[photo by John J. Kim/Sun-Times]
Before she was infusing ganache with wasabi and coating marshmallows in pretzel-and-beer brittle, truffle truffle owner Nicole Greene made a living as a Defense Department analyst, briefing policy wonks on high-level security sort of stuff.
So that diagram you see above, that's a little of Nicole Greene the defense analyst coming out.
She was briefing me the hows and whys of tempering chocolate, as background to her guest column and accompanying video in today's Food pages. It was selfishness on my part to ask her to show me; I'd never tempered chocolate before. But I also was hesitant, because what's second nature to chefs is almost always not so much to the rest of us.
"Tempering is really intimidating. In some ways, it still is to me," Greene acknowledged before adding, "It's mostly intuitive."
When you temper, Greene explained, you move chocolate through a temperature range within a compressed time frame -- heat, cool, heat again -- to achieve a certain structure.
Why do it? If you're making candies or truffles, and you want that nice, shiny chocolate coating that, when set, has that certain "snap."
Again, Greene empasized, the process was mostly intuitive; no two pastry chefs temper the exact same way. But she quickly showed me and of course, she made it look easy. And then I went home and did it and ... success.
A few points: A thermometer is key (for me and you, at least; pros like Greene can do without). Keeping even the tiniest drop of water out of the chocolate is essential.
Here's Greene's method, which I hope works for you, too:
Start with high-quality chocolate in a dry bowl; set aside a small handful or chunk of chocolate for later. You'll see why.
Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and heat until about 90 percent of the chocolate is melted and the temperature hits about 123 degrees for dark chocolate (118 or 119 degrees for white).
Remove the bowl from heat and stir gently to melt the rest of the chocolate.
Then take that unmelted chocolate you've set aside -- in pastry chef parlance, this is your "seed" -- and toss it into the bowl. This chocolate, which already is tempered, "is going to give the melted chocolate a way to behave," Greene said.
Stir until melted; check the temperature again. When the melted chocolate cools to around 90 or 91 degrees, you've reached the tempered state.
"Flash" the bowl over a burner just a few times to warm it a few degrees, and you're done.
The chocolate should look satiny and shiny and, when it sets, will have that snap.