The Delicate Process of Tempering Chocolate, Part I

Tempering chocolate the proper way means more than just melting it. In this two-part article, we'll show you the basics.

If you ever intend to dip or coat anything in chocolate, or even to make your own candy in molds, you'll need to master the process of melting and tempering chocolate. Do it right, and you'll get a rich, glossy candy that makes your mouth water just from looking at it. Do it wrong, and you'll get a blotchy, dull mess.

It's not the simplest process in the world, which is why we're going to take it slow and easy, and cover it in two articles. So dive right in, and don't be afraid to take notes.

Tasty crystals

The secret to properly tempering chocolate is to create crystals of the right size, and suspend them evenly and consistently through the final product. Needless to say, this isn't something that just happens. First of all, you'll need a special form of chocolate: couverture, which is made with at least 32% cocoa butter.

Couverture melts more easily than most chocolate, and forms a thinner shell when it's used as a dip. It's also the variety used in chocolate fountains. The best couverture comes in chips or coins, which melt evenly since they're of a uniform size. If you use bar chocolate, you'll need to chop it up finely with a knife first.

Molten bliss

Proper melting is an important part of tempering chocolate, but it's not as easy as just throwing it into a pot and putting it on the stove. The melting point of chocolate is never more than 113 degrees Fahrenheit, so direct heat can scorch it.

Instead, you have to boil a pot of water, then melt the chocolate in a stainless steel bowl on top of the hot water. Set the water to a simmer, and no higher, while stirring the chocolate with a rubber spatula until it melts evenly. The bowl will act as a double boiler, and drastically decrease the possibility of scorching.

Danger, Will Robinson!

At this point in the process of tempering chocolate, you have to be absolutely certain not to let any steam get into the melt. If you do, the chocolate will curdle and be ruined. Chocolatiers call this process "seizing up."

You should also be very careful with the heat. If you overheat the chocolate, you can still scorch it, double boiler or no. Plus, if the chocolate has a very high cocoa butter content, it may crystallize in the wrong way if you heat it too fast. This is especially a problem with white chocolate, which is almost 100% cocoa butter.

All righty then! We're getting there, but we're not quite finished yet. To learn how to finish tempering chocolate, check out Part II of this article.