Most of the time, "tempering" is just a fancy way of saying that you want to mix two liquids of different temperatures together without altering the texture of the liquids. Tempering usually comes into play when dealing with what I would call "heat sensitive" foods like chocolates or eggs, but can refer to any type of liquids.
Tempering chocolate has a different meaning. You aren’t trying to combine two liquids of differing temperatures, but instead are trying to heat and cool chocolate in order to give it that nice sheen that chocolate candies are known for. For more on that, take a look at the tips in this How to Temper Chocolate article.
Let’s talk tempering eggs. When recipes call for you to temper eggs, you generally need to add a hot liquid to an egg mixture. If you just combine the two mixtures, you’ll end up with cooked eggs in your sauce. The goal here is to slowly bring up the temperature of the eggs without scrambling them.
Avoiding the Scrambled Egg
Tempering liquids is really quite easy. Let’s say you are making eggnog and the recipe you are using calls for boiling a cream based mixture. In a separate bowl you’ve got a sugar and egg mixture. The next step is to combine these two mixtures. If you simply poured the hot cream into the egg mixture you’d have scrambled eggnog. Doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it?
Instead of just pouring all
of the hot cream into the egg mixture, you need to add a very small amount of the hot liquid into the eggs while constantly whisking the eggs. Continue slowly adding the hot liquid while whisking the eggs and after a few moments you can safely add the remaining hot liquid.
Adding the hot liquid slowly will gradually bring up the temperature of the eggs without scrambling them.
Recipes That Require Egg Tempering
Besides eggnog, other egg-based dishes like soufflés and custards will sometimes require you to temper the eggs. Some recipes will specifically call for tempering the liquids while others will spell it out for you, telling you to slowly add the hot ingredient into the cooler one.
Other recipes may be negligent and just tell you to go nuts—combining hot and cold liquids with reckless abandon. But, always keep an eye out when working with eggs. If you ever need to combine a boiling or hot liquid with eggs, make sure you do it slowly and gradually.
If you have any recipes that call for tempered eggs, be sure to take a minute to log in and post them for others to try!