By CHEF RENEE MORGAN
Last week, in honor of Nate’s 10th birthday, I wrote about most people’s favorite subject — chocolate. Now that you know about different kinds of chocolate and the differences between them, as well as some of the health benefits of eating chocolate, this week let’s take a closer look.
I want to share with you the process for tempering chocolate and why you would need to. Also, you will learn how to overcome some of the most common challenges in working with chocolate.
Tempering chocolate is a bit tricky to master, but is a must for chocolate applications such as truffles, chocolate structures like cups and fine design work like filigree and handwriting on cakes.
What does “tempering the chocolate” mean? Chocolate contains cocoa butter, which is held in suspension as butter fat crystals until the chocolate is melted. There are several different types and sizes of crystals that all melt at different times and temperatures. Tempering is the process by which we attempt to get the best crystals to be dominate so that when the chocolate is used, it hardens more quickly and to a darker, even, shiny finish.
What happens if chocolate that is not in temper is used for some of the applications I mentioned above? The most common thing is that the chocolate doesn’t ever harden, making the design or shape impossible to hold. Another thing that commonly happens is that since the cocoa butter fat crystals were never brought into align, the chocolate dries at different rates resulting in a poor, streaky appearance. While it doesn’t really affect taste, the pale streaks kind of look like a weird film and make the finished product look a bit unappetizing. This is called bloom. You may also see this happen when you store chocolate in the refrigerator. It’s that gray/white film on the surface of the chocolate and is caused because the cocoa butter fat has floated to the chocolate surface when the chocolate was warmer and gets locked out as the chocolate cools.
Tempered chocolate should never be refrigerated. When tempered chocolate is exposed to cold air, like a refrigerator, condensation forms and attracts sugar molecules in the chocolate to the surface. When the surface dries, a gritty texture will be left behind. If this happens, you cannot temper this chocolate again but you can still use it for applications like ganache.
There are several different ways to temper chocolate but they all do require a bit of practice. I’m the first to admit that my downfall in tempering chocolate is my own lack of patience. It needs to be heated, cooled and reheated slowly. Of course, if money is no object and you’ll be tempering chocolate often, you could buy a tempering machine. Most of us are only going to temper chocolate once in a while, so we’ll need to do it the old fashioned way, which entails a series of melting the chocolate and heating to a specific temperature, then cooling it down to a specific temperature and then bringing it slowly back up to a maintenance temperature. You’ll need a food thermometer, a stainless or heat safe bowl, a rubber spatula or spoon and a pot big enough for the heat safe bowl to sit on top of without tipping over or touching the water you will be simmering in the pot.
The first thing to know about tempering is what temperature the chocolate must be heated and cooled to in order to achieve and maintain temper. I encourage you to keep this article to use as a reference for the proper temperatures. The melting point of any chocolate is 91.4 ℉, but dark chocolate must not be heated over 120℉ and white chocolate must not be heated over 110℉. Start by melting the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl over a pot of simmering water, stirring frequently and making sure not to heat over the temperatures listed above. The next step is to cool the chocolate down slightly. The chocolate must be cooled using one of the methods described below to 78℉ for white and 82-84℉ milk and dark chocolate. As soon as the chocolate is cooled to the proper temperature, begin the reheating process. To bring into temper, the chocolate must be rewarmed to 87-90℉ for dark, 84-86℉ for milk and 82-84℉ for white. Never heat it over the highest temperature listed or it will go out of temper and you will have to start over. Once the chocolate reaches the correct temperature, you can test it to make sure it’s in temper. To do this, spread a thin layer of chocolate on a metal surface, such as a baking pan and place it in the fridge for 1-2 minutes. If it’s in temper, it will harden quickly, not melt to your touch and have a soft shine.
Once you know the chocolate is in temper you can immediately begin dipping strawberries, rolling truffles or any other application requiring tempered chocolate. However, you must keep track of what is happening with the chocolate at all times. You will need to keep checking the temperature as you work. When you see the temperature is getting too cool, put the chocolate back on the steam for a bit. When it’s beginning to get too warm, you must cool it back down. Chocolate in temper will cool and thicken as it is being worked. It must be rewarmed to its working temperature for continued use, but do not allow it to go over the high temperature listed for that chocolate. As you are warming or rewarming the chocolate, be careful not to allow water to splash into the melted chocolate or it will seize up.
Now that you know the proper temperatures for tempering chocolate, let’s discuss those old-fashioned methods. The oldest method is called the table method and involves using some sort of marble or stone table. Once the chocolate is melted, pour about 2/3 of the melted chocolate onto the cold marble or stone and spread back and forth with a flat tool like a rubber spatula or bench scraper to drop the temperature. Once it starts to thicken return it to the warming bowl and stir until smooth. Check the low-end temperature and then rewarm to the working temperature.
The next method is called the block method and here’s the way it works. Melt all of the chocolate. Then add a large block of solid tempered chocolate to the bowl and stir to cool the temperature. Once the low temperature is reached, remove the block and rewarm to the desired temperature.
My favorite method, and probably the most reliable method is called the seed method. Melt 2/3 of the total chocolate to be tempered. Then stir in the other 1/3 (the seed) to cool the chocolate to the desired temperature. Agitation is important so you must stir it frequently. Rewarm the chocolate to the proper working temperature.
One last tip: With all these methods, be sure to check for temper as described above before using to make piles and piles of dipped strawberries or truffles. You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration. (I speak from experience here.) Here’s my favorite truffle recipe. Please enjoy. Seriously, I don’t even like chocolate and I love them!
Chef Reneé is an award-winning, classically trained chef. She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their dogs, cats, and chickens.
Blackberry Merlot Milk Chocolate Truffles
First Step: Prepare to get your hands (and your kitchen floor) covered with chocolate!
6 oz. Heavy Cream
1 Pound Milk Chocolate (I like Ghirardelli)
1 Bottle of Merlot (I use Blackstone Winery)
1 cup Blackberry Preserves, pressed through a sieve to remove seeds
½ Pound of Chocolate, any type (for
Ganache, frosting, or fondant for decorating (optional)
1. Pour yourself one (4-ounce) glass of merlot; enjoy.
2. Pour the remainder of the merlot in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the wine is reduced to about a half a cup. Set aside to cool.
3. While the wine is simmering, chop the milk chocolate into small pieces. Set aside in a large bowl.
4. Heat the cream to a simmer. Whisk in the preserves and carefully heat back to a simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the syrup you made from the red wine.
5. Pour the still-hot cream mixture over the chopped milk chocolate pieces. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and blended in. Cool the mixture until it is just slightly warm to the touch. (Place bowl over a double boiler if you need more fire power to melt the chocolate, although milk chocolate usually melts fairly easily.)
6. Put the mixture in the freezer for at least one hour to firm.
7. Use a spoon or small scoop to divide the mixture into walnut-sized pieces. I find it easiest to use a small scoop, and to dip the scoop into hot water every few scoops. When they are finished; drop the pieces onto a baking sheet.
8. Freeze for about an hour, or overnight.
9. To form the truffles, roll the scoops one by one between the palms of your hands to round them out. Place them back onto the baking sheet. At this point the soon-to-be truffles can be frozen until you have the energy dip them.
10. Melt your dipping chocolate over a double boiler. Use tempered chocolate or temper your own.
11. Drop the cold truffles, one at a time, into your bowl of dipping chocolate. Remove them with a fork, and allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Note: the better the quality of chocolate you use, the easier it will be to “dip” with.
12. Place the dipped truffles on a parchment-lined tray. If you are feeling creative, decorate the tops with a little drizzle of chocolate or nice purple fondant. Let stand until the chocolate and decorations are completely set.
13. Enjoy immediately, or hold the truffles in the fridge for up to a week. You can keep the truffles in the freezer for as long as you like, and that way you can have a red wine chocolate fix any time you need one!