How to Temper Dark Chocolate
Tempering chocolate is one of those projects that strikes fear in the heart of the home cook. Like making salted caramel, deep-frying chicken, and putting up jam, it sounds hot, finicky, and a little unfriendly. Aren’t tempers usually bad? Well, to all that we say pooh-pooh! Tempering is really just heating and cooling chocolate, and all it takes is three steps, a good thermometer, and some watchful stirring. And the chocolate it produces is worth every minute of it.
Melting chocolate dissolves the fat crystals in the cocoa butter. Tempering is about controlling the temperature of the chocolate throughout the heating and cooling process so the new fat crystals that form are even and stable — which will give you a better quality once the chocolate hardens again.
It’s a bit like alchemy, really, because the chocolate is transformed. Its color is more even, its finish is glossier and smoother. It hardens completely at room temperature, so it holds its shape a little better, gives you a satisfying snap when you break it, and melts silky and smooth in your mouth — not on your fingers. All of these characteristics are key when it comes to making stuff like chocolate-dipped strawberries and pretzels, molded truffles and chocolate bars, and fancy cake decorations.
What would happen if you ditched the thermometer and just melted some chocolate and dunked your strawberry in it? The fats in the cocoa butter would crystallize unevenly, so when it solidified, it would have a dull, white bloom and an unsatisfying texture — bendy, crumbly, tacky, chewy. It’d melt all over your hands too.
But it would still be strawberries and chocolate, right? Yeah, kind of: tempered chocolate actually tastes better because it melts smoothly in your mouth, coating your tongue, so you can taste all its sweet, cocoa complexity.
So that’s the what and the why of tempering chocolate. Before you dig into the how, we do have a few tips and tricks to ensure success along the way:
Make sure your digital thermometer is accurate. The thermometer is your best friend in this process because if the chocolate gets too hot it will seize, or become stiff and grainy — and if it cools down too much, it’ll be unworkable. The thermometer will keep you in the sweet spot.
Stirring will cool down the chocolate. If you need to reheat tempered chocolate, stirring it continuously will keep the temperature from rising too fast. If it does get too hot, add more unmelted chocolate.
Chocolate doesn’t like water. Water will make chocolate seize, so before tempering chocolate, make sure your pot is dry. And when it’s time to fill that mold or dip those strawberries (or cookies, yum), make sure they’re dry too.
Save your leftover tempered chocolate. As long as it’s uncontaminated, you can pour your leftover chocolate onto a piece of parchment, let it cool and harden, pop it in a ziplock, and refrigerate it. When you’re ready to use it, just chop it up, melt it, retemper it, and seed it with additional chocolate chips.
1 10-oz bag bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate, divided
Special Equipment: double boiler, digital thermometer
In the bottom pot of a double boiler, bring 2” water to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to medium-low so that the water is just barely simmering. It should not be so hot that it produces steam or vigorous bubbles.
Add 7 oz of the chocolate chips to the top of the double boiler. Once the chocolate starts to melt, help it along by stirring continuously until it reaches 110°, and then immediately remove the top pot of the boiler, reserving the hot water in the bottom of the boiler. Note: Chocolate is very sensitive, its temperature rises quickly, and it can seize easily, so make sure it doesn’t go above 120°.
Add the remaining chocolate chips, stirring continuously as the temperature drops and the other chips melt completely. This step is called “seeding” the chocolate. Once your chocolate hits 91°, it’s ready to be used.
The ideal working temperature for the chocolate is 87º to 91°. If the chocolate gets too thick to work with, place the pot back on the double boiler, without a flame, for 5 to 10 second intervals. Stir continuously until the temperature reaches the ideal range — no higher than 94°.