You may have heard the word “temper” when referring to an important part of the process of making chocolate candy. To “temper” means to help chocolate, once melted, to be able to, once again, regain (and retain) its original firm form without refrigeration. The way this is done is by first melting ¾ of the total amount of chocolate called for in your recipe (along with any shortening, if requested). Once the chocolate is almost fully melted (and between 88 and 90 degrees), then the rest of the chocolate (in coarsely chopped pieces) gets aggressively stirred into the first batch. Although I don’t use a thermometer to check the temperature of the chocolate, if new at this, you might want to use one, to eliminate the guess work. However, it’s best to check the temperature just before you think you’re ready to remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat, since taking the time to check the temperature, once ready, could cause the chocolate to overheat from residual heat.

Adding the second batch of chocolate (the last remaining quarter of the total amount called for in your recipe) is called “seeding” and it’s purpose is to remind the first batch of chocolate of its original state as it, too, melts and become homogenous with the first batch. After this, the addition of anything else is stirred or folded in (in the case of these Chocolate Crisps<, it’s the Rice Krispies cereal). When done correctly, the chocolate once shaped and allowed to cool, will not have suffered any ill effects from being transformed from its original state.

Ways to know you’ve tempered chocolate correctly: When properly handled, tempered chocolate will be shiny, of uniform color, perfectly firm and the texture (mouth-feel) of the chocolate will be smooth. Tempered chocolate needs no refrigeration to remain firm.

Ways to know if the tempering process has been unsuccessful: When chocolate fails to set up correctly its either because the chocolate was not in good condition to begin with (meaning it had gone out of temper by being stored in an inappropriately warm place, causing it to melt and then reset on it’s own) or you initially overheated the chocolate (past 90 degrees), when melting, and/or didn’t seed correctly) by not stirring the second batch of chocolate into the first aggressively enough, which is what helps expedite both, the cooling down process and homogenization). Any of these circumstances will cause the chocolate to not set up correctly. The outward symptoms of this are an uneven texture (soft in some spots, firm in others), grayish-white streaks in random places on the otherwise firm chocolate, grainy texture in the mouth.

Solution to the above circumstances: If the only symptom is irregular texture (not firm throughout), just keep the chocolate chilled before serving. White streaks don’t really affect flavor, but the overall appearance is less pleasing, which can adversely affect the overall enjoyment. The last and most severe effect, graininess, in assembled chocolates is not fixable and it’s best to just throw that batch away and chalk that episode up to being a valuable part of the “learning curve.”

Oh…Just one more potential problem, when melting chocolate over water: The age old adage saying that “water and chocolate” are arch enemies is painfully (and literally) demonstrated when melting chocolate. If just one drop of water accidentally enters the bowl of chocolate while melting, you will quickly see the chocolate separate into a clumpy, oily mess (called “seizing”). You can try to stir in a bit more vegetable shortening, but doing this is a long shot and it’s most likely that you’ll need to start over in a clean (perfectly dry) bowl.

At a Glance ways to Ensure a Happy, Successful (and Delicious) Result

For success when making chocolates (those that you want to remain firm at room temperature), you need to:

  1. Melt the first batch of chocolate gently, stirring constantly, in either the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl that sits in a skillet with an inch of just below simmering water. You’re done when the chocolate is almost smooth. (A few stray pieces of almost-melted chocolate are fine, but add the second batch quickly and stir vigorously.)
  2. Remember the goal of seeding, which is to cool down the first batch of melted chocolate, while also reminding it what of its original firm state. So, before stirring in your second batch of chocolate (1/4 of the total amount called for in your recipe) remove the bowl containing the chocolate from the hot water and immediately add the remaining chocolate (no dilly-dallying), stirring extremely vigorously (this takes some muscle). And, don’t stop stirring until all the chocolate is perfectly melted. Then you’ll fold in your additional ingredients.
  3. Chill the assembled chocolates (or the sheet of chocolate before cutting into shapes) just until firm to help it to set up. If done correctly, the chocolates will no longer need refrigeration to maintain firm texture throughout.

About Making Chocolate Candy with Children

When cooking or baking with children it’s important to remember that, depending on their age, their physical strength, dexterity and precision is not like yours, as an adult. So, you’ll need to allocate only those steps appropriate to them, to keep things happy and positive. So, from one parent to another, I thought I’d fill you in on some things to expect, when working with chocolate and small children.

Leave certain steps to someone with muscle! Since tempering is the key to success when making chocolate candy, it’s best to leave the vigorous stirring to a person with some muscle. Folding in any additions to the melted chocolate, once the tempering process is complete, is an appropriate step to be done by a child. This is also true with cutting a slab of set chocolate into shapes. If you’ve over chilled the chocolate, it will take some strength to get a decorative cutter to penetrate so it’s best to, at that point, just leave this part to an adult. Actually, if very hard, this might not be so easy for you either, so putting a pot holder on top of the dull side of the cutter before applying pressure will help you to repetitively cut the chocolate into shapes, without hurting your hand.

Kids have hot little hands (literally)! So, even when working with tempered chocolate, you’ll need to help kids to keep from over-handling things, causing the chocolate to start to melt. Here are some tips:

  • When wrapping chocolates with kids: Before your child picks up an assembled chocolate have them place the foil wrapper directly on top, using the wrapper to lift the chocolate, folding any overhang over the sides and underneath, enclosing the chocolate fully. If there are many scraps surrounding the cut chocolate (after cutting shapes out of a “set” slab), remove the scraps so your child has an easier time grasping each one.
  • When not using individual wrappers: The best way for a child to transfer the assembled chocolates to either paper candy cups or to a tin, between sheets of was paper, first have your child hold a paper towel in their nonworking hand. Then, he or she can use their working hand to pick up the chocolate, one at a time, and immediately lay it on the paper towel. This will help shield the chocolate from the warmth of your child’s hand, as they then transfer it into the tin or onto a tray.
  • Making drop candies are a great alternative for very young children: If younger than 5 years of age, children can take several minutes to wrap an individual chocolate. This can be frustrating for a child and can also cause the chocolate to melt. As an alternative to cutting a slab of tempered chocolate into shapes, you can simply make “drop candies” which don’t require spreading, cutting or wrapping. Once your tempered chocolate mixture is assembled, ask your child to drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto baking trays lined with wax paper, separated by an inch or so, on the sheets. Then chill for about 30 minutes and, once set, each candy gets placed into paper candy cups or into a tin, separated by sheets of wax paper, using the handling process previously described.
  • Some suggestions for drop candies: To the tempered chocolate, stir in one or a combination of the following: mini M & M candies, mini marshmallows, coarsely chopped walnuts, cocktail peanuts, chocolate covered raisins, cut up peanut butter cups. Then, simply drop, chill and store, as described above.

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