When Temper and Agitation are Good Things

barkeater Blog

Anyone who has ever dabbled in chocolate knows one thing; chocolate is a moody, fickle obstinate child. We also feel that way about some of our production equipment, but that’s another blog post for another day.

The reason can be found in the chemistry of chocolate, with the biggest culprit being cocoa butter. We’ll spare you the chemistry lesson because 1.) it can get a bit complicated and 2.) well, we’re not chemists.

Here’s what we definitely do know:

Chocolate must be heated to a precise temperature. What is that temperature? Well…of course, it depends. Each type of chocolate (white, milk, dark) has a different ideal temperature range, and within those categories, another finite temperature range. A 70% dark chocolate will have a different ideal temperature than chocolate with a 60% or 85% cacao content.

In the simplest terms, chocolate should only be heated to about 108-112 degrees Fahrenheit or you risk scorching. And trust us, you do not want to smell burnt chocolate. This heating breaks down the beta crystals. Seems pretty easy, right?

Well, sort of. With a good chocolate/candy thermometer, you can keep your eye on the temperature and turn off the heat when ready. But this is not the end of the job.

From there, your chocolate will need constant agitation to keep the temperature even and prevent it from cooling around only the edges. Your chocolate now needs to cool to rebuild those beta crystals. And not just a few degrees, but it needs to come down significantly. If tempering by hand, many chocolatiers will recommend bringing the chocolate down to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit and then reheating it slightly to 86-88 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the amount of chocolate you’re working with, stirring by hand will give you quite a few steps on your fitness tracker. The process could take 30-60 minutes or more.

Professional chocolatiers will temper anywhere from 10 lbs to 500 lbs. of chocolate at once and will use professional machines to temper the chocolate. That said, even the machines aren’t a perfect science. If conditions in the room aren’t in the Goldilocks zone, the chocolate won’t temper correctly and bloom will occur. Your chocolate may seem fine, but as it sets (and sometimes hours later), you will notice white streaks, a gritty texture or something else entirely unappealing.

Then of course, your job is still not over. The chocolate must cool at the correct temperature. While a refrigerator might be OK in a pinch – it’s usually way too cold for chocolate – and humidity can be an issue. Room temperature is likely way too warm. The pros will create a cooling closet with circulating air to keep set the chocolate correctly.

Even a cooling closet, if overloaded with lots of setting chocolate, may become too warm. And if the outside temperature is extremely hot, it will be even harder to regulate the temperature!

While tempering chocolate is a science, there’s also a whole lot of intuition involved that comes with a ton of practice. If it were easy, everyone would do it!!