How To Temper Chocolate By A Master Chocolatier

Chocolate is defined as a suspension of cocoa solids and sugar (and sometimes milk powder) in cocoa butter. When it comes to tempering, the crystals formed by the cocoa butter inside chocolate are important. 

Cocoa butter is what gives chocolate its shine, hardness, snap, and smooth mouthfeel. Cocoa butter is a polymorph, meaning it can take different forms. Therefore, we need to carefully manipulate the crystals so they take the ideal form for the characteristics we want- shine, hardness, etc. 

This process is known as tempering chocolate. It’s a good idea to practice tempering a few times before making a recipe.


Let’s Get Started

Start with half a pound of cocoa butter so you can really see what is going on. At first, when fully melted, cocoa butter is transparent, like clarified butter. But if you pour the melted cocoa butter onto a cold counter and mush it around with a pallet knife or spatula (what we call “table tempering”), you’ll see it begin to change. 

As its viscosity will increase (getting thicker). Keep mushing, and the color with start to lighten as it continues to thicken until it resembles whipped butter, eventually becoming solid when cooled completely. 

There are many ways to temper chocolate. The best for beginners is known as the partial-melt method. 


The partial-melt method

1. Break the chocolate into small pieces, leaving 2 or 3 larger chunks. Place smaller pieces in a medium glass mixing bowl. Leave the larger chunks on the counter.

2. Use a low-powered microwave (1000 watts) to melt the chocolate in 15-second increments, stirring in between heating, even if it looks unchanged. Repeat until only half the chocolate is melted, and no more. It’s easy to overheat and melt too many good crystals, so it’s best to err on the side of less melting. 

At no time should you have all the chocolate melted, even while stirring. If that happens, the chocolate has become too hot, and you will need to add more unmelted chunks.

3. Add the larger chunks to the bowl. Stir until most of the chocolate has been melted and the chocolate feels cold again. Smear a bit of chocolate on the counter with a stir stick. It should set in a minute or two and become firm to the touch, with an even, matte look. 

Remember to keep stirring the chocolate while you wait for the result. If it takes longer than two minutes to set, the chocolate has a weak or false temper. If so, keep stirring and testing until it’s ready.

4. Once you have determined that your bowl is in temper and is cool to the touch, return it to the microwave for 5 to 10 seconds. 

5. Stir well. Remove and remaining chunks before using the chocolate in a recipe. Place the chunks on the parchment paper to set. They can be used for future batches or for snacking on while you work. 

6. When you’re finished dipping, pour out the extra chocolate onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and spread think with an offset spatula. Let set fully in a cool location. Break into pieces and store in a cool, dry, dark place for use in your next batch. 

Keep in mind that this method works for up to 1 pound. Larger quantities require 20- to 30-second intervals instead of 15-seconds. 


Keys To Chocolate Tempering Success From Chef Karen

Always taste your chocolate prior to using it in the recipe! Your finished result will taste as good or as bad as the chocolate that you use. If you are unhappy with the result in regards to either texture or taste (or both), try to make the recipe again with different chocolate that you personally enjoy. Chocolate choice can make all the difference in the world.

Craft chocolate often has less cocoa butter in it so some of these recipes may not work as well for a beginner when using craft chocolate, especially when tempering and making cream-based ganache.

Work in a kitchen that is between 68˚F and 72˚F only for dark chocolate and 68˚F to 70˚F for milk and white chocolates. If your kitchen is too warm, the chocolate will not work as well, and likely not temper correctly or at all. If tempered in too warm of an environment, your chocolate will likely be dull and may even look grainy when set, and cocoa bloom will show up quickly during storage.

Keep water away from chocolate as even a small amount can seize the chocolate, rendering it completely unusable. If you see this start to happen, the only “fix” is to add a lot more water and/or cream and stir quickly. Seized chocolate can never be remelted and used for chocolate work, in fact, it is no longer chemically chocolate anymore.

Do not use a thermometer to temper chocolate. You will read in books and on websites that in order to temper chocolate correctly, you need to heat to such and such degree and then cool to this degree and reheat to another degree. 

While this sounds good, it is not practical as every chocolate is made differently and will require a different set of temperatures to be successful. Plus, this is only 1/3 of the equation. 

To temper correctly you need to control time, temperature, and motion, not just temperature. You are much better off following the partial melt tempering method for chocolate that came to you in a tempered bar or drop/disk form. 

For chocolate that has been bloomed (looks powdery and/or crumbles instead if snaps) slowly melt it until fully melted and then table-temper about half of it by mushing it on a cool counter until it gets firm again and then adding that newly made seed to your bowl of fully melted chocolate and stirring for a few minutes. 

Work quickly as the chocolate will set up (grow more crystals) as you work with it. Gently reheat the bowl of chocolate in the microwave for 10 seconds at a time and stirring for at least 30 seconds in between heatings. Heat only enough to make it workable again.

Follow direction exactly, especially when making a ganache as technique matters quite a bit for successful results. Do not substitute one chocolate for another unless the recipe specifically states that this is okay to do.

Temper at least 1 pound of chocolate (2 pounds is best) when dipping as the larger mass will keep a more stable temperature and be less frustrating to work with. When finished dipping, simply pour out the extra chocolate onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, being sure to spread thin. Let chocolate set up overnight in a cool room. Break up chocolate and use as tempered chocolate for your next recipe.