I'm learning to temper chocolate all over again, after more than 20 years of streak-free candy making hobbyist bliss. I'll step back a bit: Just after New Year's Day, I decided to sign up for an online course in professional chocolatiering, offered through Ecole Chocolat. At first thought, "online" and "chocolatiering course" do not seem to fit well together. Yet, they do. I've been conducting assigned research, reading lectures, completing exercises, and finding resources (equipment, packaging, ingredients, supplies) that it would have taken me forever to locate on my own. And, I'm getting my hands into chocolate a lot. I first learn to temper chocolate in the 1980s when I worked at The Chocolate Gallery in Santa Barbara. The owners taught me to temper chocolate using the seed method: You melt the chocolate to a certain temperature to destroy all crystal formations. Then you cool it while agitating and slowly introducing solid ("seed") chocolate. This reintroduces a stable, crystalline structure, so once you've shaped the chocolate or draped it over a delicious filling, it will set up firm, shiny, and with a distinctive snap when it's bitten into.
I've known all along that the purist's way of tempering is without using seed chocolate, but simply melting the chocolate, pouring it onto a marble slab to cool, and working it with a spatula until it becomes stable enough to crystallize. That's what I practiced tonight, with various degrees of success. The first time, I managed to overheat the chocolate after the initial cool-down period. That destroyed the stable crystal formations and the result was spotty chocolate with no snap. Boo. But the second time I got it just right. Then, according to the assignment, I was supposed to scrape the correctly tempered chocolate onto a piece of parchment to let it set. But I couldn't help myself -- I had two pounds of perfectly tempered semisweet chocolate sitting in front of me, so I stuffed a dozen or so dates with marzipan, then dipped them and set them on some parchment to firm up. They were tasty. But the presentation needs work. They look like something a small animal left behind.