Wanna go for a dip?

I’ve come to appreciate chocolate since coming to the Pioneer Valley. While I’m sure part of that has to do with each morsel being savored all the more because they are much fewer and far between (yay, healthy living!), it also has quite a bit to do with the fact that the chocolates I now choose to consume aren’t massively manufactured bars. Instead, they’re little truffles shaped like bees and filled with honey, or blood orange devil faces laced with spices, or balls adorned with hand-piped designs. I almost feel bad eating them, and it has nothing to do with the calories.

In yet another stroke of genius (and purely knowing me well), Boy bought me a seat at Different Drummer’s Kitchen’s chocolate tempering class, where I would learn how to properly melt chocolate that would encase such beautiful confections of my own.

There were only a dozen people in the class because they set up four stations to work on, each with parceled out ingredients and double boilers on portable stove tops. I was paired with a woman and her teenage daughter; they were so much fun to converse (as well as sneak licks of chocolate) with throughout the workshop.

Our instructor, Elyse Slavich, was a delight because she not only had a culinary background but a great interest in the science behind the melting of chocolate. Throwing a bunch of chocolate chunks in a bowl and melting it on the stove (or even – gasp! – in the microwave) would be just fine with me – but then I wouldn’t have chocolate with a sheen, a streakless surface and a demeanor that ends in a SNAP when pressure is applied. All these attributes were due to scientific reasons.

We made peppermint and chocolate-filled truffles and candied orange peels and strawberries dipped in the stuff, all of the dark persuasion.

The reason we went with dark chocolate is because it’s the most forgiving of the chocolates to work with. That was only the first of the tiny knowledge bombs dropped on me that day – and there were so many, that it’s probably best to give ’em to you in a more palatable form.

Trust the process. Yes, it takes time and effort. It is, however, completely worth it. After my bit of tips here I’ll detail the process, but for now just keep the below points in mind as you go forward.

Choose the right chocolate. If ever there were a time to not skimp on chocolate, this is it. Good chocolate will be one hundred percent cocoa butter, which will be somewhat pricier. The less expensive stuff that is not all cocoa butter is cut with cheaper fats, which will mess with the tempering process. Also, use chocolate that is 60% cocoa solids or less. 70% dark chocolate is more acidic, causing the chocolate to behave differently.

Mind your temperatures. Patience is a virtue here, as is a good chocolate tempering or instant read thermometer. Remember that the higher the percentage of cocoa solids in your chocolate, the hotter it must be heated. Elyse provided a chart to abide by (Fahrenheit degrees):

Chocolate      Initial Heating      Cooling Temp            Dipping Temp
White                110                              81                                       86
Milk                   115                               81                                       86-88
Dark                  120                               81                                       86-91

Understand the science. Back to Elyse’s love of the chemical: Tempering chocolate is all about putting it through the ringer, varying temperatures in order to align its crystals correctly. Chocolate is comprised of six crystals, the most desirable being the beta crystals. The development and formation of these crystals makes well-tempered chocolate. Chocolate is tempered when you buy it, but chopping it up and melting it makes it lose the temper and it then needs to be RE-tempered if you truly want to use it as a coating. Thus, you need to get it just right and re-align those crystals.

Get familiar with seeding. A common way to achieve the above is seeding: reserving a quarter of the overall chocolate you’re using, adding it gradually to the melted chocolate after it has reached its ideal heating point.

And now, the nitty gritty: actual tempering! (All written up by Elyse!)

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • 1 lb. (16 oz.) high quality chocolate, chopped fine for melting
  • 1/2 lb. (8 oz) of the exact same chocolate, also chopped (though it doesn’t have to be as fine; this is your seeding chocolate)
  • 1 quart double boiler (or make your own!); just remember that the water in the bottom pot should NOT touch the bottom of the pot containing chocolate
  • 1 ceramic or tempered glass mixing bowl, preferably with high sides and deeper instead of wider
  • Thermometer
  • Dipping tools (or, you know, a fork if you’re like me)

GET IT DONE:

  • Put 16 ounces of chopped chocolate in the double boiler over medium/low heat. The water should be gently simmering.
  • As the chocolate melts, use a spatula to mix it up.
  • Once the chocolate is almost all melted, take a temperature reading. The chocolate can be removed from the heat when it’s three to four degrees away from the Initial Heating temperature, as it will continue to raise in temperature even after its off the heat. Keep checking the temp until this is achieved.
  • Once you take the melting chocolate off the heat, bring a quart or more of water to boil. Once it’s boiled, pour it into your ceramic/tempered glass mixing bowl to warm it. This will help keep your dipping chocolate at a constant temperature.
  • While that’s heating, pour half of your reserved, un-melted, chopped chocolate into the melted chocolate and stir with your spatula. Take a temperature reading. Continue to add the un-melted chocolate into the melted and check the temperature until it cools to the cooling temp.
  • Empty the boil with the formerly boiling water out and DRY IT COMPLETELY. Like, bone dry. One droplet of water will make your chocolate seize up. You don’t want to start this shit over, do you?
  • Pour the cooled chocolate into the aforementioned bowl, and slowly stir it.
  • Take the temperature again to see how close the chocolate is to your target Dipping Temperature. If it’s far below, place the bowl briefly over the hot water from your double boiler that’s still emitting steam to warm it up. We flashed our bowl over the double boiler water (which we kept simmering for heat) twice as we were dipping, so don’t worry if you have to do it repeatedly.

And now, dip away! Always tap excess chocolate off of whatever you dip, and place all dipped pieces on parchment paper to avoid sticking.

Happy tempering!

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