Temper Chocolate for Smooth and Shiny Desserts and Treats
1. Start with 12 ounces or more of couverture: a large amount is easier to work with, especially for beginning chocolatiers.
You'll need a pot of water, a clean, completely dry stainless-steel bowl to act as a double boiler, and a rubber spatula for stirring. Any moisture in the bowl disrupt the tempering process.
Place the pot of water on the stove and bring the water to a slow boil.
2. Chocolate chips or coins (available from some specialty purveyors) are ideal for tempering, as they are all the same size and will therefore melt evenly. If you're using a block of chocolate, a serrated knife works well for chopping; you can also use a dough cutter (bench scraper) or other knife. Chop chocolate into even pieces that are no larger than half an inch square.
3. Use the dough cutter, bench scraper, or your hands to transport the chocolate to the dry bowl. If you use your hands, move quickly: the chocolate will melt in your hands. Keep a dry kitchen towel handy for wiping hands and surfaces free of chocolate crumbs and drips.
4. Place the bowl on top of the pot of hot water and gently stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula until it has melted completely and looks smooth.
You can keep the water at a simmer while the chocolate melts, or you can turn the heat off entirely.
For small amounts of chocolate, it is appropriate to turn off all heat: steam can introduce moisture to the chocolate, causing it to seize up or curdle. In addition, some chocolate has a very high cocoa butter content, which if heated too quickly will cause the chocolate to break and crystallize. White chocolate, in particular, needs very gentle handling.
5. Test the temperature of the chocolate. You need to melt the chocolate to a target temperature of about 110 degrees F (45 degrees C). Going over the target temperature can cause scorching.
As soon as the chocolate reaches the proper temperature, remove the bowl from the heat, dry the bottom of the bowl, and begin the essential stage of cooling and agitating.
One way of cooling the melted chocolate is to add chopped, un-melted couverture to the bowl. (Add about a third of the amount of chocolate you started with: if you melted 12 ounces, add an additional 4 ounces of finely chopped chocolate.) Stir vigorously until chocolate is melted. This process, called "seeding," produces the smooth, glossy result.
6. Now, if your chocolate is too cool to work with, you must bring the chocolate's temperature back up to approximately 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) to use it for coating or molding.
Pastry chefs use a method called "tabling" to temper chocolate, a cooling-and-agitating method that involves pouring two-thirds of the melted chocolate onto a marble slab. The chocolatier quickly spreads it thin with a metal spatula, scrapes it back into a pile with a putty knife, and spreads it thin again, repeating until the right sludgy consistency is reached. This cooled chocolate is stirred into the bowl of reserved warm chocolate.
7. Test the temper by dipping a knife tip into the chocolate and letting it sit for two to three minutes.
Is it still sticky? It's not in temper. Properly tempered chocolate should be firm to the touch after a few minutes.