From candy-making to cake decorating, many confections and baked goods rely on melted chocolate. For chocolate to maintain its firm texture and glossy appearance, it must be melted carefully; if chocolate is heated too quickly or at too high a temperature, it won't harden well at room temperature and it will have a dull, matte appearance.
Chocolate is made up of a combination of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Most chocolate also includes sugar, and many chocolates have milk, vanilla and an emulsifier called lecithin added as well. When chocolate changes temperature its cocoa butter forms six different types of crystals, which contribute to the chocolate's texture and appearance.
Tightly packed beta crystals give tempered chocolate its distinct snap , gloss and smooth texture. Alpha crystals, on the other hand, make chocolate soft and dull. Tempering is a process in which the crystal formation in chocolate is controlled; desirable beta crystals that make chocolate firm can be formed by taking the chocolate through a series of gentle and controlled temperature changes.
What Tempering Does
There are three main reasons to temper chocolate. First, tempered chocolate is firm and solid at room temperature. This is critical when making chocolate confections or decorations. Chocolate that is out of temper usually requires refrigeration to maintain its shape.
Secondly, the appearance of tempered chocolate is far better than that of its un-tempered counterpart. Tempered chocolate is smooth, shiny and evenly colored. Chocolate that is not been tempered has a distinctly dull appearance and may develop fat bloom -- grayish-white spots on the surface of the chocolate where unstable beta crystals have gathered.
In addition to its superior appearance and texture, tempered chocolate also has a better flavor than un-tempered chocolate. Because texture plays a significant role in flavor perception, bloomed chocolate won't taste the same as tempered chocolate. For the best release of flavor, temper chocolate.
How to Temper Chocolate
To create small, stable beta crystals in melted chocolate, it must be tempered. You can do this two ways. In both cases, be sure to start with good quality chocolate that shows no sign of fat bloom.
With a Candy Thermometer
If you have a candy thermometer you can temper the chocolate by taking it through a series of precise temperature changes. First, heat the chocolate gently using a double boiler; do not allow its temperature to exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, carefully remove the bowl of chocolate from the double boiler and allow it to cool to a temperature of 80 degrees.
The pan will be hot. Be sure to use oven mitts when removing it from the double boiler.
As the chocolate cools it must also be agitated; an easy way to agitate the chocolate is to stir it with a spatula or wooden spoon. When the temperature cools to 80 degrees the chocolate must be warmed slightly, to 86 degrees, before it can be used. Place it back over the boiling water and heat it gently until it reaches the desired temperature. Then pour the chocolate into molds or pipe it into the desired shape before allowing it to cool to room temperature. When the chocolate reaches room temperature it will be set.
Without a Candy Thermometer
If you don't have a candy thermometer you can still temper chocolate, but you must be sure to start with chocolate that is already in temper.
First, put two-thirds of the chocolate into the top pan of a double boiler and allow it to melt gently, without stirring, until it is nearly melted. After a gentle stir, allow the chocolate to continue melting. When the chocolate is fully melted, carefully remove the top pan from the double boiler and slowly stir in the remaining chocolate a few pieces at a time, stirring with each addition, until completely melted.
When all of the chocolate has been incorporated, dab a small amount of the chocolate onto the inside of your wrist. If the chocolate is slightly cooler than your body temperature, it is ready to use.