Cacao is polymorphic!
Cacao butter is polymorphous, meaning it can crystallize in six different forms. Only one of these forms of raw chocolate crystals we can create is stable and provides the desired results in the finished chocolate. It is created by a process called “tempering.” Have you ever had a chocolate bar that melted and when it hardened again it has white and grey marbling and a completely different texture than before? This is because the chocolate has become untempered and no longer is in the crystalline form we know and love. It’s all about a good temper.
The classic method of hand tempering on a stone slab is the method I began with. I am glad I learned this very hands-on style; it is in my opinion the most difficult. It is quite fun though, there is a special magical feeling in it. In this method it is up to you to create the proper crystals and “seed” the chocolate to perfection.
Then I discovered a much easier method called “Seeding.” You begin with perfectly tempered chocolate which act as your “crystal seeds,” and stir them into a new batch of chocolate that is around 100 degrees F. The seeds introduce the correct crystalline structure and the crystals reproduce, creating a perfectly tempered chocolate if you pull them out at just the right time and temperature (depending on how dark your chocolate is) to avoid over tempering.
For the very patient, there is a method known simply as Heating and Cooling. Using a double boiler you bring the organic raw chocolate to 113 degrees F (never above to keep it raw) to break present crystallization, cool it down to 81 degrees to form type IV and type V crystals, and then reheat to around 88 degrees to eliminate the type IV, leaving only type V.
These days we have a fancy tempering machine (pictured above) that we lovingly refer to as our “Italian Stallion,” as it hails from Italy. Oh, the wonders of chocolate technology.