Like magic, the alchemy of chocolate turns a gooey mass of brown paste into heaven. It’s the height of accomplishment to pop out a perfectly snappy, shiny molded chocolate bar and say to your friends “yeah, I made that.” But tempering chocolate for molds is also one of the trickiest – and therefore daunting techniques to master.
Learning how to temper chocolate for molds isn’t scary once you know the tricks and have the right tools. We’re going to dive into the history and science behind the mystery of tempering chocolate and go step-by-step through the process. When we’re done, you should have the confidence to make your own chocolates. Ready to get started? Let’s go!
Who Discovered Tempering Chocolate?
Chocolate’s been around for centuries, but not like we know it today. Its humble beginnings looked a lot like coffee. A ground, roasted bean brewed in water. The Aztec word “xocoatl” (pronounced: sho-KWA-til), where our word “chocolate” comes from, translates to “bitter water”.
Christopher Columbus brought cacao beans back to Spain after his fourth trip to the New World. Even then, it was usually only used as a medicinal drink, and it was still very bitter. When people began to add sugar, chocolate skyrocketed in popularity with the ruling classes.
Over the centuries various Europeans experimented on ways to improve the delicacy. It wasn’t until the early 1800s that a Dutch man invented a hydraulic press to separate the ground paste, also called chocolate liqueur, into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Joseph Fry then found he could add and adjust the balance of cocoa butter to the solids and a bar of chocolate made for eating came about. Even then the chocolate was grainy and chewy.
Then in 1879, a Swiss chocolatier by the name of Rudolphe Lindt decided to experiment to find a better chocolate. One Friday, one of his workers forgot to turn off the conching (stirring) machine and it was left running all weekend. When Lindt poured it out and let it harden, voila! A glossy, beautiful treat formed. Thank goodness for the absent-minded worker who led to the accidental discovery!
Tempering Chocolate Science
But what is tempered chocolate? Why is it so important to temper chocolate if you want a glossy, snappy bar?
Tempering chocolate is like tempering steel. The metal is heated to destroy all but the desired strong crystalline structures, then it’s cooled to a temperature where the molten steel forms into crystals based on the established structure.
Chocolate as we know it is made of cocoa solids, cocoa butter (fat), and flavourings/sweeteners. The solids are suspended in the fat in crystalline structures. It’s the type of crystal that defines how the chocolate acts – the stronger the crystal form, the shinier and stronger the chocolate.
There are six forms that chocolate crystals take, and each has a different melting point. As the chocolate heats up, the weak crystals dissolve, leaving only the strong type V crystals. Cooling the chocolate prompts the rest of the chocolate to reform into crystals based on the pattern of the crystals already formed. In the ideal case, that pattern is the type V or Beta crystals.
So the process of tempering is simply heating chocolate to the correct temperature to remove all the unwanted crystals then cool the chocolate to recrystallize the melted chocolate.
What are the Steps to Tempering Chocolate?
At-home tempering is perfectly achievable with a little patience and practice. Here are the basic steps to perfect tempering.
1) Heat the chocolate to a specific temperature depending on the type of chocolate:
- Dark chocolate – around 115 degrees
- Milk chocolate – around 114 degrees
- White chocolate – around 113 degrees
Heating the chocolate slowly is important to keep the chocolate from burning. If it gets too hot, the heat starts to break down and reconstruct the very molecules, turning them into burnt-tasting compounds.
To keep the temperature just right, use a food-grade instant-read thermometer. Digital thermometers are the easiest to read and adjust much faster than analog thermometers.
Use a double boiler to melt the chocolate on the stovetop. A double boiler uses two pots, one stacked on top of the other. The bottom pan that comes in contact with the heating element is filled a few inches deep with water; the steam from that pan heats the upper pan holding the chocolate.
If you do a lot of chocolate making, a chocolate tempering machine takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process. With temperature controls and often a paddle to stir the chocolate (a process called conching which helps the crystals form) there are a lot of different models to fit different price points and needs.
Once the chocolate hits the right temperature, you have a couple of choices. One is to cool the chocolate in the time-honoured tradition called tabling. If you want to use the slightly easier method called seeding, skip down to step 5.
2) Pour about half the melted chocolate over a non-porous surface like granite or marble. then scrape it into a puddle and smooth it out again. Repeat this step until the chocolate reaches a thick but not set consistency. This should create the lovely beta crystals you want.
3) Add the tabled chocolate back to the rest of the chocolate. The tabled chocolate with the beta crystals will provide the blueprint for the rest of the chocolate to follow in recrystallization.
For the seeding process, begin with only about two-thirds of the chocolate in the double boiler. Once it’s melted to the temperatures listed in step 1, follow the step below.
4) Chop the unmelted chocolate into small pieces. They’ll melt faster and smoother this way. Gradually add the solid chocolate to the pot, a bit at a time. Let the first handful of chocolate melt before adding another handful.
Because most chocolate sold for candy making is already tempered and already has the correct crystal structure, adding pieces of solid chocolate “seeds” the molten chocolate with already formed beta crystals.
At this point, you’ve either added the tabled chocolate back to the pot or you’ve melted all the seed chocolate. The chocolate should be much cooler, around 79-81 degrees Fahrenheit. From there the last step is the same.
5) Bring the chocolate back to between 85-90 degrees, 88 degrees being optimal. Stir continuously while doing this. Keep the temperature right there for dipping, pouring, piping, or covering.
How Long Does it Take to Temper Chocolate for Molds?
This is not an all-day process. The only time it takes is to melt, cool, and hold it at that temperature just long enough to use. In all, it takes maybe 30 to 45 minutes to temper a batch.
A shortcut to tempering
As I mentioned before, most chocolate is already tempered to perfection, and the only reason for melting it down is to mold the chocolate into other forms. If that’s the case, then you may be able to melt the chocolate without taking it out of temper, in other words without breaking the crystals down.
Put the chocolate in a zip-top bag over a double boiler or heat briefly in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time. Once the chocolate begins to melt, squish the bag with your fingers to check if there are any unmelted bits. The idea is to melt it just to the point of a liquid state. This happens just below body temperature, so don’t handle it too long. Just as that last piece melts, you’ve reached a tempered melt without having to temper it yourself.
What Went Wrong?
So a splash of water seized your chocolate and turned it into a lump of grit, or an improperly tempered batch has splotches of white and is limp and soft. Never fear! Just start the tempering process again. Break down the bad crystals and build the beta crystals again.
Tempering chocolate is a fussy business, but greatly rewarding when you sample your homemade confections. All it takes is a little patience and a little science to master tempering – no magic required.
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How to Temper Chocolate for Molds