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Tempered chocolate is chocolate which has been heated and specially cooled so that it forms a precise crystal structure. Most chocolate available for sale is tempered, and it can be recognized by a glossy appearance and pleasing “snap” when broken or bitten into. As a general rule, a home cook does not need to temper chocolate unless he or she is making chocolates, and most cooks use a chocolate tempering machine. It is possible to temper chocolate by hand, but the process is painstaking.
The primary reason to temper chocolate is to change the texture and make it more shelf stable. Tempered chocolate is less likely to develop an unsightly bloom as a result of exposure to excessive cold or heat. It also has an appealing sheen, and a unique texture. Chocolate which has not been tempered tends to be almost chewy, rather than crisp. Tempered chocolate, and sweets made with it, simply taste better.
The structure of chocolate is created by the cocoa butter in the chocolate. When chocolate is melted and then allowed to solidify, the cocoa butter forms a distinctive crystal structure. By being kept at a certain temperature as it cools, the structure will be radically different, creating tempered chocolate. Tempering is a two stage process, involving melting the chocolate down and then holding it at a set temperature while it cools and is worked with.
Chocolate can lose its temper, which is why cooks retemper chocolate to make chocolate sweets such as dipped fruits and filled chocolates. With the use of a tempering machine, tempered chocolate is very easy to make. The chocolate is broken up and melted before seed pieces of already tempered chocolate are stirred in. The mixture is kept at the right temperature electronically, and is ready for use.
To make tempered chocolate by hand, start by breaking chocolate into chunks and heating it in a double boiler until it melts, not allowing it to exceed 133 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius). Next, take the chocolate off the boiler, stir in a few pieces of “seed” chocolate, and keep the chocolate warm with the use of a hot pad while you stir it so that it cannot solidify. If you do not have a hot pad, dip the chocolate in and out of the double boiler. For dark chocolate, hold the temperature at around 88° Fahrenheit (31° Celsius). Milk chocolate should be kept at 86° Fahrenheit (30° Celsius), while white chocolate prefers 80° Fahrenheit (27° Celsius). Test the temper by spreading a thin layer of chocolate onto a flat surface and cooling it. It should be dry, hard, and glossy. If it is not, retemper the chocolate.
Tempered chocolate can be used to make a variety of candies and chocolate desserts. In all cases, you need to work with the chocolate while it is warm and molten. If the chocolate cools and hardens, retemper it. Tempered chocolate also prefers to be kept totally dry, and even a small addition of water will cause the chocolate to coagulate and "seize," making it useless for chocolate candies.