Chocolate candies are without question one of the most luxurious and enticeable treats that have ever been created. Ever since chocolate was first brought from the new world to Europe, where it was first used as a drink, it has held the fascination and appreciation of all who consume it. This complex compound is derived from the laborious process from the pod of Cocoa plant yields what we in the culinary and pastry trade know as Couverture, which is basically the refined chocolate solids mixed with sugar, cocoa butter, and lecithin. From couverture comes the multitude of chocolate candies. The two most well known are molded bonbons and chocolate truffles.
Before any type of chocolate candy, chocolate decoration or showpiece is made one must first learn how to properly melt and cool the chocolate so that it will set properly. If done correctly the cooled set chocolate will yield a shiny crisp finish after it has hardened. This process in technical terms used by chocolate makers and pastry chefs is known as crystallization or in older terminology as tempering. When the chocolate is properly crystalized it can be piped, formed, molded or poured onto thin sheets called acetate to create many different shapes and decorations. The process basically is done by melting and cooling the temperature of the chocolate through three temperature ranges which are: melting, cooling and working ranges and differ slightly on the brand and type of chocolate.
Chocolate does not have to be crystallized if mixed with something else, as in a chocolate mousse for example. Only when it is used on its own is it necessary to be concerned with the proper crystallization process.
A basic reason for this is that when chocolate (couverture) is melted and re-sets as it cools the various fats and solids contained in the chocolate set at different rates and at different specific temperatures. If done naturally without using a method to control the crystallization the chocolate would not set properly and would be grey and streaked when it hardened. Here is another way to look at it: Think of an instance in the summer when you left a chocolate bar somewhere hot and it became slightly melted and soft, then you took it into the house and refrigerated the bar. What happened once it rehardened? It had become an unsightly grey with streaks (this is called bloomed or fat bloomed in chocolate making jargon).
To crystalize (temper) the chocolate there are three basic methods. They are tabling, seeding and microwave methods.
The table method (the classical method used for generations) is accomplished on a marble slab. The chocolate is first melted to a specific temperature range and then a portion of it is poured onto the marble and then spread back and forth with an offset palette knife. When it begins to cool and set it is returned to the original bowl and stirred until the chocolate is cooled to the proper temperature. Lastly, the chocolate is then briefly re-warmed to bring it to the working temperature and ensure that it is fluid enough to work with.
In the seeding method, the chocolate is first melted to the correct temperature range and then a portion of pre-crystalized chocolate (that has not been melted and is shiny and hard when purchased) is added to the melted chocolate and then stirred until the chocolate has reached the proper temperature and the entire batch is crystallized properly. In both of these methods, the correct ranges of temperature along with the slow gentle stirring of the chocolate is of utmost importance in order to create the proper formation of the crystals, ensuring a smooth workable chocolate that will set properly when cooled.
For home use, the best way to work with chocolate is to use the microwave method. This is done in a plastic bowl by melting the chopped chocolate on 50% to75% power until about 3/4ths of it is melted. The bowl is then removed from the microwave and stirred until all of the chocolate has melted. This technique is accomplished because all of the chocolate is not melted and therefore the chocolate that is still solid remains in a crystallized state. When stirred with the melted chocolate this enables the entire batch to develop the crystallization needed to bring it in its proper state. If done right and then tested the chocolate can be used for candies, decoration, and showpieces.
In all of the methods, the temperature is of the utmost importance. If the chocolate does not reach or exceeds the top temperature then the chocolate will not crystallize properly. Make sure to use a good thermometer to check it throughout the phases. See the following guide.
|Type of Chocolate||Initial Melting
|Cooling Temperature||Rewarming/Working Temperature Range|
|Dark||113°F to 122°F||80°F||88°F to 90°F|
|Milk||104°F to 113°F||79°F||82°F to 84°F|
|White||96°F to 100°F||77°F||80°F to 82°F|
Decorations made with crystallized chocolate is an art form that uses many techniques some of which are shavings, piping, ribbons, plaques, and filigree.
Piping chocolate is a technique that takes practice to create thin graceful lines with no breaks. Done with crystallized chocolate this technique which is also used for chocolate writing is a skill with many applications.
Chocolate curls, plaques and filigree can be used to make decorations or showpieces for elaborate presentations.
Chocolate is surely one of the most luxurious and enticing foods in the world. With knowledge and practice, it can be used to make candies and desserts and simple decorations in both the home and professional kitchen!