I have been asked to make a birthday cake and it is for an unusual client who has lost his sense of taste and smell. Therefore, it has to look amazing! No pressure there then…
When making a cake flavour is absolutely the most important thing for me, and whilst I like to make my cake look good too I usually do this with fruit, or cut out a patterned template to dust icing sugar over. Buttercream is usually my limit but this is to be a special, celebration cake so I’ve decided basic buttercream just won’t cut it. Royal icing? Not my forte (yet), mainly due to my own dislike of the sickly stuff which in my opinion ruins a perfectly decent cake – though I will be perfecting it on the Christmas cake (yum) this year after covering it with marzipan (eurgh). Not to mention, no doubt, all the practice I will get at Leiths.
It is to be a chocolate cake so I’m going for a chocolate extravaganza. The edges of the cake will be decorated with chocolate panels which I made this weekend after a dash to Lakeland to purchase a decent size palette knife and a digital thermometer so I could temper my chocolate properly. This is my first attempt at tempering chocolate and I am pretty pleased with the result.
If melting chocolate to line moulds, for coating, or making chocolate shapes it is essential to temper it to avoid a dull appearance and ‘blooms’ (white blotches) when it hardens. When melted chocolate hardens the cocoa butter in the chocolate forms a crystal structure and type of structure is determined by the temperature at which they formed. Tempering changes the alignment of molecules in chocolate so the desired type of cocoa butter crystals remain unmelted in the chocolate.
How to temper dark chocolate
Firstly, use a good quality chocolate
Chop the chocolate into small pieces (about 1 cm). Reserve 20%
Half fill a saucepan with water and heat until it simmers. Set a heatproof bowl containing 80% of the chocolate above very gently simmering water. Make sure it does not touch the water. Even the tiniest amount of liquid or steam can cause chocolate to seize and whilst it may be possible to rescue it by adding a little oil and reheating it, it will not be possible to temper it.
Stir the chocolate until it melts and reaches a temperature of 45 degrees (43 degrees for milk and white chocolate). Remove from the heat and cool to 27 degrees (25-26 degrees for milk or white) by adding the remaining 20% of chocolate. Stir constantly. This process is called ‘seeding’. – I found the chocolate took quite a long time to drop to this temperature so helped it out by transferring it to a cool bowl and continued to stir to keep the temperature even.
Reheat the cooled chocolate to 31 degrees (27 degrees for milk or white). Do not let it exceed 33 degrees or you will need to reheat it to 45 degrees and start the process again as I had to do as the temperature rocketed far quicker than I was anticipating when I placed it above the water. Do not allow the chocolate to overheat or it will seize.
To test if the chocolate has tempered successfully, dip the back of a teaspoon into the chocolate, tap of the excess and allow to stand for 5 minutes. It should harden and be shiny. If not, repeat the tempering process.
Once tempered keep at 31 degress by placing the bowl in a roasting tin half filled with lukewarm water.
To make chocolate panels
I did not have any acetate so borrowed this technique from Mandy Mortimer of What the Fruitcake?!, which uses baking paper. However, whilst it worked perfectly on the upside, the underside does not have the same shine, so I think it is worth investing in acetate.
To cover the sides of a 9 inch cake I used 250g of 70% dark chocolate to make 10x 4cm panels.
1. Drawn a 20 x 40cm rectangle on a piece of baking paper. Extend the lines so you know where to cut once the template has been covered in tempered chocolate.
2. Mark lines every 4cm along the longest sides and 10cm on the shortest.
3. Reverse the paper and tape it to the worktop or baking sheet.
4. Pour the tempered chocolate on to the template and spread evenly with a palette knife. It will start to harden quickly.
5. While the chocolate is still tacky, cut out the panels using a sharp knife
6. Once completely hardened, use or store in an airtight container between sheets of greaseproof paper.
To create a pattern, drizzle or pipe tempered chocolate of a different colour over the chocolate slab. Continue from step 5.
To embed the design into the slab as I have done, drizzle or pipe your design on to the baking paper. I used 50g tempered milk chocolate. Allow to harden and continue from step 4.
I will be posting the finished cake in a few days time.
Cooking for engineers – Tempering Chocolate
Leiths Techniques Bible
What the Fruitcake?! – Chocolate shards
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