Tempering a Butter

Mystery Fragrance #8 is in the mold, but not quite ready to cut.  In the meantime, let's learn a little bit about tempering a butter.

When using a butter, such as shea, mango, or cocoa butter, it is often advised to temper it.  But what precisely is "tempering?"

You may have heard someone use the term tempering in regards to chocolate.  It that instance, it means to melt the chocolate, and then slowly lower the temperature to 88-90 degrees.  At this point, you will want to stir vigorously to prevent the melted chocolate from cooling too quickly and forming crystalline clumps within the chocolate.  If done correctly, tempered chocolate is smooth, shiny, and has a beautiful "snap."  If you imagine chocolate covered strawberries, that lovely chocolate coating on the strawberries has been tempered.

We can do the same thing with our butters.  The process is a little different, seeing as we don't need to achieve quite the same results.  But it does help to prevent a butter from becoming grainy when incorporated into a product.  If you are using a butter in cold process soap, it doesn't need to be tempered.  However, I temper all of my cocoa, shea, and mango butters because I use them in several different products.  This helps me to be able to grab the tempered butter I need without having to go through the process each time.

Here's how I do it, and what works for me.  I'll be using cocoa butter for this example, but the process works the same for shea and mango butters.

I buy deodorized cocoa butter in fairly large quantities, so the first order of business is for me to break it up into manageable pieces.  Mango and shea butters aren't as hard, so this process is easier for those butters.  Cocoa butter requires the use of a hammer and chisel.  I typically break up the block all at once, to save time later.  I don't temper it all at once though, so the remaining pieces go into gallon sized ziploc bags for storage.

I take several chunks of the broken up cocoa butter and melt it down.  You can do this is the microwave, in a crock pot, over a double boiler on the stove or any other way you can melt it and keep the temperature fairly controlled.  You don't need it to get extremely hot, just warm enough that everything is completely melted.  I usually heat until things are mostly liquid, then stir to melt the remaining solid chunks.  Cocoa butter melts around 93-94 degrees, so keep this in mind when melting.  You don't need it to be 200 degrees!  I didn't get a picture of my big pot of melted cocoa butter because I forgot, but I pour it into those long spouted cups for ease in portioning.

I like to portion my cocoa butter into small pieces for ease in measuring later.  I use this gingerbread man silicone mold that I picked up at a craft store.  I like this particular mold because not only are the pieces fairly small, but I can also break off pieces easily to make the correct weights when I use the cocoa butter later.  The arms, legs, and heads break off easily.  I've used other similar molds, such as hearts, flowers, and trees, and have found that I prefer the gingerbread man for cocoa butter.  For other butters, I find that the shapes don't matter as much to me.  However, this is completely up to you!  I also place the mold on a rimmed cookie sheet so I can move it around easily.  The silicone bends, meaning that I could spill something if I didn't support it evenly.

Now I just pour the melted cocoa butter into each mold.  Sometimes I'm neater than other times, but I do try to keep it in the actual mold spaces.  This is why I use the cup with the long spout!  Pouring directly from the pot just leads to a big mess.  It's not a huge deal if they aren't totally neat, as you can break those pieces off when unmolding and store them as well.  The filled mold goes into the refrigerator for about 4-6 hours, or until the cocoa butter is about 30-35 degrees or so.  Some people say that you can let it solidify at room temperature, but I find that the cocoa butter doesn't cool evenly and gets spotty and/or grainy.  In an effort to help it cool more quickly and evenly, I use the refrigerator.  In a perfect world, I can leave it in the refrigerator overnight.      

After about 4-6 hours, the cocoa butter is solid and ready to unmold.  It's nice and smooth, and ready to use.  Use a temp gun to test the temperature of the cocoa butter.  You want it to be about the same temperature as the interior of your refrigerator, around 32-34 degrees.  You'll need it to come out of the mold easily, without cracking or melting against the heat of your fingers.  It can take a little bit of trial and error to find the sweet spot for you, since everyone's refrigerator and house are different!

I put the now tempered cocoa butter into gallon sized ziploc bags for storage until I need it.  It's easy to grab whenever I need it!  I store it at room temperature, but I don't seal the ziploc bag until the cocoa butter has come up to room temperature.  This is to help prevent condensation on the interior of the bag.  

Remember, this is the technique that I have found works for me.  What works for you may be very different!  

How do you prepare your butters for use?

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