The Best Chocolate for Melting & Dipping: Pro Tips from a Pastry Chef

published Apr 28, 2014
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(Image credit: Dana Velden)

Earlier today we shared one of our favorite treats, chocolate-dipped strawberries, so now let’s talk chocolate. Specifically, dipping chocolate. What kind of chocolate do you need for goodies like these? Take a few tips from this pastry chef — I’ve dipped a lot of chocolate in my time so let me give you the scoop.

Do I Need to Temper My Chocolate?

To temper, or not to temper? That is the question. Whether tis nobler for the chocolate to suffer the softness and bloom of outrageous melting, or to take arms against a sea of cocoa butter and by opposing temper them …

Okay, okay, perhaps the situation isn’t that dramatic. But whenever you melt chocolate for dipping, it’s a question you should ask. Without tempering, chocolate won’t crisp up when it re-solidifies at room temperature. It will feel soft or tacky to the touch, and will develop a blush of cocoa butter over the surface.

These problems are virtually undetectable when you serve chocolate cold, as with chocolate bowls for ice cream or homemade Thin Mints stashed in the freezer. But any time you plan to serve chocolate-covered sweets at room temperature, you’ll need to take a few precautions. So when should you temper, and what type of chocolates work best?

The Quick & Easy Option: Chocolate Chips

You can use chocolate chips for quick-and-dirty dipping; they’re meant to survive in the oven, after all, so a few gentle zaps in the microwave won’t do much damage.

Chips don’t contain enough cocoa butter to temper, so the melted chocolate will harden with a streaked or swirled appearance.

Still, it’s a great option when you’re making quick treats like a batch of chocolate-covered pretzels for the kids. It’s also a decent option when you won’t see the chocolate anyway, as when coating a slab of toffee with chocolate and crushed pecans.

For Special Projects: Chocolate with a High Percentage of Cocoa Butter

For any other application, you’ll want to upgrade to chocolates with a higher percentage of cocoa butter — the element the tempering process seeks to control. These chocolates are a bit more pricey due to the expense of cocoa butter (lower grades use less, or substitute vegetable oils instead), but they’re essential for candy bars that snap, truffles with a shiny shell, and chocolate-covered strawberries that stay glossy and crisp at room temperature.

How do you know whether the chocolate has a high percentage of cocoa butter? Whether dark, milk, or white chocolate, look for the word “couverture.” Other grades of chocolate can be tempered too, but it takes a little more effort. Couverture chocolates have been specifically designed to use as a coating, with a minimum of 31% cocoa butter, so they’re easy to temper even if you’re unfamiliar with the process. Brands like Valrhona, Callebaut, Cocoa Barry, and Scharffen Berger are easy to find in gourmet grocery stores or specialty shops.

Their packaging will typically detail the specific temperatures for melting and cooling the chocolate. This allows you to customize the general guidelines laid out in the tempering tutorials you may find online or in cookbooks. When buying blocks or chunks of chocolate that have been repackaged for retail, a quick search online will pull up the information you need.

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