Chocolate is Temperamental

Let’s consider chocolate here. Yes, it may be a simple food. Yes it tastes delicious (don’t get me started). Yes…I’m getting started.

Chocolate is a byproduct of the cacao tree. Or, excuse me, the cacao pod, and then the cacao bean. When put in the most basic terms, it is a complex collection of solids and fats, and all of the sweetness that we know of is completely added by people for human consumption.

Dark chocolate is my favorite. Or, to be exact, a cocoa percentage of 60-70 percent is my favorite range. What does this mean? The higher percentage is basically a higher amount of chocolate liquor, which is a byproduct of processing the bean. Chocolate liquor (cocoa solids and cocoa butter combined) is the LIQUIFIED form of the mashed up cocao beans after they have been processed to cocoa. Now, 100% is mind-numbingly bitter, however, it is good for chocolate melted into baked goods. Like using unsalted butter in baking (for sodium control), unsweetened chocolate allows for a greater control of the amount of sweetness that your final product will contain.

Dark chocolate is anything above 50% cocao with little to no milk added, and sugar
Milk chocolate is always up to 50% cocao, with milk and sugar added
White chocolate is typically 35% cocao, with milk, sugar, and cocoa butter. The difference here is that there are NO cocoa solids in white chocolate, just the butter. So, in actuality, white chocolate isn’t really chocolate.

Melting chocolate seems like a simple process, but here’s the thing, it really isn’t. Here’s my temperature chart:

81-92 (or even 93) degrees fahrenheit is where you need to keep the chocolate in order to ‘temper’ it. Tempering is when all of the small crystals that make up the structure of chocolate are broken down into itty bitty teeny tiny pieces, so that they can be aligned and stacked up into a nice, sturdy final structure when cooled down. When you heat chocolate too cool, the crystals simply haven’t gotten the chance to break up. The resulting chocolate will be soft and “gooshy”, you know…goopy and squishy, when you bite into it. It will also be dull, not shiny. When you bring it up to 89-93 degrees and HOLD IT THERE while you form and play with different shapes, it should and will get a nice classic chocolate bar type finish. Shiny, snappy, and not as melty. You are in danger of scorching the chocolate when you get to a higher temperature. With dark chocolate, you have a higher range of temperatures before you burn it. With milk, its a bit lower than that. With white chocolate…well, I usually burn it, if that answers your question. That leads to a gritty texture and burned taste. But you already knew that.

When I temper chocolate, I like to microwave it. I know this is unorthodox, and gives you less control over the temperature. However, when chocolatiers temper chocolate, they melt the chocolate to around 121 degrees and either spoon some out onto a marble slab and fold it, spread it, etc, then put it back with the melted chocolate in order to cool it (over and over again) down into that temperature range. Another method they use is they melt SOME of the chocolate to 121 degrees, then add the solid chocolate to the melted, and stir to incorporate, and that usually gives some good solid crystals as well. I kind of play with the latter method.

I like to take about 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips (preferably 60-70%) and microwave it for about a minute to a minute and a half. Usually, at this point, the chocolate is melty, and when I stir it, a lot of the chips are still solid. This is good. I don’t put it back in the microwave, but I continue to stir it until the chocolate chips are melted. This results in the right consistency for tempered chocolate. In MY experience (I’m only saying this, because even when I traditionally tempered the chocolate, it was this way), the tempered chocolate isn’t that liquid. Its actually a bit thicker than you would think it to be. Its a little bit hard to work with, as it isn’t as easily pourable as, say, candy melts. If you add any sort of oil to the chocolate, it could mess with the composition and final product. If you want a shiny bar, just temper it correctly, it will end up that way. You don’t need oil.

I made the caramel today that I made in the post before. I thought it would be fun to wrap them up like the classic caramels, despite the redundant factor of cutting out parchment squares, wrapping them up, etc.

But that was when I got the IDEA to once again, try my hand at tempering chocolate! Caramel truffles are my favorites!

But it got redundant too. That’s waht I get for cutting out 106 individual squares of soft caramels. But either way, dipping in chocolate is still fun!

Just tap the fork over and over again, gently, the excess comes off easily.

Another secret I learned is to NOT put the chocolate in the fridge! Refrigerator air is very wet, and it can stick to the chocolate, creating condensation, which doesn’t help the final product. Be patient, it takes about an hour or so for the chocolate to correctly set up.

Give tempering a go! If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

Happy Baking!


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