Whenever you see chocolate on a marble table being moved right and left with a spatula, you are looking at the tempering process, a crucial step of the bean-to-bar process. But what are chocolate makers actually trying to achieve during this process? Let’s start from the basics.
Tempering is done by melting solid chocolate to a temperature high enough that the crystals in the cocoa butter break down. This temperature is between 43-48°C. Once the chocolate is fully melted, it must be cooled to about 28°C, a temperature at which crystals will start to form again so that the chocolate can eventually re-solidify. The chocolate’s temperature is then raised back to about 32°C, where it is very fluid and can be poured into chocolate molds and used for other applications.
It’s a lot of work, but definitely worth the effort.
The crystals that start to form when the chocolate is cool (Beta 5 crystals, if you want to get specific) are stable crystals contained in the cocoa butter of chocolate. They provide the necessary structure for the chocolate to become shiny, smooth and have a good “snap” when it is set. Chocolate that has not been tempered or that has been improperly tempered will look flat, discolored and will run higher risks of fat blooms. It will lack the sharp snap of tempered chocolate and will typically not be as smooth as it melts. Also, tempered chocolate will have a longer and more stable shelf life than untempered chocolate, being slightly more resistant to temperature changes too.
Tempering chocolate is truly an art, as professionals have to attentively follow every second of the process to avoid mistakes, whether they are tempering by hand or using machines. One drop of water or the wrong temperature, and the entire batch could potentially go to waste.
If you ask craft chocolate makers, they will tell you that tempering is one of the most difficult steps of the bean-to-bar process, but also one of the most rewarding.