Trying Not To Lose My Temper (Tempering Chocolate)

Plate of assorted truffles

Clockwise from foreground left – Marzipan Snowballs, plain with tempered dark, Crystallized Ginger rolled in Gingersnaps, plain topped with cocoa nibs, peppermint rolled in mint hot chocolate powder, plain.

Marc and I have gone through many truffle travails the last two weeks, and even though I feared we would be defeated, we (Marc mostly) pressed on and prevailed. Among other things, my rather unpleasant ‘flold’ (103 degree flu, sniffly cold), and the general speedy lunacy that is the holiday season, really threw a monkey wrench in our chocolate adventures.

My fantasy, (oh…how naive) was that we’d make a few different flavors of truffles over a couple of days, and ‘tra la la,’ have beautiful pictures for posting and tasty truffles to bestow, well before Christmas. Hmmm…apparently there was another plan at work, and it included me having to take a back seat role for fear of delivering more than just chocolate (i.e. cooties) to our loved ones, FINALLY, we finished the last batch today…December 30th.

Truthfully, we did create some delicious chocolate treats. But they are just a little late. AND we have some good pictures. But they took an inordinate amount of doctoring on Marc’s part to be presentable. Making ganache (truffle filling) is easy, fun and incredibly versatile. If I had really known how much precision is necessary with tempering, I would have practiced and gotten through the learning curve some other time of the year. And just made what we knew worked, right before the holidays.

Temper, Temper

Before we get into truffle making in a general sense, there is a little background you should have on tempering chocolate. All chocolate bars you buy commercially are tempered. They have a clear glossy sheen, and snap crisply when you break them. Whenever you melt chocolate, it loses it’s temper. Meaning that if you just melted it, and then it hardened, the chocolate wouldn’t return to that crisp glossy state. Tempering chocolate is a precise chemical series of events. The effects of tempering come from the formation of beta crystals. When you melt tempered chocolate, you melt those beta crystals, and if you want to re-temper, you need to bring the chocolate up to a high enough temperature to melt completely, but not above 125°, otherwise it’s scorched and can never be tempered again.

Then you need to bring it down to a low, but still melted temperature to encourage the beta crystals to form. Then the key is reheating the chocolate to a particular 2 degree range in order not to let all other detrimental (gamma, alpha, etc.) crystals form, but still maintain beta crystals. Tricky, huh? This guy has a very sciencey take on the process and I learned a lot from him.

Good Temper, Bad Temper

The candy cane and almond truffles at the top have a clear glossy shine. The one on the bottom left didn’t achieve temper and has a splotchy white effect (bloom). Bottom right almond, some of the chocolate is in temper, some is not, so there are swirls of dull with swirls of clear gloss.

Tempering should happen in a double boiler over simmering (not big rolling boiling) water. You should have a big bowl of ice water set aside as well for quick cooling. To maintain heat, without too much heat, some people suggest using an electric heating pad. We didn’t have one, and tried out a hot water bottle. Didn’t seem too effective. In order to melt the chocolate initially, chop it into small, even chunks so it melts quickly and uniformly, but set aside 1/3 of the chocolate chunks. You’ll add them in when you want to bring the melted chocolate down to 84-86°.

So, in the double boiler, bring the chocolate up to temperature, stirring regularly. Cool it down with the other chocolate, stirring. Cool it more in the ice water bath, but stay attentive and don’t let it cool too fast or too much. Then bring it up to maintain that third temperature over the double boiler. If you can rig up some apparatus for maintaining the 2 degree range, great. Otherwise you should move it on and off the double boiler to stay in that range. If you go above or below, you need to start all over with tempering. Bummer, but not the end of the world.

White, milk and dark chocolate have differing chemical make-up, so here are the temperatures you need to achieve for proper tempering of these varieties of chocolate.

For all three, first heat to between 115-120°
Then, with reserved chocolate, cool (all three) to about 84-86°
Raise again to 86-88° for white and milk, and 88-90° for dark, and maintain.

Some things we learned about making truffles and tempering chocolate for the hard outside coating:

1 You must have the appropriate equipment. Making ganache (the softer cream and chocolate filling part) is rather easy, but without a sturdy melon baller to make small enough, compact balls, it’s a big mess and frustrating. The first couple of times we tried tempering dark chocolate, we used a candy thermometer and a meat thermometer. Both are woefully inadequate. You actually need a chocolate thermometer, and here’s why. The temperature range is (at least in the US, since it’s Fahrenheit) 40° to 130°. This is very important since you’ll need to go to 85°, and candy thermometers start at 100°.

Another key factor is that you’ll need to maintain a constant temperature within a 2 degree window. Yes, 2 degrees. The other thermometers are marked in 10 degree increments, so those just won’t work. So if you really want to make truffles and temper chocolate for the coating, you’ll need to invest $20 at a high end cooks’ shop (like Sur la Table or William’s Sonoma) for a chocolate thermometer. Or you could spend a couple thousand on a tempering machine, but that’s a pretty big commitment.

Tempering tools

Tools of the tempering trade: Clockwise from top – double boiler, pretty silicone spatula, truffle spoon, truffle fork, chocolate thermometer with 1 degree increments from 40-130F, binder clip and tape for attaching your thermometer to the side of your double boiler bowl.

Other tools that are important, but slightly less essential are are a professional truffle fork and spoon. When you dip your ganache ball into the tempered chocolate, you need to remove excess chocolate easily, so the two widely spaced tines of the truffle fork, and the rigid bubble wand/lasso of the truffle spoon facilitate that better than a toothpick or fork (which you can also use).

2 You must do your homework. When it comes to tempering, read lots of articles, (like this one from Fine Cooking magazine) cross reference, and don’t believe anyone who writes the article without having tempered chocolate personally. Marc came across several articles on the web where people had just taken things others had written and simplified them into their own post. That won’t help you.

3 Work with at least one friend/helper/elf. There are many times in the truffle making process that you need more than two hands, or another set of eyes, and have to work quickly (like trying to coat ganache balls and maintain your temper). It can actually be far more stressful and prone to mistakes to do it alone. So, why not make a day of it and bring a loved one (or two) to the party.

4 Be patient. When it comes to heating and cooling, there is only so much control we have. If you try to rush it, you can undo a lot of hard work, and have to start all over again. When heating the chocolate over the double boiler, move it on and off the simmering water regularly (like every 10-20 seconds) so you bring up the temperature slowly.
5 Have everything you need ready and waiting for you when you start the tempering process because you’ll need to work quickly and attentively. If you are futzing with the parchment paper, or searching for your ganache balls in the back of the fridge, your chocolate could fall out of the 2 degree temperature range and, well, lose it’s temper. Making you go through the whole process again. Or worse, if your chocolate goes above 125-130°, it’s scorched, can never be tempered again, and you have to start with new chocolate.

Marc turned away from the stove for less than five seconds and the chocolate soared up to 130°. It definitely made it more granular and couldn’t be used for tempering again, but it’s still tasty and okay for baking or other cooking. Just make sure to taste and see if the chocolate is salvageable. You don’t want to throw out perfectly good chocolate, but you don’t want to use it if it tastes burnt.

Truffle Ingredients

Various truffle ingredients and tools (note that candy thermometer turned out to be wrong for the job, and ice cream scoop is too big). In the middle foreground, that is a stack of 4 Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Bittersweet bars and a package of marzipan on top next to 1/2 pound of white chocolate.

6 Since there are several stages, allow a few days to complete the whole process, especially if you are working with several different types of chocolates and flavorings. You will be making ganache (melting chocolate with hot cream), flavoring to make one or multiple varieties, refrigerating or freezing bowls of ganache, using a melon baller to make your truffle filling, refrigerating or freezing those to prepare them for dipping, and dipping and topping the truffles to indicate what’s inside. So, give yourself plenty of time to have fun doing it, rather than making it a rushed chore.

Ganache Flavors

From one of our truffle days, here are the various flavors of dark chocolate ganache starting with plain in the foreground, then peppermint essential oil, almond extract, chocolate extract, and crystallized ginger.

7 Dark, milk and white chocolates have different chemical makeup and need to be treated differently in the tempering process. So pay attention to their properties and heat/cool them appropriately.

8 Tempering is a precise act of chemistry, and should not be attempted late at night or when feverish. ‘Nuff said.

9 Candy cane is very hygroscopic (meaning it absorbs water from the air). So, if you want to say, garnish your peppermint truffles coated in tempered chocolate, with chunks of candy cane, do it right before you plan to give them away. Because before you know it, the candy cane will be sweaty, sticky and not nearly as pleasant.

10 Don’t make candy in the rain. Sugar in general is very hygroscopic. So if it’s raining, the room you are in will have a higher humidity, potentially making tempering more challenging.

11 Use the best ingredients you can afford. We bought Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Bittersweet Chocolate from Belgium, which is a very respectable cheap high-end bar with a minimum of 54% cocoa solids. We were really trying to keep our costs down, and at under $3 per bar, it’s a great deal. No junk, no fillers. I know it’s not the best chocolate, but it’s the best we could afford for this purpose. I just wish it was organic and fair trade. Oh well. We got Ghirardelli white chocolate from Trader Joe’s as well. It’s really hard to find good white chocolate that isn’t cloyingly sweet. It was pretty good, but certainly better than the junk we found at the grocery store. Yuck!

12 Alcohol as ganache flavoring changes the freezing temperature of chocolate. In order to get the ganache cold enough to scoop into balls, it needs to sit in the freezer for a couple hours or in the fridge a bit longer than that. The batches that we added rum to only got cold enough after at least 24 hours in the freezer. So you do need to be careful how much booze you add proportional to ganache, to get the flavor you want, but still have it behave in the manner you need.

13 Chocolate tastes different cold than hot. You may think the flavoring is just right when the ganache is warm and melted, but after it’s fridge/freezer cold, it may be more or less intense. Taste it both ways to make sure it’s what you want.

14 Ganache is very forgiving. For our eggnog truffles I was more cautious with the nutmeg essential oil and rum, and when the white chocolate ganache came out of the freezer it was too timid a flavor and didn’t taste like eggnog. Marc reheated the ganache just to melt it (too much heat will cook off the delicate flavorings) and added more nutmeg and rum. It was a success! Tasted good and behaved the way it was supposed to. So, if you find that you need to adjust the flavors (either by adding more flavorings, or more chocolate to dilute the flavorings) you can melt the ganache down again and fix it to your preference.

Eggnog Ganache Steps

White chocolate ganache steps for Eggnog truffles. Chop into chunks, mix with hot cream, melt thoroughly, add a couple drops of nutmeg essential oil and a couple tablespoons rum. Yum!

15 Chocolate and water do not go together in this setting. While you are using the double boiler, make sure not to let even a drop or two of water get into the chocolate as it can make the chocolate seize (ugly) and ruin it. Keep dish towels around to be able to wipe the bottom of the bowl when condensation collects. When you chill your bowls of ganache, make sure to cover them with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down onto the surface of the ganache so that condensation does not collect on the surface.

We are by no means chocolatiers, but we learned a lot from our two week truffle adventure and thought we’d share it with you. If you decide to just make ganache and roll the balls in cocoa powder, that really is the easiest, but they are also very delicate. These are the flavors we made once the base ganache was divided into about 4-8 ounce portions, chilled, balled and chilled again:

Not Tempered

Marzipan Snowball Truffles: I was actually quite thrilled with all of them, but these marzipan truffles were our absolute favorite, and called for a whole post of their own. We flavored the dark chocolate ganache with almond extract, and covered the balls in a thin layer of fragrant marzipan (sweetened almond paste). Then we rolled them in white granulated sugar to achieve a sparkly frosted effect.

Crystallized Ginger rolled in Gingersnap Crumbs: Inspired by The Student Stomach, we minced a few chunks of crystallized ginger and mixed them into the ganache. Then we crushed some gingersnaps and rolled the ganache in those crumbs. Very tasty with a hot ginger kick.

Tempered with Dark Chocolate

Peppermint Candy Cane: These were very cute since we topped them with a piece of candy cane. We used a couple drops of high quality peppermint essential oil in the dark chocolate ganache for a distinct true peppermint flavor. Then we coated the ganache balls in tempered dark chocolate and topped it with the candy cane piece to give a clue of what was inside and add a little whimsy. These were a big hit.

Almond: We had dark chocolate ganache flavored with almond extract left over when we ran out of marzipan, so we coated those balls with tempered dark chocolate and topped it with a piece of slivered almond. If we’d had almond slices that still had the skin around the edge, I think that would have been prettier, but we used what we had. They were delicious.

Cocoa Nibs: Just to experiment with something simple, we left the dark chocolate ganache plain and coated the balls in tempered dark chocolate and topped with cocoa nibs. Next time I might coat the ganache in tempered white chocolate for contrast.

Tempered with White Chocolate

Eggnog, Coconut Rum, and Joe Joes

The truffles in front are the Eggnog topped with freshly grated nutmeg. In the middle are the Coconut Rum truffles topped with a coconut flake. And in the back are Trader Joe’s peppermint Joe Joe cookies we dipped in the leftover tempered white chocolate.

Coconut Rum: This was a fun and tasty experiment because when we made the dark chocolate ganache, rather than using cow cream, we bought full-fat coconut milk and scooped the cream off the top and used that. Then, off the heat, we added 1-2 tablespoons rum and the combination was tropical and luxurious. Since the definition of dark chocolate is that it has no milk (check the ingredients though since there isn’t really standardization), if you make ganache with coconut cream, this is a tasty vegan alternative that you’d never know was vegan. We coated ours with tempered white chocolate left over from the Eggnog truffles, and topped them with a big coconut flake. Yum!

Eggnog: These were a big hit and definitely eggnoggy. We made white chocolate ganache and flavored it with a couple drops of nutmeg essential oil and 1-2 tablespoons rum. Then we coated them in tempered white chocolate and grated a little fresh nutmeg on top to garnish and give a hint of what’s inside.

Well, there you have it. Figs with Bri’s truffle manifesto. I’ll write another post on presentation since we gave them as gifts.

And P.S. Happy New Year!

22 thoughts on “Trying Not To Lose My Temper (Tempering Chocolate)”

  1. I am totally bookmarking this post! How helpful and informative! Also, it doesn’t hurt that your chocolates are absolutely adorable. Happy new year!

  2. Goodness Bri, it seems like a lot to do when you’re sick! I can barely manage opening and closing my mouth to eat. Given that I live in a tropical country, it seems like tempering chocolate is not in the near future for me– or maybe I can just melt an already tempered bar to 88°, haha!

  3. Nicely done, both the truffles themselves and the explanation. One time I marched in where fools fear to tread and tried to do this without either a deep understanding or proper mise en place or anything, and of course it was a disaster. If I decide to try again sometime I’m coming right back to this post and memorizing it!

  4. You were not kidding when you mentioned you were making some truffles. Wow. Those are some lucky friends you have. Hope you’re feeling better. Oh, and great post title, too!

  5. Muffin – Thanks! I’m so glad you found the information useful. We learned so much from trial and error. Which is important, but maybe you guys can learn from our experiences and not end up with scorched chocolate 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

    Vegeyum – Wow…a kitchen goddess…gotta nice ring to it. I happily accept your title 😉 Thanks for your comment!

    Manggy – Hmm…I really don’t know what the optimal ambient temperature needs to be. But if your average temperature is like 85 degrees (sorry for the Farenhight), then unless you were in air conditioning, I don’t imagine it would work very well.

    Graeme – Thanks! A bit stressful, yes, but also fun. We still have a few more friends/family to give some too, but we are going to have literally dozens we don’t know what to do with. They are so rich and satisfying, we’re only going through one or two a day. 🙂 Thanks for dropping in.

    Michael – Thanks! It seems like something that would be pretty simple, and once we figured out how to do it, it did get simpler, but it takes a lot of prep. Glad I could be resource. Thanks for your comment.

    Tammy – Thank you. Yep, we were into a serious truffle endeavor. Today and yesterday, I was finally feeling more like myself. Thanks for the well wishes. Puns run in my family, so I loved the title too. I crack myself up sometimes 😉

  6. Wow, Bri, you have been very busy… and successful! I occasionally think I’d like to make serious truffles like these, but tempering intimidates me. Maybe someday! In the meantime, I’m just going to drool all over my computer screen looking at your fabulous truffles! (The ginger ones sound especially tempting…. oh, why, oh why?? are you not my neighbor?!?!?!! I know, I know… don’t answer that!) 😉

  7. Jennifer – The marzipan ones were quite easy, and hey, no tempering. The ginger ones were super easy too. I know, if we were neighbors, I could shove some of our copious truffles off on to you, and you could repay me with your pear cake. Yum! Any thoughts of moving to California? 😉 Thanks for your comment!

  8. Wow that is quite the truffle endeavor! I must bookmark this page to come back to when I’m ready to try making truffles. They look great. I’d love to try the eggnog one. Hope you’re feeling better!

  9. Ashley – Thanks! I hope the information helps. The eggnog ones really were amazing. I am feeling a lot better these last couple days.

  10. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am just about to embark on doing this as one of my projects for FEB. Rock on!

  11. Bee – Thanks so much! A very prosperous 2008, filled with lots of delicious food, to you and Jai as well.

    AllPurposeGirl – You are welcome from the bottom of my heart. Best of luck to you in our endeavor. If you make any big discoveries/breakthroughs in chocolate, please let me know as well.

  12. Wow! I knew making candy was an art, but I didn’t realize chocolate involved so much. No wonder the extent of our chocolate treats was simply dipping pretzels or peanut butter balls. Thanks for taking the time to post this important information. I’ll appreciate the shiny “temper” of chocolate a lot more now.

  13. Bri, I love chocolate, but I love it RAW!!! It’s healthier, has a lot of pure energy, and it’s not heavy to the liver at all!

    My wife is an excellent raw food chef, and she can make the most delicious, scrumptious chocolate cookies or truffles in 10 minutes! I help so I time it!

    She puts sesame seeds in the Vitamix, a very powerful blender, until it’s a thick powder. Mixes it with coconut butter, agave, and RAW chocolate. She uses an ice cream scoop to make it into 3/4 of a ball and places it in the refrigerator until it hardens.

    I use to have allergic liver reactions to all chocolates; not anymore!

    You can find many RAW recipes on line. Enjoy it!!!

  14. Question – my daughter loves ferraro rochers but has a committment to only eating fair trade chcocolate. Any guidance on using the currently available brands for this? should we be looking for a minimum cocoa %?

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