When Do You Need to Temper Chocolate? 5 Questions to Ask First

(Image credit: Dana Velden)

Home cooks don’t temper chocolate that often for good reason: It’s an exacting process to produce glossy, melted chocolate that dries shiny with a crisp snap. (And that’s even before you’re able to use it for dipping!)

So since this process is a bit laborious, when do you have to do it? What if you’re just baking brownies or dipping rustic candies? We talked to chocolatier and artisan, Sarah Dwyer of Chouquette, a Maryland-based producer of chocolates and confections, and she gave us five questions to ask when trying to figure out whether or not tempering is necessary.

What Is Tempered Chocolate?

Tempering is a process that uses heat and a temperature curve to align the crystals in chocolate to make it smooth, silky, and glossy. This chocolate is usually used for dipping, as it coats thinly and has a crisp snap when you bite into it. Untempered chocolate looks matte, can have streaks in it, and has a soft and sometimes grainy texture.

It takes time and experience, not to mention a little understanding of why chocolate has to go through this process, to get tempering right:

Since it’s such an exacting process, it’s worth knowing which situations require the chocolate to be tempered first, and when you can just do without and use the chocolate plain.

With her expertise in dipping chocolates, Sarah Dwyer gave us five questions to ask to determine when you need to temper chocolate:

1. Is it a special occasion?

→ If the answer is yes, temper the chocolate.

Tempered chocolate is usually used for special occasions. Think Valentine’s Day, birthdays, or when you want to do something absolutely spectacular, like serving ice cream in a chocolate bowl or cup. If you want people to ask, “How did you do that?” then you should temper the chocolate to make it impressive. If it’s just for a weeknight dessert for family, you can probably skip it.

2. Are you using melted chocolate as a sauce or in a baked good?

→ If the answer is yes, do not temper the chocolate.

Tempered chocolate is all about how it dries into a crisp, glossy state, so if you’re just having chocolate fondue or using it as a sauce, skip the tempering and make a ganache instead. If the melted chocolate will be baked into a cookie or cake, it’s being used here as an ingredient and not a coating, so it does not need to be tempered.

3. Are you making chocolate-coated truffles?

→ If the answer is yes, temper the chocolate.

Chocolate truffles coated with cocoa powder, nuts, coconut, or any other non-chocolate ingredients don’t need tempered chocolate since it’s only being used for the truffle filling, not for the coating. If you’re coating the truffles in more chocolate, however, then you want to make sure you temper it first to get just a thin, even coating of crisp chocolate on the outside.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

4. Are you serving it at room temperature?

→ If the answer is yes, temper the chocolate.

If you are storing or serving your sweet or dessert at room temperature, you should temper the chocolate first so that it will not get a grey film and get soft while it sits out like regular chocolate will. If you’re going to store whatever you’re making in the fridge and serve it straight from there, skip the tempering.

5. Do you want a contrast in textures?

→ If the answer is yes, temper the chocolate.

If you want the chocolate to snap and contrast against what it’s served with, like cake, ice cream or a caramel filling, then you want to temper the chocolate. The shine and gloss of tempered chocolate can also contrast nicely with other duller dessert components, like mousses or custards.

Thanks, Sarah!

More on Tempering Chocolate