Raw chocolate. Glossy, snappy, creamy, and aromatic. What’s not to love?
I have been making my own raw chocolate ever since I can remember. There’s nothing easier than mixing together some raw cacao powder, coconut oil, and maple syrup, letting it set in the fridge for a few minutes and voila – you’ve got raw chocolate in no time. I never quite understood why my chocolate always melted as soon as I took it out of the fridge, but I didn’t care. It was delicious nevertheless.
It wasn’t until I enrolled in a course called “Introduction to Chocolate Making” that I heard about tempering chocolate. If you’re not familiar with tempering, it’s a culinary technique for making snappy, smooth, and evenly colored chocolate. Tempering prevents the dull grayish color and waxy texture that happens when the cocoa fat separates out. As soon as I learned the basic rules of chocolate tempering, I wanted to try it out. It sounded easy enough and I had all the ingredients in my pantry.
Well, I soon realized how tricky chocolate can be to work with. My first attempt at raw chocolate making resulted in chocolate seized up into a stiff, grainy, dull mess. Alright. I had been warned that seizing can happen if even a tiny bit of moisture comes into contact with the chocolate. So the second time I tempered chocolate, I made sure there was absolutely no water in the near proximity. Well, I succeeded at not seizing the chocolate, but this time the chocolate bloomed (aka the he cacao butter separated and created a whitish coating on the surface of the chocolate).
This was my first humbling foray into the world of chocolate-making. Since then, I’ve failed at chocolate-making more than I can count on the fingers of one hand. Trust me, I know how tricky chocolate can be to work with.
So here are my tips on properly tempering chocolate so you don’t have to fail as many times as I did.
How to Temper Chocolate
There isn’t one right way to temper chocolate. In fact, in every book or even a website, you’ll most likely find different techniques for achieving this much desired “tempered” state. The good news is that it doesn’t matter which one you choose as long as you follow the correct tempering temperatures for melting, cooling, and re-heating the cacao butter.
In simple terms, tempering is all about re-establishing cacao butter crystals. Cacao butter is essentially a solid mass, which turns into liquid when you melt it. Depending on the temperature you heat the cacao butter to (in order to melt it), the cacao butter can form six types of crystals. Unfortunately, only beta prime crystals (Form V) are the ones that produce a chocolate with the best sheen, snap, and taste to it.
Crystal Melting Temperature
- I – 63°F (17°C) –> soft, crumbly, melts too easily.
- II -70°F (21°C) –> soft, crumbly, melts too easily.
- III – 78°F (26°C) –> firm, poor snap, melts too easily.
- IV – 82°F (28°C) –> firm, good snap, melts too easily.
- V – 94°F (34°C) –> glossy, firm, best snap, melts near body temperature.
- VI – 97°F (36°C) –> hard, takes weeks to form.
The first step in tempering chocolate is heating it to 115°F (46°C) to melt all six forms of crystals. To keep the chocolate truly raw, don’t heat it over 108°F (42°C).
The second step involves cooling the chocolate down to about 81°F (27°C), which promotes rapid formation of both Form V and Form IV crystals. At this temperature, the chocolate is agitated to create many small crystal “seeds” which will serve as the nuclei to create small crystals in the chocolate.
When both Form V and Form IV crystals are formed, raise the temperature back up to 88°F (31°C), leaving just the Form V crystals and causing the Form IV crystals to melt. After this point, any excessive heating of the chocolate will destroy the temper and you’ll have to repeat the entire tempering process: melting-cooling-heating.
As I already mentioned, there are several ways for tempering chocolate. However, there are only two basic principles (methods) everything just builds upon.
The first (classic) method is all about manipulating tempering temperatures. The second (seeding) method requires a piece of already tempered chocolate, which induces the un-tempered chocolate into forming strong, stable (Form V) crystals. While the classic method is less foolproof than the seeding method, it doesn’t work when you’re trying to make the entire raw chocolate from scratch.
As far as manipulating temperatures goes, you can use a stove top, a microwave, hot baths/ice baths, sous de vide circulator … basically, anything that works for you. Some people even use a hair dryer or a heating pad!
Tips for Making Perfect Raw Chocolate
Cacao butter – cacao butter is the fat in the cacao bean that gives chocolate its unique mouth-feel and stable properties. It’s essentially the only fat present in “real” chocolate. Since cacao butter can form six different form of crystals – and only one of them produces firm and shiny chocolate – it’s what makes working with raw chocolate so tricky.
Cacao powder – cacao and cocoa might sound similar, but both of them are unique when it comes to taste and nutrition. Cacao powder is the purest chocolate you can consume because. It’s raw (although that’s questionable depending on where you get the cacao powder from) and much less processed than cocoa powder. It’s made by cold-processing unroasted cocoa beans and removing the fat (cacao butter).
Sweetener – I love using liquid sweeteners, such as maple syrup or brown rice syrup, when I’m making raw desserts. However, I’ve learned that they don’t work that great when you’re trying to make tempered chocolate. The first reason is that when you add liquid to chocolate, it causes the cacao butter to seize. Oil and water simply don’t mix. Using liquids in chocolate creates fudge-like, thick consistency. So what is the alternative? Powdered sugar. And by powdered, I mean powdered. No granules. Since chocolate is fat-based, granular sugar will not dissolve in cacao butter. So unless you grind the sugar to a fine powder, you’ll end up with that texture in your chocolate.
Thermometer – chocolate requires precise temperature control so a thermometer is a must. I use an instant read digital thermometer with a probe, but you can also invest in a laser thermometer. Look for a thermometer with a range of at least 60°F – 130°F (15°C – 55°C). After you get familiar with tempering, you might not even need a thermometer. But if you’re a beginner, I would definitely recommend using one.
Avoid water/moisture – chocolate hates water. Even a single drop of water can ruin (seize up) chocolate. The reason is that melted chocolate contains almost no water. So when a small amount of water is introduced, a few things happen:
- The sugar in the chocolate grabs hold of the water and creates a syrup.
- The syrup is quite sticky and acts like a glue on the cacao solids, causing them to clump together. The result is that the chocolate stops flowing and turns into a clumpy grainy paste.
Here are some ways you can accidentally impart moisture to your chocolate:
- Double-broiler – boiling water from a double-broiler can easily splash above the rim of the saucepan and cause droplets to fall into the chocolate. Boiling water also gives off a great deal of steam, and steam can also cause chocolate to seize. Finally, if you’re using a double-broiler don’t forget to always completely wipe the bottom of the bowl with the chocolate
- Wooden tools – all wooden tools, including wooden spoons, wooden bowls, cutting boards, etc. retain moisture and can impart it into your chocolate. Therefore, many confectioners and chocolatiers prefer rubber or silicone utensils, metal bowls, and marble surfaces.
- Coverings – never ever cover warm chocolate with a lid because the heat from the chocolate can form a condensation on the inside of the bowl.
Stay within the right temperature range:
- Overheating – chocolate is extremely sensitive to rapid temperature changes. Overheating separates the cacao solids from the cacao butter. So when you heat chocolate above 130°F (54°C), the dry ingredients “burn” (seize up). To prevent overheating, melt chocolate slowly at low temperatures rather than over high or direct heat.
- Overcooling – when you let your chocolate drop below 81°F (27°C), it forms too many Form III or lower crystals and the chocolate won’t harden properly.
Don’t “shock” the chocolate – once chocolate is melted, it doesn’t like to be “shocked” by anything very cold. Using a cold, metal spoon to stir, adding very cold flavorings, even a too cold bowl will make the chocolate grainy, and turn instantly into a hard, solid lump. All your ingredients and tools should be at a room temperature.
Test the temper – an easy method of checking if the raw chocolate is in temper, is to apply a small quantity of chocolate to a piece of paper or to the point of a knife. If the chocolate has been correctly tempered it will harden evenly and show a good gloss within five minutes.
Tips for Recovering Chocolate
Blooming – there are two types of bloom – sugar bloom and fat bloom. Each has different causes.
- Sugar bloom – when sugar bloom occurs, you’ll see grains of sugar on the surface of the chocolate. This happens when the sugar crystals are exposed to moisture when stored, either from humidity in the air or condensation from refrigeration. Moisture causes sugar to dissolve and come to the surface.
- Fat bloom – when fat bloom occurs, you’ll see whitish or gray color on the chocolate. Fat bloom is simply the cocoa butter separating from the cocoa solids and coming to the surface. This usually happens when the structure of the fat crystals changes due to a too-warm or too-cold storage.
The best practice is to store chocolate between 55°F-70°F (13°C – 21°C), ideally with less than 50% humidity. Remember, dampness & condensation results in “sugar bloom” and excessive heat or cold results in “fat bloom.”
Seizing – if your chocolate mass seizes, aka becomes grainy, dull, and thick, you might still be able to recover it, depending on what brought about the chocolate seize:
- Water – if it was water that brought about the chocolate seize, simply add more water (or any other liquid) to allow the molten chocolate to flow again. You won’t be able to use the recovered chocolate for dipping anymore, but you’ll be able to use it as a chocolate sauce or ganache.
- Heat – If the chocolate seizes passed its recoverable state, you can still use it for cooking or as a candy filling.
Knowing how to properly temper chocolate is so rewarding. It’s a skill that’s invaluable if you want to do any sort of candy making. Even the simplest chocolate recipes, like Chocolate Brownies, can be improved by using tempered chocolate. Just think of all the opportunities that suddenly open up when you make your own raw chocolate.
I hope this blog post demystified chocolate tempering and you’ll give it a shot.