and other dry ingredients
from the cocoa butter. Chocolate solids and dry ingredients will
burn if heated to 130 degrees. The result is a dry, discolored
paste. There’s no retrieving burnt chocolate, so be very
careful when heating in a double boiler or microwave.
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