Five chocolate covered strawberries in a row
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist Cyd McDowell

This Is the Absolute Best Way to Temper Chocolate at Home (We Tried Them All)

published Feb 13, 2021
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Most of us can probably count the number of times we’ve attempted to temper chocolate on a single hand. Maybe you’ve tried to dip strawberries in chocolate for Valentine’s Day or made bark as a holiday gift. The chocolate tempering process has a reputation for being difficult and fussy, which is enough to scare off even the savviest home cooks.

But we’re here to help! To demystify chocolate tempering once and for all, we tried five popular methods to find the at-home one that is both easy and foolproof. Here’s everything we learned.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist Cyd McDowell

What Is Chocolate Tempering?

Chocolate tempering is a process of melting and then cooling chocolate that gives the chocolate a hard, snappy, shiny finish. The process of heating and cooling melts the chocolate’s fat crystals and then rebuilds them. In a nutshell, you heat the chocolate to 110°F, cool it to 80°F, and then reheat it to 90°F. As long as it stays around 90°F, the chocolate will hold its temper. You don’t need to temper chocolate for baking, but you must temper chocolate for dipping or molding (think: coating truffles or strawberries or making hot chocolate bombs).

It is much easier to temper chocolate that is already in temper, so buying high-quality chocolate will make your job as chocolate crystal architect easier. One watch-out: If you see a gray or white coating on your chocolate (called bloom), it means the chocolate either got too hot or got damp. Bloomed chocolate is fine to eat and bake with, but it’s out of temper, so it won’t work for dipping or molding.

How We Tested These Methods

We tested these methods back to back on the same day using high-quality chocolate disks (known as feves) from a restaurant supply store. To make testing as consistent as possible, the feves all came from the same bag and were chopped before dividing up for the individual tests. We tempered 8 ounces of chocolate for each test, an amount that is perfect for dipping a pint of strawberries without too much leftover chocolate.

To test, we pulled a small sample swipe, like the photo above, of each method on parchment paper and also dipped strawberries and pretzel twists in each tempered chocolate. We evaluated the methods based on ease and whether the chocolate hardened quickly and had that snappy finish.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist Cyd McDowell

Chocolate Tempering Method: On a Marble Slab

  • Timing: 30 minutes
  • Rating: 4/10

About this method: You’ve most likely seen marble slab tempering in the picture window of old-time candy shops. Chocolatiers use this method for tempering big batches of chocolate because they can melt a lot of chocolate at once, use a large marble surface to cool it down, and then transfer the tempered chocolate to a special machine that keeps it at the perfect temperature so they can use the chocolate as needed. To do this at home, you chop and melt the chocolate, pour it onto a cool marble slab, then use a bench scraper or spatula to smooth, fold, and stir the chocolate until it reaches about 80°F. After cooling, you put the chocolate in a bowl and place it over a warm double boiler to bring it up to around 90°F.

Results: This method works, but to really do it right you need a very large marble slab, which is very expensive and impractical for home cooks. If you use a small slab, you don’t have the room you need to maneuver the chocolate properly, so you can easily end up with a giant mess. After all of that, you have to get the chocolate into the double boiler, which presents its own set of challenges. For all of those reasons, this method is best left to the professionals.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist Cyd McDowell

Chocolate Tempering Method: In a Food Processor

  • Timing: 40 minutes
  • Rating: 6/10

About this method: This might sound wild, but you can use the friction of the food processor (with a little help from a hair dryer) to temper chocolate! You toss your chopped chocolate in the food processor and pulse until the chocolate becomes a large lump. You might panic at this point, but after a rest and a few blasts of heat from a hair dryer, the chocolate will smooth out and reach close to 100°F. Then you’ll add more chopped chocolate and pulse to cool and incorporate the chocolate, landing you right around 80°F. As you’re ready to use the chocolate, you can pulse the chocolate more or hit it with the hair dryer to get it to a dippable 88°F to 90°F.

Results: While the cleverness of this method is hard to beat, it takes a really long time to melt the chocolate, and your results are far from guaranteed. We got tempered chocolate on the first tests, but after pulsing to melt a little more, the chocolate-dipped strawberries lost some of their shine. Food processors also vary in speed and heat, which makes this method even less reliable.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist Cyd McDowell

Chocolate Tempering Method: In a Sous Vide Water Bath

  • Timing: 15 minutes
  • Rating: 7/10

About this method: The magic of sous vide cooking is that a small machine can heat a water bath to an exact temperature, which allows you to cook steaks to a perfect temperature and temper chocolate, too. For this method, you start by setting up your sous vide machine for a 115°F water bath. Put your chocolate in a tightly sealed plastic bag (a vacuum-sealed bag is ideal, but a freezer-grade zip-top bag works, too) and add to the water bath. When the chocolate is melted, turn the temp down to 81°F and add ice to the water bath to drop the temperature. You’ll boost the heat again to 90°F, but in between temperatures you need to remove the bag from the water bath and massage the chocolate so it melts evenly. If you used a single-use bag, when the chocolate is ready you can open the bag and dip away or snip off the end for easy drizzling.

Results: When done with the right tools (sous vide machine, vacuum-sealed bags), this method is pretty much foolproof, but most home cooks don’t have those tools on hand. The zip-top bag substitute works most of the time, but isn’t guaranteed. If you already own a sous vide machine, you should certainly try this method, but we wouldn’t dream of suggesting you run out and buy all of this gear just for tempering chocolate.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist Cyd McDowell

Chocolate Tempering Method: Microwave Melted and Seeded

  • Timing: 15 minutes
  • Rating: 8/10

About this method: “Microwave tempering” promises to not require seeding, the process of stirring more chopped chocolate into the melted chocolate to bring the temperature down and help the fat crystals form. The idea here is that you use the microwave to gently melt the chocolate without taking it out of temper. Using 15- to 30-second bursts of high microwave heat, you should be able melt the chocolate to exactly 90°F.

Results: We’re giving this method high marks for ease. You only need one bowl, a spatula, and a thermometer. It loses points for reliability, though. In two attempts, we had to seed both times to get the chocolate back into temper. Much like the food processor method, you can blame the inconsistency on the fact that microwave models vary widely, so getting the timing down perfectly can require a lot of trial-and-error.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist Cyd McDowell

Chocolate Tempering Method: Double Boiler Melted and Seeded

  • Timing: 15 minutes
  • Rating: 10/10

About this method: A double boiler is the gentlest way to melt chocolate, which makes it ideal for tempering, too. For this method, you start by melting two thirds of your chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water. Once the chocolate melts, you add the remaining chopped chocolate in small increments to bring the temperature back down and “seed” the formation of new chocolate fat crystals. While this method is the most foolproof with a thermometer, you can also use your body temperature to test and get perfectly tempered chocolate. Just touch the tip of the chocolate-covered spatula to the area just below your lip. The melted chocolate should feel hot and sting just slightly.

Results: This easy-does-it method is the best method for melting and tempering chocolate, and it doesn’t require any extra special equipment. You need a regular pot, a glass bowl, and a spatula, and the amount of chocolate you temper can be large or small. Say you start dipping your strawberries and your chocolate needs a gentle reheat — well, you’ve got a gentle pot of water standing by! Our double boiler chocolate set to a perfect snap and shine without a bunch of guesswork.

Key Takeaways

Tempering chocolate doesn’t have to be hard and it doesn’t require any special equipment to do it right, so don’t let a little bit of inexperience stop you from making special treats. Buy the best-quality chocolate you can, chop it finely, melt it gently, and add more chopped chocolate to get the right temperature and you can make everything from chocolate-dipped strawberries to hot chocolate bombs with ease. How sweet is that?

Credit: Kitchn