When I first started training as a Pastry Chef, I was terrified of everything. I could happily make a batch of brownie at home but as soon as I was faced with this simple task at work, I would over think it as if it were a science experiment. The batches were 12kg big… that may have had something to do with my irrational fears.
When you first start out as a Chef with no prior training, it’s really strange. Calling people ‘Chef’ instead of their name, having to learn that hierarchy is everything, you learn to take nothing personally and you learn that your head chef can be the most horrible person in the world as well as the most inspiring person; willing to share their wealth of knowledge like an open book. I’m pretty sure I looked like a deer in headlights 99% of the time. I remember times when I was trying so hard to listen to my Head Chef that he would walk away as I was nodding and I literally couldn’t remember a word he’d just said.
After 6 hard months, I felt like I was finally settling in. Baking 600 pieces of shortbread was a walk in the park now; turning burning hot trays without hitting your face was an art form. However, every time I felt comfortable in my job; there came another skill I was yet to master. Little did I know back then, that this is the part of my job I love the most. The unknown. The fact that there will always be something I haven’t learnt. So many skills and so much knowledge waiting for me.
I can happily admit that tempering chocolate was one of the skills that disagreed with me the most. I first learnt to temper chocolate for chocolate dipped strawberries. Every night I would read my amenity report for the following morning. My eyes would wander over the words ‘chocolate dipped strawberries’ and my heart would fall into my stomach.
It sounds so stupid thinking back on it; its only chocolate dipped strawberries! Whenever I tried my hand at tempering, my chocolate would seize up and inevitably be too cold. Back then, I thought chocolate was the devil and it was something I would never get the hang of. I hated it.
It’s so funny that now, working with chocolate is one of my favourite jobs. Before I trained as a Chef I had no idea that chocolate could have so many complex flavours; some bitter and fruity and some that have hints of caramel. You can create a variety of different delicious products once you master the art of tempering chocolate.
There are a number of ways you can temper chocolate. My two favourite are seeding and tabling. Tabling requires pouring out 2/3 of your melted chocolate onto a marble slab and cooling it down before adding it back into your original chocolate. Most home cooks don’t have marble slabs, so I’m going to explain how to ‘seed’ your chocolate instead.
I will go into more detail about seeding below, in the method for this beautiful chocolate bark.
Chocolate bark is both a great way to practice your tempering skills as well as personalise something delicious to your own tastes. You’re basically customizing your own chocolate bar.
You can go naughty or nice with this recipe. If you’re feeling good; go for 70% dark chocolate and top with roasted nuts and dried fruit. If you’re feeling cheeky; go for good quality white chocolate and all the treats you can get your hands on.
- 500g good quality chocolate of your choice
- a few handfuls of your choice of topping; roasted nuts, pretzels, crushed sweets, chopped dried fruit
- an electronic temperature probe
A bit about the ‘seeding’ method before we start:
- Tempering chocolate is where you melt and cool chocolate to align the fat particles so that your chocolate can set at room temperature. By tempering your chocolate, when it sets, it should be shiny and have a good ‘snap’ when broken.
- The seeding method – You melt 2/3 of your total chocolate mass and cool it by adding in the remaining 1/3 of chocolate. The chocolate you add in must already be tempered. When you add the tempered chocolate pieces (your seed) it acts as a catalyst, cooling and tempering the melted chocolate around it. You’re then left with fluid melted chocolate that is tempered. You can now work with this to create moulded chocolates, enrobed chocolates or chocolate bars.
- Please use good quality chocolate to temper with, not supermarket snacking chocolate. If you can get hold of couverture chocolate, even better as it has been formulated for tempering.
- Tempering chocolate is different for different types of chocolate. Dark, milk and white chocolates all have different setting and working temperatures. I will explain and list these below.
Lets get tempering!
- Line a baking tray with a sheet of baking paper.
- Take 350g of your chocolate and melt to: 45-50°C for dark or milk chocolate, or 45°C for white (no hotter or your chocolate will burn.)
- Once melted, begin by adding your remaining 150g of chocolate all at once. Stir constantly until all the chocolate is melted. This agitation is needed to temper the chocolate as well. Continue to stir the chocolate and test the temperature of your chocolate every now and again.
- Different types of chocolate have different working temperatures (temperature that the chocolate shows if it’s tempered or not.) Dark chocolate is 30-31°C, milk chocolate is 29-30°C and white chocolate is 28-29°C. Once your chosen chocolate reaches this temperature, take a piece of baking paper and dip it into the chocolate. Leave this on the worktop for 1-3 minutes. After this time, you’ll be able to see if the chocolate is tempered or not. The chocolate shouldn’t bend and should be reflective (shiny) with no streaks. If your chocolate has white streaks through it, it has ‘bloomed’. This means that the chocolate isn’t properly tempered and the fat has come to the surface. Unfortunately, you’ll need to start the process again with more seed chocolate. This can also occur after your tempered chocolate has set. If the room temperature becomes too hot, it will bring the chocolate out of temper.
- Once your chocolate is tempered (yay), pour out onto the prepared baking tray and sprinkle with your desired topping. Leave to set for at least 1-2 hours.
Quick breakdown of temperatures
- Dark Chocolate: Melt to 45-50°C. Add seed chocolate. Stir and cool to 30-31°C.
- Milk Chocolate: Melt to 45-50°C. Add seed chocolate. Stir and cool to 29-30°C.
- White Chocolate: Melt to 45°C. Add seed chocolate. Stir and cool to 28-29°C.