All you need to know about chocolate

chocolate bonbons(photo: chocolate bonbons)

Introduction to chocolate

Chocolate is a unique and sensitive ingredient. It is extremely important to understand how to work with it, since it is used on many pastries in many forms. You must know how to melt, temper, handle and store chocolate especially if you are interested in entering the field of making chocolate bonbons. 

Chocolate begins with the cacao bean (cocoa bean) extracted from the cacao tree. When the cocoa bean is crushed, it results in cocoa liquor which is simply stated unsweetened chocolateCocoa solids refers to cocoa powder, without any cocoa butter. Once the cocoa liquor is pressed, cocoa butter is extracted from the cocoa bean. The greater the amount of cocoa butter in the chocolate, the richer the quality of the chocolate. 

Natural vs Acidic cocoa powder

Cocoa powder is derived by squeezing out the cocoa butter from the cocoa liquor, although cocoa powder does contain some cocoa butter. Dutch processed cocoa powder is cocoa powder that has been treated with an alkaline solution to lower its acidity. 

Natural cocoa powder is acidic, by nature, while natural cocoa powder that has been Dutch-processed, turns alkaline. If using natural cocoa powder (which is acidic) in a chocolate cake recipe,  you need to use an a alkaline ingredient, like baking soda, in order to release carbon dioxide gas, to leaven a cake.

Chocolate quality vs price

Tempering chocolate

To make different types of chocolate, different proportions of cocoa powder and cocoa butter are re-blended. There is a direct relationship between chocolate quality and price. The chocolate quality is directly proportional to the amount of cocoa butter added to the chocolate. As more cocoa butter is added to the chocolate, the more pricey the chocolate will be. 

Temperature and chocolate

Chocolate is very sensitive to changes in temperature so it must be handled extremely carefully. The chocolate must be reheated slowly either over a bain-marie (hot water bath) or in a proofer, with a thermometer in place. You may also use a microwave but you must heat it in 10 second intervals, especially if you are melting small amounts of chocolate. 

Things to avoid when working with chocolate

Two things that chocolate does not get along with are;

  • small amount of liquids especially droplets of water
  • Direct heat

Either one can seize the chocolate making it unworkable. Due to the fact that chocolate is oil-based (consists of cocoa butter) it is this reason that a drop of water in the chocolate will seize the chocolate; oil and water don't mix.

One the other hand, adding large amounts of liquid(s) in the chocolate does not harm it. For example adding cream to chocolate to make Ganache. Adding a relatively large amount of liquid to chocolate moistens all the chocolate simultaneously preventing the chocolate from seizing. 

One more thing to watch out for. Never add cold liquids to warm melted chocolate. This will cause the chocolate to seize. Always warm up the liquid before adding it to the chocolate.

Can you add liqueurs to chocolate?

Directly in chocolate, no. Adding liqueurs to a chocolate mixture, yes; eg; ganache.

What is chocolate couverture?

Chocolate couverture is chocolate that contains a higher percentage of cocoa butter in relation to other lower quality chocolates. 

How do you know if the chocolate is couverture chocolate?

Read the ingredients on the box. If it contains cocoa butter it is couverture chocolate. If it contains oil, it is NOT couverture chocolate.

How to chop chocolate?

Use a chef’s knife to cut the chocolate into hazelnut-size pieces. Start by chipping off pieces from one corner of the chocolate, working your way inwards. Cutting chocolate in small chunks helps melt the chocolate quickly and evenly all throughout. 

Why temper chocolate?

Tempering is only necessary if you wish to use the chocolate as a coating on a dessert, or when making individual chocolate candies using molds, like bonbons. In such cases, couverture chocolate must be used. Properly tempered couverture chocolate will give the desired glossy chocolate finish. 

Couverture chocolate that you buy, has already been tempered once. The couverture chocolate’s ability to be tempered comes from the fact that couverture chocolate contains cocoa butter, which helps the chocolate achieve the proper 'crystal formation' (molecule alignment). All fat molecules of the cocoa butter do not melt at the same temperature. This is why a specific procedure must be followed to properly temper couverture chocolate.  

If you temper too much chocolate, don't worry, it does not go to waste. It can be re-tempered the next day.

Improperly tempered chocolate will show visible white streaks on the chocolate and the final product will have a dull appearance. 

If the final temperature of the chocolate is exceeded, you must start tempering the chocolate from the beginning. 

Equipment needed for tempering chocolate

All you need to temper chocolate at home is an stainless steel pot, a metal bowl, a thermometer and a rubber spatula. Alternatively a proofer would be of great help.

How to temper chocolate

If you have a proofer, simply set the temperature to the desired final temperature of the chocolate. For example, if you are melting dark chocolate, set the temperature to about 28 deg. C.

If you don't have a proofer, you will have to temper the chocolate by hand, as shown below.

Guidelines for tempering chocolate
Stage 1
Stage 2 
Stage 3 

Procedure for tempering chocolate

To temper chocolate follow the guidelines from the table above or even better follow the chocolate manufacturer's instructions found in the back of the box. Each box of couverture chocolate, has a crystallization chart on the reverse side of the box. Simply follow those temperature guidelines to properly temper that particular chocolate.

What we are about to describe next, is to be used as a guideline or a rule of thumb for tempering chocolate.

Stage 1

Gently melt over a bain marie (hot water bath) that is barely simmering, about 2/3 of the total amount of couverture chocolate you wish to use (1cm discs) to 48 deg. C for dark couverture chocolate, to 46 deg.C for milk chocolate,to 45deg. C for white chocolate. Stir occasionally during the melting stage. You do not need to exactly follow these temperatures, but instead check to see if the chocolate is melted. For example, if the chocolate is melted at 42 deg. C, you do not need to continue heating the dark chocolate to the range specified above (45-50deg. C). Simply seed1 the chocolate with a lesser amount.

Stage 2

Once you have reached the proper temperature as specified in stage 1, this is the point where you will begin seeding the melted chocolate. What does this means? Simply add the remaining 1/3 of the couverture chocolate pieces to the already melted chocolate of stage 1. You do this in order to cool down the chocolate to the temperature specified in the table above, according to the chocolate you are using. You must stir continuously until all chocolate disks are melted and the temperature of the chocolate lowers to the specified temperature shown in table above. If the chocolate has reached the right temperature, but you still have chocolate disks that are not melted, you may place the bowl of chocolate over a bain marie for 10 second intervals at a time. Continue stirring until all chocolate is melted. 

Stage 3

In this stage you will need to reheat the chocolate  to the specified temperature without going over. If you go over that specified temperature, you will have to begin the complete procedure from scratch, redoing all 3 stages from the beginning. At this point you must practice estimating the chocolate temperature using your little finger (pinky). As a beginner you may first use your little finger to feel and guess what the temperature is, and right afterwards use a digital thermometer to check if the actual temperature is as close to your guess.

Once the temperature of the couverture chocolate reaches the final temperature, the chocolate should be ready for use. However, how do you know if the chocolate is properly tempered?

How to test if chocolate has been properly tempered?

Once the temperature of the couverture chocolate has reached the final temperature, you need to test the chocolate to see if the it has been properly tempered, before using it. Cut a 1x2" parchment paper and dip one side of it into the tempered chocolate, and let it sit for about 2 minutes on the worktable. If the chocolate sets within 2 minutes, the chocolate has been properly tempered. If the chocolate does not set, even after 5 minutes, the chocolate is either too hot or not been properly tempered; you must restart the complete process from the beginning.

If you see white streaks on the chocolate, once it dries, it has not been tempered properly.

Making decorations using tempered chocolate

decorations using tempered chocolate

Making cigarettes 

Pour the tempered chocolate (32deg. C) over a marble surface, about 1-2-inches wide and about 1 ½ feet long.

Thin the chocolate using an offset spatula. Finger of left hand should be pushing down on the end of the offset spatula, while spreading the chocolate. Thin the tempered chocolate to about 2mm thickness.

Wait about 10-20 seconds or until the chocolate begins to set. If you lightly rub your index finger on the chocolate without any chocolate sticking to your finger, the chocolate has set enough to immediately begin making cigarettes. If you wait longer than that, the chocolate will set and you will not be able to make cigarettes.

If after spreading the chocolate the surface of the chocolate seems dry but the inside of the chocolate looks wet, the chocolate has not been tempered properly. You must re-temper the chocolate from the beginning.

Hold a spatula at about 30 degrees from the working surface, and using your left hand push down on the middle edge of the spatula. Quickly scrape off about 2 inches of the chocolate.

Once a thin cigarette has formed on the spatula, simply roll it off onto the marble surface to give you a tighter cigar. Do NOT lift it off the spatula using your fingers, or it may be deformed or even melt.

If you have no success in making chocolate cigarettes, there is a very good chance that the spatula you are using is no good. Try another spatula. A 4-inch spatula found in hardware stores is best. The edge of the spatula should be very thin. 

Leaving the cigarettes in the fridge for 48 hours will give the cigarettes a harder texture, and a higher melting point.


1 - Seeding is when you add unmelted couverture chocolate to the melted couverture chocoalate in order to bring down the temperature of the couverture chocolate to the proper range.

Cocoa nibs is the inner part of the cocoa bean when the outer shell is removed.

cocoa mass = unsweetened chocolate = cocoa liquor 

Bloomed chocolate - Bloomed chocolate is chocolate that has been stored to improper temperatures causing the chocolate to have a whitish coating on the surface. This chocolate can be repaired by re-tempering the chocolate and seeding it with some fresh chocolate. Bloomed chocolate is still safe to eat, but may have a dull appearance and texture.


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