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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tempering Chocolate...the hard way.

I don't think many people understand the alchemical work that goes into making a beautiful, shiny piece of chocolate. Of course the big factories use machines to do all this work, and, on that scale, it would be impossible not to use a machine. But have you ever tried to melt chocolate and cool it back into something comparable? It's harder than it looks.

When I was a baby pastry chef, at the French Culinary Institute, I had a vague notion about tempering chocolate, although I'd only done it once - semi-successfully with a bag of Tollhouse chips. Tempering is so advanced that they didn't even broach the subject until I was halfway through my training. What followed was some sort of chocolate torture test.

There are three classic tempering methods: tabling, innoculation, and the ice bath method. Before we could move on, we had to master all three (or at least attempt). Now, innoculation and ice bath are both quite straightforward. The first involves melting 2/3's of the chocolate, and then stirring in the final unmelted 1/3 in order to introduce the proper crystals back into the chocolate. The ice bath method involves melting all the chocolate and then cooling it to the proper temperature over an ice bath.

But tabling is a different animal all together. First, one must begin with an impeccably clean surface - as large as possible. Next, melt the chocolate over simmering water. Don't forget to dry off the bottom of the bowl, or all will be lost before it's begun. Now comes the insanity. Take that bowl of expensive melted chocolate, and pour about half of it on the table. That's right, just pour it out. Using a bench scraper, push the chocolate around on the table. Be prepared to lose a good deal of this chocolate to the floor, your sleeves, hair, pants, etc. When whatever is left on the table has cooled, try to scrape it back into the bowl, stir it around and test it by putting a small amount on the back of a knife and waiting to see if it dries quickly to a glossy finish. If not (and it's probably not) try again!

Imagine that scenario played out simultaneously by twenty people standing side by side in rows of five. By the end of the day, very few of us had mastered our goal of tempering chocolate, but most of us were well covered in chocolate. After all of that, it's amazing that we all had the courage to try again the next day.

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