Chocolate is a temperamental ingredient to work with. It can also be a very satisfying ingredient to work with though, not just in flavour but also in diveristy and creativity. Learn to temper and fall in love with this chocolate on a whole different level!
With correctly tempered chocolate you can make bonbons and chocolate decorations. Also, tempered chocolate will enhance the visual appearance of chocolate dipped treats. Where untempered chocolate will be dull, may have white streaks and dots, tempered chocolate is crisp, shiny and won’t melt as quickly when held, making it ideal for many chocolate treats. When you use chocolate directly, so not in a cake batter or cookie dough, I can advise to temper chocolate.
To temper chocolate, you need to melt out the unstable crystals in it, then introduce stable crystals on a low temperature and finally bring the temperature back up to a temperature that is suitable to work with, without introducing unstable crystals.
The graph below shows the chocolate temperature curves. For dark chocolate, you first heat the chocolate to 50°C, then you bring it down to 27°C before bringing the temperature back up to 32°C. For milk and white chocolate, the temperatures are lower: 45°C-25°C-30°C. Different sources may provide slightly different temperature graphs. If you stick to the temperatures in the graph below, your temper will be good. Be aware that the final temperature given (32°C for dark and 30°C for milk and white chocolate) is the maximum temperature allowed. I usually temper dark chocolate at around 31°C, to allow for a little room for error.
When you heat au-bain-marie, the bowl will be hotter and will continue to heat the chocolate after the bowl is removed from the bain-marie. I like to remove the bowl from the bain-marie 2 degrees below optimal temperature, to allow for this excess heating. You can place the bowl in luke-warm water (30°C being the optimal temperature), or briefly in cold water top drop the bowl temperature and stop the heating.
Do be careful with water at all times. Even a small drop can ruin your chocolate, thickening the chocolate and making it useless for thin chocolate work. However, you can make truffles from this chocolate, or nut rochers (rocks made from nuts enfolded into the chocolate). If the chocolate splits, you can re-heat it to try saving it as ganache or a truffle center, but else it is perfectly fine for use in brownies or other chocolate based cakes.
There are two methods. The simple, seeding method, and the tabling method, which takes a bit more work but is fast and efficient. The methods below assume dark chocolate is used. For milk and white chocolate, adjust the temperatures accordingly.
You can drop the temperature down by waiting while stirring, which takes quite some time. By seeding the chocolate, you drop the temperature by adding tempered chocolate to the warm, melted chocolate. Please be aware that this must be tempered chocolate, as untempered chocolate would introduce the crystals you want to avoid, ruining your temper.
You start with heating 3/4th of the chocolate to 50°C as indicated in the graph above. Take the bowl with chocolate out of the bain-marie (careful with the steam, you don’t want water in your chocolate), wipe the bottom with a towel and place it on a stable surface. If you want, you can briefly drop the bowl temperature by placing the bowl in cold water. Again, careful with the water!
Add the remaining 1/4th of chocolate to the bowl in small pieces. Small pieces will melt quickly, allowing for a quicker drop in temperature. When the temperature reaches the working temperature of the chocolate, go slow with the chocolate addition, as you do not want to have any unmelted chunks in the chocolate. You can also add a larger piece of chocolate at this point, which you can fish out when the chocolate has reached the correct temperature.
You do not need to fully lower the temperature with this method. Having a temperature 2 degrees below the working temperature works best for me, so 30°C. According to Peter Greweling from the CIA, dropping the temperature to just below 32°C is fine. Some other sources state that a drop to 28°C is necessary. I am no expert on this subject, but a temperature of 30-31°C has not let me down so far.
Work with the chocolate at 31-32°C.
Another method to drop the temperature is by tabling. As with the seeding technique, heat the chocolate to 50°C. When heating with a bain-marie, wipe the bottom of the bowl to avoid water coming in contact with the chocolate. Then drop 2/3rd of the melted chocolate on a clean (!) and dry (!) cold surface, such as your kitchen counter.
Move the chocolate around on the surface, constantly agitating it, until the chocolate thickens and has reached a temperature of 27°C. Return the chocolate to the bowl of warm chocolate (rather quickly, you don’t want to overcool the chocolate). Return to optimal working temperature of 31-32°C while stirring constantly.
The benefit of tabling is that it is fast and very good for small quantities of chocolate, but it does take more skill and can be difficult to master.
Basic information on temperatures and methods are obtained by self-taught methods with use of the book Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling of the Culinary Institute of America. This book has much information on chocolate and the way to work with it, including crystals and how incorrectly tempered chocolate looks and reacts. I can highly recommend it if you wish to do more chocolate works.