Tempered chocolate is very glossy, has a firm finish and melts smoothly at around body temperature. Simply melting the chocolate before you use it to dip berries, truffles or other goodies does not temper it. The process of tempering involves raising and lowering the temperature of the chocolate to encourage strong, organized crystallization of the cocoa butter so that the finished chocolate will have that glossy look, a sharp snap and will be resistant to chocolate bloom. In short, tempering chocolate makes it last longer and look better, and if you are serious about using chocolate in your kitchen, it is good to know how to do it.
There are several ways to temper chocolate and this method is known as seeding. It is very simple and it is very easy to do at home, both with small and large quantities of chocolate. For this demonstration, I am working with dark chocolate. Milk and white chocolates also need to be tempered and can be tempered in the exact same way as this dark chocolate, but the tempering process happens at a slightly lower temperature.
Start with your chocolate in small pieces. These are sold by chocolate makers and often called pistoles, callets or wafers, but you can also take a large bar of chocolate and coarsely chop it into smaller pieces. Small pieces of chocolate melt more easily than large pieces and make tempering much easier. Larger quantities of chocolate are easier to temper than smaller ones, so I recommend working with at least a pound of chocolate to make your life easier (you can always let the extra set and remelt it later as needed), especially when you are starting out.
Remove 25-30% of your chocolate and set it aside in a small bowl. This is known as the seed and you will use it later.
Put the rest of your chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and cook on high heat in 30 second intervals until the chocolate starts to melt. You can melt chocolate over a waterbath, but I prefer a microwave in this case. A small amount of water can cause your chocolate to seize and working without condensation is a little bit safer. Once it starts to melt, heat the chocolate in 10-20 second intervals, stirring in between, until it has fully melted. Dark chocolate needs to reach a temperature of between 114-120F. Milk and white chocolate need to reach a temperature between 105-113.
Check the temperature of your chocolate with a digital probe thermometer or with an infrared thermometer (which I am using). If using an infrared thermometer, be aware that it only takes the surface temperature, so you should stir the chocolate as you check it with the gun.
Now that the chocolate has been melted, it must be cooled. With the seeding method, this is done by adding in the unmelted chocolate that we set aside at the beginning of the process. Add in the seed (25-30% of the initial weight of the chocolate) and stir with a spatula. The pieces of chocolate will start to melt and, after a few minutes of stirring, should have almost (but not quite) melted completely. Check the temperature of your chocolate after a few minutes. Dark chocolate needs to be between 88-91F. Milk and white chocolate need to be between 84-87F. Continue to stir until your chocolate as reached this temperature.
This temperature is known as the “working temperature” and your chocolate should be tempered at this point. To test it, dip a small strip of parchment paper (1 or 2-in piece is large enough) into the chocolate. Set it aside and allow it to set up. It should set in about 2 minutes and should be glossy, not streaked, if it has been tempered properly. The longer it sits, the firmer it will become. Well-tempered chocolate will also retract (pull away from) the paper after a while.
Your tempered chocolate is ready to use for dipping or enrobing. The working temperature should be maintained as long as you work with the chocolate, so it should be occasionally warmed in the microwave or using a heat gun (if you want to get serious about your chocolate work).
- If the chocolate does not set up in 2-3 minutes and looks streaky, it may be undertempered and did not cool enough to allow the cocoa butter to crystallize properly. Add a small amount of finely chopped chocolate and continue to stir the chocolate. Re-test.
- If the chocolate sets up in less than 2 minutes, it may be overtempered. Heat the chocolate (in short bursts in the microwave) until it warms up slightly and stir until it is more fluid. Re-test and add more heat if necessary.
- Practice makes perfect and chocolate can be tempered, melted and re-tempered over and over again.
Working with chocolate can be a lot of fun and learning to temper chocolate can really take your desserts to a new level, whether you want to add a glossy chocolate coating to a batch of homemade shortbread cookies, dip the bottoms of biscotti or dress up some fresh strawberries. That said, it is also important to keep in mind that chocolate does not need to be tempered for baking and cooking applications. When you are making chocolate ganache, for instance, or simply need some melted chocolate for a batch of brownies, there is no need to try and temper it before you use it.