If you are using chocolate as an ingredient in a recipe, then tempering isn't necessary. But, if you are using couverture chocolate for dipping or decorating baked items of bonbons at home, then tempering is an essential step for making a smooth, glossy, and evenly coloured chocolate coating with a good snap.
What is tempering?
Did you know that the process of tempering, in both steel and chocolate, is the same? It's true.
Couverture chocolate is very fine, high quality chocolate that has added cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is a fat. As a fat, cocoa butter is amazing — it has a crystalline structure that is polymorphic, which means the fat crystals in the cocoa butter behave differently at different temperatures. There are 6 kinds of identified fat crystals in chocolate, the one that is our best friend during tempering is called Beta 5.
The purpose of tempering chocolate is to use time, temperature, and motion to get the fat crystals to transform and behave they way you want them to. The chocolate is heated, then cooled, and stirred constantly to distribute the temperature until only the desired type of fat crystal (the Beta 5) remains. This process is also called pre-crystallization.
During pre-crystallization, the Beta 5 fat crystals in the cocoa butter "seed" or persuade all of the other fat crystals to change to Beta 5 as well. It's kind of like how frost forms and spreads across a wet window on a cold cold day.
The formation of Beta 5 crystals in the chocolate guarantees stability — a perfect finished product with a satin gloss and a hard snap. Like tempered steel. Saying that chocolate is "tempered" is the same as saying the chocolate is "crystallized"
If you'd like to try your hand at tempering chocolate, then read our guide How to Temper Chocolate Using the Microwave.