...then they spit it all back out

In honor of the Olympic swimmers… a lesson in Tempering

Posted on Posted in Culinary Science

My roommates and I, like 99% of Americans, are currently OBSESSED with the Olympics.  I’ve been late to work the past few days because I’ve been so immersed in morning-after coverage.  It’s a problem.  But not really, because everyone else at work is in the same boat. Tonight, we noticed that most of the swimmers take a nice swig of pool water before the race.

Olympics | foodsciencenerd.com
…then they spit it all back out

Someone suggested that it helps the swimmers become “one with the pool” and it naturally reminded me of tempering.  What is tempering, you ask?  Well, it’s a technique used for adding eggs, milk, sour cream, yogurt, and other such foods that have unstable proteins that tend to denature, separate from the rest of the application, and coagulate when heated rapidly.  Except in certain applications, like cheese-making, the resulting curdling is straight up nasty.

Tempering was clearly not applied correctly | foodsciencenerd.com

Tempering involves drizzling in a little of the hot mixture, whatever it is (melted butter, for instance), to the curdle-prone ingredient while stirring to bring the temperature of the cooler ingredient closer to the temperature of the hot ingredient before dumping the whole curdle-prone ingredient in to the hot pot.  With especially sensitive ingredients, the process can be repeated until about half of the hot ingredient has been stirred in before putting it all back in the hot pot.

Tempering chocolate is completely different and completely unrelated to Olympic swimming, but here’s a brief run-down:

  • Make a double boiler (small pot with a few cups of water, boiling, and a larger bowl that is stable and will remain completely dry set on top of the pot.  Well, the bottom will get warm and condensation-y, but the rest needs to be dry).  This method kinda works in the microwave, too (no double boiler).
  • Put chocolate in the top (a few ounces will do)
  • Stir while melting chocolate over heat, up to 105 F
  • Bring it down to 88 F by stirring (if already tempered once, like most chocolate sold) or by smearing it on a large marble slab until it reaches 82 F and then reheating it to 88-90 F to work with it (yeah, like I’d have the resources for that)
  • Then you can use the chocolate for molding, covering truffles, etc.
  • Awwww now he’s crying.  That’s really cute.

If you don’t do this and any moisture touches the melting chocolate, the chocolate will seize, which means the moisture is absorbed by the cocoa solids, which separate and clump.  It’s also nasty, and can only be remedied by stirring in cream or melted butter until it relaxes.  Then, the chocolate can only be used in liquid form, like ganache or mousse.  But using tempering leaves a shiny, snappy product once it cools into shape.

Happy Olympicing!

P.S. Thanks to Cooking For Engineers for reminding me of the details of tempering chocolate, and just for being awesome in general.

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