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After shopping for bulk chocolate, specialized molds, and fancy packages, you might be ready to roll up your sleeves and make your first batch of chocolates. Unfortunately, unless you moonlight as a chocolatier, making candy from scratch might prove to be more difficult than you anticipated. Fortunately, you might be able to avoid disaster by learning a few tricks of the trade. Here are two tips for a successful experience, so that you don’t waste expensive ingredients and loads of free time:
1: Temper, Temper, Temper
Have you ever wondered why the chocolate you buy at the store is shiny, smooth, and snaps when you break it? Although you might assume that your favorite candy maker uses some kind of carefully guarded recipe, the secret might lie in the way that the chocolate was temperature controlled.
Fine chocolate is usually tempered, or heated and cooled to reorganize the crystalline pattern of the cocoa butter and sugar crystals. After chocolate is tempered, it will sustain the same sheen and texture for a long time and have a slightly higher melting point. Also, because tempered chocolate contains an even distribution of cocoa butter, it tends to taste a little better than the untreated version. Here are two pieces of equipment you will need to temper your chocolate:
- Accurate Kitchen Thermometer: To temper successfully, you will need to evenly melt your chocolate, cool it, and then melt it again to a very specific temperature. For example, dark chocolate needs to be returned to a temperature of between 88°F and 91°F, while milk chocolate tempers between 86°F and 88°F. To avoid destroying your chocolate, you will need an accurate kitchen thermometer. Keep in mind that some thermometers need to be calibrated prior to use in order to work efficiently.
- Double Boiler: To speed up the process, some people simply toss chopped chocolate into a pot or a pan, and then heat it directly against a burner. Although this method might melt your ingredients faster, it might make the temperature more difficult to control. Instead, use a double boiler. If you don’t have one of these specialized cooking instruments, simply place your chocolate in a stainless steel bowl, and then set it carefully over a simmering pot.
As you melt your chocolate, stir it constantly. In addition to helping you to melt your chocolate in the shortest amount of time, stirring will also keep your chocolate from getting too warm in any one spot—preventing scalding. Keep in mind that after your chocolate is tempered, it will set up a little faster, so you will need to work quickly.
2: Don’t Let Your Chocolate Seize
Nothing is worse than stirring your chocolate, only to encounter sudden clumps. Chocolate seizes whenever the delicate balance of chocolate and fats is disrupted. Fortunately, you might be able to avoid this common disaster by keeping water far away from the inside of your chocolate bowl.
In its natural state, chocolate is virtually water-free. Unfortunately, if even one tiny droplet of water makes its way into your melted chocolate, the sugar particles present in the chocolate can become wet, forming disastrous clumps. To fend off trouble, never use wet stirring utensils or allow steam accumulation to drip into your bowl. Pay attention to the consistency of your chocolate as you stir. If you spot clumps, try to stir in a little milk, cream, or melted butter. Adding extra liquid can dissolve the sugar crystals and save your mixture.
By understanding the complexities of chocolate making, you might be able to deliver customized treats to your friends and family members. However, if you can’t get the techniques down, you can always pick up a box of gourmet chocolates from a professional chocolate shop.