With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about sweet gifts for your sweetie. Instead of buying a box of chocolates, show how much you care by creating your own homemade chocolate treats. Putting in extra effort to show your affection—and the beaming smile sure to light up your loved one’s face—will make all your work more than worth it in the end.
I have the honor of interacting with a select few who are experts in their field of teaching. One such authority is Chef Peter P. Greweling, a professor in the baking and pastry department here at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA). He is the author of two books on chocolate and confections, and his knowledge of everything chocolate is second to none. Plus, I can always sate my chocolate craving by visiting his classroom whenever needed.
What is tempering?
Tempering is the key step in preparing the chocolate to coat your homemade chocolate treats. In his book, Chocolates and Confections, part of the CIA’s At Home series, Greweling explains, “Tempering is the process of heating and cooling chocolate to ensure that it will set with a proper gloss and snap… Chocolate that is not tempered will develop streaks that turn gray and a soft, grainy texture.”
So, let’s get into the simple tempering process. Start by melting 3 cups of chopped chocolate or coin-sized chocolate pistoles in a thoroughly clean bowl while setting aside 1 additional cup. Using either a water bath or microwave, heat the chocolate until it’s fully melted—120° F for dark and 110° F for milk or white chocolate.
Add the reserved, non-melted chocolate, known as the seed, into the melted chocolate. This will cool the melted chocolate. Stir gently until the chocolate temperature falls to 85° F for dark or 83° F for milk or white chocolate. Now it’s time for the temper test. For melted dark chocolate, keep the temperature below 90° F. For milk or white chocolate, keep it below 87° F. Dip a clean spoon in the chocolate. Remove and allow the spoon to remain undisturbed for seven to eight minutes in a room at 68° F. Do not place in the refrigerator. Once time has elapsed, examine the spoon sample. If the chocolate does not look wet and has a uniform surface with no streaks, it is tempered. Congratulations! Now, keep the tempered chocolate warm—not above 89° F for dark or above 86° F for milk or white chocolate.
If the chocolate did not become tempered and all of the seed chocolate has melted, you will need to add more seed. Start with 2 to 3 tablespoons and stir for three to four minutes. Test again for temper. If it is ready, remove any non-melted seeds and proceed to use the tempered chocolate.
To keep the tempered chocolate warm, use one of these techniques:
- Wrap a heating pad around the bowl of chocolate.
- Place the bowl of chocolate over a pot of water at the desired temperature.
- Using a microwave-safe dish, warm the temper with short bursts in a microwave.
- Warm briefly over direct heat.
Now, the properly tempered and maintained chocolate can be used to dip your favorite candies or nuts into, drizzle on cookies, or coat ganache-based truffles or macaroons. In the end, the labor is one of love, making it perfect for Valentine’s Day.
Richard Coppedge Jr. is an award-winning chef and professor of baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America. He is the author of Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America: 150 Flavorful Recipes from the World’s Premier Culinary College and Baking for Special Diets.
Illustration by Danel Vasconcellos