Tempering chocolate is key to producing a high quality chocolate shell that doesn’t bloom and gives a satisfying snap when bitten into! In this Instructables I will talk through the science of chocolate, what it is formed of, and the various crystal structures that explain the need for tempering. I will discuss the various methods of melting and tempering chocolate and give instructions on how the create filled chocolates using polycarbonate chocolate moulds.
Making chocolates is great fun but make sure you keep yourself safe in the kitchen. Always be careful of hot liquids and steam. If using a bain-marie to heat your chocolate be careful of spitting water and avoid building up pressure underneath your bowl. The shelf life suggested here is for guidance only so make your own judgement of how long things will keep. You follow this Instructables post at your own risk!
I apologise in advance for the quality of photography in this instructable - the lighting in my kitchen isn’t great some some shots are poorly lit.
- High Quality Chocolate (See “Step 2: What is Chocolate?”)
For Moulded Chocolates:
- Polycarbonate Chocolate Moulds
For Tempering Chocolate with the Tabling Method:
- Marble Slab
- Offset Spatula (very similar to a palette knife)
- Metal or Plastic Scrapper.
- Glass Bowl
- Quick Read Cooking Thermometer (optional but highly recommended)
For Tempering Chocolate with the Seeding Method:
- Glass Bowl
Cooking Thermometer (optional but highly recommended)
Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.
Step 1: What Is Chocolate?
Everyone loves chocolate and it sounds like we always have! Chocolate was first used as a flavoured drink, formed from a cacao based broth, in Mexico around 1900 BC and was seen as a luxury in maya and aztec cultures. It was first brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus in 1502 after his crew seized a large canoe transporting cacao beans for trade. The cacao broth was sweetened with sugar and honey and later with vanilla by the Americans to make it more appealing. At that time the processing of cacao was very manual but that changed rapidly between the 1600s and 1800s as the industrial revolution developed new processes and equipment, most notably the press. It was off the back of this revolution that the chocolate industry began to grow with many chocolatiers and companies starting in the 19th and 20th century. Chocolate boxes and easter eggs came soon after to help promote sales.
Composition of Chocolate
The processing of the cocoa beans involves a pressing process where the liquid fats, known as cocoa butter, is separated from the cocoa solids. The pressing process produces a large amount of cocoa solids which is often packaged with additives such as sugar or flavourings and sold as cocoa powder for baking or drinking. Only a small amount of cocoa butter is produced in the process making it very expensive.
Dark chocolate you buy from the shops is made up of three main ingredients: the cocoa butter, the cocoa solids / powder, and sugar. The ratio at which these three ingredients are mixed forms the varying qualities, tastes, and textures. Due to the expense of the cocoa butter it is in the interest of chocolate manufactures to reduce the amount of cocoa butter in their products, instead replacing it with cocoa solids. It is however the cocoa butter content that is essential to the quality of a chocolate bar.
A chocolate bar featuring a high cocoa butter content will generally take a better temper giving it a better ‘snap’ when bitten into and a glossy / shiny finish. It is also less viscous when melted meaning it is easier to work with - especially when it comes to enrobing or moulding chocolates.
Chocolate, as you probably know, is usually sold in three main forms: milk, dark, and white. Dark chocolate is comprised of the three ingredients mentioned above. Milk chocolate is very similar to a dark chocolate but includes the addition of milk. (You can make your own milk chocolate from dark chocolate!) White chocolate is not regarded as true chocolate and is instead called a candy or sweet as it lacks one of the key ingredients from the cocoa bean: Cocoa powder. White chocolate is similar to milk chocolate and is formed of milk. cocoa butter, and sugar. It is because of the lack of cocoa solids that white chocolate has its white colour.
Dark chocolate is often advertised with a percentage on the packaging which is describing the combined percentage of cocoa butter and cocoa solids in the chocolate, known as the cocoa content. For example a 70% chocolate bar is 70% butter and solids, leaving the remaining 30% of the bar as sugar. With this information we can easily assess the sugar content of the bar but finding the cocoa butter content is a little more tricky as its very rarely declared! Fortunately there is a useful trick we can use to get a reasonable estimate of the cocoa butter.
Of the three main ingredients in chocolate both the cocoa solids and sugar contain essentially no fats. The fats in a chocolate bar come almost exclusively from the cocoa butter content and so we can approximate the cocoa butter percentage from the nutritional information on the packet! For example, for a bar containing 41g of fat per 100g we can assume, with reasonable accuracy, that the bar contains 41% cocoa butter. This then allows us to compare various chocolates to each other.
To work through an example: The bar in the image above is a 45% Dark chocolate bar with 37g of fat per 100g. This means that it has 55% sugar, 37% cocoa butter, and 18% cocoa solids. Easy!
Choosing a Chocolate
When working with chocolate for making filled chocolates or enrobing fillings we ideally want a high quality chocolate. Typically dark chocolate with a cocoa content (butter + solids) of 70 - 80% is used. Chocolate with 37% cocoa butter and upwards is likely going to be ok for making chocolates but below 35% and you will find that the chocolate is too viscous to work with giving uneven shells and a poor temper. A chocolate with 45% cocoa butter is often used by professional chocolatiers to create premium chocolates. Selecting a chocolate that is suitable for you will depend on taste and budget. I suggest you try a few chocolates and see which works best for you!
Dark chocolate is the most common chocolate to work with as it is the easiest to temper and because it doesn't contain the additional milk that milk and white chocolate has you start with a more pure form of chocolate that you can add to as you see fit.
I will briefly note here that cocoa butter content is not the only factor that determines chocolate quality. The quality of the bean, the roasting and pressing process, and the specific additives amongst other factors will also have an effect.
Forms of Chocolate
The cocoa butter molecules can arrange themselves in 6 different ‘forms’ (sometimes called crystal structures) within the chocolate which affect the appearance, texture and taste. Chocolate bars can consist of just a single form or a mixture of several forms at once, each bringing its own properties. Conveniently we number these structures 1 - 6 (and identify them using roman numerals) in ascending order based on melting point. Below I describe each form of chocolate and I have put the rough melting point of that form in brackets (which will be useful later!). The higher the form number the more stable the chocolate is.
Form I (~17°C) & Form II (~23°C): The first forms of chocolate with the lowest melting point. These forms are soft and crumbly and can only be formed by cooling the chocolate rapidly such as putting it in the fridge or freezer.
Form III (~26°C) & Form IV (~27°C): Both of these forms are firmer than form I and II but do not give a satisfying snap and can exhibit blooming which where the cocoa butter separates from the chocolate and leaves a white residue. While blooming won’t affect the taste of the chocolate it can affect the texture and will look unsightly. Both of these forms require slow cooling of the chocolate at room temperature.
Form V (~34°C): This form of chocolate is shiny, with a smooth texture and satisfying snap when bitten into. It will also melt in your mouth making it ideal for home made chocolates. This form is created through a process called tempering.
Form VI (~36°C): Very hard and melts slowly in your mouth. This form cannot be made from melted chocolate but only by resting Form V chocolate for at least 4 months. This form can exhibit blooming like form III and IV and is often why older chocolate begins to bloom. Due to this conversion process we can put a best before date of around 4 months on chocolate we make. While this works in theory often our fillings will have a shorter shelf life and so become the driving factor.
When creating chocolates we ideally want to create form V crystals exclusively as they give the most desirable properties for chocolate! We do this using a process called tempering which exploits the varying melting points of each structure to leave only form V behind. The basic principle of tempering is to heat the chocolate to 47°C so that it is melted and above the Form VI melting temperature destroying all crystal formations. Once all the crystals are destroyed we can be sure that no unwanted forms are present. We then cool the chocolate to around 27°C where the formation of Form IV and V crystals begin. While cooling the chocolate we use constant motion to promote the creation of crystals and to keep consistency throughout the liquid chocolate. We then heat the chocolate again to 31°C, destroying the form IV crystals leaving only form V behind.
There are two popular methods of tempering chocolate which are the Tabling Method and the Seeding Method.
Step 2: Melting Your Chocolate
Melting the chocolate is the first step in any tempering process and is relatively straight forward. The two key things to keep in mind here are not to burn the chocolate and not to overheat the chocolate. Burning the chocolate has obvious disastrous consequences and is quite easy to do if you aren’t careful (especially in the microwave)! Overheating the chocolate is less problematic but makes it challenging to temper as you need to reduce the temperature of the chocolate much further.
We want to heat the chocolate to just over 47°C which will make sure that all crystal structures are broken down and the chocolate is runny. Don't worry if there are still some unmelted lumps in the chocolate as these will continue to melt after the heat has been removed.
There are two popular methods of melting chocolate: In a microwave or using a bain-marie. The microwave method is the quickest and easiest but you run the risk of overheating or burning the chocolate as you cant monitor temperature during the heating process. Using a bain-marie allows you to monitor the temperature as the chocolate melts and also gives a more gentle heat, however you have to be careful not to let the steam condense into the chocolate. One thing to be careful of is that you wipe any condensed steam off the bottom of your bowl to prevent accidentally getting it in the chocolate. It only takes a few drops of water to ruin a batch of chocolate.
I personally like to use a bain-marie as I feel it gives more control over the melting. You’re also then ready to start tempering as soon as you hit temperature and if you drop under temperature you can very gently add heat by putting your bowl back on the steam.
Step 3: Tempering the Chocolate: Tabling Method
The Tabling method produces a high quality temper very quickly and is the preferred method of tempering among professional chocolatiers. Because of the way that the chocolate is worked on a marble slab you are able to feel the chocolate cooling and respond accordingly meaning there is less chance of having to reheat the chocolate.
The technique requires a reasonable amount of practise but once you have rehearsed the basic motions it becomes much easier and quicker. I highly suggest you watch a few videos on youtube about the process to see it from different angles. I also recommend getting a large bowl because it makes returning the chocolate to the bowl much easier and the bigger your marble slab the less chance you will run out of space (or the more chocolate you can temper at once!) which helps a lot when you first start out. The offset spatula and scrapper will be essential to mastering this technique and so substitute tools may make this more of a challenge. Dont be tempted to refrigerate your marble as this will cause the chocolate to set too fast.
Starting with a full bowl of melted chocolate at 47°C we want to recreate the form V crystal structure. To do that we are going to drop the temperature of the chocolate by placing a portion of it onto a marble slab and spreading it thinly which will result in a temperature of around 27°C. Returning it to the bowl of chocolate will allow us to drop the temperature of the chocolate in the bowl to 31°C. We are aiming for a temperature of 31±1 °C so keep your thermometer handy! The key to the tabling method is to work quickly but also cleanly, so practise the movements before you try it with chocolate.
The first step in the tabling method is to transfer melted chocolate from your glass bowl to your marble slab by pouring it onto the centre of the slab. Use sharp movements and a steep tipping angle to pour the chocolate to prevent drips from forming on the outside of the bowl. For a first ‘Tabling’ we want to pour around 2/3rds of the melted chocolate onto the table.
With the chocolate on the table, use the offset spatula to spread the chocolate thinly over the surface of the marble. Keep the chocolate in constant motion to promote the creation of crystal structures.
Once spread thinly across the marble, the chocolate will begin to cool rapidly and so we do not want to leave the chocolate in this state for more than around 30 seconds. To avoid cooling too much we bring the chocolate back into a pool in the the centre where it will be more stable (due to its reduced surface area to volume ratio) which gives us time to think. To do this work the chocolate towards the centre using the scrapper cleaning both sides with the offset spatula to prevent drips.
With the chocolate back in the centre we can then work the chocolate back into a thin layer across the marble. You want to complete this process 3 or 4 times before finally returning the chocolate to the centre.
After spreading the chocolate and returning it to the centre 3 or 4 times we are ready to return the chocolate to the bowl. This can be achieved by picking it up between the spatula and scrapper and dumping it back into the bowl. Alternatively you can place your marble slab close to the edge of the workspace and simply scrape all of the chocolate off the slab and catch it in the bowl. The returning process takes a little practice to avoid getting chocolate all over your kitchen!
Mix the returned chocolate back into the chocolate that was left in the bowl well. Keep the spoon / spatula handle vertical to avoid introducing air bubbles to the liquid which may present when you create your moulding.
With the chocolate well mixed take a temperature reading. You will find that the temperature has dropped significantly (likely to around 35°C) but not to our desired temperature of 31±1 °C. To further reduce the chocolate temperature and introduce form V crystals to the remaining chocolate we must repeat the tabling process using only half of the chocolate and finally a third time using only 1/4 to 1/3 of the chocolate depending on the temperature change needed. It is typical for the process to be completed three times however additional tablings may be required depending on your starting temperature, ambient temperature, and chocolate mix.
With the chocolate returned to the bowl and at 31±1 °C we now have tempered chocolate ready for working with.
Step 4: Tempering the Chocolate: Seeding Method
Seeding is an easier but slower and less controlled method of tempering chocolate that often produces a lower quality temper. With the Seeding Method you use unmelted chocolate as a seed crystal and to cool the remaining chocolate but some chocolate will remain unmelted and must be removed before the chocolate can be used.
- Start by taking half of your chocolate and placing it in in a glass jug or bowl.
- Melt the chocolate using your favourite method.
- Take a chunk of your unmelted chocolate and drop it into the melted chocolate.
- Stir the chocolate mix until the chocolate chunk is melted whilst monitoring the temperature.
- Add another piece of chocolate and repeat the stirring until the chocolate mix has reached the targeted 31°C.
- Remove any remaining unmelted chocolate from the mix
Step 5: Creating Your Chocolate Shells
To create our chocolate shells we will require a polycarbonate chocolate mould. Polycarbonate moulds are preferable to silicone moulds as they give a much glossier finish and allow you to see when the chocolates are fully set.
With your liquid chocolate in a temper we need to work fast to produce filled chocolates before your chocolate is too cold. To make the shells we start by pouring chocolate over the mould and using a scrapper to direct it into the cavities. We are aiming to completely fill the cavities at this point.
After a few seconds of having chocolate in the mould invert the mould over your bowl allowing the chocolate to run out. You want to have the mould as close to horizontal as possible so that the chocolate falls out of the mould rather than runs across the top surface. The quicker you complete this process the thinner the created shells will be. A thinner shell gives a more premium style and leaves more space for filling!
With the chocolate out of the mould use your scraper to quickly clean the top and sides of the mould. Refrigerate your shells for around 5 - 10 mins. You are not aiming to set the shells in this time but simply solidify them enough that your filling wont disturb them. Use this time to prep your filling.
Step 6: Creating Your Filling
You can put basically anything you want inside of your shells and what you chose will depend heavily on your preference! Making chocolate fillings could easily be an instructable in its own right and so sits beyond the scope of this article. I hope to in the future return to this instructable to turn each of the bullet points below into a link to an instructable detailing the process of making each filling. There are some top tips to bear in mind when selecting a filling.
The critical parameter of a chocolate filling with relation to shelf life is the water content. Picking fillings that have a high water content will promote bacteria growth. causing them to go off much quicker and require constant refrigeration. Fillings with high fat contents will be much more stable. For this reason I choose to avoid cream in my fillings and instead use butter. By using these ingredients around 2 months shelf life is possible with some fillings.
The other important thing to consider is contamination of your chocolate shells with moisture. Refrigerating the shells brings down the temperature to below room temperature. In humid environments this can cause very small amounts of condensation to form on the inside of the shells as they are removed from the fridge. This moisture becomes trapped in the chocolate with the filling and reduces shelf life. Avoiding fully chilling the shells until they have been sealed can help reduce build up of moisture.
With your filling made transfer it to a piping bag with a small nozzle (or just cut the bag near the tip) and pipe the filling into the shells. The shells should be filled to approximately 2/3rds full leaving a reasonable gap for the bases. Piping the filling helps you to avoid drizzling filling on the mould surfaces where it will need cleaning or potentially contaminate your chocolate. If using a hot filling leave it to chill before piping to avoid remelting the chocolate shells.
Some of my favourite fillings to make are listed below. I hope they can give you some inspiration:
- Strawberry Cream
- Orange Cream
- Nutella / Chocolate Spread
Step 7: Sealing & Setting Your Chocolates
With your chocolate shells filled, pour tempered chocolate across the mould and once again direct into place with your scraper. Use the scrapper to level the top of the chocolates.
Scrape off any excess chocolate form the top and sides of the mould and return to the refrigerator for at least one hour to fully set. You can asses whether the chocolate is set as, when viewed from underneath, the shell will have pulled away from mould.
To remove the chocolates from the mould a sharp tap on a work surface should make them all fall out. I like to lay out a sheet of tin foil or baking paper to catch them with. Chocolates that easily realise from the moulds had a good temper and those that refuse to remove were either poorly tempered or were remelted by a hot filling.
Step 8: Enrobing Chocolates (Optional)
Enrobing chocolates is a good use of spare chocolate if you dont want to keep it for another day as it doesn't limit you to the number of cavities on your mould. The downside is that it is quite wasteful of your tempered chocolate as due to the thermal shock of it hitting your work surface it is unlikely you would be able to reuse it without remelting and repeating the tempering process. The process also requires a centre that is able to support itself and the weight of the molten chocolate and so thicker centres are ideal.
Once you’ve made your centres place them on a wire rack spaced reasonably closely together. You may wish to place some tin foil or baking paper underneath to catch any overflow (there will be lots!). In one smooth motion pour the chocolate over the centres. Depending on how many chocolates you are enrobing you may wish to use a container with a straight edge to get an even coating across all the chocolates.
You may want to decorate the top of the chocolates with some sugar or dried fruits while the chocolate is still liquid.
Step 9: Finish
Thanks for following along with my instructable! I hope you've found it informative and that it has inspired you to create your own filled chocolates or other tasty treats using tempered chocolate. Im excited to see what fillings and ideas you come up with!
All that is left now is to package your chocolates and enjoy them! I like to use clear cellophane bags tied with a ribbon with custom printing to give them a personal touch.
Runner Up in the
Kitchen Skills Challenge