The remarkable thing about gourmet chocolate, apart from its aroma, is the way it lends itself to being shaped with only slight variations of temperature. In fact chocolate tempering is the term used to indicate a very important phase in chocolate making. This process not only affects the way our beloved chocolate looks but also has an important impact on its overall quality and organoleptic properties. So, mastering the art of chocolate tempering is an important step towards the preparation of excellent home-made desserts and to becoming authentic chocolate connoisseurs.
Chocolate, as we already know, is made from a blend of different types of cacao paste obtained from the seeds of the Theobroma Cacao plant. This blend determines the type of chocolate: dark chocolate contains nothing but cacao butter, sugar and possible flavourings; milk chocolate with the addition of milk, and white chocolate with a high percentage of milk and vanilla. At this point, the “conching” will begin, that is to say a long stirring process carried out at a temperature barely sufficient to keep the mixture liquid. If the chocolate production were to stop now, leaving everything to cool, the fats in the cacao butter would crystallize unevenly. With what effects? This would give us chocolate that is too brittle in some places and too hard in others. Consequently, the flavour would not be homogenous ether and the resulting chocolate would be of poor quality.
Fortunately, the tempering method comes to our aid here. Basically, it consists in a series of chocolate melting and cooling operations aimed at stabilizing the cacao butter crystals and making them smooth throughout the deliciously sweet chocolate mass. This is only a brief description. More in detail, cacao butter has two types of crystals: instable and stable ones, which are also known as “beta prime” or “Form V”. The former melt at low temperatures in the range of 20 to 28 °C, while the latter do so at 32-34°C. During the tempering process, it is necessary to take the chocolate to a temperature sufficient to melt the instable crystals without melting the “beta prime” ones. To do so, the tempering process takes place in three phases. In the first phase the “chocolaty” mass is heated to 50°C to melt all the cacao butter fats. It is then poured onto a marble slab, an invaluable piece of tempering equipment, and is mixed with a spatula until the temperature falls to 28-29°C for dark chocolate, 27-28 °C for milk chocolate and 24-25 °C for white chocolate. Finally, the chocolate is gathered up and reheated: 31-32 °C for dark, 30-31 °C for milk and 27-28 °C for white. At this point, the chocolate is poured into its final mould and cooled for the last time. So, when you decide to make your own delicious home-made chocolate, apart from carefully selecting your cacao paste and any other ingredients, you have to pay particular attention to the tempering process.
Small marble slabs are available for home production and I advise you to use one: it will ensure superior results. Then, mind you use a spatula and mix slowly to avoid incorporating any air because this would result in “bubbles” forming in your chocolate bars. Finally, two more tips. First of all, procure yourself a thermometer and ignore any other tips or tricks for doing without one. Secondly, make sure you have everything you need within arm’s reach: tempering is a very rapid operation. You will be rewarded for your efforts when you taste the results: time will seem to stand still, at least until you pop the next piece in your mouth.