Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I don’t know if there’s anything as sweet as a box of chocolate dipped strawberries. Have you ever made them? They’re a treat that just feels special! I was in the cake supply store a few weeks back, picking up Pastry Pride to make an ice cream cake, when I found myself chatting up the owner about the various chocolate/candy melts. Taste-wise, I’m not a huge fan of the easy melts that are typically used to make molded candies and coat the ever-popular cake pops. When it comes to chocolate, I like the real stuff, and the darker the better! When we’re talking about melting chocolate, though, using the real stuff can be a bit more finicky. Candy melts are easy – you melt them a bit at a time until they’re melted smooth, dip your stuff, let ’em cool. Real chocolate needs to be tempered so that it cools and hardens with a nice texture (“snappable”) and so that it doesn’t “bloom” (or form unattractive white spots after cooling).
So, how do you temper chocolate? I quizzed the poor cake/candy store lady. And, I’m still no expert, but I did get a few helpful tips. Basically, when you temper chocolate, you’re going to melt it slowly, making sure you heat it to a maximum temperature. Then, you stir it while it cools to a specific temperature, and THEN it’s ready to use. Lots of stirring, lots of checking the temperature. I learned that each brand and each variety of chocolate requires different temperatures for this process AND all you have to do is look up the chocolate brand on the web and they’ll tell you how to temper their chocolate. You can purchase chocolate for melting from a candy supply store; check around in your neighborhood to find available high quality chocolate for baking. Using my newfound tips, I was able to dip these strawberries with great results! Here’s how I did it:
First, wash your strawberries and blot them with a paper towel to remove the excess water. Set them on paper towels to dry the rest of the way.
Gather the chocolate you’ll be using. Chop it into small pieces if you purchased it in a chunk/bar. Although my chocolate is in pieces that look like the candy melts, it is actually real chocolate, ready for melting. Check the website or a reliable source for specific instructions to melt your particular chocolate. I’m going to continue with the specifics for Guittard dark chocolate.
Bring a small pan of water to about 130 degrees. Turn off the burner. Place a bowl over the pan (or the top of a double boiler if you have one) and place the chocolate pieces inside the bowl.
Stir the chocolate gently until about ⅔ of it is melted completely (about 95 degrees). Remove from the lower pan. Stirring the chocolate continually, allow the mixture to cool (the remaining chocolate will finish melting). Stir and cool until the chocolate reaches 89 degrees. It’s ready for use!
Hold one strawberry gently by its stem and dip it down into the melted chocolate. Lift it up and allow the excess to drip off.
Place dipped strawberries on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper to cool. Add sprinkles or contrasting stripes of melted white chocolate if you’d like. Store in a cool place. Eat within one day.
Note: You can purchase a thermometer in the temperature range discussed here (40-140 degrees), but note that a candy thermometer does not reach those lower temperatures. I improvised with a regular people thermometer, though I don’t think it registers below 90 degrees. Basically, I kept checking the temp of the chocolate and as soon as the reading shifted to “Lo,” I considered the chocolate “in temper.” It’ll work okay in a pinch, but if you have the forethought to purchase an appropriate cooking thermometer, it will save you the guesswork.
I’m going to continue working on my “tempering” skills. Let me know if you’ve mastered this very important skill!