Strawberry Peppercorn Dark Chocolate Bark

Strawberry Peppercorn Dark Chocolate Bark

February 9, 2016

Artisan Chocolate Series, Part 1: Tempering

Full disclosure: I am not a bean-to-bar* chocolate operation.

I just want to lay it bare from the start.

My packaging can’t be framed in an art gallery, and I must even admit I have terrible luck growing a full, luscious beard, or even a respectable moustache.

But guys.

That doesn’t mean I can’t make amazing artisan chocolates – and it shouldn’t stop you either.

Impress your Valentine this holiday by leveling up your chocolate-making skills. In this series, we’ll walk through the basics of working with chocolate – learn how to temper chocolate, giving it snap and shine, and apply your skills to create simple but stunning chocolate barks, hand-molded truffles, and even molded chocolates (as in, created in a plastic mold, not aged beyond pleasant consumption…)

Strawberry Peppercorn Dark Chocolate Bark

Don’t settle for dinky “truffle” tutorials that have you roll a sad ball of ganache in powdered chocolate and call it a day. Go full Godiva and make a fancy-pants collection of beautiful, enticing hard-shell chocolates and snappy bark worthy of gifting to your significant other.

Or, you, know, for secret happy alone eating. No judgement, I’ve done both.

The simplest and quickest way to chocolate satisfaction is making chocolate bark. Bark is nothing more than tempered chocolate you pour out and smooth to even thinness, then sprinkle with any toppings that spark your fancy. Once you get the basic tempering method down, the possibilities are endless – white chocolate with lemon zest, pistachios and dried cherries; or maybe milk chocolate with popcorn and bits of bacon; or perhaps a superfood dark chocolate bark with sunflower seeds, dried açai berries and toasted quinoa!

Strawberry Peppercorn Dark Chocolate Bark

For Valentine’s day, we’re using a spicy, sense-tingling combination of fruity red peppercorns and sweet, textural freeze-dried strawberries. Don’t be afraid to give this odd-sounding duo a try – the bright pop of the pepper livens up the mellow sweetness of the fruit, and freeze-dried strawberries have an interesting toothsome texture that softens as you chew. The fatty, fruity dark chocolate mellows any bite from from the pepper into the perfect, satisfying sweet bite. It’s seriously a texture/flavor party! Plus, it’s so pinky-red and festive, guys.

To make this tasty bark, let’s start with the chocolaty basics.

Chocolate Primer

At it’s simplest, chocolate is made of three elements: cocoa (cacao, made from beans/nibs), fat (cocoa butter) and sugar. Different percentages of cocoa (or the absence thereof) result in dark, milk and white chocolate.

Strawberry Peppercorn Dark Chocolate Bark

To harness the magical powers of chocolate, you must learn to control your temper. Chocolate tempering is a technique where you control the melting process of chocolate in a way that stabilizes and restructures the fat crystals, resulting in a smooth, shiny mass of chocolate that will snap when broken or bitten. You’ve experienced tempered chocolate if you’ve ever snapped off a square piece of Hershey’s chocolate bar, or when you bite into the shell of a chocolate truffle and the sphere cracks.

There are three basic steps to the tempering process, roughly summarized as melt/cool/melt & hold :

  • Melt: Using a double boiler (or a metal mixing bowl placed over a saucepan), melt the chocolate, bringing it up to a certain temperature so the fat crystals loosen and relax (knocking the legos into a loose pile on the floor).
  • Cool: Let the chocolate cool slowly. Introduce previously tempered chocolate (called “seeding”) into the mix to bring the temperature down and to show the existing fat crystals what they should be doing (stacking the legos back neatly on top of each other).
  • Melt & Hold: Bring the chocolate back up to a certain temperature so it is workable and hold it at that temperature as long as necessary to create your chocolate pieces. At this stage you can pour the chocolate into bars or bark, dip pre-rolled fillings in it to make chocolate truffles, or pour it into a mold to create a molded, fillable shell (think Reeses Peanut Butter Cups).

Strawberry Peppercorn Dark Chocolate Bark

As a general rule, the more fat, the more difficult to work with. This means dark chocolate is the easiest to temper, because it has the least amount of fat to whip into order. White chocolate, made mostly of cocoa butter (fat), is the most difficult to temper – not impossible, just more finicky!

The Melt/Cool/Melt & Hold process requires higher melting temperatures for dark chocolate than milk or white. When following the tempering recipe below, you will use the following temperatures:

  • Dark chocolate: Melt to 115°; cool to 79°; melt and hold at 88-90°
  • Milk chocolate: Melt to 110°; cool to 79°; melt and hold at 85-88°
  • White chocolate: Melt to 110°; cool to 79°; melt and hold at 84-87°

Which Chocolates to Use for Tempering

Like wine, cheese or coffee beans, chocolates grown in different regions leach different flavors from their environments. Outside of your basic grocery store chocolates, no two chocolates taste the same!

Strawberry Peppercorn Dark Chocolate Bark

Here or some of my favorite easy-to-find chocolates for tempering:

  • Trader Joe’s 72% – deep, coffee flavor, cheap, a great chocolate to practice with!
  • TCHO 66% – fruity and complex, comes in easy to chop feves (found at Whole Foods, Sur la Table)
  • Valrhona Manjari – French chocolate from Lyon area, fruity and tannic  (found at Whole Foods)
  • El Rey – Venezuelan chocolate, spicy, coffee flavors  (found at Whole Foods)
  • Callebaut – Belgian chocolate, smooth, mellow and rich  (found at Whole Foods, Sprouts)
  • Ghirardelli – also fruity, affordable ( (found at grocery stores everywhere)
  • Note: Never use chocolate chips for tempering. I know it’s tempting to cut down on your chopping time, but chocolate chips have added stabilizers that disrupt the tempering process – that’s why they keep their shape in cooked cookies!

Strawberry Peppercorn Dark Chocolate Bark

Be sure to read through the tempering process a few times so you are familiar before starting. Once you master the tempering process, a whole world of chocolate-making will open up before you! Take the first step toward chocolate mastery today.

*At least, as of publishing time (in case I one day need a paper trail of my chocolate provenance claims)!

Strawberry Peppercorn Dark Chocolate Bark
Exotic pairing of spicy, fruity red peppercorns and sweet freeze-dried strawberries to test out your chocolate tempering skills.
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Total Time
45 min
Total Time
45 min
INGREDIENTS
  1. 2 Tbsp red peppercorns
  2. ½ cup freeze-dried strawberries*, roughly chopped
  3. 1 lb dark chocolate, chopped (⅓ chopped very finely)
TOOLS
  1. Aluminum foil
  2. Double boiler (or a bowl or pot on top of another pot filled with boiling/water)
  3. Instant read thermometer/Infrared thermometer
  4. Spatula
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Set a piece of aluminum foil (approximately 1.5 - 2 feet long) shiny side up on a flat surface near your stovetop. Assemble the pepper and strawberries nearby for quick access, you will have to work fast once the chocolate has been poured.
TEMPERING INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Chop the chocolate, chopping ⅓ of it extra finely.
  2. Set-up the double boiler and get the water going at a low boil or simmer.
  3. Add ⅔ chopped chocolate to top of double boiler. Gently stir (don’t whip - you don’t want bubbles or air incorporated. Take care not to get any water in the mix, or the chocolate will seize!)
  4. When most of the chocolate is melted, turn the heat down a bit and begin checking the temperature. When the temperature reaches just under 115, quickly take it off the heat and away from the steam.
  5. Slowly add portions of your reserved ⅓ chocolate, stirring until melted. The room temperature chocolate will help cool and seed the big batch. Bring the temperature down to 79 degrees. This takes a little patience as it can take 10-15 minutes to come down to the right temperature! Stir frequently to make sure the batch has a homogenous temperature (doesn’t get cold and hard on the edges but warm and soft in the middle).
  6. When the batch hits 79 degrees, put it back on the double boiler and turn the burner to low - this part happens faster than you think it will! Stirring constantly, raise the chocolate temperature to between 88 and 90 degrees. Don’t go over! If you exceed 90 degrees, you have to start the whole process over.
BARK INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Pour the chocolate out onto your aluminum foil, quickly smoothing with a spatula to your desired thickness (I like mine somewhere between ⅛ - ¼ of an inch thick).
  2. Quickly and evenly sprinkle the peppercorns and then the strawberries across the top of the chocolate. Lightly press strawberries into the chocolate to help them adhere.
  3. Let cool for 15-30 minutes, or until you can snap an edge off cleanly. Snap into jagged pieces by hand or with the aid of a knife.
Notes
  1. *I have found these at both Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Sprouts - check your local specialty grocery store or order online (they make a tasty, low calorie snack, too!)
Delicious in Denver http://deliciousindenver.com/
Chocolate Tempering Instructions
General process for tempering chocolate to make bars, hand-made truffles, and molded chocolates.
Write a review
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1 lb dark chocolate, chopped (⅓ chopped very finely)
TOOLS
  1. Double boiler (or a bowl or pot on top of another pot filled with boiling/water)
  2. Instant read thermometer/Infrared thermometer
  3. Spatula
NOTE- IF USING MILK OR WHITE CHOCOLATE, SUBSTITUTE THE FOLLOWING TEMPERATURES
  1. Milk chocolate: 110, 79, 85-88
  2. White chocolate: 110, 79, 84-87
TEMPERING INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Chop the chocolate, chopping ⅓ of it extra finely.
  2. Set-up a double boiler and get the water going at a low boil or simmer.
  3. Add ⅔ chopped chocolate to top of double boiler. Gently stir (don’t whip - you don’t want bubbles or air incorporated. Take care not to get any water in the mix, or the chocolate will seize!)
  4. When most of the chocolate is melted, turn the heat down a bit and begin checking the temperature. When the temperature reaches just under 115, quickly take it off the heat and away from the steam.
  5. Slowly add portions of your reserved ⅓ chocolate, stirring until melted. The room temperature chocolate will help cool and seed the big batch. Bring the temperature down to 79 degrees. This takes a little patience as it can take 10-15 minutes to come down to the right temperature! Stir frequently to make sure the batch has a homogenous temperature (doesn’t get cold and hard on the edges but warm and soft in the middle).
  6. When the batch hits 79 degrees, put it back on the double boiler and turn the burner to low - this part happens faster than you think it will! Stirring constantly, raise the chocolate temperature to between 88 and 90 degrees. Don’t go over! If you exceed 90 degrees, you have to start the whole process over. Or just eat all of that untempered chocolate in one sitting…
  7. Maintain a temperature of around 89 while you make your bark/truffles or molded chocolates.
Delicious in Denver http://deliciousindenver.com/
 

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