In relation to last week’s blog about how chocolate snaps, we thought we’d give a more intricate, detailed look at why this happens and what differentiates high-quality chocolate from low-grade chocolate on closer inspection.
On a chemical level, chocolate is made up of crystals. There’s six, to be precise, and of them the most desirable crystals are the beta crystals. It’s these that make for well-tempered chocolate.
Tempering chocolate is the method of heating chocolate so it produces a distinctive, clear glossy shine and a snap. When chocolate isn’t tempered properly, often the cocoa fats rise to the surface and make it appear white or grey. If you’ve just bought a fresh bar from a store, when you open it the surface should be glossy, smooth and give a snap when you break it. However, if you were to leave that bar of chocolate in the glove compartment of your car for a couple of days, if the temperature rose, the cocoa fats would ‘bloom’ and rise to the surface. It’s when chocolate looks anaemic like this that people tend to mistake it for being out-of-date and throw it away. Chances are that it’s still perfectly acceptable chocolate – it’s just become un-tempered – it’s just not very attractive and it won’t taste as good.
If you’re a cook who likes to use chocolate to bake with at home, your cooking chocolate should arrive well-tempered, but you’ll need to re-temper it if you’re heating it to use as a coating. You don’t need to worry about tempering chocolate if you’re baking a cake or making chocolate ice cream; it’s really only to preserve chocolate in its best form. When chocolate’s tempered it cools faster, shrinks a little so it’s easier to negotiate moulds and preserves much better. It also tastes a bit better, and snaps in a far crisper fashion. The extra benefits of this are that it raises the chocolate’s melting point, so it won’t melt on contact with your fingers, and it’ll stratify the fats so it’ll have a better long term keeping quality. However, it’s a bit messy and complicated for anyone who simply wants to cook some homemade treats, and there’s ways around tempering if you just want to achieve an attractive glossy coat.
You can dip candies in un-tempered chocolate and then refrigerate them to give a nice shine, just so long as you remove it from the fridge a few minutes before presenting it. The coolness should stratify the fat so it won’t bloom to the surface and look streaky. It’s a much simpler, easier trick to use if you’re not wanting to use the time-consuming thermometer method.