How to Melt and Temper Chocolate: Tutorial with Pictures

12.16.09

chocolate covered oreos stack

I noticed several of us have something in common, we really like chocolate. So I thought we’d talk a little chocolate. Are you on board? Today we’ll talk melting, tomorrow we’ll talk buying.

I know that when I first started working with chocolate I was totally bewildered. But after doing enough research, I realized that melting chocolate and dipping fun things in it is pretty simple, it just takes practice. So for those of you with chocolate experience (or a good chocolate recipe), I’d love for you to chime in, and hopefully we can convince anyone who’s hesitant that playing with chocolate is worth a try.

chocolate

SIX THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CHOCOLATE BEFORE MELTING
Let’s get acquainted with chocolate, shall we?
1. You can not over stir. Melted chocolate loves to be stirred.
2. Keep water and alcohol away. One drop will ruin a whole batch of chocolate, making it seize up and turn into a stiff grainy mess.
3. Chocolate does not like heat, just warmth. If you can keep your chocolate below 90 F while you melt it (88 F for milk or white chocolate), it will stay pretty and in temper. If you get it above 120 F (110 F for milk or white chocolate), you risk doing bad things to the chocolate.
4. Chocolate chips are not designed to melt, in fact, they’re designed to not melt (so they can hold their shape in your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe). If you want to melt chocolate, buy a baking chocolate bar or another bar. More on that in my post on buying chocolate.
5. Move slowly. Chocolate is the boyfriend you do not want to scare away. Stir slowly, heat slowly, be patient and it will all turn out for the best in the end. A bigger batch of chocolate will heat and cool more slowly and evenly, so it is easier to work with than a small batch.
6. If you really want to start out easy on yourself, buy cocoa-flavored candy wafers (aka confectionery coating). They’re not real chocolate, and you can tell, they taste a bit waxy, but they are super easy to practice with, And do not need to be tempered because they’re made with vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter. More on that in my post on buying chocolate.

milk chocolate dipped oreosOne of these things just does not belong here.
Chocolate chips are not meant for melting. The chocolate goes on thick and muddy and takes much longer to cool. Can you spot which poor, sad Oreo was dipped in chocolate chips?

seized chocolate
It’s such a tragedy when chocolate meets moisture and seizes (chocolate seized on the left). If this happens to your chocolate, use it to bake yourself some brownies or scoop it into hot milk for a nice rich cup of hot chocolate, or make any recipe that mixes chocolate and mix liquid.

HOW TO MELT CHOCOLATE IN A MICROWAVE
The microwave is a totally legit way to melt chocolate. Serious chocolatiers do it and so can you.

Equipment:
1 Rubbermaid-type container
(You need a bowl that will stay cool in the microwave, so it will not get hot and scorch the chocolate. If you’re not sure if a bowl will work, microwave something in it and take it out to see if it’s still cool enough to handle. If it is, it’s good for chocolate.)

Directions:
1. If your chocolate is in a block, chop it into almond-sized pieces (or into small shreds for milk or white chocolate, which are extra sensitive to heat). Put all of your chocolate in the bowl or cup.
2. Microwave on 50% power for thirty seconds to one minute (shorter if you’re melting just a cupful). Take the chocolate out and stir.
3. Return it to the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds more on 50% power. Take it out and stir.
4. Continue cooking in 5 – to 20-second intervals and stirring until the chocolate is 2/3 melted. Remember, you do not want your chocolate getting too warm. Do not go by sight, the chocolate will still hold its shape until you stir it.
5. Once it’s 2/3 melted just stir until it is completely melted. If it’s still not quite as liquid as you like, even if it’s all melted, put it back in for just 5 seconds or so at 50%.
6. Your chocolate is now ready for dipping. Take the time to stir every few minutes as you dip. The cooling chocolate on the outside of the bowl can affect the still melted chocolate in the middle.
7. Dip to your heart’s content until the chocolate starts to thicken. Then just throw it back in the microwave a few more times for just a few seconds and stir in between. If you want to keep the chocolate in temper, try to keep the chocolate between 88 and 90 F.
Tip: You can also melt chocolate right in a ziplock bag. This is great if you’re going to be piping the chocolate from a ziplock bag anyway. Follow all the same directions, only squish the chocolate around in place of stirring.

Note: Some recipes will call for a tablespoon of shortening to be stirred in the chocolate to make it thinner and more workable (the ratio is usually one tablespoon to every 6 ounces of chocolate). If you start with good chocolate it will have a high cocoa butter content and this should not be necessary. But if you feel like your chocolate needs thinning, it’s okay to add a little extra vegetable fat, just not ideal for the taste. And know that once you add shortening or another ingredient, the chocolate can not be tempered again.

chocolate melted in the microwave
When melting chocolate in the microwave, do not go by sight, the chocolate will still hold its shape until you stir it.

HOW TO MELT CHOCOLATE IN A DOUBLE BOILER
This is my favorite method. I guess I just like chocolate watching the entire time. You just have to be careful, since it’s a little dangerous having water around chocolate. What can I say, I I thrive on danger.

Equipment:
1 sauce pan
1 stainless steel or glass bowl that can fit snug on the pan to make a tight-fitting seal and still leave room for an inch or two of water in the pan below

Directions:
1. If your chocolate is in a block, chop it into almond-sized pieces (or into small shreds for milk or white chocolate).
2. If you’re melting more than just a little chocolate melt 1/3 of the chocolate at a time.
3. Warm a couple inches of water in the pan to just below simmering, then take the pan off the heat.
4. Place the bowl over the top to make your double boiler. It’s totally fine if your bowl touches the water, as long as the water is warm, like 110 degrees, instead of hot. Dump 1/3 of chocolate into the bowl.
5. Let the very edges of the chocolate begin to melt before you stir your first stroke. Once you see the edges melt, stir as the chocolate melts.
6. Once the first third melts, add the second batch, gently stirring and scooping the new chunks around so everything gets to touch everything else and the heat stays even.
7. If the water starts to cool, put the pan back over low heat for a minute or so. To be extra safe, you can take off the bowl full of chocolate and wait to put it back over the pan of water until you’ve taken the pan off the heat.
8. Add the final third of chocolate. Once it’s gotten a good start to melting, take the bowl off the pan (always dry it with a towel when you do this) and keep stirring off the heat until the chocolate is fully melted.
9. Dip away. Stop every few minutes to stir, and if the chocolate gets too cool, put it back over the warm water for a minute or two.

(Remember, if you can be super patient and let those chunks melt slowly, keeping them from getting more than 90 F or 88 F for milk and white chocolate, the chocolate will reward you and stay “in temper” and will still be nice and pretty when it cools.)

makeshift double boilerMy double boiler. I have a real one but prefer my bowl over a pan.

melting chocolate
Let those edges melt slightly before you stir your first stroke.

double boilerStirring, my favorite part. Do not forget to scrape the sides.

Why should I TEMPER CHOCOLATE?
I spent years bliss fully dipping things in melted chocolate chips and not even knowing about tempering chocolate. Well, it was blissful as long as I ate my creations right away. I’d get frustrated when I’d wake up the next morning to find my chocolate streaky or spotted and have no idea why. If only I’d known. Here’s what tempering will do for your chocolate:
1. Your chocolate will go on smoother
2. It will have that nice snap
3. It will be pretty and glossy and not have the gray spots or streaks called fat bloom
4. It will better resist melting when handled

WHEN SHOULD I TEMPER?
Any time your chocolate has to look pretty coated over something or molded on something, you should temper. Chocolate that comes from the factory is already tempered. When you melt chocolate past 90 F (88 F for milk or white chocolate), the fats in the cocoa butter lose their structure. You can get an ugly batch of pure chocolate back into temper, you just have to heat the chocolate high enough so it breaks up bad structures cocoa butter, then cool it just so to  allow good cocoa butter crystals to form. If you let the chocolate cool at the wrong temperature, the cocoa butter will form loose crystals and your chocolate will bloom and will not be in temper. We want nice, tight crystals to form. You need to temper with real chocolate and white chocolate, because both are made of coacoa butter.

fat bloom appears on the surface of untempered chocolate

Fat bloom can develop because you did not prepare your chocolate correctly in the first place, or because you didn’t store it correctly so the cocoa butter had the chance to separate. If you find a block of chocolate with fat bloom, you can temper it and transform it back into pretty, yummy chocolate. You cannot temper (a.k.a. fix) chocolate that has been scorched or that has had any ingredients added to it so it is no longer pure.

TEMPERING EQUIPMENT
To temper chocolate you’ll need
1. A double boiler or sauce pan and bowl if you’re going to do it stove top, or a bowl that stays cool in the microwave if you’re going to nuke your chocolate
2. A chocolate tempereing thermometer that ranges from 70 to 130 F, like this one, you want the sensor to be at the bottom of the thermometer
3. A rubber spatula for stirring (a wooden spoon can retain mosture and smells)
4. Parchment paper for laying out your creatiions once dipped

equipment thermometer for tempering chocolate

TEMPERING SHORT CUT
I like to avoid tempering all together by just buying good chocolate and being super patient the first time I melt to keep it below 90 F (88 F for milk or white chocolate). It takes practice, because it is very easy to over heat the chocolate. So it’s good to know how to temper so I can salvage chocolate on the days I just could not be patient enough.

HOW TO TEMPER: SEEDING METHOD
This one is my favorite. You’ll need some apricot-sized chunks of chocolate that are already in temper. Bigger chunks are easier to get out at the end. They’ll act as a good influence over the other chocolate and bring it into temper. Chop up the chocolate that needs to be tempered into almond-sized pieces as usual. You need about 1 part tempered chocolate to 4 parts untempered chocolate.

1. Melt all the chocolate that needs to be tempered using the microwave or a double boiler as described above. Reserve your good, tempered chocolate chunks. Melt the untempered chocolate to 115 F (110 for milk or white chocolate) to break down the bad cocoa butter structures. Always put the thermometer in the middle of the chocolate when measuring, don’t let it touch the bowl.
2. Add the chunks of good tempered chocolate. Stir until the temperature gets down to 90 F (88 for milk or white chocolate). Stir well so they touch all the untempered chocolate.
3. Remove the extra chunks, either with a spoon or by passing the chocolate through a sieve. The chocolate should now be tempered and ready to go.

TEMPERING: THE CLASSIC METHOD
I’ve had less luck with this method, but you can give it a try. It just a matter of heating, cooling, then reheating the chocolate. Chop up the chocolate that needs to be tempered into almond-sized pieces as usual.
1.
Melt the chocolate to 115 F (110 for milk or white chocolate).
2. Take the bowl off the double boiler if using one and place it over a towel on the counter (the towel acts as an insulator). Stir and cool the chocolate until it reaches 84 F (82 for milk and white chocolate). If you get good at this, you can put the bowl in a bath of cooler water to speed the process.
3. Warm the chocolate, ever so carefully. Microwave on extra low power or put the bowl over a pan of mildly warm water. Warm until it just reaches 90 F (88 for milk and white chocolate). A couple degrees below is okay, but not one degree higher. The chocolate should now be tempered and ready to go.

ONCE TEMPERED
While your dipping, stir occasionally and warm the chocolate occasionally to keep it workable and between 88 and 90 F.

chocolate dipping

After dipping, gently shake your treat back and forth to help the extra chocolate drizzle off

hot chocolate

mmm, rich chocolate poured right into frothy milk, so French
(only in France I’m thinking the cups would be about one eighth this size)

chocolate dipped cone

dipped waffle cone, my favorite
chocolate covered oreo

chocolate dipped oreos, oh ya
chocolate covered gummi bears

yum. enrobed gummis

If you need a good chocolate book, I’ve gone through dozens over the years, but one that stood out was Elaine González’s The Art of Chocolate.González does a great job of explaining how chocolate works without going over your head, or mine at least.

Previous post:

Next post: