High quality chocolate contains cacoa butter, which is made of complex crystals which melt at differing temperatures. From here on it gets chemically confusing, and I won’t confuse you because I’m a social scientist, and better suited to explaining the complexities of the World Bank than the complexities of sugar crystals.
Tempering means melting chocolate in a specific way, letting your chocolate reach specific temperatures, so that it will mold and unmold properly, look shiny and glossy and snap like a Beatnik at a poetry slam.
If you merely melt the chocolate, it will not come out of the mold, and you will sob and swear and never make chocolates again. So temper, temper. Marc Bittman has some useful advice: just remember three temperatures: 115, 88 and 92. Melt it to 115, cool to 88 and bring back to 92. As you’ll see from the videos below, there is some wiggle room here. The darker the chocolate the higher the temperatures. One person says 118 to 120, another says never go over 110. You decide.
Here are three videos which will give you an idea how it is done. First, this one:
This video is a conservative one. It won’t embed with just anybody, so you must click on the link. It even comes with a free commercial. I like this one because it has some good visuals. I also like it because it has some stupid mistakes.
Mistake number 1: They make a double boiler using a saute pan — the water will be too close to the chocolate and steam will ruin the chocolate. Make sure the bowl or double boiler never touches the water, and that there is a complete seal between the bowl and the pan so that absolutely no steam will escape.
Mistake number 2: It looks like they are using a wooden spoon. Clearly whoever made this video doesn’t do their own dishes. Imagine washing chocolate from a wooden spoon. Use plastic.
Mistake number 3: Too much water in the pan — an inch is enough. Anymore and you’re courting disaster.
Mistake number 4: They stuck the thermometer in the middle then they stir around it, only on the sides. The chocolate in the middle will scorch. Keep the thermometer out of the pan, dipping it frequently, or clip it to the side. It is best to use an instant read thermometer for this very reason, though I have used a rubber band to tie the thermometer to the spoon, and that worked very well just as long as you keep the rubber band above the chocolate line.
Mistake number 5: See all that steam? It will destroy the temper. You don’t want to see steam. Keep the heat low.
Mistake number 6: When the chocolate has tempered, they set the bowl right next to the steaming water. I’ve done that. Very stupid. Keep a lid for the lower pan nearby before you start tempering. When it’s done, quickly get the chocolate away from the steaming water as fast as you can without spilling chocolate all over the place. Slam the lid on the pan.
Here’s another video on how to temper chocolate. It’s my favorite. Very camp. But I wouldn’t use plastic in the microwave because it often melts, and releases all sorts of horrible Polyvinyl Chloride gasses that will probably kill you and your family eventually if you aren’t careful. Use Pyrex or something like that.
Finally, here’s a more conventional instructional video, but it’s pretty thorough. She loves tempering in the microwave, which is a bit too risky for my tastes, but if it works for you, go for it.
Watch all three, and you’ll begin to get the hang of it. And don’t worry, I’m going to be adding more and more photos, comments, instructions and videos to these pages so that you, too, can avoid finding work, facing your problems, going outside, feeding your kids, balancing the budget or interacting with real people!