Not all chocolates are created the same. That’s obvious to anyone who has eaten their way down the candy aisle. And if you have ever worked with chocolate in order to create confections, you have also learned that different chocolates need different care and preparation to look as great as they taste.
The dividing line among chocolates is whether you need to temper them or not. Non-tempering chocolates sometimes advertise that they don’t require this process because it makes it immensely easier with which to work. However, you will be compromising a great deal of taste in your confections. If making chocolate sculptures that you don’t plan on eating, then these economical chocolates work perfectly because they are flexible and cheap. You can find these at most craft stores like Michael’s.
The kind of chocolate that you must temper is better tasting and can be of varying cost from reasonable to high-end. You can find these at many grocery stores and also online in bulk. I recommend Chocosphere.com which also carries a variety of ready-to-eat confections too. The tempering process can be somewhat finicky, and does require some practice. But the end result of beautiful, shiny, tasty chocolate is one worth working for, so roll up those sleeves and let’s start chocolatiering!
The first step is to melt between one or two pounds of chocolate. The easiest way to melt the chocolate is in the microwave. Try to break up the chocolate into the smallest pieces you can if you are using bars or chunks of chocolate. Put these into a microwave safe bowl and cook it for 45 seconds the first time. Take the bowl out and stir it well, put it back in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir well and repeat until the chocolate reaches 110 degrees for milk and dark chocolates or 105 degrees for white chocolate. White chocolate can burn quite easily, so if you have a real strong microwave, you may want to decrease the increments to 15 or 20 seconds.
Once again, stir the chocolate well. Break up more of the chocolate into small pieces, about a cup, and add that chocolate or “seed” to the melted chocolate. Stir it in and wait for the temperature to drop to 94 degrees. With dark chocolate, you want to add about a half cup of seed and with milk or white chocolate you can add up to a cup of seed. Stir well again and let the chocolate cool. At 90 degrees for dark, and 88 degrees for milk and white, you’ll want to test the temper. This can be done several ways. One way is to take a plastic spoon or knife and dip the handle of the utensil into the chocolate, shake off any excess. Or you can spread a little of the chocolate onto parchment paper (wax paper is not recommended as it will add wax to your chocolates). Then you can either put the chocolate test into the fridge, in front of a fan, or if it is cooler than 70-65 degrees in your work space, you can let the test set up on your counter.
What you are looking for, after you check your test after 5 or 6 minutes, is a good snap break when you bend the handle or the parchment paper. Also a nice, even color that is shiny. If you have streaks of shiny mixed with streaks of non-shiny chocolate, stir well and test again. If the chocolate is grey and cloudy looking that means you have not tempered correctly. This can happen for several reasons: the temperature of the chocolate isn’t correct, the chocolate test didn’t cool quickly enough, and there may be problems with how much seed you added. If you think that it was the seed, check your bowl. Are there lots of little chunks still to be melted (a little to still melt is ok)? Is there no seed to still melt and the chocolate is very thin? The first problem is resolved by going through the process again and adding less seed on the second addition at 94. While the second can be remedied by adding more seed now.
Now that you have tempered chocolate, you may be asking, “How do I keep it workable? It’s getting solid already!” Well, if you have a heating pad, you can turn it on low and put it in a larger bowl than the one holding the chocolate. Then put that bowl on top of the heating pad. Just make sure not to let the chocolate get above 90 degrees for milk and white chocolate and 92 for dark chocolate. You can also use the microwave in very short increments. I like to put the chocolate in for no longer than 7 seconds at a time, and I test the temperature after. If your chocolate falls below the desired temperature range, again just gently heat it back up. And if the chocolate goes too high, you may be able to simply add a little seed and do a test or you may have to start all over once it has gone above 94 degrees.
There are other methods to tempering chocolate, but most require more skill with chocolate handling or require more tools than a microwave safe bowl, a digital thermometer (found at most grocery stores for about 10-15 dollars) and a spatula. Also, I would not recommend using a double boiler because the steam may get into your chocolate and the whole bowl of chocolate will seize. It is also easier to burn the chocolate that way.
Once you get the process down, it’s as easy as riding a bike! And then your friends and family can be amazed at your chocolate prowess. Almost everyone can make microwave fudge for the holidays, but who is making delicious truffles or chocolate covered pretzels for everyone to enjoy? With this knowledge, it could be you!