Dreaming of divine chocolate decorations of losing your temper? For many baked items, such as fluffy frosting or creamy cake fillings, you can get away with simply melting chocolate to take it from a solid to liquid form like in these Chocolate Divinity Candies. When you get into the world of bonbons and confectionary, however, that’s another matter entirely. Tempering chocolate is a mandatory step if you want both the shiny gloss and the distinctive snap of a well-made candy or decoration like in Anna Olson’s Chocolate Dipped— and that’s where you have to pay some attention to technique in order to achieve success.
If the thought of working with molten chocolate (and even worse, of it seizing or splitting) has you clutching your (baking) pearls, we’ve got you covered. Read on to find out the best, and easiest, ways to work with chocolate, even if you’re a novice chocolate.
How to Properly Melt Chocolate
For melting chocolate, each method has its advocates: some cooks prefer the double boiler method (or just setting a glass bowl on top of barely simmering water), while others turn to the microwave for an easy fix. Both methods involve the same basic principle: chopping chocolate into chunks for faster, more even melting, and applying gentle heat until most of the distinct shapes have disappeared.
If the unthinkable happens and your chocolate separates into a greasy, gritty mess, due to over-vigorous stirring or too-high heat, you can try Anna Olson’s ingenious trick to add moisture to return the mixture to molten glossiness (note: this fix is only for melting — even a single drop of water is the enemy of a well-tempered chocolate).
How to Properly Temper Chocolate
For this technique, you’ll need to pull out a few items, namely a candy thermometer, a sturdy glass bowl and a silicon spatula that can handle some heat without melting. Depending on the method you use, you may also need a few more pieces of equipment, such as a marble board and wax paper.
The initial stage of tempering looks much like the melting process — use a glass bowl set over barely simmering water (not a rolling boil; there shouldn’t be any bubbles) to melt the chocolate chunks, or place the bowl in the microwave and use short bursts, checking often.
Where tempering differs, however, is the next step, where the chocolate mixture is cooled and warmed within precise ranges of temperature in order to achieve a smooth, shiny surface when it hardens (the temperature you need to hit depends on the type of chocolate you plan to use).
This varying of temperature can be accomplished in a couple of ways: by adding other ingredients such as more chocolate (seeding) or cocoa butter to the mixture, or by pouring two-thirds of the hot chocolate mixture onto a marble board and mixing it with putty knives to cool it manually.
Inquiring scientific minds among us may be intrigued by more gear-driven approaches, including Alton Brown’s combination of the friction of a food processor’s blades plus liberal use of a hair dryer to create heat, or J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s sous-vide circulator method over at Eats.
Decoding Seed Tempering
For the easiest method using the least equipment, however, seeding chocolate is probably the best approach for a chocolate novice (for a visual demonstration, check out from The Great Chocolate Showdown judge Steven Hodge, pastry chef and chocolate at Temper Pastry in West Vancouver.) With a few simple steps, this process can be achieved without too much stress (on both the chocolate and the cook).