the appetizer:

Make restaurant-quality desserts at home with Indulge by Claire Clark, including recipes for Almond Roches, Hibiscus Jellies with Red Berries, and Black Forest Trifle; plus tips and techniques like Tempering Chocolate.

I Love Desserts

The Secrets of Success:
Tempering Chocolate


Tempering is necessary to bring chocolate back to the correct crystalline form once it has been melted. It is essential whenever you are using chocolate to make decorations or for finishing purposes, such as coating cookies and petits fours or dipping chocolate truffles. When the crystals in the chocolate are stable, it will be firm and easy to work with, whereas if it contains too many unstable crystals it will be uneven and streaky. Tempering encourages the formation of the right kind of crystals.

Successfully tempered chocolate has the following desirable properties:

Undesirable qualities are:

Before the chocolate can be tempered, it needs to be melted. Never let it come into direct contact with the heat source: it will burn. The best way to melt it at home is in a bowl placed over a pan of gently simmering water. Here are the correct melting temperatures for chocolate:

You will need a chocolate thermometer in order to get accurate readings of the temperatures. Domestic chocolate tempering machines are available. They are not cheap but they do work very well, and are worth considering if you plan to do large amounts of chocolate work regularly at home.

Although many recipes in this book need only a little tempered chocolate for decoration, 300g/10-1/2 oz is specified in the ingredients list, as it's not practical to temper any smaller an amount. Decorations made from tempered chocolate will keep for 3 months in a sealed container in the fridge. Any leftover tempered chocolate can be poured on to a piece of baking parchment, left to harden and then chopped up ready for cooking in recipes.

What follows is a step-by-step guide to tempering chocolate at home.

1. Working in a cool, draught-free environment (ideally the room temperature should be no more than 21 degrees C/70 degrees F), chop the chocolate as finely as you can with a large, sharp knife. Place a little over two-thirds of the chocolate into a clean bowl, preferably a metal one.

2. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the base of the bowl. There should be no water or steam coming up around the sides of the bowl (if any steam or drops of water came into contact with the chocolate, it would 'seize' and be unworkable). The water should be simmering gently, not boiling.

3. Melt the chocolate to the temperature specified above, using a chocolate thermometer to check it. Stir very gently with a spatula as it melts and do not leave it unattended at any time. When the chocolate is nearly two-thirds melted, remove the bowl from the pan of water and place it on a folded dry kitchen cloth. This prevents the bowl sitting directly on the work surface, which would cool it too quickly, and also keeps the bottom of the bowl dry.

4 Continue to stir gently; the heat of the chocolate and of the bowl will help to melt the remaining pieces of chocolate. Add a tablespoon of the remaining chopped chocolate and stir until it has melted. This process is known as seeding. Keep adding a tablespoon of the finely chopped chocolate and stirring gently. The temperature of the chocolate will be reduced. Be careful not to add so much chocolate that it no longer melts. The aim is to reduce the temperature of the melted chocolate by adding small, room- temperature, crystalline pieces of chocolate.

5. When the pieces of chocolate no longer melt, stop adding them. The precrystallising state has now started, the chocolate is beginning to come down in temperature and the crystals are starting to form a stable structure. The chocolate now needs to cool to a temperature of 27-28 degrees C/80-82 degrees F. If you leave the chocolate in a cool place and stir it from time to time, it will come down in temperature by itself. The amount of time it takes to do this depends on the working environment. The cooler the environment, the quicker the desirable temperature will be reached—as a rough guideline, it should take about 10-15 minutes on a normal British day or in an airconditioned room. Use the thermometer to keep a check on the temperature.

6. Once the chocolate has reached the correct temperature, it is at a stable level and fully tempered, but it is not at the best temperature for working with. So place the bowl back over the pan of simmering water and bring it up to the working temperature given above. As this is only a few degrees higher and you will be tempering a relatively small amount of chocolate, extreme caution should be taken to avoid bringing the chocolate past the ideal temperature. (If this does happen, simply restart the cooling process and bring it back down to 27-28 degrees C/80-82 degrees F.) I suggest you place the bowl back over the simmering water for only a few seconds, as it will heat up very quickly and retain enough heat to bring the chocolate past the ideal temperature. Remove the bowl after 5 seconds and stir gently, then test with the chocolate thermometer. If it is not at the correct temperature, keep placing the bowl back over the pan of simmering water for only a few seconds at a time until the ideal temperature is reached.

7. You can test the chocolate to see if it has all the desirable qualities by dipping the tip of a knife into it and placing the knife in a cool place. It should set in an even manner, be free of white streaks and have a high shine and gloss. If it's not right, simply start the tempering process again.

8. Keep the bowl of tempered chocolate resting on the folded kitchen cloth while you work with it according to the instructions in your recipe. If it begins to cool down, you can warm it again so long as it does not go past the working temperature.

Tempering Chocolate in a Microwave

The microwave is a fast way of tempering a small amount of chocolate (but never less than 250g) but you need to be very careful, as the chocolate is more likely to burn. Follow the steps described above but use the microwave to melt the chocolate and bring it back to working temperature. It is vital that the microwave is on half power. Melt the chocolate gradually, just a few minutes at a time and, when you are trying to achieve the working temperature, just a few seconds at a time. Stir the chocolate frequently during the melting process.


Making Chocolate Curls

It does take a while to get the technique right for chocolate curls but, once you have mastered it, it becomes a quick garnish for so many desserts and cakes. The secret is having the chocolate at the right temperature and using a lower-quality chocolate, such as baker's chocolate, that contains vegetable fat and not cocoa butter. This allows the curls to roll and not splinter as you make them.

You will need a cheese sheer to form the curls. Simply pull the sheer flat over the smooth side of a large block of chocolate so that it peels off in a curl. It's worth buying a couple of blocks of chocolate so you can practise until you have perfected your curls—you will need a block weighing about 250g to make decent ones. Keep the chocolate at room temperature before use. If it seems a little soft, firm it in the fridge for 5-10 minutes; if it splinters and refuses to curl, place the block in a warm place, such as near a radiator or a turned-on stove.

You can store the curls in a sealed plastic container in the fridge. They will keep for at least four weeks.



You may wonder why I recommend piping almost everything into moulds or on to baking trays. It is a question of uniformity. Once you have mastered the art of controlling a piping bag, it allows you to pipe even amounts of a mixture, whether it is mousse, meringue, choux paste, cream or sponge batters. This yields regular portions and consistently neat and uniform shapes, such as eclairs, meringue discs and cream rosettes.

Using a Piping Bag

1. Until you become skilled in using a piping bag, it does help to cut off the end of the bag to insert the piping nozzle. Cut the bag, insert the nozzle, then fold the bag back where the nozzle is and secure with a bulldog clip to keep it in place, so nothing can leak out.

2. Fold back the top of the piping bag over your left hand (assuming you are right handed) and make the opening as wide as possible. For beginners, this can be done by placing the bag in a large measuring jug and folding the top of the bag over the rim of the jug; this leaves both hands free to fill the bag.

3. Fill the bag using a spoon or ladle, but take care not to fill it too high; about half way is sufficient. If the bag is too full, it will be difficult to control.

4. Take the bag from the jug and seal the top by bringing the opening together and twisting it closed. Clench it tightly in your right hand, making sure your hand is sitting firmly around the top of the bag where it meets the filling. This is very important, as the pressure needs to come from the top of the bag. If you squeeze from the middle, the mix above your hand will travel up the bag and come out of the top, which is not being held closed by your hand.

5. Now hold the bag pointing downwards towards the baking sheet or vessel you are filling and squeeze gently. This needs to be a controlled motion. The more firmly you squeeze, the quicker the mix will come out of the bag. Do not squeeze the bag until it is in the glass or 2.5cm/1-inch from the baking sheet. To stop the mix coming out, simply stop the pressure and lift the tip of the bag upwards.

6. As the bag empties, remember to move your grip on the top of the bag so it is always firmly on top of the mix.

A good way to practise is to use Trex or other vegetable shortening. It is soft enough to pipe straight from the fridge but firm enough to control. Simply pipe out different shapes, such as buns or fingers, on a worktop. You can keep scraping it up and refilling the bag for as long as it takes to master the art.

Making a Paper Piping Bag

If you are piping small amounts of chocolate, you can make a paper piping bag, as follows:

1. Cur out a rectangle of baking parchment approx- imately 25 x 20cm/10 x 8 inches. Cut the rectangle in half diagonally to make 2 triangles.

2. Using one triangle, place it flat on the work surface so the right angle of the triangle is pointing towards your right elbow (assuming you are right handed). Curl the top point over to meet the right angle and form a cone shape.

3. Wrap the remaining long side around the outside of the cone, making sure the point of the cone doesn't come open.

4. Fold the points over twice to secure the cone.

Remember not to overfill the piping bag with chocolate, or it will be difficult to handle and will come out of the top of the bag. After filling the bag, roll the top down to secure the chocolate inside whilst piping. Snip the pointed end of the cone to make a small opening—the wider the opening, the thicker the chocolate piping will be.


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This page created April 2008