Temper, temper

This friday’s post is about tempering chocolate.

Did you ever open a chocolate bar to find that it had turned all whitish on the surface? I always thought that it was mold and threw it away. Turns out that it was fat. Cocoa butter to be precise. Cocoa butter is the fat that lives in your chocolate and makes it takes so smooth. Its also the main ingredient in real white “chocolate”, which is not really chocolate but nobody knows what else to call it.

When you buy your chocolate bar at the store, its has a nice smooth even appearnce. If its not summer time, when you bend it, it breaks with a nice “crack” sound. That’s because your chocolate has been tempered. Tempering is a process where the chocolate has been melted and cooled at the right temperatures to form the most stable crystalline forms of cocoa butter. Proper tempering gives not only good appearance, but also allows the chocolate to shrink as it cools so that it comes out of the mold more easily. Its takes careful and precise temperature control to do it properly.

Cocoa butter has a wide melting range depending on which crystalline form its in. There are six crystalline forms and form V (also sometimes referred to form B) is the one that you most want to have because it is the most stable. Actully, that B is a beta, but I can’t figure out how to do that symbol here. I have a few links for chocolate chemistry and how crystallinity effects chocolate. One here by a company that makes automatic tempering machines. One here from a grad student (I think) in England, and has some very indepth explanations.

So, when you have made your truffles and want to dip them in chocolate and make them look super cool without all those white streaky (fat bloom) lines on them, what do you do?

One thing that is done in the industry is to use “confectioner’s coating” (sometimes called candy melts). This is chocolate that has the cocoa butter removed and replaced with vegetable oils, which will not cause chocolate bloom. The drawback is that the taste is, in my opinion, dreadful. It tastes chocolate-like, but not like chocolate. If you don’t want the hassle of tempering or you are just using the chocolate to decorate and not as a substantial portion of the candy, then use confectioner’s coating. Otherwise, use chocolate, please.

Let me make a note right here that a friend of mine said she did some chocolate dipping with regular store bought chips and they looked perfect without tempering. I hate her. Alot.

If you use chocolate, you can just melt it, dip the truffles (or whatever else you are making) in it, eat the truffle immediately and no problem. If the truffles don’t need to be terribly pretty (or you are dumping something on top of them anyway), then DO NOT TORTURE YOURSELF. Melt, dip, eat, enjoy. Now, it will take them longer to harden if the chocolate isn’t tempered, but a quick trip to the freezer fixes that. Again, if pretty is not needed, save.yourself.the.pain.

The first time I tried dipping chocolate, I melted it in a pan on the stove until it was well melted and smooth. Then I dropped in a truffle and it melted immediately. Stupid me. Chocolate melts at low temps. It melts in your mouth! In fact, you’ll be doing your truffle dipping when the chocolate is around 87F. Not very hot. Hotter than that, and you melt all the happy B crystals into oblivion.

Which chocolate? Well, that’s a hard part too. I used Ghirardelli chips for a while, but the problem is that they have a very high viscosity (thick like pudding) when melted. You have to heat the chocolate very hot to get it to flow enough to dip in, which is bad. You’ll want chocolate that is made for coating (also called enrobing, ooh, ahh), which will have low viscosity and allow you to dip effectively. I have also used cocoa butter to thin out the chocolate. Couverture is fine chocolate that is often made for enrobing and coating, and has lower viscosities than chipped chocolate you get in the store. The Chocolate Bible states that “couverture is a fine confection and should be treated as such”. You have been warned. ;)

Some places that I have bought couverture are:

Caviar Assouline – which has a good variety and they also sell cocoa butter and cocoa nibs. You need to know what you want though so it takes some looking at the manufacturer’s site to make sure you are ordering the right thing.

Chocolate Source – They have a nice variety and also have descriptions of what they chocolate is best for.

Valrhona is probably the best I have used but its pricy. Callebaut is much cheaper but I had a harder time tempering it. Not sure why.

Oh yes, the couvertue will come tempered already, and if you could heat it very gently in a special warming oven to 88F, then you could begin coating your candy right away. If you melt it to do the dipping, you will likely go over the melting point of the cocoa butter and need to retemper it again. By the way, dark chocolate is easiest (for me) to temper, while milk chocolate is very difficult and I totally suck at it. I made truffles for one sister’s wedding with milk chocolate couverture and they looked awful.

How do I temper my chocolate?

There are hundreds of books and internet sites (see tempering links on the links bar) that tell you how to temper your chocolate. I read alot of them. You can try some different methods to see which one you like best. Its very confusing to me, so here is what I did.

For this method, you’ll need a digital thermometer, preferably one that diplays tenths of a degree but its not necessary. Get a double boiler, or two pans where one fits in the other. Put some water in the bottom one and heat it on the stove. Add your chocolate to the top pan and put it onto/in the bigger one. Don’t get water in your chocolate or you will have useless chocolate yuck. Heat the chocolate until it is all melted. You don’t want the chocolate to get hotter than 110F, so keep stirring constantly with a spatula, scraping the sides.

When you hit 110F and its all melted, now its time to cool it down. Take your top pan and set it on the table and stir while measuring the temperature. Then stir some more. Stir until you want to die. I tried putting the pan in a bowl of water to cool it down faster, but you don’t want too fast. You want to cool it to about 80F depending on which chocolate you bought. Couverture will come with a tempering curve recommendation on the package somewhere. It will be very thick at 80F. When it has hit 80F, you want to gently reheat it up to about 88F, but DON’T go over 92F, or you will need to start over again, so pull it off the heater pan when it gets there. You might pull it off early (86F) because there will be a delay in the temperature rise. If it gets too cool while dipping for a while you can heat it up a bit on the heater pan. Stir constantly to keep your chocolate at even temps.

The quick tempering test is to take some chocolate and smear it on a piece of aluminum foil. It should cool at room temp in about 5 minutes to a nice smooth sheen without streaking or blotchiness. It should be crisp and snap with a crack. If its not how you want it, you can reheat to 95F, cool it to 80F, then warm to 88F and check again. At least, that’s what I do, and it works.

With your tempered chocolate at 88F, you can do your dipping. I use a dipping fork because it leaves less chocolate hanging on it than a regular fork and you end up with smaller “feet” on the truffle. The foot is that little circle of chocolate that pools at the bottom of the truffle. Drop your truffle into the chocolate and get it all coated, then scoop it out. As it balances on the fork, let the chocolate drip off and tap the bottom of the truffle on the surface of the melted chocolate to help pull off the excess. Then just lightly roll it off the fork onto some waxed or parchment paper. Its best to let them harden in a room at 73F, with low humidity. If you want chocolate shavings, nuts, coconut, cocoa nibs, or whatever on your chocolate, you should drop it on them while they are still wet. You can also use your tempered chocolate and a pastry bag to make little fancy lines on the top of the truffles.

If you’ve done the tempering well, they should harden in a few minutes and have a nice sheen to them. If they don’t look nice, it may not matter because everyone is delighted that you made chocolate for them. :)

Another way to make tempering easier is to buy a tempering machine, which is very convenient but more pricey. I have one from Hilliard called The Little Dipper. It has manual controls, which I prefer and is very durable. My wife bought it for me for Christmas one year. Thanks, honey! :) You can also buy the Chocolatier Electronique, which looks nicer in your kitchen and has digital controls.


  1. this is very intimidating given that I’ve decided to make truffles TONIGHT after dinner. Now I’m feeling so much pressure. I mentioned on my blog that I’m going to adulterate your recipe by adding some mint. :) (I know you’re a fan of chocolate mint!) Will let you know how it goes…

  2. Oh no! Not the dreaded mint! I tried mint truffles a few times and it was a nightmare. Mint extract is VERY strong and I basically made chocolate flavored Altoids. Use it sparingly!