So…Â November and December went by in a flash of caramel and chocolate, with some days that ended at 5am and began again 7am, and some days that didn’t end at all.Â I was lucky enough to have someone wonderful assisting me during much of the time, and after a year of having my own candy business, I felt pretty good…Â I knew my recipes, I knew my packaging, I knew my perils… I had unlimited time in the kitchen… and my body knew that I was going to get all the work done no matter what.
But chocolate always keeps you humble.Â For example, one afternoon during the cold week before Christmas, I lost the ability to temper chocolate.Â It was quite sudden. My intern finished dipping a batch of Scotch Candy Bars in the chocolate melter that I use for tempering chocolate.Â They set with a perfect dark chocolate shine, and she started on the Pumpkin Pie Candy Bars.Â The chocolate set completely differently.Â It had a grainy, matte-like finish and streaking soon became apparent.Â Â It seemed like it could be over-crystallized chocolate, which usually happens after prolonged use, except that streaking of that sort usually doesn’t happen and the chocolate wasn’t that thick; usually it’s a cloudy-looking bloom.
After some inspection, conjecture, and tabulations, we stopped the enrobing, and set the machine to reheat to 115.Â It was odd, but I practically expect chocolate to act oddly sometimes, so I wasn’t really worried. I worked on other things and ran a few errands until that night, when I tried to temper it again…. and all my tests set matte-like with strong white streaks, no matter what I did in terms of temp control and mixing. So, I decided to try again.Â I simmered some water in large pots, transferred the chocolate to multiple bowls, quickly heated up all the chocolate to 120F, poured it back into the melter, and tried again with less seed.Â Same thing.Â Â I called my intern to ask if, by any chance, she’d noticed anything unusual while she was working with it.Â As I’d expected, nothing.
Occasionally, I get into bad habits with my confections that gradually make things a little harder (under-seeding the chocolate for a spell earlier this year), so I began to wonder if I’d worked myself into a bad chocolate tempering corner — maybe an over-seeding habit this time.Â So, I tried to temper just a small bowl.Â Nope. I melted some fresh chocolate pistoles, and tried that.Â It set with sharper streaks and a slightly less cloudy look, but it was still wrong.
At some point during this, I started to think about how it was cold in the kitchen, and in LA.Â Well, for LA, at least… it was 60F in the kitchen.Â For the past few months, I’d tempered chocolate with an ambient temp of 68-72F.Â I hadn’t really kept track of it before then, except when it was too hot during the summer.
Since before I’d started my company, it had always been my fear that it would be too hot to temper chocolate properly — the problem is really that the chocolate will bloom because it takes too long to set.Â I hadn’t imagined that it could be too cold to temper it properly.Â Could that be right?Â It had never happened in the years that I’ve worked with chocolate so far…
It was getting close to the middle of the night and I wanted to research in some books at home to confirm my suspicion and contact some chocolate-knowledgeable friends before I continued, so I went to home to sleep.Â The next morning, I spoke to the friendly and talented Chuck Siegel at Charles Chocolates (where I once interned), and he confirmed that you have to take precautions when you’re in a cold kitchen… after joking about my SoCal definition of “cold,” of course.Â Basically, if you’re working with a melter, the sides and bottom will be warm, but the center will quickly get cold — and the chocolates are usually dipped more near the center than the sides in order to have enough room.Â So, you have to stir often and very, very well to keep the temperature constant and in the working range; depending on the chocolate, you could work with it at 92F, but 91F should be fine.Â Letting it fall to 89F is not good; the crystals will grow fast, and want to set and probably bloom.Â He recommended putting a pan or something to partially cover the melter to retain the heat, since the cold air takes away the heat quickly. You should also bring the chocolate up to 122F and hold it there for a while before adding seed so that all the bad crystals are definitively melted out.
It all made perfect sense.Â And seemed more fussy than I wanted to deal with if I didn’t have to.Â The other alternative was to heat the working room… except that my current kitchen is HUGE and I didn’t even know if it had heat (I’d made sure that it had AC).Â Chad told me that he had a space heater that I could use, but in the HUGE kitchen, I wasn’t sure that it could retain heat in a space.Â Speed racks were the best impromptu walls on hand that I could think of…
Luckily, the Chef at the kitchen suggested the last piece that fell into place: a small conference room off the front of the house.Â It became my heated chocolate room.Â I got a wonderful shine and snap on my next attempt at tempering chocolate, and production was on again.Â I had to consolidate my chocolate work time even more than usual because space heaters use a lot of energy and take time to heat the room sufficiently.Â Â And it can be the flipside of being too hot — heating the room in the cold middle of the night is as arduous on the system as starting up the AC in the hot early afternoon.Â Â But at least I could have the chocolates finish setting and stored in the cold kitchen — that’s not possible in a hot kitchen.
So, anyway… there’s always more to learn about chocolate — especially around busy holiday seasons!Â But with some problem-solving and good advice, it all worked out, and in the end, I just lost a day of production that would have been very nice to have (as well as a day at a farmers market).Â And now I’m enjoying a lovely long vacation with my family — with a fortifying regimen of catching up, eating, surfing, swimming, reading, planning, walking… and sleeping!