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Coco&Me » How To’s

May 28th, 2007

How to temper chocolate

Coco&Me picture of a fresh cacao pod - open

(Picture: I purchased two fresh cacao pod several years ago during the National Chocolate Week. The shop assistant told me they are from Cameroon. I bought them for £7 each. Très expensive. But it was an experience to remember for sure! – One was for keeping to dry, & the other for cutting open. The fresh beans were acrid & I didn’t like the taste atall, but the white pulp surrounding them was sweet & exotic like I never ever tasted before.)
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Here comes the big entry.
I am finally tackling this rather lengthy subject of tempering chocolate, after avoiding it for sometime…, shunning it under the carpet of “let’s write about easier things for now”.

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But it’s become inescapable. I’ve already featured two recipes (ganache truffles, easter eggs & white chocolate wedding cake) in my blog requiring tempered chocolate to be used. Gotta press on with it, don’t I?

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And besides, I had this impelling will to write this to give any assistance I can to the people looking for this type of information on the world-wide-web. – Because when I was self-teaching chocolate-making several years ago, I used to surf the web day-on-end to find useful introduction to tempering, but never had any luck! So maybe…, my contibution here would help out someone somewhere who’s in those same shoes I was back then!
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One note to people new to tempering is that this technique is quite advanced. You’d certainly be practising this again & again. But don’t give up, don’t give up. You can use the same chocolate again to re-temper (unless it’s burnt). And cetainly don’t go spending silly money on automatic tempering machines which are notoriously temperamental.

After a dozen or so go’s, it’ll be written in to your body, straightforward like riding a bicycle, & you’ll be laughing about why it was so difficult in the first place.
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WHY :: The reason for tempering

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‘Tempering’ is a word to describe the very particular method of controlling the temperature of your melted chocolate.

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When you melt down chocolate, the chain of cacao butter crystals become intrinsically unstable and loses its neat formation. Controlling the chocolate with certain precise temperature (tempering) stablizes back the crystals that went haywire.

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The chocolate with the temper treatment will have the most beautiful glossy sheen that screams sophistication & a crisp snap when broken.
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Chocolate needs to be tempered if you want to use it as-is, or for moulding (de-moulding would be easier as the chocolate will shrink), for coating your bonbons, & making chocolate decorations.

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If you allow your chocolate to solidify without tempering, or after inadequate tempering, you’d notice that you’d get the most aestheticly awful looking end-product with white streaks called ‘fat bloom’. Not only that, you yourself would be losing your ‘temper’ (excuse the pun! Had to say it didn’t I…) because it takes absolute ages to harden…

‘Fat bloom’ is a term used to describe the marks on your chocolate when the natural fat from the cocoa butter has displaced to the surface. Note it could also appear when you have nuts or nut oil in your bonbon filling. The nut oil will slowly migrate to the surface over time.

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Please note that improper storage with high humidity would also un-temper your chocolate, & unapetizing marks such as ‘fat-bloom’ & ‘sugar bloom’ would appear on the surface.

‘Sugar bloom’ = the splotchy sweat marks after the chocolate had been in contact with moisture. The moisture dissolves the sugar present in your chocolate & when that dries, the dissolved sugar crystallizes leave marks behind. Also worth remembering that sugar bloom may occur when chocolate encounters sudden temperature fluctuations, such as when removed from the cold fridge & then left open in a room. This is because it condensates moisture from the air.

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With WHAT :: The indispensable equipments

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  • Mixing bowls
  • Spatula
  • Digital probe thermometer, to constantly check the temperature of the chocolate. Once you’ve mastered tempering, you’ll ‘just’ know how the temperature of you chocolate is doing, & eventually & quite naturally this equipment will become redundant for you!
  • Marble slab, larger the better. In the kitchen where I did my short apprenticeship, they had a slab that was huge – like around A0 size – it was too heavy for me to carry. The size I use in my kitchen is A3 size, which I think is the minimum size you’re required to have to do tempering on. Anything smaller you’d be encountering lots of over-spilling from the sides. – If you’re finding getting a marble slab a problem (I got mine from the local run-of-the-mill household goods store), I have heard that alternatively, you can try use a very clean & dry stainless steel surface, that is, if you don’t mind the potential scratch marks!
  • Stainless steel scraper & palette knife for pushing, spreading & scraping the chocolate about on the slab. If you’re looking to purchase what the proffesionals use, try Keylink, a good UK supplier I’m constantly using for my chocolate making.
  • Double boiler. To initally melt down your chocolates & then to keep the tempered chocolate at a constant & optimum temperature while you’re doing your chocolate work, such as dipping your truffles. I use a machine called Caloribac (purchased from Keylink). And oh, please don’t waste your time with doing a bain-marie over your hob (although keep in mind that this is purely just ‘my’ opinion!). I’ve tried doing that, & I managed to spill water in to my bowl of chocolate when I clumsily handled the extremely hot bowl with my oven gloves. Doh! And you can forget about putting the bowl back on the hob to keep the tempered chocolate at a constant temperature – It’s really hard to gage precise temperature control over it. You’re likely to lose the temper & have to re-do the whole tempering process again…

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HOW :: The tempering methods

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There are three methods.

The ‘seeding’ method.
The ‘icy water’ method.
The ‘marble slab’ (tablage) method.

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The ‘seeding’ method:

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Note, for this you need a supply of tempered chocolate, as the whole idea of the method is to introduce (‘seed’) stable cacao butter crystals to unstable liquid chocolate.
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1. Put aside 1/3 of the chocolate & melt the rest. Melt until the temeprature of the liquid reaches:

55 ºC (130 ºF) for dark chocolate
45 ºC (110 ºF) for milk chocolate
40 ºC (100 ºF) for white chocolate

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2. Take it out of the double boiler in to a mixing bowl.

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3. Deposit the 1/3 you kept aside.

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4. Slowly mix it in (so as not to create air bubbles in your mixture). Constantly keep check on how the temperature’s doing. You need the temperature to go down to the following numbers before using it for your chocolate work:

27 ºC (81 ºF) for dark chocolate
26 ºC (79 ºF) for milk chocolate
25 ºC (77 ºF) for white chocolate

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The ‘icy water’ method:

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It’s a good way to temper on a Summer’s day when the kitchen is too warm.

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1. First melt all your chocolates to the following temperatures:

55 ºC (130 ºF) for dark chocolate
45 ºC (110 ºF) for milk chocolate
40 ºC (100 ºF) for white chocolate

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2. Take it out of the double boiler in to a mixing bowl.

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3. Place this bowl in a larger bowl with cold water & ice. 10 to 20 seconds at a time. It’s a good idea to place a pastry ring or anything similar in the water bowl for the chocolate bowl to rest on so that it doesn’t slip around & risk pouring water in to your chocolate by mistake.

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4. Spatula constantly, especially the sides & the bottom of the bowl where it cools quicker.

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5. Bring the temperature DOWN to the following:

27 ºC (81 ºF) for dark chocolate

26 ºC (79 ºF) for milk chocolate

25 ºC (77 ºF) for white chocolate

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6. Then place your chocolate bowl over another bowl of warm water, approx. at 35 ºC (95 ºF). Do this to bring the temperature UP to the following. Make sure you don’t go over the suggested figures or you’ll lose the temper:

30 – 32 ºC (87 – 89 ºF) for dark chocolate
29 – 31ºC (85 – 88 ºF) for milk & white chocolate.

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The ‘marble slab’ (tablage) method:

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1. First melt all your chocolates to the following temperatures:

55 ºC (130 ºF) for dark chocolate
45 ºC (110 ºF) for milk chocolate
40 ºC (100 ºF) for white chocolate

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2. Take it out of the double boiler in to a mixing bowl.

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3. Pour 2/3 of it on to your marble slab. (Leave the remaining 1/3 in the mixing bowl. – Make sure you spatula down the sides of the bowl, you don’t want to have thin layers of chocolate drying up on the sides of the bowl as you work on your marble)

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Using your palette knife, spread it across your marble.

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5. Use both palette knife & scraper to bring the chocolate in to a mound in the middle again to keep the temperature of the mass uniform.
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6. Repeat steps 4 & 5 (spread & regroup) while constantly checking the temperature. (If you’re fortunate to have a large marble slab, you’ll be tempering much quicker if you try shifting your scraping work from one end of the slab to the other. That way you’d always be using the cool surface that hadn’t been warmed up with chocolate yet!) Make sure you’re not introducing air bubbles to the liquid as you work it.
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7. Bring the temperature down to the following:

27 ºC (81 ºF) for dark chocolate
26 ºC (79 ºF) for milk chocolate
25 ºC (77 ºF) for white chocolate

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8. Pour back this chocolate in to the bowl where you’ve left the other 1/3. (At this point you’ve got to work quickly. The chocolate is rapidly cooling down as we speak!)
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9. Slowly mix the two mixtures with your spatula. Make sure you thoroughly mix.
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10. After mixing, the chocolate should reach the following temperature:

30 – 32 ºC (87 – 89 ºF) for dark chocolate
29 – 31ºC (85 – 88 ºF) for milk & white chocolate
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Top Tips:

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Take time melting your chocolate. There are 6 elements to cacao butter crystals, which has different melt points, & you want to make sure you break it all down. You’ll also get a thinner coating on your bonbons.
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Don’t go over the suggested temperatures when melting. The cassein & the milk protein in the chocolate will burn. And don’t go too low than the suggested temperature when you’re doing your chocolate work either – you’d end up with a layer of coating that’s too thick.
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Never artificially cool the marble slab, as it’ll get too cold. Tempering must be done by gradually cooling.

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Remember, the temperature & the humidity in your kitchen would seriously play a big part. Forget tempering in the Summer unless you’ve got a room cooler.

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I personally find the ‘icy-water’ method risky & fiddly. Not only there’s the danger of getting the water in the chocolate, the temperature of your chocolate becomes very uneven.

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Do use couverture, chocolate with real cacao butter, with atleast 31% of it – do not ‘coating chocolate’.

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It’s fiddly to temper a small amount of chocolate. Atleast half a kilo is required.

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A good way to test wether you’ve tempered correctly is to dip a clean knife in to it & pop it in the fridge for half a minute. If you see a set coat of shiny chocolate, you’ve got it right!

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Well, I hope it’s been of any help… Good luck… As for me, I’m off to bed…

January 22nd, 2007

About sugar (with vanilla sugar recipe)

Home made vanilla sugar with vanilla pod

(Home made vanilla sugar)

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Sugar is a staple in everyones kitchen, & is used extensively in confectionery. Obviously it is sweet, but it’s more than that – it provides moisture, tenderness, enhances other flavours, provides stability in meringues, can caramelize, can even be bitter & increases shelf-life (A good example is jam. High percentage of sugar prolongs shelf life as it inhibits the bacteria to grow). But did you know that there are dozens of varieties of it available? It’s a minefield. It can be mystifyingly confusing… Before my obsession with baking I don’t think I ever used anything other than white refined granulated sugar!
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So here is a list of some of the sugars. I think it’ll help understand why your recipe is calling for a particular type, & have confidence in switching it when you want to have a more caramelly flavour for example:

  • Granulated ::::: Very versatile, all-purpose sugar but one-dimensional in flavour. No aroma, so it’s great when you just want to have the ‘sweetness’ & pronounce the flavour of the other ingredients such as chocolate in a chocolate cake. – If a recipe doesn’t specify which sugar type to use, it’ll be safe to use granulated.
  • Castor ::::: Selectively sieved from the granulated sugar. It’s known as caster sugar because it is suitable for placing in a ‘caster’, a perforated jar or a bottle, similar to a flour dredger.
  • Icing ::::: It rapidly dissolves even in cold water. A must when you make meringue for macaron. Also great for dusting it on top of your finished product. It is made by grinding sugar to a very fine powder. A small amount of anti-caking agent (for example 3% cornstarch) is often already added to it to prevent clumping.
  • Preserving sugar ::::: Often used for jam making, it has the largest crystals that dissolves slowly which makes it less likely to burn the sugar as it does not settle in the bottom of the pan. It also reduces the need for stirring. Less froth is also produced resulting in a clearer preserve.
  • ‘Golden’ caster or granulated sugars ::::: Molasses is ‘painted’ to the white sugars to add the light golden colour & aroma. Slightly more flavourful than the white.
  • Demerara::::: Free-flowing crunchy crystals. Also good for sweetening beverages such as coffee.
  • Light/ Dark Brown ::::: Based on caster sugar. The molasses is ‘painted’ to give it colour & give depthy, fudgy flavour. (In some cases ‘food colour’ is painted on instead of molasses, to recreate the delicious brown look.) It’s moist, & it gives extra tenderness to the cake. Make sure to not let it dry out & it’ll be hard like a rock.

All of the above can be substituted with each other in principal. They come from the same stage of sugar process, & some are just that they are various crystal sizes depending on what you’d like to use it for.

The confusing part is… some of these can come as refined (bleached, refined white sugar which is pure sucrose/ carbohydrate), partly refined, or unrefined (typically 50% less processed than refined. It retains some of the natural properties, making it wholesome & healthy). It could be under naming such as ‘natural’ or some brands call theirs differently. You really have to study the package before purchase.

  • Light/ dark Muscovado::::: Unrefined natural sugar. Strong tasting natural molasses flavour. Brown & sticky. More unprocessed than Turbinado Sugar.
  • Turbinado::::: Unrefined. Similar in appearance to brown sugar with molasses flavour but paler & course granulation. Often used in tea. This sugar can’t always be substituted in recipes. Its moisture content varies considerably which can affect a recipe. You’d have to carefully adjust other ingredients such as the liquids.
  • Unrefined Soft Light/ Dark Brown::::: Distinctive caramel taste. Light & dark soft brown sugars can be replaced with one another only in small quantities. If you do, the cake will not turn out like you wanted it to, because the flavour & moistness is different between the two.
  • Molasses ::::: Dark syrup extracted during sugar manufacturing. Only a little is needed as it is very concentrated. Not as sweet as sugar. Replace no more than half the sugar called for in a recipe with molasses.

The following are the natural sweeteners:

  • Honey ::::: Distinctive flavour that varies depending on which flower nector the bees have been gathering. Generally, honey can be used in place of granulated sugar, it’ll make the cakes moist & dense. But watch out, it is 25 – 50% sweeter than sugar & tend to brown faster. So experiment with using less of it, it is said that you should use the amount of honey that is equivalent to ½ the amount of specified sugar, reduce liquid ingredients by ½, & reduce the oven temperature by 25 ¼ F.
  • Maple syrup ::::: Could be made from the maple tree sap, or artificially made with maple flavouring. Look for the word ‘pure’ when choosing. It has fewer calories & higher concentration of minerals than honey. Keep refrigerated and consume within 6 to 8 months.

And then for sweetening the chocolate ganache:

  • Invert sugar & Glucose Syrup ::::: It is highly effective in preventing crystallization, & so makes the mixture smoother with better viscosity. It is not as distinctively sweet or flavourful like the other sugars which is great when you rather want to pronouce the flavour of the chocolate itself. But inverted sugar is almost impossible to get if you are a home-user (it only comes in big multi-kilogram tubs) so try honey as a substitute.
  • Trimoline ::::: It is produced from beets. It emulsifies the fat, & prevents recystallization of sugars. It smoothes the texture & increases shelf life by retaining moisture. It has a sweetening power of 128%.

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History:
Sweet tasting liquid from the Sugar cane (a tropical grass) was first discovered on the islands of the Pacific Ocean some 20,00 years ago (!) but the process of making sugar by evaporating its juice developed in India around 500 BC. It is from then on that the technology for sugar production slowly spread around the world, although for many hundreds of years, sugar was a highly prized and expensive ‘spice’ that was used only in the homes of nobility and royalty, just like the history of chocolate.
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I recently came across the most insightful historic literature of how sugar was refined & then manufactured into loaf sugar back in 1876 London (loaf sugar was refined white sugar moulded into cone-shaped loaves – which then got cut up either by the retailer or at home using a cleaver & then pounded to powder). I love the way it’s written. Its not just an account of what it was like, but more like a good novel. It describes one of the workers as a creature with chest all grizzly-haired, calls it the ‘Sugar Ogre’ in waiting for juvenile delinquents. – It’s a bit long, but persist. I found that it was worth reading.
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Home-made Vanilla Sugar Recipe:
Vanilla sugar is simply castor sugar with vanilla. There are no set rules of how to make it. If you want, you can change the ratio of sugar/ vanilla according to wether you’d like the aroma to be intense or subtle. And you can keep replenishing more sugar in to the same jar & the pod would sufficiently flavour the sugar.

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Ingredients:
200g Granulated or castor sugar (any amount is okay – it just lessens or increases the aroma of vanilla, thats all)
1 x Fresh or used vanilla pod (There are two ways to go about it. To use pod skin & seeds, or just pod skin after you’ve used the seeds for other baking requirements)
Container with tightly fitting lid (I find it is pretty when white sugar has dark specks of pure vanilla seeds, so I recommend a clear glass jar!)

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1. Chop the vanilla pod – for example, in half. If you’re using fresh pods, de-seed & then chop.
2. Place both sugar & vanilla pod (& seeds) in the jar & mix well, distributing the vanilla beans in the sugar.
3. Tightly seal with lid & store in a cool place. The sugar would be gorgeously scented in 1 to 2 weeks. It will keep indefinately without refrigeration.

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Uses:
Use the vanilla sugar in baked goods & desserts that calls for both sugar & vanilla. Or sprinkle over home-made sponge cakes, biscuits, fresh fruit, custards, crème brûlée, crumbles, favourite breakfast cereal, hot coffee, milkshakes, yoghurt, buttered toast etc.

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This week:
I have been busy in the evenings making Chocolate Valentines Hearts for the oh-so-busy Valentine season that’s creeping it’s way.
And my son has started nursery on Wednesday! A milestone. A bit of a tear jerker. It’s 1pm til 3.30pm, Monday to Friday. You’d think that it’ll give me more me-time, but it takes me 30 minutes to walk there, so by the time I walk him & go back home, it’ll only give me 1½ hours at home before I go & pick him up…!

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