To temper or not to temper, that is the question

When making conventional chocolate, it is usual to carry out a process called tempering. This is essentially a process of heating then cooling your liquid chocolate, which changes the structure and properties of the finished product. When making raw chocolate, such as our basic raw chocolate recipe, this tempering stage is usually missed out.

It's All About The Crystals

During the process of making chocolate, the fat in the cacao butter forms up to 5 types of crystal, each with varying properties. The uncontrolled formation of these crystals can lead to a wide range of them developing, which can result in a matte or mottled surface to the chocolate. It can also cause the chocolate to be crumbly when broken, rather than snapping. Tempering chocolate is the process through which the range of crystals is reduced, with a finished product that consists mainly of type V crystals, the most stable.

Chocolate is tempered for the following reasons:

  • Improved appearance, with a glossy sheen that is maintained over time
  • Improved texture, so the chocolate does not turn grainy or crumbly over time
  • Shelf stable, ie does not need to be kept in the fridge
  • Improves shelf life, appearance and texture do not degrade so quickly over time

making raw chocolateThe process of tempering goes something like this.

From the working temperature of your melted chocolate 88 - 90ºF, you raise the temperature up to 118 - 120ºF, which ensures all types of crystal are melted. Next you bring it back down to 79 - 81ºF, allowing the type IV and V crystals to form. Lastly you bring the temperature back up to 88 - 90ºF destroying the type IV crystals and leaving mainly the desired type V behind. Any excess heating at this stage may destroy the temper, and require the process to be repeated. You can then finish working with the chocolate pouring in to your chocolate moulds, etc.

Problems With Tempering

When you look at the process involved, the first potential issue that springs to mind when dealing with raw chocolate, is that of the upper temperature, 118 - 120ºF.

There is currently no strict definition for raw food/chocolate, but the upper figure typically quoted is around 104ºF (40ºC) - 115ºF (46ºC). So you can see that the upper temperature used when tempering is too high to fit with the common raw temperature ranges.

As mentioned above, untempered chocolate will degrade considerably over time compared to tempered chocolate. This results in the mottled white surface, known as chocolate bloom. While not generally affecting the taste directly, it does reduce the appeal of the chocolate considerably. The same is true for poorly tempered chocolate, where bloom can form after just a day or two, with the texture becoming grainy.

If the upper temperature is too high, is it possible to temper raw chocolate?

When you look around there are certainly a number of products available that are called raw chocolate and seem to exhibit the properties of a well tempered chocolate, primarily being shelf stable. Now I'm not saying that these products aren't raw, what I'm saying is that I'm unsure how they do it.

From my limited experience of tempering, I've not yet been able to temper raw chocolate successfully. My tempering involved using a ban marie and a cold water bath, along with a thermometer, constantly stirring and needed about 3 pairs of hands! The chocolate did temper, but the temperature was difficult to control. It went above 115ºF (it probably went quite a bit above 120ºF), then went much lower than 79ºF, thickening virtually solid in the process. The results were mediocre to say the least, but the bars were shelf stable. They also showed bloom after a couple of days and the flavour wasn't the best I've eaten by a long way. Certainly not to my taste or something I'd happily put my name to and I couldn't possibly call the result raw chocolate.

Chocolate Tempering MachineThe whole process would have been a lot easier if using an electronic tempering machine, where the temperatures were controlled by thermostats. I'm confident that the finished product would most likely not have bloomed and would have tasted better. Would it give me the pleasure I get from eating raw chocolate, I don't know. But seeing as I don't have the equipment, it's still an unknown.

Using a tempering machine, it would also be possible to test using an upper temperature of 115ºF or less, thereby keeping within the raw limits. This might be an issue in itself though, as the higher temperature that you take chocolate to also drive out moisture. So a lower temperature will drive out less moisture, which combined with a higher moisture content due to the beans never having been roasted, this could pose further problems.

Wrapping Up

In all honesty, on a daily basis when making raw chocolate at home, I'd never consider tempering. It simply isn't worth the effort and the results of untempered raw chocolate are amazing. After all, I wouldn't be doing this if that wasn't the case. If you keep your raw chocolates somewhere cool, such as in the fridge, then I'm confident you will not suffer from degrading before you eat them all up!

I'm still undecided if it's actually possible to properly temper raw chocolate while keeping the upper temperature below that all important 115ºF mark. More experimenting is clearly in order, which means I'm just going to have to make more raw chocolate, so it's not all bad.

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