Behind the sweets – part 2 – chocolate and tempering

Dipped truffles 2

This is part two looking at the techniques used in the BBC series ‘Sweets Made Simple‘. Part 1 looked at sugar work and caramel.

Kitty Hope encourages you to temper chocolate for any of the recipes that involve making a chocolate shell or cup to contain a filling. She also makes it look quick and simple – which it is if everything goes right. But why bother tempering chocolate, rather than just melting it?

As they say on the programme, tempered chocolate is smooth & shiny and has a ‘snap’ when you break or bite it. It will also shrink away from moulds, making it easy to unmould, and resists melting on your fingers, but melts all at once on your tongue. All chocolate bars that you buy should be tempered when you get them.

To see the difference, break up part of a bar of chocolate (dark shows the difference most clearly, because it only contains cocoa fat (cocoa butter) and no milk fat). Something like a bar of Lindt 70% is usually well tempered and you can really hear the snap with the thin squares. Melt a couple of squares, stir it around and leave them to set again on a piece of baking parchment – something you can peel them off easily.
When they are solid again, you will likely be able to see swirls and speckles of white on the surface, and if you break it, it will seem more crumbly than the stuff straight from the packet. Added to this, if you taste it, it will melt less smoothly, perhaps tasting a bit grainy.

untempered chocolate

Why the difference?
Cocoa fat/cocoa butter turns put to be quite complicated stuff that can form six different types of crystals. Tempered chocolate contains just one or two types that stack neatly together and melt all at the same temperature. When you melt and resolidify chocolate without tempering, you get a mix of all the types, melting at different temperatures, and stacking together in a jumbled way.

Tempering melts all the crystals out, then, by controlling the temperature, encourages just the good crystals to form.

So with tempering, you’re trying to encourage even crystals to form; with sugar work, you’re usually doing everything to prevent those nice even white sugar crystals forming in your syrup.

How to temper chocolate

I won’t provide a list of steps for tempering chocolate, as others have done this much better:

Kitty Hope from the series has this article on how and why to temper chocolate.

Alice Medrich, Californian chocolate queen, goes into some detail about the method and pitfalls of tempering.

Using tempered chocolate

Some of the things you can use tempered chocolate for:

  • Coating chocolate truffles
  • Making chocolate shells or cups to fill with ganache or cream
  • Dipping candied orange peel to make orangettes
  • Coating biscuits or florentines
  • Dipping fruit such as cherries

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