My current project is learning how to make chocolates. I’m taking an online course that I’ve been thinking about for several years. It’s called Ecole Chocolat, and it has a great reputation. It’s geared towards people who want to make chocolates for a living. I might like that, but I’m sure the drop in income wouldn’t be something I like. Making chocolates seems kind of technical – which is probably why I like baking, I’m technically minded.
My first hands-on assignment was to learn to hand-temper chocolate. There are two methods, and I’ll cover the first one here – tabliering. This is the classic French method and I didn’t get it right on the first try.
At this point, I’ve already learned quite a bit about making chocolates – sourcing bulk chocolate was fun and interesting, and so was learning about the equipment I’d need. I settled on a terrific chocolate from Amano Chocolate, their Ocumare 70%. It was recommended to me by one of the best chocolatiers I’ve ever visited, Chris Blue of Chocolatier Blue. Chris’s chocolates are outstanding.
The first step was to melt three pounds of the bulk chocolate. I used a double boiler to melt the chocolate.
It didn’t take long to melt the chocolate. My first attempt, I wasn’t paying enough attention and let the chocolate get up to 130 degrees instead of the recommended 110. I was worried that I had ruined the chocolate for tempering, but my online tutor assured me that as long as it didn’t look or smell burned, it’s fine to re-use. It can always be re-used as ganache, anyway.
Heating the chocolate to this point destroys all of the crystals, so now the chocolate has to be re-tempered. Why go through this when the chocolate comes from the manufacturer already tempered? Because in order to use the chocolate in a mold, it has to be melted. But melting the chocolate destroys the cocoa butter crystals required for tempered chocolate (called V form crystals). Tempered chocolate is shiny and has a nice snap. I set aside a small sample of the chocolate at 110 degrees.
Next, I ladled out about 2/3 of the chocolate onto my granite slab. Granite works well because it’s got a smooth surface and a cool temperature.
Working quickly, I began to stir the chocolate. The agitation is important in the formation of the V form crystals. I used a pallet knife to stir, all the while checking the surface temperature of the chocolate. I found that using an infrared thermometer works great for this – the temperature reading is accurate since the chocolate is constantly being stirred, and pointing a thermometer is much easier that sticking a probe into a thin layer of chocolate.
For my first attempt, I got to this point and let the chocolate get too cold. It thickens as it cools to 79-80 degrees. At this point, the chocolate is tempered but the temper needs to be maintained in order to use it in molds. To do this, the temperature is brought up slightly, destroying any of the unwanted crystals that have formed.
But I let the chocolate mass get even cooler, and it started to clump up. I took another sample at this point, but shortly realized that I wasn’t fast enough and had to start over by re-melting the chocolate. The second time around, as soon as the chocolate hit 80 degrees, I quickly set aside a sample, put the chocolate into a warm metal bowl, and brought it back up to 89-90 degrees using small amounts of the still-warm chocolate on the double boiler. I set aside samples again after 10 minutes and then 20 minutes, to check to see that I had maintained the temper.
Success! My second Test 2 sample turned out beautifully. My checks at 10 and then 20 minutes also turned out nice, maybe not quite as shiny as the first. What I learned is that hand tempering is a delicate balancing act, takes a lot of attention and coordination, and makes me want a tempering machine! The last step is to spread the blob out on to parchment paper to cool off, for use in the next assignment.
I had hoped that the mass was thin enough and in perfect temper. I added the rest of the leftover warmed chocolate, so I’m sure that didn’t help – the residual heat plus the thickness of the blob caused unwanted crystals to form, and my chocolate was no longer perfectly tempered. It’s still got a nice snap, but it’s formed a grey bloom in some areas. No matter, it will be melted down again soon.