Melting Chocolate: Chocolate melts best at temperatures between 104 and 113 degrees F (40 and 45 C). Never melt chocolate directly over a heat source. Use an indirect heat source like a hot water bath so the chocolate reaches a temperature of 104 to 113 degrees F (40 to 45 C). This is the perfect temperature to begin tempering.
Tempering Chocolate: Tempering is important because it determines the final gloss, hardness, and contraction of the chocolate. When you melt chocolate, the molecules of fat separate. In order to put them back together, you temper it. There are a variety of ways to do it. One of the easiest ways to temper it is to place it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time on high power until the chocolate is melted. Be very careful not to overheat it. Be careful; the chocolate will not look like it has melted because it retains its shape. The chocolate should be only slightly warmer than your bottom lip. You may still see lumps in it but, don't worry; the residual heat of the chocolate will melt them. You can also use an immersion blender to break up the lumps and start the recrystallization process. Usually, the chocolate begins to set (recrystallize) along the side of the bowl. As it begins to crystallize, mix those crystals into the melted chocolate and they will begin the recrystallization process. I like to use glass bowl because it retains the heat and keeps the chocolate tempered a long time.
Another way to temper chocolate is called seeding. In this method, tempering is achieved by adding small pieces of unmelted chocolate to melted chocolate. The amount of unmelted chocolate to be added depends on the temperature of the melted chocolate but is usually one fourth of the total amount. I usually use an immersion blender to mix the two together. The classic way to temper chocolate is call tabliering. Chocolate is melted over a hot water bath to a temperature between 88 and 90 degrees F (31 to 34 C). (White and milk chocolate are melted to a temperature approximately 2 degrees F less, depending on the amount of milk fat they contain.) Two thirds of the melted chocolate is poured on a cold table or marble surface. The chocolate is spread out and worked with a spatula until the temperature of the chocolate is approximately 81 degrees F (27 C). At this stage, it is thick and begins to set. This tempered chocolate is then added to the remaining one third of non-tempered chocolate and mixed thoroughly until the mass in the bowl has a completely uniform temperature. If the temperature is still too high, part of the chocolate is further worked on the cold table until the correct temperature is reached. This is a lot of work, requires a lot of room and makes a big mess.
Checking Tempering: A simple method of checking tempering is by applying a small quantity of chocolate to a piece of paper or to the point of a knife. If the chocolate has been correctly tempered it will harden evenly and show a good gloss within 5 minutes.
Storing Chocolate: You need to use enough to make it easy to work with so you will always have extra chocolate in molding most of these recipes. Chocolate is susceptible to moisture and absorbs external odors. It is also important to protect it from light and air. Store it in a cool dry place in closed packaging. The ideal temperature for storing chocolate is between 54 and 68 degrees F (12 and 20 C). Do not store chocolate in the refrigerator where the humidity (moisture) will affect it. A soft white layer on the surface of chocolate is called fatbloom. It is caused when a thin layer of fat crystals forms on the surface of the chocolate. Storage at a constant temperature will delay the appearance of fatbloom. Sugarbloom is a rough and irregular layer on top of the chocolate caused by condensation (when chocolate is taken out of the refrigerator). This moisture will dissolve the sugar in the chocolate. When the water evaporates, the sugar recrystallizes into rough, irregular crystals on the surface and gives the chocolate an unpleasant look. Prevent sugarbloom by preventing temperature shocks.
Courtesy of Dessert Circus At Home by Jacques Torres, Copyright 1999, All Rights Reserved