Level: Alchemist

Reading Time: 10 minutes

I wanted to know what recommendations you have for making more soft chocolates. 
At first I thought about playing around with the temper, but realized that would give me very inconsistent results due to the variable nature of tempering. Although when I did get it right, the chocolate was superb.
Then I started experimenting with oils of various kinds to produce a slightly softer chocolate, but I have found them somewhat inconsistent,. and if I use more than 4% of an oil that is liquid at room temp (e.g. rapeseed) then the chocolate develops a very oily texture and feel.
I also noticed that when using oils, the softness of the texture would change, and the chocolate would become harder over the days, alluding the crystallization process is an on-going process for at least several days.
Now I am thinking about reducing the amount of cocoa butter in the chocolate, so less crystals = softer chocolate, which makes sense, but this will obviously throw all of the other ingredient proportions out.

I have been asked variations of this more and more as of late.  It seems to stem from the fact that people struggle with tempering.  Make no mistake, it can be tricky business so the general trend is to think more is better and throw everything you know about it to make the best temper possible. At the beginning that is fine when your two options are bloomed chocolate or tempered chocolate.  But at some point most people come to realize that tempering is not an all or nothing endeavor.  It is a continuum not unlike a number line, -10 being bloomed, 0 being untempered and 10 being a very hard temper.  You seem to want a 3-6.

As a reminder, tempering isn’t anything magical.  It is cocoa butter crystallization.  Cocoa butter is kind of special in that it can stack together into at least 5 distinct forms.  To understand how those form, it is probably helpful to understand just what is stacking together.  Cocoa butter is often pictured as this.  



The issue is that isn’t really what it looks like.  It is just easy to draw.  Notice that double line in the lower fatty acid?  That is a double bond and in reality it looks closer to this.



And really again that isn’t quite right either.  Sort of like the same pole on a pair of magnets, atoms inside a molecule like to be as far apart from one another as they can get so some flip around.



The reason I want to show you this is you can then start to see how the cocoa butter molecules can align and stack up.


And once you have a set like that, other groups can likewise form up and intertwine.



And you end up with a nice ordered Type V crystal structure.



You were on the right track with other oils, but as you noticed they can give you quite incosisent results.  Usually the reason is that many oils are only one fatty acid – just one of the three present in the cocoa butter molecule.  The result is it doesn’t have a place in the structure.  It might go somewhat in the correct area and slightly break up the crystal thereby giving you a softer temper, but most likely it will just go into random locations and throw a spanner in the entire works.



This is the main reason coconut oil keeps chocolate from tempering from scratch.  It gets in the way of the cocoa butter trying to get into formation.  It is so good at it (at being bad) that it usually keeps all crystallization from happening which means it is pretty rare for chocolate with coconut oil to even bloom.  Coconut oil has a bit of oleic acid in it, which is the fatty acid in cocoa butter that has kink.  You can see how it can really screw up crystal formation.



If you consider your other thought now about less cocoa butter I think you may see that isn’t the right direction.  All less cocoa butter will do will be to limit the size of the crystal, not their overall strength.  They can still stack up just fine – they will just run out a little earlier.  Less cocoa butter just leads to a viscous chocolate, not one with a lesser temper.

To get a softer temper you have to employ the combination of one or more conditions that lessen the strength of the crystal lattice.  The two main ways are through a balance of time and heat.  A slightly warmer tempering temperature will give more energy to the cocoa butter molecules and that keeps those three fatty acid chains in more motion, making it harder for them to get into alignment.  Of course too much heat and they fly completely apart and you are out of temper. 

Unfortunately you never quite know how big the crystals are (unless you are using Silk, another reason it tempers so well) so you don’t know how hot to go or for how long.  All in all extra heat is not a great tool.  Going back to silk briefly though, if you are using a constant amount of silk, you can slightly adjust the temperature and get better control.  93 F or even 94 F can give you a softer temper without going out of temper.

The better way is with a better choice of oil.  Have you ever noticed milk chocolate never quite has a hard snap no matter what you do?  The reason is the milk fat.  Unlike coconut oil and other room temperature oils, butter is also a triglyceride like cocoa butter.  It isn’t exactly the same (or it would be cocoa butter) but it is similar enough to allow the temper to proceed but different enough to push the structure just a little out of alignment resulting in a softer temper.

For those of you who like data, butter is approximately myristic acid (20%), stearic acid (15%), palmitic acid (15%) and oleic acid (32%)  Compare this to cocoa butter that is palmitic acid (26%), stearic acid (34.5%), and oleic acid (34.5%).  Very similar, eh?

Because the oleic acid is present (that bent chain) and the other fatty acid chains are similar, that allows the butter to slip in with mostly predictable results.

I know that is mostly theory and not much in the way of practical advice.  As you start to peak behind the curtain you can begin to see there isn’t going to be one simple full proof method for controlling your chocolate’s temper.  The system is just too complex.  But you can start to get a feel for what might work, directions to take and directions that don’t bear even trying.

The simplest addition is a little bit of clarified butter (so the water is removed).  1-5% will soften up your temper without imparting any appreciable flavor.

Coconut oil and or coconut milk might actually bear looking into.  The key is going to be a very small amount.  You want to inhibit crystallization in small local areas but still need some Type V formation.  I would start at something as little as 0.1% and probably not exceed 1%. 

You can also look at other vegetable oils that have triglyceride structures someone like cocoa butter preferably with a similar oleic acid content.  The top ones are corn, palm and peanut.  Each of those might or might not have allergy or social concerns but I’m tackling this from a chemistry perspective. Again, I would look at 1-5% and see what they get you.

Finally, you can experiment with time and temperature.  The way to approach this is think of a growing system.  The longer you are in a temperature zone that will allow crystals other than Type V, they will.  That means a really slow cooling is not good.  Conversely a REALLY rapid cooling won't give the Type V seed to branch out and grow into their neighbors completing the crystal structure.  

A slightly high pour up temperature to keep rampant Type V growth down, followed by a sharp but short cooling to set the crystals that are  there in place can be very effective.  Think of it a flash freezing the temper at the stage you want.  I silk temper at 93 F, refrigerate for 8 minutes and then set at room temperature until I unmold.

I want to leave you with one last thing to consider.  And please don’t take this as support of huge agro corporations.  I have heard sneering and thinly (or not so thinly) disguised contempt for the addition of non-cocoa butter oils to commercial chocolate, the judgement being that it is done for cost and that it makes inferior chocolate.

Without committing or commenting on that, think if maybe those that have been in the business so long might be adding other oils for the sake of tempering control.  I am not saying that is the case…but I am not saying it is not. 

I’m mostly saying keep an open mind and don’t judge out of hand as I AM getting quite the number of request for a way to soften the temper.

That’s all folks. 

Happy chocolate making and please keep those questions coming in.