April 27, 2011

How to Prepare Josh Early Chocolate for Dipping: Tempering 101

by Barry C. Dobil Jr.

This Easter we fielded several calls from customers inquiring about how to make their own Easter candies. It's not uncommon for our customers to venture out on their own and attempt to make their own handmade chocolate covered strawberries, pretzels or caramels. Yet, despite their best efforts, they usually end up frustrated and with the question: "Why is my chocolate gray, streaky and crumbly?"

I love fielding these calls because it allows me to share my passion for making confections. It gives me the opportunity to demonstrate the science and art behind candy making.

People often assume all chocolate is the same and that coating a piece of fruit or caramel is as simple as melting, dipping and waiting for it to harden...what they don't realize is that in order to get a great tasting finished piece of chocolate, a precise process called tempering must be followed.

Tempering is the process of delicately heating, cooling and reheating melted chocolate so that it will solidify in a stable crystal form. What we're aiming for here is a shiny piece of chocolate that has a snap to it, and a very smooth mouth feel. What we are trying to avoid is brittle chocolate that looks gray and crumbly.

Chocolate's most notable ingredient is cocoa, in the form of cocoa butter and cocoa powder (side note: it's the ratio of these ingredients that gives you the varying ranges of milk and dark chocolate). In order to have properly tempered chocolate it is imperative that you condition the chocolate at specific temperatures and processes so that the cocoa butter crystals within are uniform in shape and size.

So, how do you temper chocolate? I took a few bags of our Dark Chocolate Breakup home last night and documented the process. This is a variation of how we do it here at the shop and it’s a great way to get the same results at home:

What you'll need:
•At least 3 pounds of quality chocolate (like Josh Early Milk or Dark Chocolate Breakup)
•Food/Cheese Grater
•A double boiler (like this one, here)
•Mixing Bowl (optional)
•Wax paper


• Carefully grind approximately 10% of the chocolate you intend to use by drawing it across a grater. The resulting "seed" should look like ground coffee or thin shavings.

• In a double boiler, melt remaining chocolate to 105°-115°. Stir continuously until smooth.

• Slowly cool chocolate to 91°-93° (for milk chocolate), 92°-94° (for dark chocolate). This can be accomplished quicker by transferring melted chocolate into a mixing bowl.

• Once cooled, add approximately one half of the ground "seed" to the melted chocolate. Stir until chocolate is perfectly smooth and reaches a working temperature of 86°-88° (for milk), 88°-90° (for dark).

• If "seed" melts too quickly and chocolate is above the suggested dipping temperatures, dust the melted chocolate with additional "seed" using less than in the initial procedure. Stir until "seed" is fully dissolved.

• Your chocolate is now "tempered". Dip your desired treat in chocolate and place on parchment or waxed paper lined cookie sheets. If possible, place in a 65° area until chocolate is set.

If you follow these steps, you'll be rewarded with a shiny piece of chocolate that has smooth mouth feel and melt in your mouth consistency. Hopefully, you'll also have a new-found appreciation for the art of tempering chocolate. And while chocolate making can be a labor of love, it can also be very rewarding. Try it for yourself and let us know what you come up with. We love hearing about your unique new ideas, like customers who have told us they've dipped potato chips, espresso beans, and ginger snaps in our chocolate. What are your favorite non-traditional foods to cover in chocolate?