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Introduction to Tempering Chocolate

This guide aims to help you get to grips with the basics of confectionary, from the science and the process behind tempering chocolate, to an in-depth look at how to melt and use Candy Melts, and different ways in which you can present your creations!

There's a good chance you're reading this because you've picked out a recipe, decided to go for it, only to be asked at the very start: "temper your chocolate". What? Is that it? No guidance? No need for a temper tantrum: plainly speaking, tempering is melting down chocolate, letting it cool a bit, and then heating it again. Easy, eh? Well, unfortunately, there's a little bit more to it – particularly if you want the chocolate to settle in the scrumptious state you're accustomed to (hold tight: we'll be running through this shortly).

Introduction to Tempering Chocolate

In a Hurry to Start Tempering?

If you already have a decent idea of what tempering is and why you need to do it, but you're really strapped for time and want to get it sorted ASAP, skip to The Super-Quick Microwave Method.

No, it won't provide the kind of results a more diligent approach to tempering will (we recommend leaving 24 hours for reasons we'll discuss later) but yes, it will do the job.

If you want to learn how to guarantee the best results every time, then you might want to take a quick look through our Introduction to Tempering below. Or, if you just want to get down to business, skip to How to Temper Chocolate: The Seeding Method.

Introduction to Tempering

What Does Tempered Chocolate Make?

Even if you've never heard of tempering, you have definitely encountered tempered chocolate at some point in your life. If you've ever eaten a chocolate coated apple or a chocolate pop, then the chocolatier responsible had to temper their chocolate to achieve this. The same is true for good quality chocolate bars (70% + cocoa).

However treats like cakes and mousses, because they combine chocolate with other ingredients, do not require tempered chocolate. And naturally, with something like a chocolate fountain, you needn't worry about any of this business. Simply keep it heated and keep it flowing!

Let's Make Things Crystal Clear …

When you think of the 'perfect' chocolate bar, what are the main qualities you look for? Chances are:

Satisfying snap

Rich, creamy texture

Full-throttle flavour

Glossy finish

And what are the qualities you hope to avoid? Probably:

Grainy texture

Melts too easily

Lack of flavour

White blemishes

Unfortunately, when you're using real chocolate (this is essential), you can't simply melt it down, pour it into your mould (for example), and hope to achieve the qualities that distinguish "high quality chocolate" from its peers. This is because chocolate, as it turns out, is pretty fussy; it doesn't like being interfered with.

To help explain: think about a bar of milk chocolate when it melts in the sun. When it hardens again, it just isn't the same, right? This is because, like virtually all substances, chocolate undergoes a chemical reaction when exposed to high temperatures. In order to get it back to its former glory, another set of chemical reactions needs to happen. But unlike melting, Mother Nature can't sort this out for us …

Let's have a brief look at why she can't …

A Quick Bit of Cocoa Chemistry

Real chocolate contains only one type of fat – cocoa butter – which contains fatty acid crystals, all tightly-packed together to give chocolate its satisfying snap, taste and texture. Whilst it's easy enough breaking up these crystals by melting them, getting them back together in the arrangement we want isn't easy.

This is because, as it cools, chocolate's crystals can regroup into one of any six different forms (I, II, III, IV, V and VI). And to complicate matters further, it's only V crystals that give chocolate the characteristics we want.

The aim of tempering, then, is to coax your chocolate into forming as many super-small V crystals as possible, without letting the others get involved; spoiling the party in the process. To help explain, see below:

Crystal Form Melting/Forming Temp. Notes
I 17°C/63°F Soft, grainy, melts too easily
II 21°C/70°F Soft, grainy, melts too easily
III 26°C/79°F Firm, poor snap, melts too easily
IV 28°C/82°F Firm, good snap, melts too easily
V 34°C/93°F Glossy, firm, best snap, melts near body temperature (37°)
VI 36°C/97°F Hard, takes weeks to form

*This table is for milk chocolate only - white and dark chocolate temperatures are slightly different and will be noted where relevant.

Things to bear in mind: there are experts from all corners of the globe that will temper their chocolate differently, and often, they'll argue on the 'perfect' temperature to melt chocolate down to, and what temperature crystal 'forms' start appearing. Unless you intend on becoming a full-time chocolatier, you needn't worry about such fine margins! (I.e. the above temperatures will more than do the job!).

Introduction to Tempering Chocolate

Getting the Gang Back Together

When you buy a bar of real chocolate, it's already 'in temper'; so what you're effectively trying to do is get it back in its original state, but in the shape and style you want. This is achieved by melting down the chocolate, ensuring all six forms of fatty acid crystals have broken down (usually at around 45/46°).

If you let the chocolate cool, V crystals will start to form (VI take too long), and then progressively IV, III, II and I as well. What you'd be left with in this scenario is a collection of form V crystals contaminated with those less favourable forms.

Rather than letting this chocolatey mess occur, the aim is to only let the chocolate cool to around 27° (white chocolate: around 26° and dark chocolate: around 28°). At this point, the chocolate (still in liquid form) is made up of type IV and V crystal 'seeds'.

How do we get rid of those pesky IV crystals? You guessed it: heat it back up! This time to around 30° (dark chocolate: around 32°C and white chocolate: around 28°). Then, you're left with melted V seed chocolate.

"But surely when this cools, all the other crystal types will start reappearing in the chocolate?"

You're right – they would. To prevent this from happening, unmelted (real) chocolate pieces are mixed into the melted chocolate. To spare you another chemistry lesson: essentially what happens here is the form V crystals in the unmelted (real) chocolate gravitate towards the form V seeds in the melted chocolate, fusing together to form stable, form V chocolate.

This is, quite appropriately, referred to as the 'seeding method' of tempering and, with the help of the next page's steps, is what you'll be doing to create your own chocolate pops/coatings.