The tastiest treats are made of sweet, decadent chocolate. But tempering and melting chocolate can scare even the most seasoned pastry chef. If you don't get the temperature just right and keep it there - it can spell disaster.
But Enter the compound melting chocolate- the saving grace of many a home cook - myself included. Compound chocolates are not made with pure coco butter -which you MUST temper. Instead the compound melting chocolate still delivers the great melting chocolate taste but in most respects a superior melting chocolate because you don't have to temper it.
What's all this talk of tempering?
Tempering is the process of heating chocolate to a specific temperature and holding at that temperature for a period of time.
Why Temper Melting Chocolate?
Well because if done correctly, the final result is a melting chocolate that when cool will harden into an extremely stable form with a nice sheen that gives that great choco snap when broken and will keep for months at cool room temp.
So for all you kitchen nerds like me- here are the details and the science behind it.
Oh Coco Butter --- I love You and I hate You
When heating chocolate you have to be careful to heat it to the correct temperature. Thanks to the sensitive nature of the coco butter it's super easy to burn or to have seize up.
Cocoa butter melts at just about body temp - which is no surprise if you've ever held a chocolate bar in your hands- it starts to melt right away. Heating the melting chocolate at too high a temperature it will either burn or the excessive heat will cause the melting chocolate to it sieze, meaning it separates into liquid cocoa butter and clumps of cocoa powder. UGH!
Further complicating matters - you'll find that different melting chocolates can be heated to different temperatures. Where as semisweet and bittersweet melting chocolate which is typically found in baking chips and chocolate bars can be heated to a higher temperature--- milk chocolate and white chocolate heated to the same temp will either seize or burn.
When professional confectioners melt chocolate, they tend to use a candy thermometer, keeping the dark melting chocolate between 100°F - 120°F and milk melting chocolate or white choco at no higher than 115°F.
Ugh it's so tehcnical... no worries- you probably don't need the thermometer. You have a built in thermometer - just stick your finger into the bowl of melted chocolate - it should feel no warmer than your skin - a nice 98.5 unless you're running a fever ;).
From Melted To Solid
When melted chocolate cools and re-solidifies it forms a crystalline structure. Now, here's the tricky part - the density of the crystal structure is dependent upon the temperature at which it forms. For example if I heat a batch of chocolate to the correct temp. and just let it cool on its own - the crystals formed by the fat in the coco butter will be loose - the resulting chocolate will be soft and pliable, dull and worst of all it will be greasy to the touch- because the fat was never allowed to reintegrate correctly.
Now, on the other hand, if while cooling, the chocolate is kept at a consistant 88°F (31°C), the loose crystal structure is not allowed to form (88°F is above the formation point of the loose crystals). At the 88 degree sweet spot temp- the cocoa butter will form a dense crystalline structure. The chocolate must be kept at temperature and stirred. If done correctly many, dense stable crystal structures will form in the chocolate. Then when the chocolate fully cools - after a sufficient amount of time being stirred at temp - if there are enough stable seed crystals, then the chocolate will harden into a very stable hard chocolate with a slight sheen, snap when broken, and will keep for months at cool room temperature.
Tempered melting chocolate is extremely versatile. Chocolatiers using molds, and painting techniques can make the melting chocolate into all sorts of whimsical shapes and creations.
The Many Forms of Melting Chocolate
Melting chocolate comes in may forms, from unsweetened melting chocolate, semi-sweet melting chocolate, bittersweet melting chocolate, milk melting chocolate to white melting chocolate
Did you know - White melting chocolate technically isn't chocolate at all!
Chocolate harvesting and processing is akin to the methods used for coffee. Cacao beans are harvested, dried and roasted prior to being hulled. The beans called cocoa nibs, are then ground and "Chocolate liquor" is extracted. The chocolate factory then must decide which type of melting chocolate to make.
Known as bitter, or cooking chocolate or baking chocolate is pure chocolate liquor mixed with just enough cocoa butter to form a solid substance. Because of its extremely bitter flavor it is typically not consumed as is, but is used in baking as a base and mixed in with sugar and other baking spices. Think brownies or a chocolate cake.
Bittersweet Melting Chocolate
A dark chocolate, slightly sweetened chocolate that must contain a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. Good quality bittersweet chocolates typically are upwards of 60% cocoa solids. However, they can reach up to about 85% cocoa solids- which is considered very dark. Bitter sweet chocolates are characterized by a rich, intense and slightly bitter flavor that is the result of a high percentage of cocoa solids and a low sugar content. Often, Bittersweet chocolate is used in baking and cooking. Although, increasingly often it is now being consumed as is because of the health benefits associated with dark chocolates.
Dark melting chocolate
A high content of cocoa solids and very little milk typifies this slightly sweetened chocolate. It may only contain up to 12% milk solids - any more and it's considered a milk chocolate.
Semi-sweet melting chocolate
The classic dark baking chocolate. Contains often 40-62% cocoa solids and again no more that 12% milk solids.
Sweet dark melting chocolate
Often contains 35-45% cocoa solids, this melting chocolate is a subcategory of dark choco - it is simply has a higher sugar content making for a sweeter chocolate.
Milk melting chocolate
Typically containing 10-20% cocoa solids and more than 12% milk solids. Most often it is consumed as is or is used as a coating, it is less often incorporated into a baking recipe as part of the base.
White melting chocolate
Chocolate made with cocoa butter, milk, sugar, emulsifier, and vanilla. It may surprise you to know that it does not contain any cocoa nibs. Because of the lack of coca nibs it retains an off-white color. As mentioned above, it's technically not a chocolate because of the low content of cocoa solids.
Did you know that the history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica. Chocolate, the fermented, roasted, and ground beans of the Theobroma cacao, can be traced to the Mokaya and other pre-Olmec people, with evidence of cacao beverages dating back to 1900 BC.
Storage of Melting Chocolate
Store chocolate in a cool, dry place in its original wrapping or wrapped in foil. Avoid storing chocolate in the refrigerator. Milk and white chocolates will keep this way for about a year. The darker varieties will keep for several years.
Sometimes chocolate will develop white or gray "clouds" or "blooms" on its surface. This just means that the cocoa butter has separated. While it doesn't look pretty, the chocolate is still perfectly fine to use and if you plan on melting it, no one will ever know the difference.
How To Melt Chocolate
Here are the 2 keys to melting chocolate --- that most people don't know!
The most important thing to remember is that chocolate melts better and faster at lower temperatures.
Never let your chocolate get above 115° F.
If you take your time and are just a bit careful, you'll get it right no problem now that you know the secret --- low temp and a little time.
The best and most widely used method is using a double boiler. You'll place a slightly larger pot that holds the chocolate that over another pot filled with about an inch of simmering water. There are double boilers that you can purchase, but you don't really need to. Using a heat proof bowl big enough to be suspended over a pot without its bottom touching the simmering water, will get you the same effect - on the cheap. It's what i do when i melt chocolate - works out well every time. You'll want to just simmer the water, constantly stirring the chocolate. As soon as the chocolate begins to melt you'll want to pay extra attention. Keep stirring, and once most (3/4) of the chocolate has melted, pull it off the heat and keep stirring. The rest of the chocolate should easily melt from the residual heat. If it needs a bit more help, pop it over the double boiler for another couple seconds.
One word of caution --be super careful not to get any water into the chocolate. Even a drop of water will turn your melting chocolate into a grainy, and unappetizing clump. Admittedly I've done it before - accidents happen. In case you do --- you can stir back in a little vegetable oil into the chocolate in order to make it smooth again. But it does affect the flavor and consistency a bit. Best bet here is just not to get any water in in the mix in the first place.
Alternatively, you can melt chocolate in a dry oven. Place grated chocolate in a metal bowl and place it in an oven set at 110° F (if your oven doesn't go that low, use the lowest temperature and keep the door ajar). Your chocolate will melt in about an hour.
You can also use your microwave. Put you melting chocolate in a heat proof bowl, and pop it in for 5-10 seconds. Remove and stir well. The first time in the microwave you can probably go 10 seconds -- the closer it is to melting, the less time you want to put it in. The Micro is easy but you can also easily over heat and burn the chocolate. --- short bursts of heat are best.