Sweet Techniques: How to Temper Chocolate

When we were developing our recipe for homemade mallomars last week, we decided to go the extra mile and temper our chocolate before dipping. This definitely isn’t something we do every day, but when it’s a special treat, we like the satiny texture and glossy finish that tempering gives the chocolate. Besides, for all its reputation for fussiness, tempering chocolate isn’t all that hard to do at home!

There are three basic steps for tempering chocolate: 1) heat it to 110°F, 2) cool it to 80°F, and 3) reheat it to 90°F. As long as it stays around 90°F, the chocolate will hold its temper. If it drops much below that, you’ll need to repeat the steps again.

Happily, chocolate holds its temperature quite well! We were able to dip our entire batch of mallomars and only started losing the temper toward the very end.

What You Need

Ingredients

• Chocolate - any amount, high-quality is best, cut into chocolate-chip-sized chunks

Equipment

• double boiler OR a high-sided sauce pan with a shallow mixing bowl
• thermometer
• spatula

Instructions

1. Warm the Double Boiler - A double boiler is basically a pan nestled inside of another pan with a gap of a few inches between the bottoms of the two. You can buy a double boiler or create your own using a high-sided sauce pan and a shallow metal mixing bowl, as we do in the pictures above.

Pour a few inches of water into the bottom pan, making sure the surface of the water does not touch the bottom of the nestled pan. Bring the water to a simmer.

2. Melt Part of the Chocolate - Place about 2/3 of the total chocolate in the top pan of the double-boiler. The simmering water will help it to melt gently without scorching. Stir the chocolate every few seconds until it has completely melted and has reached a temperature of 110°F - 115°F.

3. Seed the Chocolate - Remove the top pan (with the melted chocolate) from the double-boiler and stir in the remaining 1/3 of the chocolate off the heat. Continue stirring until all the seed chocolate has melted and the chocolate reaches 80°F. Adding seed chocolate will help lower the temperature much more quickly than if you melted all the chocolate at once.

4. Re-Heat the Chocolate - Put the pan with the chocolate back over the double boiler. Stirring gently, warm the chocolate back to 90°F. The chocolate is now considered tempered and can be used for dipping or decorating.

5. Maintaining the Temper - If you leave the double-boiler assembled but remove it from the heat, we’ve found that the warm water in the bottom is usually enough to keep the chocolate tempered until we’re finished dipping. You can also place the pan with chocolate on a warm heating pad. If the chocolate drops much below 90°F, you’ll need to repeat all the steps to bring it back into temper.

Additional Notes:

• For smaller amounts of chocolate (less than 16-ounces), it can be easier to temper it in the microwave. Heat 2/3 of the chocolate in 30-second bursts, stirring and checking the temperature between each burst. Add the seed chocolate, stir until smooth, and then re-heat in 30-second bursts until the chocolate is 90°.

• You can also add shortening or edible paraffin wax to thin out the chocolate and make a more delicate shell over whatever you’re dipping. Add it a little at a time until you get a consistency you like.


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(Images: Emma Christensen)