In candy making, chocolate is second only to sugar in importance and frequency of use. Chocolate is unique in that it can be both a fundamental ingredient and a finished candy by itself. Knowing how to handle chocolate, including proper techniques for storing, cutting, melting, and tempering this mercurial substance, can greatly increase your chances of making successful chocolate candies.
What Is Chocolate?
Chocolate is derived from the beans of the Theobroma cacao tree, but the substance we know as chocolate is very different from the humble cacao bean. Chocolate must undergo a complex and lengthy process before it becomes the smooth, sweet food we are familiar with. The term "chocolate" can refer to a variety of different products, whose characteristics and taste depends on the ingredients and methods used during processing. Chocolate products can range from small milk chocolate morsels to blocks of unsweetened chocolate to bars of white chocolate, with many different variations.
Chocolate is an amazing substance that can be manipulated in remarkable ways, but it must be treated carefully. It is very sensitive to changes in temperature, and care should be taken in its handling and melting to ensure the best texture and taste in the finished product.
There are two main rules to handling chocolate: do not let it come into contact with water while melting, and do not put it over direct heat. Water droplets that fall into a pan of melting chocolate will cause it to "seize," or turn into a hard, chunky lump. Similarly, overheating chocolate will ruin the taste and texture of the final product, which is why chocolate should always be melted over indirect heat or in small intervals in a microwave.
Many chocolate candy recipes call for the chocolate to be "tempered" before use. Tempering refers to a process of heating and cooling the chocolate to specific temperatures so that the cocoa butter in the chocolate forms even crystals. Tempering is not a mysterious or difficult process, but it can take a little practice before it becomes second nature.
Tempered chocolate has a shiny appearance, a hard, crisp snap when broken and stays stable at room temperature. Chocolate that is out of temper might look streaky or gray on the surface, and have a crumbly or densely chewy texture. Chocolate does not always need to be tempered; for instance, tempering is unnecessary when chocolate will be combined with other ingredients for baking or when being melted for the ganache. However, if you are going to be dipping centers in chocolate or making solid chocolate candies, you will want to temper your chocolate to produce a stable, beautiful, appetizing candy.
Like other aspects of candy making, working with chocolate does not require a great deal of specialized equipment, but there are a few tools that will make chocolate work much easier, such as a kitchen scale and an accurate thermometer.