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October 13, 2009

Of Chocolate and Tempering

Edited 10/25/09: In response to e-mails asking about the seeding method, I've expanded my post to include a more in-depth explanation of tempering chocolate. See below for the bolded questions "What is tempering chocolate?" and "What is the seeding method?"


Wow! First, thank you all for the wonderful well wishes and support to my last post! It is still a bit unreal to me that I now have two books to my name, and all of your encouragement is *very* much appreciated! I wish I could send you all copies of the book - although I guess that wouldn't be too good for book sales! I'm eager to share some of my favorite candy recipes on Dessert First though, so even if you can't get a copy of the book you can still try your hand at candy-making! For all my foreign readers who are asking if Field Guide to Candy is available outside of the US, your best best is if you have an Amazon for your  country. Otherwise, do write my publisher, Quirk Books, and let them know you'll love to buy if it were available where you live!

Second, I read through every comment and I am tickled pink by all of your favorite candies! Incidentally, I was interviewed for a small feature in Rachael Ray magazine a couple months ago where I was asked to deduce what your favorite type of movie revealed about your personality, and what candy would go best with each movie genre. Sorry, I forgot to mention the article earlier, but it is fascinating to think about what your favorite candies say about you! Lots of chocolate and peanut butter fans, lots of toffee aficionados, lot of nutty candy lovers. I'm glad because I do cover all those candies in my book!

As for some of the "is that candy?" questions, yes, marshmallows are candy, and yes, chocolate dipped fruit is candy. Trying to corral the definition of candy was actually one of the most difficult bits of the book, as candy has various definitions around the world. It doesn't help that many quasi-synonyms like sweets, confectionery, and bonbons exist, with sometime overlapping, sometimes contradictory definitions depending on the part of the world you're in. In the end, my broadest definition of candy is something that is sweet, typically not baked, and is small and bite-sized. Of course there are many more technical and historical ways to define candy, but I'll leave that outside of this post!

It wasn't surprising to me that chocolate dominated across the comments. I have to admit the chocolate candy section of the book was one of my favorite parts to work on. Not only did I get to buy and sample tons of truffles and bonbons in the name of research, I also got to practice working with chocolate, a most singular and revered art in the world of pastry.

Also one of the most notorious: although I love baking with chocolate, and I loved making ganaches for truffles and drizzling melted chocolate over nuts, the prospect of tempering chocolate still gets my little panic button blinking. So I guess I both loved and feared the chocolate chapter. Feared, since I knew I would be spending lot of time stirring melted chocolate and staring intently at drying streaks on pieces of parchment paper, looking for that perfect glossy shine, the reassuring thrilling 'snap' that signals success.

What is tempering chocolate? Put simply, it is the process of melting chocolate and manipulating it to the right temperature to encourage proper crystallization of the cocoa butter in the chocolate. Here's an example: say you melt a bar of chocolate and let it sit there to cool and harden naturally. What you'll see is a dull, lumpy mass that might have light streaks in it. It might still feel soft to the touch and if you try to break it in pieces it will be crumbly and rough-looking. This is because as the chocolate cooled, the cocoa butter re-crystallized in a random and uncontrolled manner, with crystals of various sizes forming everywhere.

Contrast this with the shell of a truffle or a chocolate bar: the chocolate is hard with a glossy shine, and if you break it, it will snap cleanly (think of that lovely little crunch as you bite through the truffle shell). Tempered chocolate also holds up better and does not melt as quickly in hot weather. With all these appealing characteristics, it's easy to see why getting chocolate into the tempered state is so desirable.

There are several ways to temper chocolate, but they all revolve around melting chocolate down (at this point there is no crystal formation), cooling the chocolate down to the correct temperature so that the desired orderly recrystallization of cocoa butter begins to occur, and then reheating it to a final working temperature (so the chocolate is at a workable consistency). The desired temperatures vary for dark, milk, and white chocolate, and often makers of professional chocolate will print little temperature graphs on their bags showing what are the ideal ranges for working with their product. For dark chocolate, typically you want to melt the chocolate to no higher than 115 degrees F, let it cool to about 82 degrees F, and then reheat to about 88 to 90 degrees F. Reheating the chocolate higher than 90 degrees will cause it to go out of temper, and you'll have to start all over again.

The traditional way of tempering chocolate is by hand: one of the classic methods is to pour the melted chocolate on a marble slab, which helps cool it quickly, and work it with a scraper until it has reached the right temperature. Although it sounds messy, experienced professionals can temper chocolate very quickly this way. Another, perhaps more tidy method keeps all the chocolate in the bowl and uses a piece of seed chocolate to help lower the temperature and encourage proper crystallization; see it described further below. Of course, with the advent of large-scale candy making operations, it was inevitable that machines would be invented to streamline this often finicky procedure. The first time I saw a commerical chocolate tempering machine at a factory I was agog with amazement and delight: it was possible to mechanize this process! 


So what's this? Ok, I admit it. In the name of research for this book, I went and bought a home chocolate tempering machine. I was filled with fear that the night before the photoshoot I would have utter chocolate tempering failure. Would this guy be a reliable backup? A beautiful sleek blue machine that promises tempered chocolate, perfect and predictable? Well, I knew I would never have a better excuse to get one of these lovelies.

There are not many home chocolate tempering machines out there; Chocovision is one of the most well-known brands available. They are not cheap, either: I imagine they would be the best investment for a serious home confectioner who enjoys making candy regularly or perhaps someone just starting a business. The small capacity of these machines, though, (about 1 1/2 pounds for smaller home models) means if your business takes off you'll likely need to move up to commercial-size machinery. The machine works on the seeding method for tempering chocolate. What is the seeding method?

The seeding method involves placing a block of unmelted, tempered chocolate into a pool of melted chocolate. The idea is that as the tempered chocolate melts, the orderly cocoa butter crystals will encourage the cocoa butter in the rest of the melted chocolate to reform in the same, desired formation (did you know chemistry was so important in chocolate? I would have studied it harder in school!) The advantage to the seeding method is that it can greatly speed up the tempering process since introducing already-tempered chocolate to the pool can induce the correct cocoa butter crystallization faster than trying to encourage the melted chocolate to come into temper all on its own. The unmelted chocolate will also of course help drop the temperature of the pool of melted chocolate more quickly. Once the temperature has dropped to the right point, you can remove any unmelted seed chocolate and then heat the chocolate back up to the 90 degree range, at which point all the chocolate should be in temper.

The Chocovision machine works with the seeding method pretty efficiently: you put in some chocolate, it will melt it to a certain temperature (108 degrees for dark), at which point it will beep at you to add in the seed chocolate. It will melt the seed chocolate and mix it into the main chocolate pool until it reaches another preset temperature, at which point it will beep again and you remove any remaining seed chocolate. Then it agitates the chocolate until it reaches the magic temperature of about 90 degrees, at which point, ta-da! your chocolate should be tempered.

What's my verdict? Unfortunately, if you are expecting a magical chocolate tempering machine where you can just dump in chocolate, press a button, and instantly get tempered chocolate, I don't think they exist. Tempering chocolate requires a understanding of chocolate, how it behaves at different temperatures, and why you want to manipulate it to different temperatures. What this machine is very good at doing is getting your chocolate to a specified temperature and maintaining it or increasing/dropping it as you desire. So instead of lots of stirring and constant temperature checking, you can just put the chocolate in the bowl and let it do the melting and agitating for you. I like this part because 1) I always make a mess when I work with chocolate, and somehow chocolate will get everywhere. This machine keeps it all tidy in the bowl. 2) Once I get the chocolate to the temperature I want, the machine will keep it at that temperature, so I don't have to worry as much about the chocolate cooling too quickly. Note the manufacturer doesn't recommend having the chocolate sitting in the bowl forever; if you're not going to use the tempered chocolate within a couple hours, they suggest taking it out.


One of the best things about the chocolate tempering machine is watching the liquid chocolate swirling around in the bowl. Mmm, it's like I'm in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Those are really the two best features about having this machine. Notice it wasn't "instant tempered chocolate." The thing is, the machine can take the chocolate up and down to the programmed temperatures, but there's no way it can actually tell if the chocolate is tempered. It just knows that the chocolate is at 89 degrees or the temperature you programmed in. You still need to check to see if it is in fact tempered.

Typically most chocolates can be tempered within the programmed temperature ranges. I may have just been unlucky and needed to do some tinkering. I use Callebaut chocolate, and I find it can be a little thicker than other chocolates and I needed to drop the temperature lower to get the right kind of crystals forming. This isn't to say the machine does not work or it is a bad purchase. But just like any technique in pastry or any machine, it works best if you understand what is going on. If I hadn't practiced tempering chocolate by hand so much, I wouldn't have known what to look for in tempered chocolate  - the consistency, the feel. I might have just thought the machine didn't work right. Once I had done a few test runs, I was able to figure out the best temperatures for my Callebaut chocolate and the machine worked great. I would say this guy is a wonderful luxury to have, but it's still very worth it to know how to temper by hand. You'll understand your chocolate better that way. And you'll never be caught not knowing how to temper chocolate! From my hours and hours of tempering chocolate, I discovered a few guidelines that worked for me:

- Use at least a pound of chocolate. It's easier to control the temperature of a larger mass of chocolate than a smaller one.

- Use good quality chocolate. I know some people have said they can use Baker's Chocolate and temper using the microwave with great results. I guess I'm not that much of a chocolate tempering expert yet. Quality chocolate behaves better and more consistently, and will of course taste better. Some of the finer companies like Callebaut and Valrhona make different kinds of chocolate and indicate which ones are better for enrobing and which for baking.

- I find the seed method works best for me, since it cuts down on the time needed to cool the chocolate down and encourages the growth of the desired chocolate crystals. Use a single chunk of seed chocolate so it's easier to fish out when your chocolate has cooled down.

- An accurate thermometer is your best friend in tempering chocolate, since being off by a few degrees can mean the difference between tempered chocolate and not-tempered chocolate. There is such a thing as a chocolate tempering thermometer, which works well because it is measures in single degree increments.

- It's very difficult to temper chocolate on a warm or humid day. If you have air conditioning in your kitchen, use it! Or try tempering on a cooler day.

- Be prepared beforehand with the items you want to dip before tempering. Chocolate has the amazing ability to migrate everywhere - I will work as clean as possible and still find chocolate on my nose and arms. Have a towel handy!


Here is one of my recipes from my candy book, basic Dipped Chocolates, which features a ganache dipped into tempered chocolate. If you roll the ganache into balls before dipping, you get truffles. But cutting the chilled ganache into squares and then dipping in tempered chocolate will yield the elegant little tiles so popular in chocolate shops these days. The flavor of the ganache is of course only limited by your imagination - I made a vanilla bean ganache using a sample of vanilla bean paste I received from Singing Dog Vanilla. It is an intensely aromatic paste - I used the amount in my recipe and the vanilla was very clear and sweet.

I also took the opportunity to explore the many ways to decorate dipped chocolates. You can drizzle more chocolate over the tops with a fork or piping bag, as I did above.


You can also dust the tops with luster dust  - I find the gold on dark chocolate quite enticing.


You can also use chocolate transfer sheets - sheets of plastic coated with designs in cocoa butter. Pressed onto just-dipped chocolates, they leave their mark - literally - on your chocolates. I got my transfer sheets at Fancy Flours, which has a nice selection of designs.

Oh, and of course what you've all been waiting for - the winners of the copies of Field Guide to Candy! Eva : " i recently found your blog, and it's been a real joy to read. congratulations on your second book. by the way, my favorite candy is dutch liquorice.^^"

and Julie: "My favorite candy to make is truffles. My favorite candy to eat would be candy cane marshmallows."

Congratulations to you two! I will e-mailing you for your mailing addresses. Everyone else, I hope you enjoy the chocolate recipe and hopefully I will see you this Saturday at Omnivore Books!

Vanilla Bean Chocolates

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted, for coating layer

1 pound bittersweet chocolate, tempered  

1. Line an 8” square baking pan with plastic wrap, letting the wrap overhang the edges of the pan on all sides. 

2. Combine cream and vanilla bean in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat on the stove. Remove from heat, cover saucepan, and let steep for 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, place the chocolate into a medium bowl.

4. Strain cream into a clean saucepan and bring to a boil again over medium-high heat.

5. Pour cream over chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Stir slowly with a wooden spoon or whisk until the chocolate is fully melted and combined with the cream.

6. Add in the butter and stir to combine just until the mixture is smooth, thick, and uniform. Do not overmix or the ganache will start separating.

7. Pour the ganache into the prepared baking pan, in a smooth even layer. Let the ganache set at room temperature until firm, about 2 to 4 hours. You can also cover and store in the refrigerator overnight after it has set.

8. When you are ready to make the chocolates, line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper or wax paper.

9. Using the plastic wrap as handles, remove the slab of ganache and flip over onto a clean baking sheet or other work surface. Pull off the plastic wrap.

10. Using a small offset spatula, spread the melted 4 ounces of chocolate in a thin layer over the surface of the ganache slab.  Let the chocolate set, about 20 minutes.

11. Flip the ganache slab over. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the slab into 1”x1” squares. If the slab starts getting soft, place in the refrigerator for a few minutes.

12. When you are ready to dip the chocolates, line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper or wax paper.

13. Dip the ganache squares in the tempered chocolate, coating completely. Place them on the baking sheets to let set.


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What a great post-thanks. I sure wish I was the winner of that amazing sounding book-but I guess I'll have to save up and buy it, it sounds way too awesome to miss!

Oh, gadgets. I do love them, especially since tempering chocolate gives me the heebie jeebies. Maybe someday I'll actually try it :)

WOW thats so cool! It`s real like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! Injoy from this realy realy cool mechine, it`s look exactly like professional choclate!


Thanks for all information!

Adding my congratulations on the book.
I know only a little about tempering chocolate and I've never tried it. Just wondering what 'seed chocolate' is? Is seed chocolate different to the original batch of chocolate? I've seen some instructions say that you seed using tempered chocolate but how do you get tempered chocolate if you don't have any tempered chocolate to start with.

Anita- thank you so much for this primer! I agree on using at least a pound of chocolate. I have found it a challenge using less, too.

Your chocolates look just perfect... And thank you for the info on all the tempering!

These chocolates are Heaven look absolutely delicious!! beauty pics! gloria

I couldn't wait for the giveaway to get my copy of Field Guide to Candy! (And Field Guide to Cookies - love it, too!) I am just about to devour it, at least figuratively (although the photos do look good enough to eat.) I may have to do one recipe a week. Excellent job! Thank you!

Gorgeous pictures as usual! I've always been hit or miss when it comes to tempering (miss usually happens when I'm trying to make something for an important event). Here's a question, if you have a second: doesn't the temperature of the tempered chocolate go down every time you dip something into it? Should you wait and check the temperature between each piece? Or does it likely hold enough for a few pieces in a row before you need to start worrying about a significant difference? Thanks!

What is seed chocolate?

what a great work you did! it looks like it is coming out from a belgium chcoolate shop!

I have to admit, even for chocolatiers like us, tempering chocolate is one of the most difficult tasks. Some days, it could take us almost 2 hours to get the tempering machine to work right. The pix you took look fantastic! I'm sure the chocolate taste just as awesome. Great post!

Tempering still strikes fear in my heart every time I have to attempt it. Sometimes I can nail it, sometimes it gets a little crazy. I borrowed a friend's home machine (not a Chocovision) last year for holiday candy, and found it to be an even bigger PITA than tempering by hand, so next time I'll be going the traditional route.

Good luck with your new book, and thanks for the inspiration!

Congratulations on the book. Great choccy post. I use Callebaut but I'm moving to Belcolade. I approach tempering with great trepidation. It usually turns out okay with my microwave and electronic thermometer. I'm going to do the tiles you've done.

I'm so glad to know that tempering is not as easy as it looks (so it's not me!!!).Thank you for reviewing this tempering machine, maybe I will add it to my "equipment". Those photos make me want to dive into that shiny chocolate pool!!.

Beautiful photos. The vanilla bean chocolate look so tempting. Maybe I will be courageous and try this for the holidays.

Great post. Thanks for the chocolate tips. I love your candy creations!

Thanks so much for the info on chocolate!

Your post is full of information, Anita! And the photos are so lovely!

What a great and informative post Anita. Wow, that's a lot about chocolate.

I am so glad to have found your blog via Two Peas and Their Pod's post today! I love the tempering information in your post. I haven't had any issues with my tempering machine but should that occur, I shall come back here and review your tips. Maybe some day I will get the courage up to try it by hand...

Normally, I wouldn't share about my business on my first comment (if ever...I try not to be a pest), but I did want to let you and others, if interested, know that there is a "more affordable" way to get a tempering unit (by Chocovision). I am an Independent Chocolatier with Dove Chocolate Discoveries™. We have a tempering unit for $299 (which is about $100 less than what I've seen the same model for online), but by hosting a party and achieving $350 in sales, our customers can purchase it at 1/2 price. I have two of these machines (won through promos) and I enjoy playing with them.

I am looking forward to seeing your updates in my inbox - I love blogs that have the subscribe by email feature so that I don't have to remember to check - thank you!

Im happy to say that at the local Barnes and Nobles [Daytona Beach, Florida] your Field Guide To Candy book has appeared, although it did take some tracking down it seems to have been placed incorrectly,, however i was throughly pleased to be able to get me hands on it :)

This is a truly amazing post! I am blown away at the detail- thanks for empowering us novice bakers!
PS: A mess is such a small price to pay for wonderful chocolate.

the tempering process is so hard to describe to people...i'm able to do it by feel at this point, but struggle to put it into words if i'm showing someone. your chocolates are gorgeous (i love transfer sheets!), and your new book is lovely!

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