*disclaimer: This post is written purely from my past experience and current knowledge of chocolates. I am not a trained chocolatier so please read it with a grain of salt.
I have been making 100 chocolates for 3 nights now and I can safely say, “I don’t know anything!” about interpreting the tests* that we use in tempering chocolates.
I have made hundreds and hundreds of chocolates before (i.e. once during Christmas 2013, once during Jun/Jul 2014 – ‘hundreds’ each time), and therefore I thought I have already mastered the ‘skill’ of reading the test that is so crucial in telling us whether our precious chocolate is indeed tempered after all the stirring or tabling or seeding and more stirring. But I was so wrong. Chocolate will always ‘set’ in the layman terms if the temperature is cold enough, but it doesn’t always ‘set’ in the tempering terms even if it is ‘set’ in the normal way.
What do I mean?
Let me explain what *tests are. If you click on the link above to the Callebaut official guide to tempering, it states that the chocolate is ready when it is slightly thickened. This may work if you are very experienced, I personally still can’t really tell by sight. So the ‘test’ (that I have learned from various Institutions) is: once you think you’ve tempered your chocolate, you dip a spatula or a scraper into the chocolate, scrape the excess off, leave it on the bench top (not touching the marble), if it is dark chocolate, it should set within 5 minutes (and a bit more for milk & white chocolate).
The room temperature and humidity of your room will obviously also play a big part in the setting time & how your chocolate turn out. Unfortunately, this is where we absolutely have to have air conditioning during hot Australian summers because chocolate’s ideal working temperature is 18-21c. Even last night, at 24c I was struggling a little bit. So do take into account all factors (the act of tempering, room temperature and humidity).
So now, what do the tests look like? These are the three stages that I have taken pictures of: (I apologise in advance for the poor lighting as it was very difficult to temper chocolates and take photos with my phone at the same time at night). Do note that there aren’t actually three stages in obtaining these tests but I have categorised them so that it is easier for you to understand how the test works in terms of setting vs. tempered.
Room Temperature: 22-24c with Air Conditioning on at 20c during night time (Melbourne is not very humid).
Stage 1: Fat Bloom
As you can see from the picture here, even though the chocolate has set, it is very ugly with a lot of light coloured (brown or grey) marks on the surface. This is a sign of ‘fat bloom’, meaning the chocolate is still too hot. Therefore, depending on the method you’re using (usually microwave or seeding for this stage to occur), you’ll need to add more Callets and stir more until the chocolate is melted.
Stage 2: Almost there
The chocolate is set slightly prettier in this picture, but if you look closely, you’ll see vertical lines on the surface of the chocolate. The necessary crystals for the chocolates to be tempered has already been formed but there isn’t enough movement yet. In this case, you’ll need to add a little bit more Callets, or stir for longer.
Stage 3: Tempered
Finally, if you look closely enough and compare Stage 2 and Stage 3, you’ll see the slight difference on the surface of this current picture. The chocolate is set smoothly with no marks (except for my finger prints) on the chocolate itself, in this case, we will say that chocolate is tempered, and the test is ‘set’ for the purposes of tempering.
I hope this helped! Please feel free to share your experiences and thoughts on this! I’m always looking for opportunities to learn!