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Temper, Temper

May 16, 1996|PHIL ANDRES

Working with chocolate is a lot like working with children. If chocolate is well-tempered, it will be sweet and wonderful. If not--well, it's just not pretty. Similarly, you need to coddle and cajole chocolate to get it to do what you want, particularly if it's to be used for molding, coating or dipping. And, no, child psychology doesn't work here either.

The best tool to ensure well-tempered chocolate is a chocolate thermometer. A thermometer is necessary because specific temperatures must be reached--or avoided--for the chocolate to achieve the proper consistency.

Special chocolate thermometers are available, but any thermometer will do if it has the right features. The device should be easy to read and must register temperatures from at least 50 to 140 degrees. It should also register changes in temperature quickly because the chocolate could burn--or fall out of temper.

To start the tempering process, melt the chocolate completely over a pot of hot water, monitoring the temperature of the chocolate to ensure that it does not scorch. (Dark chocolate scorches at 120 degrees, milk chocolate at 115, white chocolate at 110.)

Next, quickly reduce the chocolate's temperature to encourage proper crystallization (to 82 degrees for dark, 78 for milk, 75 for white) by placing chocolate over--not in--a bowl of ice or ice water. (Water should never touch tempered chocolate.) Then bring the chocolate up to working temperature (88 degrees for dark, 86 for milk, 82 for white) by again stirring it over a pot of hot water. Once it has reached this point, the chocolate is ready to dip, mold or use as coating.

Chocolate needs to be treated this way because it is an unstable emulsion of cocoa butter and other components. Once the chocolate has melted, several types of crystallization can occur as it cools.

The most stable crystal is the Beta type, because a predominance of Beta crystals gives chocolate a very desirable glossiness and smooth appearance when it sets. If another type of crystal predominates, there will be a tendency for the fat to separate from the emulsion and crystallize as "chocolate bloom," a white patchy coloring on the surface of the chocolate that could well make you lose your temper.

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