Tempering chocolate for dipped treats requires time & patience, but it's worth the effort. Here's how to get professional-level results!
Working with chocolate puts me in a temper (Hahaha!...wait, you don’t get the joke? Keep reading, then…).
That’s not to say that I don’t love eating the food of the gods…good dark chocolate is one of the pleasures in life. It’s healthy, too, full of anti-oxidants and flavonoids and all sorts of other buzzwords that I use to justify my nibbles.
No, it’s tempering melted chocolate that’s the problem. Water is your enemy (it will make your chocolate seize up), and temperature, well, let’s say that being precise is just the beginning.
What is tempered chocolate?
(Why is tempering chocolate important?)
The answer lies with science. Specifically, the crystalline fat structure that makes up a piece of chocolate.
(Nerd alert...here comes the science-y stuff!).
In regular, ole’ (i.e.untempered) melted chocolate, the fat crystals (specifically the beta crystals) have not been aligned, leading to some undesirable qualities.
When that chocolate used for dipping, say, a cake pop, a dull finish, a wimpy, bendy bite, and a general air of “I-just-melted-some-chocolate-to-dip-stuff-in-leave-me-alone” hanging about.
Tempering the chocolate brings those fat crystals into line, and the heavens open and the angels sing. Those chocolate dipped cake pops will be show-worthy…glossy, smooth, with a sharp mouth-pleasing snap when bitten.
(Isn’t most chocolate you buy already tempered?)
Yes, but melting chocolate untempers it and getting the chocolate back in temper is a pain-in-the-tuchas, to say the least.
How to temper chocolate
To temper chocolate, you heat it until it’s fully melted, then cool it down until it reaches a specific temperature range (and that range differs for different types of chocolate). After you get it to the correct temperature, you have to keep it at that temperature (i.e. not let it cool) while you’re working with it or the chocolate becomes too hard with which to work.
This process is not for the faint of heart (or the impatient).
Searching the internet will yield many sites with instructions on how to temper chocolate. King Arthur Flour had a good, clear overview of the topic and methods.
There are several ways to temper chocolate, but I’ll focus on what's called the seeding method because it's probably the easiest for the home chef.
Tempering chocolate with the seeding method
The idea with seeding method is to melt most of the chocolate, then use the remainder to gradually bring the temperature down. This also encourages the melted chocolate to get into alignment, so to speak.
This is the time to invest in a good digital thermometer. Precision is key here.
Step 1: Melting the chocolate
Start by melting ¾ of your chocolate. For most home tempering projects, one pound is a good amount to work with, two pounds are even better.
How you melt the chocolate is up to you. You can use a double boiler, being very careful not to get any water into the melted chocolate. Or you can use the microwave to melt the chocolate, being careful here not to heat it too much so as to burn the chocolate.
Step 2: Cooling the chocolate
Now it's time to slowly add the reserved chocolate and stir, stir, stir. Bring the temperature of the melting chocolate to the correct level for the type of chocolate you're using. That gets all the chocolate crystals to align properly.
This is the step that takes the longest, and it's really when your patience gets tested.
Step 3: Holding the chocolate
Once you've cooled the chocolate to the correct temperature, you need to hold it there.
If you've got the double boiler going, you can occasionally use that to rewarm your melted chocolate, or pop it back in the microwave for a very short time (maybe 15 to 20 seconds).
Another way to hold the chocolate is to use a heating pad set to low covered with a towel.
Always keep that digital thermometer handy as you don't want to warm the chocolate too much. Yes, it will take the chocolate out of temper and you'll have to start over again.
The best way is to use a machine to hold the chocolate at a precise temperature. I have a KitchenAid Precise Heat Mixing Bowl. It's an attachment for the KitchenAid Stand Mixer, and it's wonderful for bringing and keeping chocolate in temper.
If you just need to warm the surface of the chocolate, you can use a hair dryer set to low heat for a few seconds.
Tempering chocolate temperatures
What chocolate is best for tempering, I hear you ask?
You might be tempted to use chocolate chips instead of chopping a block chocolate but try to avoid that impulse.
Many types of chocolate chips have ingredients (stabilizers and preservatives) that interfere with tempering. Best to stick with high quality baking chocolate and leave the chips in the pantry this time.
I'd also avoid those candy coating disks from the store. They might be good for a quick or small project, but it won't have the same texture as true chocolate, and frankly will have little taste.
It's best to look for high quality chocolate. There are many brands, like Guittard or Callebaut, but the word you're looking for is couverture. That is, chocolate meant for melting and dipping.
In a pinch, look for chocolate with a minimal amount of soy lecithin. I will use Trader Joe's Pound Plus bars for last minute dipping projects.
As for the type, I generally use dark chocolate for dipping, but that's my preference. You can also use semisweet, milk, and white chocolate as well.
Use these temperatures to temper a given type of chocolate.
|Chocolate Type||Melting Temp||Cooling Temp||Holding Temp|
|Dark or Semisweet||up to 122ºF|
|82 to 84°F|
(28 to 29°C)
|88 to 91°F|
(31 to 33°C)
|Milk or White||up to 113ºF|
|79 to 81ºF|
(26 to 27ºC)
|84 to 86ºF|
(28 to 30ºC)
How to use tempered chocolate
Now it’s time to dip to your heart’s content! I bought some special dipping tools to aid in the process.
Deciding on what to dip might require some thought. After the cake pops, I dipped strawberries (an obvious choice), then pretzel rods, graham crackers, marshmallows, and even potato chips.
When the bowl is almost empty, it’s time to smooth out the remaining tempered chocolate on a Silpat silicone mat or parchment paper and make bark. I like to press things into it like chopped nuts, granola, dried fruit, or crushed-up pretzels.
Tempering chocolate is worth the time and effort
While the process to get the chocolate to temper might be tedious, the results are definitely worth it. I brought a plate of dipped treats to my co-workers and there was general delight in the room. The treats were gone in no time flat.
Be the hero of your social circle by bringing in some chocolate dipped goodies. If you do let me know how it goes...I’ll be calm and even-tempered by then.
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Easy recipes for candy and fudge
Candy making doesn't have to be hard, and making fudge definitely isn't. And if you want to try your hand at chocolate dipped treats, here's a guide to temper chocolate for that satisfying snap.
How to temper chocolate for dipped treats
- serrated knife
- microwave safe bowl
- heating pad
- 1 to 2 lbs chocolate, dark, semisweet, milk, or white, see Recipe Notes
- Chop the chocolate into small pieces using a serrated knife. Set aside ¼ for seeding the chocolate later.
- Melt ¾ of the chocolate. see the Recipe Notes on methods. Use a digital thermometer to make sure the melted chocolate doesn’t go over 122°F (50ºC) for dark and semisweet chocolate or 113°F (45ºC) for milk and white chocolate.
- Once the chocolate is melted, add the reserved chocolate, a bit at a time, and stir until the chocolate cools to 82 to 84°F (28 to 29°C) for dark and semisweet chocolate or 79 to 81ºF (26 to 27ºC) for milk and white chocolate. When the chocolate reaches the correct temperature. it’s ready for use for dipped your treats.
- Keep the chocolate in the correct holding temperature range: 88 to 91°F (31 to 33°C) for dark and semisweet chocolate or 84 to 86ºF (28 to 30ºC) for milk and white chocolate. This requires a bit of ingenuity, so see the Recipe Notes for some ideas. Check your temperature occasionally to be sure you’re still within range.
- Use a microwave-safe bowl and melt in 20 to 30 second bursts at half powder until the chocolate is almost melted. Remove from the microwave and stir until the chocolate is completely melted.
- Use a pan set above 1-inch of simmering water, being careful that the bottom isn't sitting in the water itself and being careful that no water gets in the chocolate.
- Use a tempering machine like a KitchenAid Precise Heat Mixing Bowl set to 120°F. Remove the bowl from the machine once the chocolate is mostly melted and stir until it's completely melted.
- Use a double boiler or a short burst at half powder in the microwave (maybe 15 to 20 seconds) to warm the chocolate
- Place your bowl on a regular heating pad turned to low/medium heat and covered with a dish towel
- Use a tempering machine like a KitchenAid Precise Heat Mixing Bowl to hold the temperature