If you've constantly encountered whitish-gray blotches on the surface of the chocolate candies you make at home, or your creations never achieved a smooth and shiny finish, or they always feel gritty to the tongue, chances are you've bypassed that one critical step in crafting melt-in-your-mouth chocolate delectables: chocolate tempering.
Most chocolate aficionados and professionals take care to temper their chocolates before introducing them to their craving public. One reason is that chocolate isn't naturally shiny or smooth. Although the chocolate making process goes through conching--the process where chocolate liquor is passed through several rollers to smooth particles, tempering will prevent large crystals from forming. These crystals are crumbly, robbing your chocolate of that pleasurable mouthfeel that chocolate lovers like in their chocolate.
For a chocolate candy to be considered "real", it must be made from cocoa butter . Cocoa butter is the ingredient that's responsible for the rich, creamy texture of chocolates. Chocolate liquor, the paste that comes from grinding the roasted cocoa beans, contains about 53-60% cocoa butter. If your chocolate is untempered, the cocoa butter would break up and appear as white spots on your chocolate's surface (a condition called blooming).
What makes tempering very complicated is the fact that cocoa butter is made up of several fatty acids that have different melting and solidifying temperatures! When melting chocolate, the fat crystals in cocoa butter separate. The objective of chocolate tempering is to stabilize the fat crystals and bind them tightly together to avoid blooming , a dull appearance, or a crumbly texture.
There are three ways to temper chocolate: the hard way, the easy way, and the no-sweat way.
The hard way is the chocolate artisan's way: handmade all throughout. The chocolate is first melted free of lumps, with a third folded repeatedly on a slab until it thickens and reaches a temperature of about 80°F (27°C). The chocolate is added to the rest of the melted batch with constant stirring, until the whole melted chocolate reaches certain temperatures:
The easy way to temper chocolate is through a method called "seeding", where already-tempered chocolate chunks are added into chocolate to rope in free-moving fat crystals to trigger crystallization. The initial step is much like the one in artisan tempering (tabliering); you melt 2/3 of your chocolate to melt the fat crystals in the cocoa butter. Leave about 1/3 of your chocolate unmelted and chopped into small pieces to use as "seed". Stir your "seed" chocolate slowly into the melted mix until it has also melted and reached desired temperatures. While you're making your chocolate candies, check that your tempered chocolate is within desired temperature ranges at all times.
Tempering is a delicate, tedious process. It is possible to over-temper chocolate, returning it to its previous state. But the repeated work of heating, cooling, and reheating chocolate at constant, precise temperatures can rob you of the fun and creativity in making attractive chocolate candies fit for gift-giving or profit-making. The third way of tempering chocolate does away with the constant switching between dropping and molding chocolate candies and checking temperatures: chocolate tempering machines.
Chocolate enthusiasts and professionals are getting themselves chocolate tempering machines so they can focus more on the craft of chocolate making rather than on the labor of chocolate tempering. Sized to fit your countertop, these appliances automate the repetitive melting, cooling, reheating, and temperature-maintaining necessities of the tempering process through a computer chip, keeping chocolate in its tempered state for hours.
While some would scoff at these chocolate tempering machines as too modern for such an ancient art as chocolate making, they make chocolate candymaking much much easier - and leave you free to conceive and create luscious, tempting chocolate treasures.