Lesson 76-80: Tempering in the World of Chocolate

Chocolate is, quite honestly, a mess.

I’ve made a serious habit of using a plastic apron over my already-adorable chef uniform just to try and keep my whites semi-white through these lessons on chocolate. We are learning how to temper, the process by which chocolate is cooled down and agitated so that it crystallizes and becomes shiny and hard when set. It’s a good thing I’ve spent years of falling in love with chocolate and enjoying it in its endless forms. Now that I'm starting to learn how to work with it, I feel a little like I did about the bread module, in awe of how many variables determine the final product and how difficult it is to perfect the craft of making perfect chocolate. Our class was filled with thermometers and spatulas dripping with milk, dark or white chocolate.

As far as the eye could see, there were plastic bowls kept near the microwave and metal bowls set over boiling water to help heat the chocolate. Marble slabs and scrapers that look more like they should be used to spackle are coupled with an offset spatula to cool down the chocolate. Alternatively, you can use an ice bath to cool the chocolate to the correct temperature. Words and phrases like “set,” “in temper” and “snap test” roll off our tongues as we try to get it right. But when we don’t, it has given us a tremendous opportunity to learn how to fix it. Chef Kathryn has been moving us to consider the ratio of fat to liquid and using our common sense to know when to just give it more air and time to fix itself.

To be honest, I fought the urge to title this post “Tempering Your Temper,” because that’s how I felt during one particular class. As I brought the temperature of my chocolate up to 115ºF and down to 86ºF, I felt my own temper rising, hoping that chocolate-dipped parchment would snap, indicating I had properly tempered the chocolate. With that “snap,” I could get my glove-covered hands dirty making clusters or hop on an assembly line and prepare some truffles. But without the “snap,” it was back to the drawing board with getting the temperature just right to use and keeping my “temper” in check throughout the process. In the end, when we present the chocolate candies and our showpieces, I know I’ll fall back in love with chocolate. We have quite a little break for the holidays but will be back working on the chocolate showpieces in January!

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