Tempering, in its simplest form, means to bring two liquids you plan to blend together to a similar temperature before combining them completely. Tempering is what keeps eggs from cooking when they’re added to a hot sauce and gives chocolate candy a perfect polish. Learning to recognize when to temper in the kitchen will help you serve smooth sauces and soups.
When to Temper
Tempering is probably most often used with chocolate; it’s how candy makers get the glossy finish on candy. Home cooks can do it when they want to add eggs into a warm sauce. Tempering keeps the eggs from cooking. It also comes in handy when blending dairy into a warm sauce. When cold dairy is blended into warm liquid, it can curdle.
Tempering chocolate can be a complicated process. It involves heating up and cooling down chocolate to stabilize it. The crystallization that occurs during that process is what causes chocolate to be shiny and firm at room temperature. Chocolate is gently heated while being monitored closely with a thermometer. You can also temper chocolate by melting part of the chocolate, then slowly stirring solid chocolate into the mixture until it’s smooth.
If you plan to make a custard, ice cream, or another smooth, eggy dish, tempering is your friend. To temper eggs, whisk the eggs together first. Then gradually pour the blended eggs into the warm liquid until they’re completely combined.
Tempering a Sauce
Tempering is important when you want to add sour cream, cream cheese, milk, or other dairy products to a sauce that’s already hot. It keeps the dairy from curdling when it hits the warm base. To temper a sauce, separate some of the warm sauce into a small bowl. Slowly whisk the dairy into the warm sauce until it’s completely blended. Next, stir the combined dairy and sauce into the main batch of sauce, and warm until it is ready to serve. Avoid bringing the sauce to a full boil; that’s another way to accidentally curdle it.