Chocolates are one of the most popular treats in the United States (some sources claim that over 50% of the candy sold in America is some form of chocolate). Some chocolate creations are simple in shape (like a standard chocolate bar) and some are extravagant sculptures (like the ones shown at ChocolateWork.com). At home, it's not always easy to get chocolate to melt and set properly. Sometimes the chocolate burns, sometimes it seizes, and sometimes it just doesn't seem to harden as expected. In order for melted chocolate to harden (and shaped) properly, it needs to be tempered. In this article, I'll hit on the basics of melting and tempering chocolate.
What's the big deal? Don't I just melt chocolate like melting butter? Chocolate, the popular product manufactured by roasting, fermenting, and processing the beans of a cacao tree in combination with sugar (and milk in some cases), is a pretty amazing food. Chocolate (when used in the singular form typically refers to the basic ingredient, while the plural chocolates is often used to refer to candies made with chocolate as a primary ingredient) has a complex flavor that can change and develop as it melts. Since its melting point is just below human body temperature, this means that while eating chocolate, both the texture (as it changes from solid to creamy liquid) and its flavor gradually changes in the mouth. This low melting point does makes it very easy to melt. Unfortunately, chocolate can burn if heated over 200°F (95°C) which is very likely when heated directly over an open flame. This need not be a concern if the proper precautions are taken.
Another potential problem when working with melted chocolate is "seizing". Chocolate is an extremely dry food. It's odd to think of a melted solid as dry, but imagine molten metal - it's a liquid, but has no water content. If a little water comes into contact with melted chocolate, the sugar and cacao in the chocolate will immediately absorb the moisture and clump up. This event is called seizing. The only solution to this is to add more water (or cream or milk) until the chocolate is saturated and becomes a syrup. Unfortunately, this chocolate cannot be tempered or used as pure chocolate anymore, but can be used in a variety of other recipes that call for chocolate and whatever watery ingredient was added.
Melting Chocolate There are several easy ways to melt chocolate. I'll discuss two of the most useful ones. The microwave oven method is the easiest but works best when using a small amount of chocolate (less than 1 pound). The chocolate should be in relatively small pieces (chocolate chips also work well), so if you're using chocolate bars or blocks, you'll want to cut the chocolate into smaller pieces first. Microwave in short bursts, about 30 seconds at a time, and stir between each microwave session to provide even heating. At some point, the chocolate will be warm and the pieces will hold their shape as you pull it out of the microwave oven, but they will be slightly shiny and mush as you stir it. Keep stirring and allow the residual heat to melt the rest of the chocolate. If done properly and gently enough on high quality tempered chocolate, this method can result in melted chocolate that is still tempered. Heat it too much and you'll lose the temper, so it's important to stop as soon as the chocolate is about to melt.
The double boiler method uses a little more equipment, but gives you the most control while melting chocolate. You can melt larger quantities of chocolate with this method and use larger pieces (up to 2 ounce blocks). Select a heat proof bowl to place your chocolate in. Put about 1/2-in. water into a pot and place the bowl on top of the pot. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Now you have a double boiler.
Put the bowl aside and bring the water to a boil. If you're melting a small amount of chocolate, you can simply take the pot of water off the heat. If melting a larger quantity of chocolate, keep the pot on the heat and turn it down to a bare simmer. Place the bowl of chocolate on top of the pot of hot water and stir the chocolate using a silicone spatula until it has melted. Be careful not to allow any steam or condensation to enter the melting chocolate or it can seize. This is usually not a problem if you are watchful and have a lip on the bowl. You can remove the bowl from the pan whenever you need to slow down the heating process and place it back on to introduce more heat. This will prove vital while tempering.
Tempering Chocolate When melted chocolate returns to solid form the cocoa butter in the chocolate forms a crystal structure. The strange (or cool depending on who you're talking to) thing about cocoa butter is that the crystal structure they take on depends on the temperature at which they are formed. If the chocolate is allowed to cool on its own, the crystals of fat will be loose, resulting in a chocolate that is dull in appearance, soft & malleable, and greasy to the touch. This loose crystalline structure has a slightly lower melting point than tempered chocolate crystals. If, instead, while cooling, the chocolate is kept at 88°F (31°C), the loose crystal structure will not form (88°F is above the formation point of the loose crystals). At this temperature the cocoa butter actually forms a dense crystalline structure. Holding the chocolate at this temperature and stirring will allow a whole bunch of these stable crystal structures to form providing a lot of seed crystals to form in the chocolate. When the chocolate is finally allowed to fully cool, if there are enough stable seed crystals, then the chocolate will harden into a very stable hard chocolate with a slight sheen, snap when broken, and will keep for months at cool room temperature. Tempered chocolate provides enough stability to be worked into a variety of shapes - sheets, painted onto leaves and peeled off, flowers, cups, and molds. It also helps prevent the cocoa butter from rising to the surface of the chocolate and blooming into unsightly light brown markings or coatings.
To temper, most chocolate books will tell you to fully melt the chocolate and then to pour 3/4 of the chocolate onto a marble slab and repeatedly fold the chocolate onto itself and smear it across the marble until the chocolate is a uniform 82°F (28°C). The chocolate is then returned to the remaining hot chocolate and stirred in. The final mixture is either reheated or the residual heat is enough to bring the temperature back up to 88-90°F (31-32°C). This technique is can be a bit tricky and requires a marble slab (or other large, flat, cool surface like a sheet of aluminum or upside down sheet pan), a plastic scraper for smearing the chocolate (a spatula will also work), and a chocolate thermometer (an instant read that can measure accurately to the degree like the Thermapen will also work fine). The chocolate needs to be worked sufficiently on the marble slab for enough seed crystals to form, so you have to work relatively quickly as the chocolate cools. A good way to tell when you've reached the right temperature and stage is to pay attention to the viscosity of the chocolate. When the chocolate begins to thicken a little, you've reached the point where seed crystals are forming and you should be able to reincorporate it into the rest of the chocolate. The tempered chocolate must then be kept at tempering temperature, 88-90°F (31-32°C) until used.
I find that the seed method (as described in The Professional Chef) is a little easier. Since almost all the chocolate that is sold is already tempered, we can use a piece of this already tempered chocolate as a plentiful source of seed crystals.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler while stirring to ensure unform temperature.
Once the chocolate has fully melted and reached a temperature of over 105°F (41°C), remove it from the heat. At this temperature, all the crystals, loose or stable, should be melted. Add a piece of unmelted chocolate to provide the seed crystals. This piece can be as big as 2 ounces (if you're melting a sizeable amount of chocolate) or can be chopped up into a few smaller pieces. [IMG]
Stir until the chocolate's temperature enters the tempering range, 88-90°F (31-32°C). The chocolate should be kept at this temperature until used. [IMG]
Specific Tempering Temperatures Depending on the cocoa butter content of the chocolate and introduction of other ingredients, the tempering temperature of chocolate varies. Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking provides these values for the three broad categories of chocolate:
<th>Type of Chocolate</th><th>Tempering Temperature</th>
Dark (no milk content)
Note that although white chocolate does not contain any cacao solids, it is still subject to the same tempering procedures since it is made of cocoa butter.
Storage Tempered chocolate can be stored for several months without blooming at constant cool room temperature, 60-65°F (15-18°C).
Posted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 4:18 am Post subject: Melting different types of chocolate
I took a class last Friday that was taught by George Geary - former pastry chef at Disney. He said that for dark and semi-sweet chocolate, you can leave the double boiler over the heat while melting the chocolate. However, for milk and white chocolate, you want to bring the water to a boil and then remove it from the heat before putting the chocolate in the upper bowl.
It makes sense - chocolate melts at body temperature (hence the candy shell, in your mouth, not your hand), so 212 F is excessive. Dark and semi-sweet chocolates can handle the higher heat.
Posted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 8:35 pm Post subject: Melting chocolate
To be honest an even better way to temper chocolate is in heat resistant glass in an oven at about 150-170 degrees. Just chop the chocolate and put into the glass bowl and put into the oven. Stir with a wooden spoon on occassion until all the crystals are dissolved and the chocolate is smooth. Remove from the oven and cool to the appropriate 85-88 degrees, you can test this with a dairy thermometer, and then use to dip premade centers. The benefit of tempering chocolate in the oven is that you cannot accidentally incorporate water into the chocolate, which is easy to do with a double boiler. If water gets into your chocolate it will change the crystal structure on hardening and the chocolate will 'bloom' which means white spots and streaks will appear. These cause the chocolate not to look as good, and makes the texture more chalky.
If your chocolates develop 'feet' when they are put onto a drying surface, it means the chocolate is sluffing off the center and pooling around it, then the chocolate is still too warm. Particularly when dipping truffles or very soft centers you need to make sure your chocolate is cool enough or it will start melting the center instead of coating it.
Posted: Fri Nov 17, 2006 11:54 am Post subject: Just in Time
My older sister dropped by yesterday asking for treats for a chamber of commerce 'crawl' that includes her jewelry store. This post and these comments helped immensely. We ended up with two nice varieties of candy and a drizzled biscotti, thereby looking like a class act, rather than duffers. Well done.
Posted: Wed Nov 29, 2006 6:47 pm Post subject: The cheaters way
Growing up, it was always a family treat at the holidays to make bon bons. My mom never tempered chocolate for dipping, she just added a chunk of parafin wax to the melted chocolate chips (~1" x 1" x 1/2" wax for 12 oz. chocolate chips). Anyone know why this works so well or the health consequences of eating wax ??
Posted: Mon Dec 04, 2006 5:17 am Post subject: Fantastic overview of tempering chocolate!
This was a superb article on tempering chocolate without a machine. I've tried most of these methods, the marble slab one is messy and frustrating. I've given up on all of them and now just throw the chocolate in a tempering machine ($300 plus investment, but going on more than 7 years with same one) and work on other preparations while chocolate tempers.
Posted: Mon Dec 11, 2006 10:08 pm Post subject: tempering / and parafin wax ...
I'm going to try the oven method of tempering chocolate for my biscotti. I have usually used the microwave, which does work, but you gotta keep a sharp eye on it and check / remove just at the right time. I think with the oven it'll be easier and more fogiving.
p.s. about the parafin comment... My aunt used to make chocolate covered peanut butter balls at Christmas... I used to love them until I learned she used parafin wax to keep the chocolate shiny. That ruined it for me... (boo hoo...) I just can't get past the thought of ingesting parafin anymore. Eating petroleum products seems to me a not-so-great idea. ; )
Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 4:29 am Post subject: Chocolate
What an informative article. I've got some questions that precede tempering chocolate and wonder if someone would be so kind as to answer them.
1. What kind of chocolate can I use? Any kind at all? Hershey's candy bars?
2. What can I do to a bar of bittersweet chocolate to make it sweeter and less bitter, if anything? Is it possible to turn it into milk chocolate myself?
3. I can buy what is called "dipping chocolate" which comes in little round discs, melt it over hot water and immediately use it and it works perfectly. Is this some special kind of chocolate? Is it even chocolate? (Ingredients say it has partially hydrogenated oil and cocoa in it, but no chocolate) Is this stuff already tempered?
3a. If this "dipping chocolate" is already tempered and the Hershey's chocolate bar I might also use is already tempered, what is the difference between the two? I'm under the impression that if I use a Hershey's chocolate bar I would have to temper it before I could use it for candymaking.
4. And, finally, the "dipping chocolate" will not set unless it is put in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or so. Is this true of chocolate that one has tempered themselves?
5. Where does one buy untempered chocolate and what names/brand names would it have?
I'm sure I've left out other questions and would welcome any and all responses, including directions to another internet site or a book on this subject. I'm just not real clear on any of this.
Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 11:27 am Post subject: Chocolate
I will do my best to answer your questions.
1 and 5 are really the same question. you can use any type of chocolate that you like, but there is a big difference in the smoothness and taste of different types of chocolate (generaly the more expensive the higher the quality) All chocolate is tempered when you buy it. that is why it is shiny and snaps when you break it. By melting chocolate you take it out of temper so to restore the shine and the snap you must re-temper. When you buy bulk chocolate it is also called couveture chocolate.
2. bittersweet and semisweet chocolates are both dark chocolate and have less sugar and milk solids in them then milk chocolate does. look for the amount of cocoa that is in the dark chocolate. the higher the number the more bitter the flavor usually the higher the quality as well.
(creating milk chocolate is a long procces requiring conching machines which I don't think are made for home use.)
3 and 4 can also be answered together. dipping chocolate is also known as conffectioners coating and goes through a process where the cocoa butter is removed from the chocolate and an oil ussualy palm kernel oil replaces the cocoa butter, brcuase of the oil the dipping chocolate does not need to be tempered. It is the cocoa butter in chocolate that give it its richness and smoothness so if your making candies that are not ment to immpress anyone just ment to taste good then use the dipping chocolate
but if you trying to do something a little higher end then stick with real chocolate.
if you have never tempered chocolate before it can be very challenging just remember you can always remelt your mistakes. good luck I hope that this answered a few of your questions. Eric
Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 2:58 pm Post subject: Aha! Now I understand
Thank you VERY much, Eric. Now I understand. When chocolate is melted it loses its temper. That simple fact wasn't clear to me. I knew chocolate needed to be tempered but not why. I'm planning on making turtles which don't, thankfully, take a lot of chocolate skill. I've previously only made them using the "dipping chocolate" but I've wanted to step up the quality of the chocolate. If this thread is still here I'll let you know the results. Best holiday wishes and thanks again for your kindness in answering.
Posted: Thu Dec 21, 2006 5:24 am Post subject: help
I need help!
Today is my first time melting chocolate on my own, and I had planned to dip pretzles like my mom used to make. I didn't think that the temperature mattered too much as long as it melted and then got to cool once on the pretzles. I was wrong! After three hours, the chocolate on my pretzles is the texture of fudge: handlable, but not what I want to put on a gift plate.
We discovered (too late) that my chocolate was nearly 200 degrees (F). I found your site and tried to follow instructions, but I'm apparently not good at that either. After cooling to 105 I added a handful of fresh chocolate chips, then again at 88.8 hoping to get some of those elusive crystals. Both times I put a test blot on some wax paper to see if it would harden... no luck.
I now have three bags of chips, and about a cup and a half of high quality bulk chocolate making a gooey mess all over my kitchen. Can it be saved? If so, PLEASE give me stupid-proof instructions!!
Joined: 10 May 2005 Posts: 1653 Location: Austin, TX (USA)
Posted: Thu Dec 21, 2006 8:16 am Post subject: Re: help
After cooling to 105 I added a handful of fresh chocolate chips, then again at 88.8 hoping to get some of those elusive crystals. Both times I put a test blot on some wax paper to see if it would harden... no luck.
Tempering chocolate is a tricky business that requires practice. Since you've got a deadline, you may or may not get it perfect this time around - but you can do well enough to be pleased enough to give someone a gift of dipped pretzels. Since tempering seems to be providing some issues, just take the chocolate chips you've got and heat them until they begin to glisten but haven't actually melted (lost shape) yet. Take them off the heat and try to stir them. If they stay intact, bring in a little more heat (water bath or microwave) and try again. We want to heat it until it just melts and the residual heat melts the rest of the chocolate chips. Once you've got your melted chocolate, they should still be tempered since we didn't bring the temperature high enough to take them out of temper. Dip your goodies and let them set.
If the chocolate has already been melted (but not burned / overcooked), you can recover the chocolate by melting and following the tempering instructions. There's no easy way to do this except for the seed method and, as you've probably learned, that's not always a success. Sometimes not enough crystals have formed, but you can still get a decent snap on the chocolate after it finally solidifies. This is usually good enough to dip foods that will be consumed soon. Just smear some onto a sheet of parchment paper and chill until it's set. Remove from the parchment paper and break it. If it snaps cleanly, it's good enough - if it flexs and breaks off slowly, it's not so good and you'll need to try again.