When you bite into one of these exquisite chocolates, the delicate shell gives way to reveal a rich ganache in the center which you can flavor with liqueurs, extracts, caramels, chilis, fruit purees, sea salts, candied zests and beyond. For just a little bit of time over three days, you’ll watch them evolve! Make sure you read the directions thoroughly!
What is Tempering?
Working with chocolate is a tricky business because each type of crystal forms or sets at a different temperature. Chocolate that has not been tempered will react to heat and humidity more dramatically or when stored for any length of time (this is what happens when chocolate goes white or “blooms”). It can also feel rough or tacky and have a chewy, cake-like texture.
Tempered chocolate on the other hand is heated to specific temperatures and specially cooled, (giving it a precise crystal structure). This makes it shelf stable and gives it a beautiful shine, snap and texture. And it is so silky smooth in the mouth!
Can you use just any chocolate?
Couverture is the preferred chocolate for tempering and enrobing truffles, bonbons and other fine candies. It contains a greater percentage of cocoa butter relative to the other ingredients and has been ground to a finer texture during the production process. [Callebaut, Lindt, Guittard, Vahlrona and Scharffen Berger are all wonderful couverture chocolates].
Milk and white chocolate can be tempered too; they just need slightly different handling, mostly with their temperatures (a subject for a future post).
Try and avoid chocolate chips: Most contain soy lecithin to help them hold their shape when baked but make them trickier to temper.
Useful Tools for Tempering
A bain marie or double boiler (a container holding hot water into which a pan is placed for slow cooking)
Probe thermometer For quick, accurate digital temperature readings
Polycarbonate molds Allows you to have fine detail and design to your molded chocolates and truffles. The polycarbonate material will not warp or flex, lasting a lifetime.
To Do Ahead
Clean and thoroughly dry your polycarbonate mold (you can also use plastic or silicone candy molds for this: just make sure they can lay flat).
You will be pouring the chocolate into your mold and then turning it upside down and letting it drip out (leaving a chocolate shell behind). You can use a large bowl to catch the chocolate drips, or a sheet pan with two dowels set up to raise the mold up. The chocolate is reusable: just chop it finely again, re-melt and you’re good to go!
A Rule You Must Not Ignore
Chocolate is absolutely ruined if it comes in direct contact with even the tiniest drop of water (it will have a dramatic seizure…hard to recover from). Keep your work stations dry. Have a dishtowel ready to wipe the condensation off the bottom of the bowl when it comes off the bain marie. Check that the tools you are using are completely dry as well. If you get your hands chocolate-y and wash them, dry them completely afterward.
One Final Note
Temperature is all-important when tempering. Invest in a reliable probe thermometer (I got mine for $8.99) and watch it carefully when you’re tempering. Shut off your phone. Remove all distractions. Feed the dog and fill the bird feeder ahead of time. If you learn nothing else from me on this, learn that!
2 cups (340 g) couverture chocolate (any amount will do, but small amounts are much harder to work with temperature-wise).
Finely chop the chocolate and place two-thirds of it in the top of a bain marie (double boiler) without letting the chocolate bowl touch the water. Set the other third of the chocolate aside. In the bottom pot of the bain marie, put about an inch of water and turn your burner to simmer. You’re going for a gentle heat here. Stir every few minutes until fully melted.
Put your probe thermometer in the chocolate bowl. When the temperature reaches 115°F, lift the pot off the heat, wipe the bottom of the pot with a dishtowel and place it on a folded dishtowel or potholder on the counter. Doing this will help you control the temperature as it will cool too quickly if it comes in contact with a cold counter.
Pour half of the remaining third of chocolate into the melted chocolate. Stir it until it melts and then add remaining chocolate, stirring again until completely melted. Insert your probe thermometer and watch for it to hit between 88-90°F. (This usually takes between 2-10 minutes). These temperatures are important, so make sure you follow them exactly. This method of tempering is called the “seed method.”
Once the chocolate temperature reaches the sweet spot of 88-90°F, pour the melted chocolate into your mold. Tap on every side of the mold to help the chocolate settle into the mold, and then use a bench scraper (or the flat edge of a knife in a pinch) over the top, sluffing the extra back into the bowl.
Turn the mold upside down immediately over your drip zone (see notes above) and let the excess chocolate drip out. While you have the mold upside down, use the bench scraper again, keeping the mold as level as you can.
Leave the mold to drip upside down on a rack on top of a sheet pan. Check the temperature on the remaining chocolate. If it has only dropped a few degrees (no lower than 84°F), you can put it on the bain marie to bring it back up to 88°F and then pour it into a second mold.
If the temperature is below 84°F, you’ll need to put the chocolate back on the bain marie, bring the temperature back up to 115°F and seed it again with additional chocolate until it returns to 88°F. Once the temperature is back to 88°F, pour the chocolate into the second mold and repeat the same scraping/dripping procedure.
[I’ve found that if I “pour and scrape” quickly, I can usually get both molds filled without having to retemper the chocolate].
After 15 minutes, the chocolate in both molds should have set. Turn the molds right side up, cover them lightly with plastic wrap and leave in a cool room (ideally around 65°F) overnight.
Dark Chocolate Ganache for the Center
7-1/2 oz (220 g) semi-sweet or bittersweet dark couverture chocolate, chopped fine
3/4 cup + 3 T (220 g) heavy cream
3 T (45 g) whole milk
(45 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
Flavoring of your choice*
*WAYS TO FLAVOR YOUR GANACHE
Since chocolate is such a dominant flavor, the key is to match it with intense flavors! There are three main ways to do this: infusing the cream, adding a fruit puree (before adding the cream), or adding a liquor, liqueur or extract after adding the cream.
1. Infusing the Cream
Fresh herbs: basil, mint, culinary-grade lavender, rose geranium, thyme
Spices: cinnamon stick, star anise, vanilla bean, chili peppers, sea salt
Teas: jasmine, licorice spice, green teas, Earl Grey, black teas, spice teas
Coffees: espresso beans, cocoa nibs
Citrus zests: lemon, orange, grapefruit, blood orange
Misc.: Toasted coconut, toasted nuts/seeds
Quantities and Infusion Times
Experiment with hot versus cold infusion for different ingredients, and experiment with quantities and infusion times. Keep in mind that a too-strong infusion can always be diluted with more cream and that ganache needs an extra strong or double-strength infusion since it will be mixed with chocolate.
8-10 hours ahead, add spices or herbs to the cream mixture. Once the solids are strained out of the cream, you can heat a cold infusion to make a ganache (see below) or ice cream base, etc., without losing the fresh, bright flavor obtained from the cold infusion.
Combine the flavor ingredient with the cream and heat until scalded. Remove from heat and cover, letting steep for 5-30 minutes, to your taste. Strain and discard the flavor ingredients.
2. Add a Fruit Puree to the Chocolate
Adding fruit puree will make your ganache a bit looser, but it can be a tasty way to add sweetness and tang. Choose fruits with strong flavors like raspberry, strawberry, cherry or passion fruit. You’ll want to add it to the chocolate BEFORE adding the warm cream.
3. Spike Your Ganache with Liqueurs or Extracts
Stir in a potent flavored liquor or liqueur while the ganache is still warm. Whisk until fully combined and let cool completely.
OK, ONTO MAKING THE GANACHE!
Chop the chocolate into fine pieces and set aside in a small bowl.
Choose your flavoring method and prepare accordingly. (See descriptions above).
In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream/milk mixture to scalding and immediately turn off the heat. Pour the heavy cream over the top of the chocolate and let it sit for a moment before stirring. Once the chocolate has melted and been stirred, add the room temperature butter and blend the ganache (immersion blenders are great for this, but a hand mixer will do as well).
Pour the ganache into a piping bag and insert a probe thermometer. It’s important that you wait to pipe it until the temperature has cooled to around 84°F.
Bring out your molds and pipe the chocolate into the tempered chocolate molds, leaving a 1/8″ space from the top. Once piped, cover the molds with plastic wrap and set it in a cool room (ideally around 65°F) overnight.
Sealing the Truffle
On day 3, make another batch of tempered chocolate and pour it on top of the molds to seal the truffle. Scrape the top with a bench scraper and let the truffles set, right side up, for around an hour or so.
To remove the truffles from the molds, lay a piece of parchment paper down on the counter and turning the mold upside down, tap one horizontal edge firmly on the counter. Repeat as necessary until all the truffles have released.
Fun Tip for Leftover Ganache:
Let it set in the fridge in a bowl and then roll balls with a scoop or spoon. Use the palms of your hands to round them out and then dip them in powdered sugar, cocoa powder, peppermint bits, finely ground chocolate, ground up cookies…whatever you like! (See photo on top of page).
Many congratulations: you’ve done it!! Time to settle back and enjoy!!
Many thanks to August Escoffier Culinary School, Dominique Ansel and King Arthur Flour for your pro tips!