On an observable level, the goal of tempering chocolate is to cause the chocolate to set rapidly, with superior gloss and hardness. This is accomplished by seeding the chocolate with the proper quantity of Form-V crystals. The artisan confectioner uses several methods to accomplish this. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
The tabling method is the most traditional, time-honored method for tempering relatively small quantities of chocolate. The tabling method has the advantage of being fast and efficient. The disadvantages of the tabling method are its requirement for a stone slab on which to work, the nearly inevitable incorporation of air bubbles, the generally higher skill level required as compared to other tempering methods such as seeding, and the practical limits on the amount of chocolate that can be tempered using the method.
Using a Water Bath, Microwave, or Melter, Melt the Chocolate to a Sufficient Temperature to Remove all Existing Cocoa Butter Crystals (50°C/120°F for dark chocolate, 40°C/104°F for milk and white chocolates). Although melting the chocolate to this temperature is usually recommended, it is not absolutely necessary if the chocolate being melted is already tempered. Tempered chocolate contains stable cocoa butter crystals, and it is not absolutely necessary to melt them all out only to form them again. If, however, the chocolate being melted has been allowed to set in an untempered condition, it contains unstable cocoa butter crystals, and it is essential to bring the chocolate to this temperature in order to ensure that all unstable crystals have melted. This step corresponds to Zone 1 of the Dark Chocolate Tempering Curve.
Pour Half to Two-Thirds of the Melted Chocolate onto a Marble Slab, and Work the Chocolate with a Scraper and Palette Knife until it Thickens Slightly. Agitate the chocolate constantly to prevent any of it from completely solidifying and to form the requisite cocoa butter seeds. This step (illustrated in Zones 2 and 3 of the Dark Chocolate Tempering Curve) serves to create many Form-IV and -V crystals.
Return the Thickened Chocolate to the Bowl of Melted Chocolate to Make a Uniform Mixture of the Chocolates. This is the equivalent of Zone 4 of the Dark Chocolate Tempering Curve, wherein the unstable Form-IV crystals are melted out, leaving only stable crystals to seed the chocolate.
Test a Sample of the Chocolate to Observe if it Sets Quickly and Without Streaks. If it sets properly and is at the correct temperature, it may be used. If it is too cool, it should be warmed slightly before use, and if it does not set properly, a portion of it should be tabled again.
Technique: Caveats on Tabling
The tabling technique is effective for relatively small quantities of chocolate and is commonly used in confectionery operations, but several precautions warrant mention:
Sanitation is of paramount importance in confectionery. Any surface onto which chocolate is poured must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. This may be accomplished by wiping with any type of sanitizing solution, such as chlorine, iodine, or alcohol, but the marble must be completely dry before pouring chocolate onto it. For drying, use clean, unused paper towels.
Tabling the chocolate on a marble slab for too long results in lumps of crystallized chocolate that must then be melted prior to use. This is one of the most common errors that novices make when tabling chocolate. Once the chocolate on the marble begins to thicken, the crystallization reaction proceeds quickly. Often the tabled chocolate can solidify before it can be returned to the bowl. Should the chocolate solidify on the marble, there may not be sufficient heat in the bowl to melt the solid portion, resulting in lumpy chocolate. To avoid this, do not allow the chocolate to overthicken on the marble, and return it to the bowl quickly once it is seeded.
If repeated tablings are required, it is advisable to table successively less chocolate each time and to leave it on the marble slab less time with each repetition. Every time the chocolate is tabled, its temperature falls, and with each successive tabling, there is less heat in the chocolate to melt out excessive and unstable crystals. When the chocolate is very warm from the melter, fully half the chocolate can be tabled until it thickens. Once it is returned to the bowl of warm chocolate, it will soften and be incorporated into the melted chocolate, leaving behind seed crystals. If the temperature of the chocolate is proper, but it is not setting properly due to insufficient seeding, as little as 200 to 250 grams/7 to 9 ounces of chocolate can be very briefly tabled and then returned to the bowl to provide the extra seed crystals that are needed.
When executed by inexperienced workers, the tabling method can be a messy proposition; it requires practice and experience to be executed well. Controlling melted chocolate on the marble while agitating and then returning it to the bowl requires skill if it is to remain contained. The tabling method is not the best choice for novices at chocolate work.
Technique: Seeding (Block and Chips)
Seeding is a clean, efficient method of tempering chocolate in small or large quantities. The ability to temper much larger batches of chocolate than can be practically tempered by tabling is a major advantage of the seeding method. This technique relies on allowing the existing Form-V crystals in fully set chocolate to cool and seed the untempered chocolate. When tempering using the seeding technique, either small drops of chocolate, such as chips or pistoles, or a single large block may be used to cool and seed the chocolate. Each variation has its own advantages: a block may be easily removed when the chocolate is tempered, while chips cool the chocolate more rapidly. Regardless of whether the confectioner uses chips or a block, seeding, when executed properly, introduces only Form-V crystals and is therefore an excellent method for obtaining a superior temper.
Melt the Chocolate to a Sufficient Temperature to Remove all Existing Cocoa Butter Crystals (50°C/120°F for Dark Chocolate, 40°C/104°F for Milk and White Chocolates). Although melting the chocolate to this temperature is usually recommended, it is not absolutely necessary if the chocolate being melted is already tempered. Tempered chocolate contains stable cocoa butter crystals, and it is not absolutely necessary to melt them all out only to form them again. If, however, the chocolate being melted has been allowed to set in an untempered condition, it contains unstable cocoa butter crystals, and it is essential to bring the chocolate to the temperature given above in order to ensure that all unstable crystals have melted. This step corresponds to Zone 1 of the Dark Chocolate Tempering Curve.
Slowly Add Increments of Solid Tempered Chocolate to Cool and Seed the Melted Chocolate. The chocolate that is added may be in small pieces or a single block. This step corresponds to Zones 2 and 3 of the Dark Chocolate Tempering Curve. When using the seeding method, it is not necessary to overcool the chocolate, as it is when creating new cocoa butter crystals, although it often happens during the process, especially when a lot of seeding chocolate is added at one time.
Test a Sample of the Chocolate to Observe if it Sets Quickly and Without Streaks. If it does, and if it is the correct temperature with proper viscosity and is free of unmelted pieces, it may be used. If it does not set quickly, or sets with streaks, more seed should be incorporated and stirred in. If the chocolate is too cool or contains pieces of unmelted seed chocolate, it must be warmed to the correct temperature and the pieces melted out prior to use. Whenever the chocolate has been warmed, it must be retested to verify that it is still tempered.
Technique: Incomplete Melting
Using a microwave or warm water bath to melt and temper chocolate is also an acceptable method when small quantities are involved. Using this technique, about 80 percent of the chopped chocolate is melted, observing the usual precautions for exposure to heat and moisture. The bowl is then removed from the heat and the chocolate stirred. The unmelted pieces in the bowl become the seed chocolate, cooling and seeding the melted chocolate. This method is no different from the seeding method, except that it relies on incompletely melting out the stable crystals in the unmelted chocolate and using them to seed the melted portion of the chocolate.
Tempered Chocolate should always be Used for this Technique to Ensure that the Chocolate is Precrystallized with Stable Cocoa Butter Crystals. If untempered chocolate is used, it will precrystallize the chocolate with unstable cocoa butter crystals, resulting in an inferior shine, snap, and the formation of bloom during storage. Chop the chocolate to be melted finely so that it melts evenly without overheating. This step may be omitted if chips or pistoles are used.
Melt Approximately 80 Percent of the Chocolate, Using Either a Warm Water Bath or Short Applications of Microwave Energy. When using a microwave, stir between each application. When melting the chocolate, do not allow the temperature of the melted chocolate to exceed about 36°C/97°F. Heating the chocolate significantly above this temperature will cause all of the remaining chocolate to completely melt, leaving behind no seed crystals.
Stir to Incorporate the Unmelted Chocolate and to Seed the Melted Chocolate with Stable Crystals. The unmelted, tempered chocolate will cool the melted chocolate to the proper temperature zone and seed it with stable cocoa butter crystals, just as seeding chocolate does in the seeding method.
Test a Sample of the Chocolate to Observe Whether it Sets Quickly and Without Streaks. If it does, and if it is the correct temperature and viscosity and free of unmelted pieces, it may be used. If it does not set properly, it should be stirred more and retested for temper. If it does not set properly and all of the unmelted chocolate has melted, additional seed should be incorporated. If the chocolate is too cool, or if it contains pieces of unmelted seed chocolate, it must be warmed to the correct temperature and the pieces melted out prior to use. As always, it is imperative to test the chocolate after heating to verify that it is still tempered.