How to Temper Chocolate

Tempering Chocolate

Whether you're dipping confections in chocolate, coating truffles, or making chocolates in a candy mold, once you have chosen the right type of chocolate, you'll need to know how to temper it.

To melt and temper chocolate, you need chocolate couverture: the kind with real cocoa butter. Start with 12 ounces or more: a large amount is easier to work with, especially for beginning chocolatiers. You'll need a pot of water, a clean, completely dry stainless-steel bowl to act as a double boiler, and a rubber spatula for stirring. Any moisture in the bowl might disrupt the tempering process.

  1. Place the pot of water on the stove and bring the water to a slow boil.
  2. Chocolate couverture is ideal for tempering. If you're using a block of chocolate, a serrated knife works well for chopping; you can also use a dough cutter (bench scraper) or other knife. Chop chocolate into even pieces that are no larger than half an inch square.
  3. Use a dough cutter, bench scraper, or your hands to transport the chocolate to the dry bowl. If you use your hands, move quickly: the chocolate will melt in your hands. Keep a dry kitchen towel handy for wiping hands and surfaces free of chocolate crumbs and drips.
  4. Place the bowl on top of the pot of hot water and gently stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula until it has melted completely and looks smooth. You can keep the water at a simmer while the chocolate melts, or you can turn the heat off entirely. For small amounts of chocolate, it is appropriate to turn off all heat: steam can introduce moisture to the chocolate, causing it to seize up or curdle. In addition, some chocolate has a very high cocoa butter content, which if heated too quickly will cause the chocolate to break and crystallize. White chocolate, in particular, needs very gentle handling.
  5. Test the temperature of the chocolate. You need to melt the chocolate to a target temperature of about 110 degrees F (45 degrees C). Going over the target temperature can cause scorching. As soon as the chocolate reaches the proper temperature, remove the bowl from the heat, dry the bottom of the bowl, and begin the essential stage of cooling and agitating. One way of cooling the melted chocolate is to add chopped, un-melted couverture to the bowl. (Add about a third of the amount of chocolate you started with: if you melted 12 ounces, add an additional 4 ounces of finely chopped chocolate.) Stir vigorously until chocolate is melted. This process, called "seeding," produces the smooth, glossy result.
  6. Now, if your chocolate is too cool to work with, you must bring the chocolate's temperature back up to approximately 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) to use it for coating or molding. Pastry chefs use a method called "tabling" to temper chocolate, a cooling-and-agitating method that involves pouring two-thirds of the melted chocolate onto a marble slab. The chocolatier quickly spreads it thin with a metal spatula, scrapes it back into a pile with a putty knife, and spreads it thin again, repeating until the right sludgy consistency is reached. This cooled chocolate is stirred into the bowl of reserved warm chocolate.
  7. Test the temper by dipping a knife tip into the chocolate and letting it sit for two to three minutes. Is it still sticky? It's not in temper. Properly tempered chocolate should be firm to the touch after a few minutes.

Troubleshooting Tempering Chocolate

White chocolate and milk chocolate have different tempering temperatures, so stick with dark (bittersweet or semisweet) chocolate until you feel comfortable with the process. The two most common problems of working with chocolate are separating and seizing. Separation happens when you get the chocolate too hot.

The melting point of chocolate, especially that which contains a large amount of cocoa butter, is very distinct: one second, you have a bowl full of chocolate lumps, and a second later you have a silky-smooth bowl of melted chocolate. Because the change is so sudden, many people get impatient and make the mistake of turning up the temperature too high in order to speed up the process. When chocolate gets too hot, the cocoa butter separates from the solids, and there is no way to salvage it (although you can bake with it; it will taste fine in brownies).

The best way to thwart separation is to use gentle heat and stir frequently. Seizing occurs when moisture is introduced to melted chocolate. In the blink of an eye, you can go from a smooth bowl of liquid chocolate to a lumpy, grainy mess. Even the tiniest amount of liquid--a single drop of water, the moisture clinging to a strawberry, or the steam from a double boiler--will cause this kind of reaction.

It is possible to rescue seized chocolate. The way to do this is, ironically enough, to add more liquid. Where a little bit of moisture causes seizing, lots of moisture will allow chocolate to relax again. Instructions adapted from