Keeping your temper- the science of chocolate

A Moment of Science

You know how a good piece of chocolate should taste but what about its looks or its sound?

That beautiful shine and satisfying snap comes from the tempering process, which manipulates the crystal structure of cocoa butter, the primary ingredient in chocolate. 

The preferred “form V” crystalline structure of cocoa butter. This structure is created during the tempering process.

There’s six different ways fat molecules in cocoa butter can align themselves, but one shines above the rest- the form V crystal. This form creates the shiny & smooth chocolate that you love, while forms I-IV create an end result that looks dull & discolored. You’ve probably had this happen if you left a piece of chocolate to melt then re-harden, falling out of temper. While the flavor is mostly unchanged, its look & crumbly texture is all wrong. 

As such chocolatiers like David Vagasky of Charleston Chocolatiers take great care to create that perfect structure through tempering, which is done by precisely heating and cooling chocolate. Armed with a digital thermometer and a bowl of warm chocolate, he gets to work- melting the chocolate over a dry heat to 115 degrees.

“And what that does is it breaks down all the molecular structure inside the chocolate, ” Vagasky says. “As you break them up, you are going to have to realign them during the process of cooling it back down.”

Which is done by spreading a layer of warm chocolate on a cool marble slab, “This is pulling the warmth out of the chocolate that’s on the marble. So obviously the chocolate coming off is cooler, and I’m adding it to the warmer chocolate.”

Cooling the bowl of chocolate, aiming for a highly specific temperature zone that’s proven to produce those preferred form V crystals.

“So you take it from 115° down to that workable temperature. For dark it’s 86 to 90°. Milk chocolate is a little bit lower. That’s going to be 84 to 87° F.”

Once in that temperature zone, the chocolate is in temper! Chocolatiers can then cast, mold, enrobe, and create their culinary creations, assured that their chocolate will look as good as it tastes once it sets.

If you want want to try tempering chocolate at home, you can take a few shortcuts.

Microwave/Seeding Method:

  • Microwave 2/3 of your chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl at half power for one minute intervals, stirring each minute.
  • Check your temperature- you’re aiming for 100-110°F. If not there yet, heat again at 30 second intervals. NOTE: Don’t let your chocolate reach above 115° or it will scorch and be unsalvageable.
  • Add the remaining chocolate in small pieces while stirring. The chocolate should thicken and become shiny & smooth.
  • Once the chocolate reaches 84-90° it is tempered and ready to use!

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson

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