Let’s start with this: I’m not a chocolate tempering master or god. It would be great to be one, because that would make my amazing job go a lot smoother. If you have ever tempered chocolate, then you know that it’s tricky business. At Dandelion, we’ve learn a lot as we go, and because others have helped me understand this whole process, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. What I’m about to write is from my personal experience, including my failures and those few times I have actually succeeded.
Before I joined Dandelion, I worked for a huge chocolatier making confections. That was my first job here in US, after moving from Guatemala, and among all the new words I was learning at the time, ‘temper’ was one of them. My supervisor used to use the word in nearly every single sentence, but I didn’t exactly know what he was trying to say. I associated the word with the fact that we were decreasing and increasing the temperature of huge tanks of about 200 or more pounds of “Belgian” chocolate. My tasks were also obscure; bring the chocolate up to 80°F (~27°C), then down again between 86 (30°C) to 89°F (32°C) degrees. Then, do a test with the temper meter and if the reading was in the appropriate range, I was allowed to open the valves so the chocolate could start circulating around the pipes. That’s pretty basic and kind of covers the whole process but there’s a lot more behind that simple and innocent word: temper.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Structurally and chemically speaking, the fat (read: cocoa butter) in chocolate can exist in six crystal forms and most of them are unusable when it comes to making finished products, like truffles or chocolate bars. The point of tempering is to establish the crystal structure we want by changing the temperature of the chocolate in phases. Let me explain.
Forms 1 (I) and 2 (II) are crumbly in texture and to the bite. The snap is non-existent and the chocolate melts easily, almost too easily. Forms 3 (III) and 4 (IV) will have a good snap and the texture will be more consistent, but then the appearance will be a little dull or matte and will still melt too quickly on your hands or in your mouth. Form 5 (V) crystals are the crystals we are looking for. This form of crystal will maintain its quality and structure over time, giving the chocolate a nice glossy finish and the firm snap we’re looking for. The chocolate will melt around body temperature. It is said that when chocolate is in good temper, you feel a nice cooling sensation in your mouth. This sensation happens because some of the crystals present in the cocoa butter (a natural fat found in cocoa beans) melt just below our body temperature, and the phase change from solid to liquid absorbs some of the mouth’s heat energy. Form 6 (VI) crystals have a higher melting temperature and only form when a chocolate in Form 5 (V) has been left for a long time—in our experience, at least a year. At that point, the crystal form actually shifts to Form 6 (VI).
So, now you’re probably wondering how you reach this type of crystal. Remember that range I mentioned in the beginning? That’s part of how you do it, but it is not as simple as it looks. There are many other factors involved.
The tempering process starts with warm, or as we sometimes call it, molten chocolate. I usually start somewhere around 105°F (about 41°C), but some people will suggest starting above 115°F (46°C) just to be sure you’ve melted all of the crystals out. At this point, the chocolate will be liquid due to the fatty content of cocoa beans, cocoa butter, being fully melted. In this first step, most of the crystals are melted and non-fat particles—meaning particles that are not cocoa butter— are floating all over the place haphazardly without structure. Next, I would decrease the temperature to somewhere between 80°F (27°C) and 82°F (~28°C). At this temperature, the chocolate will start becoming more viscous because the crystals have begun to form structures; some weak (Forms I-IV) and some strong (Form V).
From this step onwards it is absolutely necessary to continuously stir the chocolate for two reasons: a) stirring promotes the growth of crystals and b) it helps to keep the chocolate from growing the wrong sort of crystals too quickly (in other words, solidifying). To get rid of those weak structures that developed while the chocolate was cooling, we raise the temperature back up again to 86°F-89°F (30°C-32°C), depending somewhat on the origin of your beans. This will help to melt the weak crystals off and, if done right, crystal Form V will largely prevail among the other crystals and the chocolate will be considered in temper. This works because every crystal type has a different melting point. In the process, you’re melting everything, then allowing a few types to form as the chocolate cools, and then remelting every type except Form 6 (VI) which, you’ll remember, only forms when chocolate in Form V sits for a matter of months.
I usually think about tempering like opening a new set of assorted building bricks where you have strong and weak bricks. In my head, these bricks (crystals) are in a big bucket (bowl) without organization and without structure (molten chocolate). To start building, you will need to organize them (crystallization) and remove the weak bricks (raise temperature) . By the time you finish you will have a nice solid structure of the organized, stronger bricks (Form V).
The ambient room temperature also plays an important factor in how easy or difficult tempering can be. Some people say that a good ambient room temperature for tempering is around 70°F to 72°F (21°C to 22°C) with 40% humidity, maximum. Sometimes, due to our open space, we have to tweak our tempering temperatures according to the weather. If it is cold and rainy we know the chocolate will start solidifying on us faster. If it is sunny and looks like the perfect day to be at the beach, we will probably be struggling trying to get the chocolate to stay cooler.
And then comes the ingredient factor. Our chocolate has only two ingredients (organic cane sugar and cocoa beans) which makes our chocolate a little different, not only in flavor, but it also drastically changes the way we handle it and temper it. Our chocolate varies in thickness according to where it comes from—the further from the equator, the lower the fat content of the bean, and the higher the viscosity. For example, our chocolate from Madagascar is more viscous than our chocolate from Mantuano, in Venezuela. This is the reason we can’t temper all our origins at the same temperature.We can’t lower the temperature too much on an already viscous chocolate because it will crystallize faster, so we will keep it warmer and lower the temperature on a runny chocolate.
I guess this is the main difference when it comes to our chocolate. Our chocolate is often more viscous than the chocolate in pastries, the culinary world, or even other chocolate maker’s bars because many of them add cocoa butter or lecithin, and other ingredients that keep the chocolate thin and runny, and easier to temper.
Although my team uses a tempering machine, most of the time it’s not a walk in the park. Our tempering machine holds 25 kilograms, and works in three stages; keeping the temperature high on the first stage, lowering it on the second, and finally rising it on the third stage. The chocolate is transported from the bowl through a cooling column with an auger that works like an Archimedean Screw. After this cooling column there’s a pipe where the chocolate is heated again and it comes out “almost” in temper.
THE THING ABOUT EQUIPMENT…
Why almost? If there’s something I have learned through the years is that you can not rely completely on a machine. I talked to you about the three stages, but our machine only uses two of those. That’s partially because our tempering machine is so complex (with so many settings we don’t use) and partially because there’s little to almost no instructions on how to operate it.There’s also the weather factor that pushes us to adjust our settings from round to round of tempering (we do two to three rounds a day, making about 600 to 700 bars on average).
Due to all these challenges, my teammates (more like family) have learned to temper and “fix” it, which to us means recovering the chocolate either from over crystallization (over temper) or falling out of temper. There are still times when we are unsuccessful and need to call the tempering round to an end. We have learned so much together that we have a really strong team, who genuinely care that you have the best experience possible when eating our chocolate. So, the next time you visit us and watch us work, cheer on the guys tempering (besides, we love to see you around and answer any questions you might have).
A BIT ABOUT HAND TEMPERING
Recently, we were encouraged to start learning a new skill: hand tempering. This skill is pretty much an art, and it takes knowledge and patience to master it. While the machine uses all sorts of electronic components, hand tempering requires bowls, offset spatulas, regular spatulas, thermometers, and a marble slab. The general process is the same (melt the crystals, let them form, melt out all but Form V), but hand tempering takes a whole different kind of skill set.
We only hand temper sample batches because if we attempted to hand temper all of our chocolate, it would take us forever to produce the number of bars we produce today.
To do it, we pour molten chocolate on a marble slab, scrape it around with a metal bench scraper to encourage the crystals to form, and then mix it with a small amount of molten chocolate to warm it up again, melting everything but Form V. Personally, I like the hand tempering process. Although it can get a little messy, it feels more personal, challenging, and even if 90% of the time you won’t get it right, when you do, you get that feeling of accomplishment that makes you smile from ear to ear.
So, overall, tempering is really challenging because you need to be as precise as possible, butIs it worth attempting? YES. Your chocolate not will only look better and be more enticing, but it will take your mouth on a different, slow-melting flavor journey. If you’re interested in learning more about tempering, pre-order our new book Making Chocolate, or stay tuned for our newest class all about tempering!