This is a question I often get asked by my students at my Chocolate Courses. It’s a fair question. You don’t need to have a tempering chocolate machine to get perfectly tempered chocolate, but tempering chocolate is a quite complicated process.
It can be very frustrating if you think you’ve tempered your chocolate enough and you end up with a bloomed chocolate bars. Don’t worry; I’ve been there too!
So, why melting your chocolate is simply not enough?
If you just melt your chocolate without tempering it properly, you’ll end up with a chocolate that will bloom (you’ll get white streaks and lines running across your chocolate, when it finally sets). It will also take a long time to set and it will melt very quickly when you touch it.
It’s not going to make a ‘snap’ when you break your chocolate bar and it will even taste slightly grainy. Saying that it’s perfectly safe to eat chocolate that hasn’t been tempered properly, but the look is not great, and the texture won’t be probably as smooth as if you temper your chocolate well.
Are there any instances when I don’t need to temper my chocolate?
Yes, there are!
If you are using your chocolate for baking chocolate brownies, cooking, making pudding sauces, making chocolate ganache for chocolate truffles or melting into recipes and your chocolate doesn’t need to be stable and hold shape, you don’t need to temper your chocolate.
You can even get away with not tempering your chocolate when you make a chocolate ganache and it won’t cause any problems with your chocolate truffles.
For everything else…you do need to temper your chocolate if you want it to look like from an artisan chocolatier shop!
What happends when you temper chocolate
And now for the nitty gritty, why we actually need to temper chocolate and what happens when we do.
Generally speaking, the purpose of chocolate tempering is to make the structure of chocolate stronger and firmer, so that it can be moulded, shaped and withstands warmer temperatures.
Just think about that batch of creamy fudge or salted caramel sauce you made the other day that crystalised because you’ve stirred it when it was boiling. Well, with sugar crystals you can see the crystallisation really quickly and it’s obviously something you want to prevent when you make your fudge.
The same crystallisation process happens to the chocolate (the cocoa butter to be precise), but because the crystals are so small, you can’t really see them. In chocolate case, you want to create strong crystals, which then help the chocolate to have a nice strong structure, beautiful shine and a hard snap. Melted tempered and un-tempered chocolate looks unfortunately very similar, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one.
The process of chocolate tempering
But back to our cocoa butter crystals.
During chocolate tempering, the cocoa butter starts to take on a much stable form. This guarantees a perfect finished chocolate bar with a shiny gloss and a hard snap. Well crystalised cocoa butter also makes the chocolate contract during cooling, which helps with taking your chocolates from your chocolate moulds.
Cocoa butter contains three to four glycerides of fatty acids, which, unfortunately (for us chocolatiers!) melt, crystalise and firm up at a different temperature. When you initially melt your chocolate buttons or callets, the cocoa butter fatty acid crystals separate. The tempering process brings back the separate cocoa butter fatty acid crystals into one stable form – your final chocolate bar.
So, this is the reason why you need to temper your chocolate.
I’m sure you have plenty of other questions about chocolate tempering, so feel free to write them down in the comments below.